By: Jamie Samuelsen
Prior to the Titans game, I would argue that 90 percent of the Lions fans couldn’t name the special teams coach if you spotted them the Danny and the Cross. But after the Titans returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in a 44-41 overtime win, Danny Crossman quickly entered “Stan Kwan Territory” as someone Lions fans could quickly identify on the sideline. Sunday, it turned nuclear, as the Lions became the first team since at least 1940 to allow the same trick in consecutive games. Suddenly Danny Crossman was trending on Twitter. Danny Crossman was shown on the broadcast. And Danny Crossman needed to be fired.
Trust me, I come here neither to defend Mr. Crossman nor to praise him. If four touchdowns in two weeks aren’t grounds for termination, I’m not sure what is. But Jim Schwartz insisted after the game that Crossman’s job security isn’t even under consideration. So there’s that.
None of the coaches should lose their job after a frustrating 1-3 start. But all of them should be doubling down during the bye week to make sure that the Lions we see in two weeks don’t resemble the Lions that we saw in the first four. As Schwartz rightly said following the 20-13 loss to the Vikings, the Lions “deserve to be 1-3”. The question is – are they truly a 1-3 team or do they have the talent to be better than that? I still contend that they are better than they’ve shown. But me saying it is certainly much different than the Lions doing it. And they need to start doing it, especially on offense.
So while you fire away at Crossman, I’d advise you to save some of your arrows for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Last season, Linehan directed the Lions to one of the most potent offensive seasons in the NFL even though both Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure spent part or all of the season watching from the sidelines. He helped Matthew Stafford become a record-setting quarterback. And he drew up plays that helped Calvin Johnson to a 1681 yard/16 touchdown season even though every opponent was doing their best to take Johnson away. The Lions had limitations, but Linehan successfully avoided those while exploiting the strengths of the offense.
This season, it’s completely different. The Lions will point to the fact that they lead the NFL with 322 passing yards per game and sixth in total offense averaging 412.2. But many of those yards have come late in games when the Lions were desperately trying to get back into it or trying to get in position to tie it up. As big as those numbers are, take a look at the first half numbers.
The Lions have trailed at halftime in all four of their games so far. In those first halves, the Lions are averaging just 154 yards of total offense and 107 yards through the air. The 49ers have a great defense, but the Rams, Titans and Vikings? There’s no excuse. Now take a look at Calvin Johnson. He’s third in the league with 423 receiving yards and fourth with 29 receptions. Not bad. But in the first half, he has just 11 catches for 147 yards. That’s an average per game of just 2.7 catches for 37 yards. And here’s the most damning stat of them all. So far in 2012, Stafford hasn’t thrown a TD pass to Johnson. I’d argue that’s the most surprising factoid in the entire league through four weeks.
I’m certain that the answer is complicated. And I’m sure it’s one that Linehan and Schwartz will spend the next two weeks trying to solve. The simple answer is that all four teams have dropped two safeties deep into coverage and the Lions just can’t seem to solve that puzzle.
Sorry. But I don’t accept that.
If the opposing defense is so obviously tipping its hand prior to every game, a good offensive coordinator finds other ways to attack. Can’t throw to Calvin deep? Then drag him across the middle. Can’t run the ball successfully? Then use four wide receivers more often. There are holes in every defense. The best coordinators find those holes and exploit them. Linehan needs to do that. He needs to do it soon. And he needs to do it from the opening kickoff instead of waiting until halftime.
You can concentrate on Crossman all you want. I can hardly blame you. But the Lions are 1-3 largely because their offense has not performed up to expectations. That’s on Stafford and the line and the running game. But it’s also on Linehan. He has to be better for the Lions to be better.