Can a team really “start over” if things never got started to begin with? The Detroit Lions are in their 92nd season of professional football and though they won three championships in the 1950’s, the Super Bowl era has been as unkind as a shoe to a bug:
One playoff win.
One Lions playoff win...in the entire Super Bowl era.
In 1991, the Lions eviscerated the Dallas Cowboys by a 38-6 score in the divisional round of the playoffs, then became the eviscerated in the NFC Championship, losing 41-10 to the Washington pre-Football Team football team.
The Cowboys then won three of the next four Super Bowls and Detroit has an 0-8 playoff record since with all losses coming in a wild card game. The Lions have been outscored in 16 of the last 20 seasons and 2020’s -142 point differential was the franchise’s worst since going 2-14 under Jim Schwartz in 2009...Matthew Stafford’s rookie campaign.
Had it not been for Detroit going 0-16 and being outscored by 249 points in 2008, Stafford may have well ended up going to the St. Louis Rams.
Stafford spent 12 years attempting to help the Lions start, but the positive momentum of a good 2011 season didn’t carry on through the decade and he was traded to the LA Rams in January. In exchange, the Rams sent two first round picks and Jared Goff to Detroit and the result has been exactly as I expected.
With help, Stafford has been statistically elevated into the stratosphere of the “elite.”
Without help, Goff has carried on the tradition of what it’s like to play for the Detroit Lions.
With all the respect that is due to them and the people attempting to finally take the franchise on the ground — including former Rams executive Brad Holmes, the general manager who is defying history by actually making smart moves and drawing in fans to his corner — this is everything you need to know about the 2021 Detroit Lions.
It just so happens that the Lions are one of several organizations that appear to be doing whatever it takes — outside of a football stadium — to not win a game.
So far, so bad.
2020 record: 5-11
2021 record: 0-6
Head coach: Dan Campbell (0-6)
Philosophy: “I came here to chew bubble gum and kick some ass and I’m all out of kicking ass.”
Though I am a fan of Dan Campbell, there really is not much he can do with this season’s roster other than flap his gums...and Campbell’s press conferences have become must-watch TV in light of that. From crying after losses to telling Jared Goff to “step up”, Campbell’s been twice as entertaining as a head coach as we expected—and I think most people expected him to be one of the most entertaining head coaches already.
An emotional Dan Campbell crying through his post game press conference: "When you see your players give all that they have and then you lose that way. It's tough. You don't want that for them. But we'll be better for it." pic.twitter.com/bYMsh0efbW— Jeanna Trotman (@JeannaTrotmanTV) October 10, 2021
And in spite of their roster deficiencies, Campbell’s done a respectable job. The Detroit Lions rank 26th in DVOA, ahead of six other NFL teams that have at least one win. The 0-6 Lions have found themselves in striking distance in the fourth quarter a few times already and there’s no questioning Campbell’s heart in all of this.
He wants it bad.
OC: Anthony Lynn
Lynn rose to prominence as an assistant under Rex Ryan with the New York Jets, focusing on running backs—the position he played for six seasons, winning two Super Bowls as a clipboard holder for *checks notes* Terrell Davis—and then after one season as an offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, took over as head coach of the relocated LA Chargers. Lynn and Sean McVay were hired in the same year, with NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal ranking Lynn as the best hire and McVay as the second-best. Lynn was fired after four seasons and a 33-31 record, including 1-1 in the playoffs. The Chargers were roughly the 20th-best offense over his last two years in charge, and one of the worst rushing offenses in the league.
Changes on Offense from 2020:
QB - Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff
OT - Taylor Decker* to Penei Sewell
OT - Tyrell Crosby to Matt Nelson
G - Oday Aboushi to Halapoulivaati Vaitai
WR - Marvin Jones to Amon-Ra St. Brown
WR - Danny Amendola to Kalif Raymond
*injury related absence
What to expect from the Lions offense
Don’t be. Aggressive. Don’t. Be. Aggressive.
SI’s Lions blog took a look at Anthony Lynn’s offensive tendencies this past January, noting that with the Chargers, quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Justin Herberts took far fewer deep shots than the norm.
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert threw the ball 20-plus yards on only 11.3 percent of his pass attempts in 2020, which ranked 24th among NFL quarterbacks.
The season before, Philip Rivers looked deep on 13.4 percent of his passes, which ranked 12th in the league.
However, in 2017 and 2018, Rivers threw downfield the 16th-and-25th-most amount of times in the NFL, respectively.
