Before the Detroit Lions can achieve any sort of consistency and positive identity on offense, they have to execute one of the fundamental aspects of football.
At its basic level, football is a game of blocking and tackling, and the Lions have to block better on offense.
It's not as simple as it sounds, but as we learned in Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers no offense can perform at a satisfactory level if the quarterback is under siege and the running backs can barely get back to the line of scrimmage.
"There hasn't been one created yet – at least I haven't seen," head coach Jim Caldwell said when asked about running an offense without being able to block.
Caldwell isn't pinning all of the blame on the offensive line, and it's true that there are other elements involved in run blocking and pass protection.
What happened Sunday – six sacks allowed and numerous other hits on Matthew Stafford and 50 yards in the running game – was an extreme example of the issues that have often confronted the offense in the first five games.
Identifying the problem is one thing. Fixing it is another. But it has to be fixed, and soon by the offensive coordinator and his staff. In this case, that falls on Jim Bob Cooter.
The offense was the major issue Sunday, but what else we learned includes the following:
Jarrad Davis: The rookie middle linebacker's performance highlighted how much he was missed in the two games he was out. Davis had two of the defense's 13 tackles for loss and a pass breakup to go with eight tackles.
Theo Riddick: He's had a quiet start to the season, and Sunday's game wasn't a breakout performance for a player who is regarded by many as the best receiving back in the league. It was more of a memory refresher of what he can do with the ball in his hands in the open field, especially as a receiver.
He had four catches for 45 yards, with a long gain of 21 yards. He ran twice out of the backfield, once for no gain, once for eight yards.
Kenny Golladay: The rookie receiver has missed two full games since going out in Game 3 against Atlanta with a hamstring injury. At 6-4, 213 and with a big wingspan, the third-round pick from Northern Illinois adds a size dimension to the receiving corps.
He used his physical assets to catch two TD passes in the opening-game win over Arizona. Both passes were caught behind defenders – a 10-yard fade pattern, and a 45-yard throw that he dove to catch.
Caldwell will not use Golladay's absense as an excuse for any shortcomings in the passing game, but size means something. The Panthers got big games from big receivers Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin.
"He has some genetics," Caldwell said of Golladay. "He has some ability. When we get him back, we'll certainly utilize him."
Lead blocker, first and goal: It's a low-risk time to use a lead blocker because there are four chances to gain the yard. The Lions scored their first touchdown on first and goal with Zach Zenner running behind linebacker Nick Bellore, who was lined up in front of him as the lead blocker.
For future reference, use it again.
Lead blocker, fourth and one, midfield: A completely different story, and high risk for the Lions with their problems running the ball in any situation on any down – anywhere on the field.
Fourth and one is a one-shot proposition, and the Lions missed their shot in the third quarter when 37-year-old Julius Peppers blew the play up with a diving tackle that dropped Zenner for a four-yard loss almost the instant he took the handoff from Matthew Stafford.
For future reference, I suggest trying something else.
Ratings points: Sunday's game was another example of the attraction of pro football – and the selective attention of fans who decide when they want to tune in or tune out.
With a live attendance of 64,288 rocking Ford Field on a brilliant fall day, Nielsen ratings were strong for the local telecast on WJBK-Fox2. The overall rating was a 24.2, with a peak of 27.4 – in the 2 p.m. block. That means fans began to tune out when the Panthers were in the midst of a 24-point run to take a 27-10 lead.
In other words, they thought the game was out of reach.
Under the Nielsen ratings model, a ratings point equals 17,794 households in Metro Detroit, with an average of 2.5 people per household. Including the live attendance, that means an average of 1.14 million people in Metro Detroit were tuned in on average, and 1.28 million at the peak.