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FOUR DOWNS: Offense stalls in the red zone


Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said his team's problems in the red zone Sunday night came down to execution.

"Just missed here and there," Caldwell said. "Didn't protect well enough down there. Didn't run the ball well enough down there. Didn't function very well in that area." 

Their inability to function deep in Pittsburgh territory is the biggest reason the Lions fell to the Steelers Sunday, and now find themselves at 3-4 on the year.

Detroit racked up 482 total yards of offense, but didn't find their way into the end zone a single time. Detroit was 0-for-5 in the red zone.

Dropped passes, protection issues, misthrown footballs and stuffed running plays were all culprits at times for the Lions. The Lions ran 17 plays inside Pittsburgh's 20-yard line, and didn't score a single touchdown.

"I know from top to bottom offensively we expect more out of everyone," Lions receiver Golden Tate said. "We were down there inside the five (yard line) and we just have to find a way and we didn't do that tonight. It's something we're going to look at closely."

Monday's film session in Allen Park will most certainly frustrate the offense with so many missed opportunities.


One of the more curious play calls of the evening was a draw play at the Pittsburgh 6-yard line with Detroit facing a 3rd and 5 and just two minutes and six seconds left in the game with the Lions trailing 20-15.

The original call from offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter was a pass, but quarterback Matthew Stafford checked into a draw play to Theo Riddick. The play was blown up in the backfield by the Steelers' defense, and put the Lions in a 4th and 7 situation with the game on the line. Stafford would throw an incomplete pass on fourth down to turn the ball over.

"Yeah, I checked into that," Stafford admitted after the game. "They were drop-eight. We just didn't execute it well and that's on me to get everybody on the same page."

That was a common theme all night in the red zone for the Lions' offense.

"It's annoying because, I mean, we've got a good kicker, but we've got a good offense too," Lions running back Ameer Abdullah said. "We've got to score. We've got guys that can score. We've got guys who, if we put them in the right position, they can make big plays for us down there. We've just got to find a way to do that."


With Golden Tate not quite 100 percent dealing with a shoulder injury, the Lions needed their other pass catchers to step up. The Joneses were up to the task.

Marvin Jones Jr. caught six passes for 128 yards. He made a couple terrific receptions for big plays of 43, 33 and 18 yards (twice). His 128 yards are the second-highest of his career behind the 205 he had in Green Bay last year.

TJ Jones caught three passes for a new career-high of 88 yards. His previous high was 63 yards earlier this year vs. Atlanta. He had three receptions on the night over 20 yards (34, 25, 23).

Marvin Jones Jr. has proven he can be a playmaker since coming over to Detroit last season. In his fourth season, TJ Jones is turning into a very reliable No. 3 receiver.


Late in the third quarter, Caldwell was faced with fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line with a decision to make.

Trailing 13-12 at the time, Caldwell could have played it safe, kicked the chip-shot field goal, and taken the lead against a good football team.

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions' Week 8 game vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.

He opted for the more aggressive option of going for it. Stafford dropped back to pass, and when the Steelers dropped eight back into coverage, Stafford thought he had a chance to run it in, but the Steelers reacted well, and Stafford was tackled short. The Lions walked away with no points.

"We had a pass play called," Stafford said. "They were dropping a lot of guys into coverage and thought I had a chance to maybe step up and make a play, and their guys did a good job rallying and tackling me."

To make matters worse, Pittsburgh hit on a huge 97-yard touchdown play just a few plays after the failed attempt to take a 20-12 lead. Lions safety Glover Quin said the Steelers hit them on a perfect play for the coverage the defense was playing, and they weren't expecting it.

Later in the fourth quarter, now trailing 20-12, Detroit faced another 4th and 1 at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line, and opted to kick the field goal this time.

"Tried to be aggressive and go after it the first time around," Caldwell said after the game. "The game was a little bit later on the next time around, so we kicked it and still gave ourselves a chance to win it a couple times."

Detroit's chance to win the game essentially ended when Stafford threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 7 from the Pittsburgh 8-yard line with under two minutes remaining.

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