By: Will Burchfield
The Lions entered last Sunday’s game versus the Steelers with one of the better red zone offenses in the league.
Then everything fell apart.
Detroit gained 10 yards on 16 plays in the red zone and failed to score a touchdown in a 20-15 defeat, calling into question both Jim Bob Cooter’s play-calling and Jim Caldwell’s decision-making.
“Scored 15 points, and that’s how you win or lose this game is by scoring points. We didn’t go a good enough job of it in the red zone,” Cooter said on Thursday.
As to what exactly went wrong, Cooter said, “Multiple different things.” The Lions couldn’t pass in the red zone, as Stafford went 2-11 for six yards. They couldn’t run in the red zone, as Dwayne Washington and Ameer Adbullah (mostly Washington) combined for four yards on five carries.
All they could really do was kick it.
In a strange way, the lack of one glaring problem is what gives the offensive coordinator faith.
“If you did one thing horribly, you could pour a lot of attention into that and try to fix that. In a way, it’s encouraging because we’re really close,” said Cooter. “In another way, you have to do multiple things. Multiple position groups have to sort of fix their little problems that popped up, and then offensively, big picture, we have to keep an eye on all of it.”
Between the 20’s, the Lions offense looked fantastic on Sunday. Stafford threw for a season-high 423 yards and Marvin Jones had his second strong game in a row. But their momentum continually fizzled out in the most important part of the field.
“It’s not one huge area. It’s not all, let’s say, communication. It’s not all one thing where we can really pour a lot of focus into that. It’s one spot doing one thing incorrectly. It’s one spot not getting a piece of communication that is important. It’s just six inches here, six inches there on a throw or a run or a block. It’s very small things, very detailed things that we have to do better,” said Cooter.
If he had to boil the problems down to one, Cooter said, “It’s details. It’s focused on details.”
The Lions have been on top of those details for much of this season. Prior to their breakdown versus the Steelers, they were scoring touchdowns on 60 percent of their trips in the red zone, tied for the fifth best rate in the NFL. Perhaps defenses caught up. If so, Cooter is ready to expand the offense.
“I think we’re aware of our tendencies, talked about that a little bit last week. Could be how you align formationally, could be how you align in the shotgun or something like that. We’re aware of all that and we’re not locked into anything,” said Cooter. “Just because something is our game plan for the week doesn’t mean it’s our game plan for the year. Obviously, if you do that you’re quite predictable.”
Washington got six carries versus the Steelers, four of which came inside the five-yard line. He gained a total of six yards on said carries, begging the question why Ameer Abdullah, the Lions’ lead back, wasn’t given more red zone opportunities.
“Size, power, things like that,” Cooter said of favoring Washington over Abdullah as the goal-line back.
He added, “You’re going to see multiple guys doing multiple things moving forward. It might be different week to week, might be different every single week, or things could stay the same.”
The offense made strides on Sunday. It also took one giant step back. The goal is to remedy the red zone problems without giving rise to any others.
“It’s that kind of old thing, ‘Don’t fix a hole in the boat and let the other one open up,’ or whatever the hell it is,” said Cooter. “You guys figure it out. But we can’t let something drop off because we’re fixing something else. We have to sort of fix everything, get better at everything. We were really close to doing some good things this past game, but close doesn’t really matter in this league.”