Week 12 of the NFL season is in the books and the Lions are coming off just their third loss this season on Thanksgiving to Green Bay, 29-22. Detroit still has a 2.5-game lead in the NFC North over Minnesota with six games to play and two of those contests against the Vikings Weeks 16 & 18.
Next up for Detroit is a road contest in New Orleans against the Saints, who are coming off a road loss to Atlanta on Sunday. The NFC South is tightly contested with Atlanta and New Orleans both sitting at 5-6 atop the division. Sunday is a big game for the Saints at home as they try to keep their division title and playoff hopes alive.
Detroit enters the contest at 8-3 and currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture. If Detroit wants to stay ahead of Minnesota in the North and among the top teams in the NFC, they'll need to be better in three areas in particular that have hindered them in their three losses this season, as follows:
1. MARRIAGE OF RUSH AND COVER
In losses to Seattle, Baltimore and Green Bay this season the Lions generated just one sack combined and that came late in regulation against Seattle. Detroit had just six quarterback hits in those three losses.
Seattle's Geno Smith, Baltimore's Lamar Jackson and Green Bay's Jordan Love were afforded the opportunity to stand in the pocket and find open receivers with Detroit's pass rush unable to get them off their spot or speed up their clock with any real consistency. As a result, the trio combined to complete 75-of-100 passes for 1,053 yards with eight touchdowns, no interceptions and a combined passer rating of 135.13.
On the year, Detroit's 23 sacks rank just 26th in the NFL. They are also 23rd in opponent passer rating (93.0) and 20th in overall pass defense. Detroit's lack of a consistent pass rush has been an issue all season – 18 of their 23 sacks have come in three games vs. Atlanta, Las Vegas and the first Green Bay matchup Week 4.
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has to find ways to generate more consistent pressure or a Lions secondary already playing with two backups will continue to struggle.
In Detroit's three losses they lost the turnover battle 7-1. Turnovers are always the No. 1 statistic in football that determine wins and losses, though there are rare times like Week 11 vs. Chicago when Detroit turned it over four times to Chicago's one and still won the contest.
Detroit's offense turned it over three times in losses to Green Bay and Seattle. In both contests, the Seahawks and Packers returned a Jared Goff turnover for a defensive touchdown in what ended up being one-score losses. Detroit's lone turnover in Baltimore came in the third quarter with the Lions at the Baltimore 36-yard line.
Detroit's 17 turnovers on the season rank 20th in the NFL with the league average at 15, but nearly half of them have come in their three losses and a couple made an instant negative impact.
Though they don't go in the books as official turnovers, Detroit was a combined 4-of-14 on fourth down in their three losses. The 4th and 4 fake punt they didn't get vs. Green Bay on Thanksgiving on their own 23-yard line resulted in a Packers touchdown three plays later.
Being aggressive on fourth down is who Lions head coach Dan Campbell is and it's helped the Lions win games as well (see Chargers game), but Detroit has to avoid the combination of giving the ball away via turnovers and not being good on fourth down, which has been an issue in their three losses.
View photos of the starters for the New Orleans Saints.
3. GENERATING TAKEAWAYS
It's something Campbell said last week was going to be a big focus for him and his coaching staff when the players returned to Allen Park this week.
"Here's what we got to do, we have to get takeaways," he said. "We have to, that's something that we desperately got to work on. That's one of the things we did a really good job of this time last year, once we hit that last call it 10, eight to 10 games, we were getting takeaways. We were playing tough man, we were pressuring the quarterback, affecting him, but then man we were getting these. You're getting two a game, you're getting – and that's where we're not getting those enough right now.
"We just get one or two of those, we can change the game here and that to me is where the emphasis has got to go for us defensively. We got the guys, we got the coaches, but we got to get better there, we got to find a way to get some takeaways."
Detroit generated just one turnover combined in their three losses. It was a Jackson fumble in the second quarter that Detroit's offense failed to turn into points. The Lions have just 12 takeaways all season, which ranks 26th. Only New England (11), LA Rams (9), Tennessee (8) and Carolina (7) have fewer.
Detroit is still in a good spot with an 8-3 record. They control their own destiny to a NFC North title and home playoff game(s). If they can clean up these three areas that cost them in their three losses and play good football down the stretch, it will be a fun ride the final month and a half of the season.