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FOUR DOWNS: Run defense takes a step back in loss to Panthers


The Lions had been doing a much better job defensively defending the run of late, but any momentum they had built up in that department was wiped clean Saturday in Charlotte as the Carolina Panthers lined up and ran it at, around and through the Lions' defense for 60 minutes in their 37-23 win over Detroit.

When it was all said and done, Carolina racked up a franchise-record 320 yards on the ground. They had seven runs of 20-plus yards in the contest and 11 explosive runs total.

"To their credit, they did a good job with some of the things they did scheme-wise," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. "They hit us on some runs early and gashed us. We just weren't hitting on all cylinders. We got hit in the middle. We got hit on the perimeter. We got hit everywhere you can get hit in the run game."

During Detroit's three-game win streak leading into Saturday, they hadn't allowed 100 yards rushing in wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars (95), Minnesota Vikings (22) and New York Jets (50). The Lions were allowing just 112 yards to opponents on the ground over their previous seven games.

That was significantly better than the 154 average they were allowing over their first seven games of the season when they started 1-6. Saturday the Lions' defense reverted back to the one that was historically bad to begin the season.

"Very disappointing," defensive lineman Alim McNeill said after the game. "It's why we lost the game. Can't let anyone establish the run game like that, 320 yards is ridiculous. It's very disappointing. We're going to come back in next week, new game plan, new attitude, new mentality ready to go."


While Panthers running backs were running up and down the field through gaping holes, the Lions' leading rusher Saturday was quarterback Jared Goff with just 15 yards. Falling into an early deficit obviously played a factor in the second half, but Carolina dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball from the start Saturday, and that has to disappointing for everyone in the Lions locker room on both sides of the ball.

The Lions finished Saturday with just 45 rushing yards on 17 carries, which is good for a 2.6-yard average. It was their lowest rushing output of the season and just the fourth time in 15 games they've failed to reach 100 rushing yards.

"It helps everything," Goff said of establishing a run game. "It allows us to stay on schedule. It allows us to run a little more play action more effectively. Allows those defensive linemen not to be able to get off the way they are especially if we're down in a game. They have to respect the run and the pass when you're efficient with both of them. It's certainly something we need to look at and do a better job of."

With the run game ineffective Saturday, Goff had to put the offense on his shoulders, throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Detroit needs to find a way to get the run game going these final two weeks of the season.


Ever since the Lions traded tight end T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota at the trade deadline, it's been a tight end by committee approach for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Last week Brock Wright made the key touchdown at the end of the game to win it for the Lions.

This week, Shane Zylstra did everything he could to keep the Lions in the game by recording a career-high three touchdown grabs. He became only the second tight end in franchise history to produce a three-touchdown game, joining Joseph Fauria, who did so on Oct. 13, 2013 in Cleveland.

"He played wide receiver in college and has those abilities," Goff said of Zylstra. "A guy that I trust and a guy who is always where he's supposed to be. A guy we all trust who can do some good things in the passing game."


When rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson was warming up pregame on the Bank of America Stadium turf going through some pass rush reps on air, his feet slipped out from under him and he wiped out.

According to Goff, the conditions on the field pregame were dangerous.

"I thought the field conditions were below NFL level standard, specifically pregame," Goff said. "I don't know what the deal is here, but they need to figure out a way for the turf to not feel like cement."

Saturday did set a Bank of America Stadium record for the coldest game in stadium history. The temperature was 20 degrees at kickoff with wind chills at nine degrees. Goff said the turf conditions did get better as the game went on, but were pretty bad early on.

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