The Detroit Lions get back to work this week after enjoying an early-season bye this past weekend. Detroit is hoping the week off will help with some of the injuries they're currently dealing with, as well as recharge their batteries for what should be an interesting NFC North race the rest of the way.
There are five areas in particular where the Lions need to be better if they're going to make a run over the next 10 weeks.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 23 times in the first six games, which puts him on track for 61 sacks on the season. No one has been sacked that many times in a season in over a decade. Stafford's previous career high was 45 sacks in 2014.
It's not just the sacks that have been the problem, either. Detroit's five starting offensive linemen – Rick Wagner (17), Greg Robinson (18), T.J. Lang (11), Graham Glasgow (6) and Travis Swanson (8) – have combined to allow 60 quarterback pressures in six games. That's far too much pressure on the quarterback, which has disrupted a lot of the timing and consistency in the pass game.
The Lions have shown flashes of being able to run the football in wins over the Giants and Vikings, but it's been far too inconsistent for anyone's liking in Allen Park.
The Lions rank just 26th rushing the football, averaging 84.0 yards per game. Detroit's rushing attack ranks last with 15.4 percent of their running plays gaining first downs and are 27th in average yards per rush at just 3.5 yards on all runs.
Only 35.7 percent of Detroit's running plays gain at least four yards, and their 23 rushes for negative yards are the fourth-most in the NFL.
The Lions have to find more consistency in this area on offense the rest of the way.
Stafford and Co. were very good in this department early on in the season. That fact, coupled with the defense's ability to consistently take the football away from opponents this year, was an early-season recipe for success for the Lions.
View the best #OnePride fan photos from the first half of the 2017 season.
Lately however, the offense has gotten sloppy in the turnover department, and it's cost them.
Five turnovers against the Saints – three interceptions and two lost fumbles – and a crucial lost fumble in the Carolina loss, gives Stafford eight turnovers in the first six games. Mike O'Hara noted in his Monday Countdown column that Stafford didn't have eight turnovers last season until Game 13.
Detroit's still among the league leaders in turnover differential at plus-six, but that's a bigger credit to the defense taking the football away from opponents 14 times in six games.
FIRST DOWN OFFENSE
The Lions continue to put themselves behind the sticks too often because of their struggles on first down. The Lions are the only team in the NFL to average less than a 4.0 yards on first down (3.56).
Only 37.1 percent of Detroit's plays on first down gain at least four yards. The Los Angeles Chargers (36.6) are the only team in the NFL with a lower percentage.
Being in second and long and third and long situations isn't a fun place to be in this league, especially with the kind of pass rushers teams employ. Don't think for a minute that this statistic and Detroit's problems in pass protection aren't directly linked.
FINISHING AT THE QUARTERBACK
Detroit's defense and special teams have been pretty solid all season, but they haven't been perfect. The Lions' defense has done a very good job at generating pressure on the quarterback through six games. Pro Football Focus credits Detroit with 67 quarterback hurries in six games, which is just over 11 per game.
But of those 67 hurries, the quarterback has finished the play on the ground with a sack just 13 times. That ranks 22nd in the NFL. Detroit had a season-high five sacks in New York Week 2 vs. the Giants. They've had more than two in just one other game (three vs. Carolina).
The defense needs to be a little better finishing at the quarterback with their pressure.