So, it wouldn’t appear that Lynn is nearly as aggressive as former Lions offensive coordinator and interim head coach Darrell Bevell.
In terms of rushing, Lynn’s Chargers teams finished 19th in total rushing yards in 2020, 28th in 2019, 15th in 2018 and 24th in 2017.
Sure enough, Jared Goff is averaging 6.5 intended air yards per pass attempt, which would be the lowest mark in the league this season if not for Jimmy Garoppolo and Matt Ryan. (Matt Stafford is averaging 9.2 iay/A—I just want to read ONE comment this entire season of a person admitting they were wrong about Goff and Stafford essentially being “the same”)
Return to Normalcy?
I don’t know what “normalcy” is for Detroit—if there is one, it ain’t good—but I’m re-watching Boardwalk Empire because it’s better than any of HBO’s new shows. Or any other network for that matter. And that’s the name of the season one final that I’m watching right now. It also sorta fits...
Plus I like to imagine Dan Campbell dropping a toolkit on the practice field and Jared Goff asking “What’s that for?” and Campbell saying, “Well, I ain’t buildin’ no bookcase.”
The Lions were hoping to get tackle Taylor Decker back last week, but that didn’t happen and he’s yet to make his 2021 debut. Detroit’s hope for the near and long-term future is Decker as the left tackle and seventh overall pick Penei Sewell on the right side, a position switch from the left that has come with “growing pains” as they say.
Number one receiver Tyrell Williams (a phrase that perfectly encapsulates Detroit’s offensive issues) won’t be returning and could miss another month or so from a Week 1 concussion.
TE T.J. Hockenson and RB D’Andre Swift, two of the franchise building blocks on offense, have managed to be active in spite of injury designations, but they haven’t been productive at all with the complementary pieces provided to them and the other two or three players on offense who figure to still be starting for the Lions in a year.
Jared Goff is a bad quarterback
Always has been. I didn’t think that he would make it to 2022 with the Rams, and since the trade, I’ve never thought he would make it to 2022 with the Lions either. The contract implies that he will, but it’s only taken six games to get to the point of his head coach, the Detroit media, and the fans asking for literally anyone else if things don’t change soon.
2021 offensive ranks
Pass attempts: 6th
Rushing attempts: 26th
Net yards per pass attempt: 29th
Passing touchdowns: 22nd
Rushing yards: 23rd
Yards per carry: 20th
Rushing touchdowns: 17th
Points per drive: 26th
Red Zone O: 14th
3rd down: 29th
Time of Possession: 16th
Offensive “strength of schedule”: 3rd
*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that last season the Lions have faced a difficult schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.
Offensive Depth Chart
DC: Aaron Glenn
Strategy/scheme: “Hey, everyone! It’s me, Aaron Glenn! Sorry about the defense! :)”
Also: 3-4 base system
After 15 seasons as a cornerback in the NFL from 1994 with the Jets under Pete Carroll to 2008 with the Saints under Sean Payton, Aaron Glenn started his coaching career with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. He went back to Payton’s Saints in 2016, coaching defensive backs of course, and after five years on the job was hired by Campbell to run the defense in 2021. Most people probably think that Dan Campbell is a defensive head coach because of his general vibe, but he’s a former tight end and likely entrusts a lot of the decisions to Glenn. He may be a first year DC, but Glenn still has over 25 years of NFL experience.
LionsWire attempted to project Glenn’s defensive tendencies this past summer, figuring that we’d likely see a lot of 2-man cover concepts.
They relied heavily on Cover-1 and 2-Man concepts — the most 2-man in the NFL per ESPN’s Matt Bowen — with some Cover-2, Cover-3, and Quarters zone concepts worked in as well.
Changes on Defense:
S - Duron Harmon to Will Harris
LB - Jamie Collins to Alex Anzalone
LB - Jahlani Tavai to Charles Harris
DE - John Penisini to Michael Brockers
CB - Jeff Okudah to A.J. Parker
NT - Danny Shelton to Alim McNeil
LB - Reggie Ragland to Jalen Reeves-Maybin or Derrick Barnes
*Generally asking people to cut me some slack here on the defensive replacements. A LOT has changed, including the scheme, and what we really know here is that there can’t possibly be any chemistry between these players yet. There must also be confusion remaining about the system and it may not get better until 2022.
