TWENTYMAN: 5 areas to improve

It hasn't been the kind of start the Lions were hoping for out of the gate this season. Detroit's dropped three of their first four contests and head to their Week 5 bye hoping to regroup and fix some of the things that have held them back through the first quarter of their season.

There's a lot to work on, but here are five areas that have been particularly troublesome for the Lions through their 1-3 start:

1. RUN DEFENSE

The Lions are allowing 170.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. It's important to realize the significance of this number because it's a stat that can demoralize a defense throughout the course of a game. It allows the opponent to control time of possession and tempo.

A perfect example of that was last Sunday's loss to New Orleans. The Saints ran the ball 42 times and converted on third down running the football six times in the contest, including a third and goal from the 6-yard line. That's a throwing situation probably 80 percent of the time in the NFL. New Orleans had two rushing touchdowns in the game on third down.

Detroit's allowed 19 rushing plays to gain at least 10-plus yards, which is tied for second most in the NFL. Opponents are gaining better than four yards per carry on first down over half of the time (53.9 percent).

2. BALL CONTROL OFFENSE

Detroit ranks 26th in total offense and 19th in scoring, and they haven't been a good ball-control offense. The exception being the fourth quarter in Arizona, when they were able to possess the ball for nearly five minutes to close out that game and win with a field goal.

Nearly a quarter of all of Detroit's offensive drives this year have resulted in a three and out. They've had 42 possessions and 10 three and out drives for a 23.8 three-and-out percentage. Only Philadelphia (25.0), Pittsburgh (28.6) and Houston (30.8) have a higher percentage. That percentage directly ties into the fact that Detroit ranks 27th in time of possession this year (28.03).

An offense that finds a way to stay on the field more can also protect a defense.

3. PASS RUSH

Detroit has just five sacks in four games. That's the third fewest among teams that have played four games. Coaches say all the time that sack numbers can be misleading, which I tend to agree with. How much is a defense affecting the quarterback with pressure and moving him off his spot? Sometimes that can be just as effective.

The problem there is Detroit has just 10 quarterback hits and 28 quarterback hurries on the year, per Pro Football Focus statistics. Only six teams have fewer hurries than the Lions. Two of them are the 0-4 Texans (24) and 0-4 Giants (25). Another is the 1-3 Raiders (22). Another is Arizona (21), who is Detroit's only victory of the year.

Lions defensive end Trey Flowers made a good point Monday, saying that the defense hasn't done a good enough job getting teams in those pass-rush situations where they're able to pin their ears back and rush because of their inability to stop the run. The two are certainly related.

PASSER RATING

This is the single best statistic, beside wins and losses of course, to evaluate quarterback play in the NFL. Passer rating is calculated using a quarterback's passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions to create a rating in the NFL on a scale from 0 to 158.3. 

Last season, when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was having arguably his best year through the first half of the season, that rating was 106.0, which ranked in the top six among the league's quarterbacks.

Stafford's playing to a 93.6 passer rating through the first quarter of the season, which is certainly respectable, but currently 19th among the league's passers. He's thrown a few bad interceptions and has been sacked 12 times. He's missed on some throws he normally hits on, especially big plays down the field.

Detroit's scored just one touchdown outside of the red zone this season, which ranks second to last. Stafford's been OK, but nowhere near spectacular, and with some of the other problems surrounding the team, that's contributed to the 1-3 start.

DROPPED PASSES

We saw Week 1 in the loss to Chicago how big of an impact dropped passes can have on the outcome of a game. The increase in drops has been rather curious for the Lions this season, with a lot of the same pass catchers back from last year's team that dropped just 13 balls the entire season.

Through four games, Detroit's already been credited with dropping 10 passes, which is the most in the league. Eight different players have been credited with dropping the football, with rookie running back D’Andre Swift and veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. being credited with two apiece.

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