O’HARA’S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Lions still searching for solutions

At one point this season the Detroit Lions were the most respected and admired losing team in the National Football League.

That was after two tough losses in a row that made their record 2-2-1.

First was a 34-30 loss at home to the mighty – at that time, anyway – Kansas City Chiefs on a last-minute touchdown.

Next, after a bye, was a 23-22 loss on the road to the Green Bay Packers when the Lions were the victims of some calls by the officials that enraged everybody in the NFL outside of Green Bay.

That was then – a Lions team admired for how it had survived a punch in the mouth and a kick somewhere below that and survived.

This is now – a Lions team mired in a downward spiral of six losses in seven games, the latest 35-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field.

From admired to mired, and some of the baggage that goes with it, is the depressing theme of this week’s Monday Countdown.

There’s a look at head coach Matt Patricia searching to explain improvement and at the Lions’ quarterback situation, with Jeff Driskel starting the last two games with Matthew Stafford out with an injury, and if Stafford would have made a difference in the last two games.

There’s also a look at the deteriorating defense, takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what’s trending and the bottom line on next week’s road game against the Washington Redskins.

We start with Matt Patricia:

1. Progress report: I don’t think Patricia ever envisioned he would have a 9-16-1 record at this stage of his second season as head coach of the Lions. I also don’t think he’s ever leaned on an excuse for losing. And that’s every game from the 48-17 loss to the Jets in his first game as head coach of the Lions through Sunday’s loss.

There’s something admirable about searching for solutions as opposed to looking for excuses.

But he’s in a performance business, and because of the record he had a slightly different take than usual when asked about progress after Sunday’s game.

“It makes it hard for you to sit up here and say, ‘Every single week this has gotten better,’” Patricia said. “It’s like one week this is really good, and the next week it’s not as good as it should be.

“For us, we just have to try to be consistent at something.”

Patricia referenced the run defense, which gave up 75 yards to the Cowboys and only 45 on 16 carries to its star back, Ezekiel Elliott after a strong performance in the previous week’s loss to the Bears.

“Obviously, it (the defense) was better in the run for the second week in a row. Maybe that’s something we hopefully can keep improving on from that standpoint. For us, we just have to be more consistent.”

2. Status report: The defense gave up 509 yards to the Cowboys, and quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys had receivers open all game at every level – wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.

Overall, the Lions are allowing 412.8 yards per game and 27.2 points.

Make of this what you will, but the 2008 Lions – the first NFL team to go 0-16 – gave up 404.4 yards per game and 32.3 points – both the most in the league.

3. QB question: Would the Lions have beaten the Cowboys – and the Bears, for that matter – with Stafford at quarterback instead of Driskel.

Interesting question, and I’m not sure if it’s fair or unfair to Driskel. His performance Sunday was creditable – 15 of 26 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and eight runs for 51 yards and a TD. That’s not a losing performance.

I think this: The Cowboys gave up 28 points a week ago in a loss to the Vikings, and 27 on the road to the Lions. Teams can throw on them if they protect the quarterback.

Between their first and second touchdowns Sunday, the Lions had a lull when they went three and out on three straight possessions. The Cowboys got a field goal and a touchdown in that exchange.

It’s logical to project that the passing game would have been better with Stafford, although it’s not like the Lions have never had a lull with him running the show.

Regardless of who was at quarterback Sunday, it isn’t against the rules of football for the defense to make stops. And the Cowboys scored on six of their last eight possessions – not counting the last possession that ended the game.

View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys Week 11 game at Ford Field on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 in Detroit.

4. Crowd noise: The Cowboys’ fans travel, and there were a lot of loud Cowboys fans at the game. Their presence was especially noticeable when they chanted “Defense, Defense, Defense” when the Lions were on offense.

Frankly, it sounded like the Lions were playing a road game at home. That had to be galling for everyone connected with the Lions – players to top management.

The way to silence the crowd is to get the lead and win.

The Lions are 2-3 at home. That’s no way to get home-field advantage – even with fans as loyal as Lions fans are.

5. Takeaways, offense:

  • Bo knows ... how to run: In his first game as a Lion, running back Bo Scarbrough started and gained 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He provided some power.
  • Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. keeps playing and producing. He had four catches and two TDs, giving him eight for the season to tie Kenny Golladay for the team lead.
  • Driskel’s throw across his body while rolling to his right to Jones for his first touchdown was as good as anyone can do it.

6. Takeaways, defense:

  • OK, something good: Holding Elliott to 45 yards and 2.8 yards per carry was good.
  • Letting Elliott get wide open for a 17-yard catch and run for a fourth-quarter TD was bad. I’d think a two-time rushing champion would get special attention, not no attention.
  • Wide receiver Michael Gallup beat cornerback Mike Ford for a 41-yard catch on third and nine in the second quarter. Ford also was flagged for interference on the play, but the catch wiped out the flag. That set up Elliott’s one-yard blast for a TD two plays later. That also gave the Cowboys a 17-14 lead.

7. Takeaways, special teams:

  • I still question going for two points – which failed – after Jones’ second TD catch cut the deficit to 35-27, the final margin.
  • The Lions’ special teams forced the Cowboys to begin six possessions inside their 20 on punts or kickoffs.
  • The Cowboys were drawn offside on a fake punt formation in the first half, giving the Lions a first down.

8. Trending:

  • Up: Driskel. He improved in his second start. The first TD pass to Jones, and a 39-yarder to wide receiver Marvin Hall were big-time throws.
  • Down: Defense.
  • Holding: Jones – at a high level. He keeps making plays.

9. Bottom line: Next up for the Lions is a road game against the Washington Redskins, whose 1-8 record is better than only the 0-9 record of the Cincinnati Bengals. Washington had gone 16 quarters without scoring a touchdown before scoring two in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 34-17 loss to the Jets.

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