What to expect from Detroit’s defense:
The Lions selected CB Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick in 2020 and nobody batted an eye about a corner going that high (rarely happens) because the former Ohio State star is expected to be that good. Unfortunately he missed seven games as a rookie, didn’t play that well when he was active, and then ruptured his Achilles in Week 1.
The Rams have a young defense too, but Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Floyd are around to provide value and guidance. In Detroit’s case, there are many 26-and-younger starters (Alim McNeil, Derrick Barnes, A.J. Parker, Amani Oruwariye, etc) but nothing like a Donald or a Ramsey to elevate them. The closest would be DE Trey Flowers or Brockers, but neither is going to be a 15-sack pass rusher and no cornerback is locking any good receiver down for four quarters.
It’s just tough days in Detroit again.
If you’re reading this from Detroit, might I suggest re-visiting old Eminem albums? I’ve been doing that myself over the last week, in between Boardwalk Empire episodes. Here’s how I rank the first three albums: The Eminem Show, The Marshall Mathers LP, gap, The Slim Shady LP.
Eminem’s first major release starts off insane (“My Name Is” followed by “Guilty Conscience”) but then craps the bed for a really long time. Sort of like winning three championships in the 50’s and then winning one playoff game in the Super Bowl era.
Yikes. I’m pulling for you Dan and Brad.
Get to your next era, because The Eminem Show and The Marshall Mathers LP are wall-to-wall bangers.
2021 Defensive Ranks
Points Allowed: 25th
Yards Allowed: 25th
Turnovers Forced: 13th
Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 32nd
Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 21st
Rushing Yards Allowed: 26th
Yards Per Carry Allowed: 18th
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 15th
Points Per Drive Allowed: 26th
TOP allowed: 16th
Red Zone D: 31st
3rd down rate: 11th
Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 11th
K - Austin Seibert and Ryan Santoso
The Lions have switched off between these two kickers. Seibert is 6-of-7 on attempts and 4-of-4 on PATs. Santoso is 1-of-1 and 4-of-4.
P - Jack Fox
One of the great NFL punters.
PR - Kalif Raymond
Has 10 returns for 89 yards. The 27-year-old also has 20 catches for 219 yards, after only catching nine passes in each of the last two seasons with the Titans. There have been three different players to return kickoffs so far, none of which are Raymond.
Last 3 games
Week 4 - Bears 24, Lions 14
The Lions trailed 14-0 at halftime and 21-0 early in the third quarter, making this game a lot less close “feeling” than 10 points. The best game yet for rookie QB Justin Fields, a player who is generally very bad. Goff went Patt Stadford or whatever in this one, going 24-of-38 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, hiding his three fumbles away where people don’t usually look in a box score.
Week 5 - Vikings 19, Lions 17
“The Crying Game”
Detroit trailed 16-6 after a 55-yard Greg Joseph field goal late in the fourth quarter. On the following drive, with only 4:28 remaining when it started, Goff was sacked on third-and-13, then sacked against on fourth-and-15. Despite this, Detroit got the ball back with 3:17 left and managed a field goal to make it 16-9, then recovered a fumble by Alexander Mattison to get the ball at the Minnesota 20. D’Andre Swift did most of the work, helping the Lions get into the end zone to make it 16-15, then Goff found KhaDarel Hodge on the two-point try to make it 17-16 with :37 seconds remaining.
Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen for 21 yards.
Cousins to Dede Westbrook for six yards.
Cousins to Thielen for 19 yards.
Joseph, 54-yard field goal.
Fans act “amazed” when drives like this happen, but is it really that incredible anymore? I think any top-15 or top-20 quarterback can easily complete 20-yard passes to half-decent receivers and even without timeouts can get into field goal range in less than a minute of game time. It’s really just that easy in 2021, especially against bad pass defenses and the Lions have one of the worst pass defenses.
lol this whole thing doesn't matter cause the Lions are just running mirrored pole concepts and the Vikings are in 1 rat which makes this all very simple and also Griffen crushes Sewell anyways. But if Griff doesn't win this wasn't going anywhere pic.twitter.com/OY4fUbYxW2— Luke Braun (@LukeBraunNFL) October 13, 2021
Week 6 - Bengals 34, Lions 11
Detroit trailed 27-0 early in the fourth quarter.
Strangely, the Lions kept things close against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 and they actually held a halftime lead over the Packers in Week 2. But it is not a team that has proven to hold a lead when they have one, and they have only proven that they can make it interesting sometimes when they trail, not that they can win a game.
Will that happen in Week 7? Hopefully now you know everything you needed to know about the 2021 Detroit Lions.