When Sheila Ford Hamp took over as the Detroit Lions owner in June, she said “major improvement” was still the goal for the franchise in 2020. If you’re going to judge progress based on how Detroit has played against one of its division rivals, it’s tough to see any.
The Lions fell to the Minnesota Vikings again Sunday, 34-20, with the Vikings using a similar script to what they’ve done against Matt Patricia before. They couldn’t solve Kirk Cousins using play action, continually struggling to solve the Minnesota quarterback. They couldn’t stop Dalvin Cook, who had 22 carries for 206 yards.
Patricia lost to Minnesota for the fifth straight time -- and by double-digits for the fifth straight time. The Lions gave up more rushing yards Sunday (275) than any other game against the Vikings during his tenure and more than against any other opponent this season.
They gave up one less yard (487) than their season-worst against Green Bay in 2020 and in the first half allowed an average of 11 yards per play. The Lions, against a team that entered Sunday 2-5 and much like Detroit, barely holding on to their season, looked far worse than their opponent -- particularly on defense.
Detroit even had continued issues making sure it had the proper amount of players on the field, having 10 defenders on the field for Cook’s 70-yard touchdown run. This comes a week after Detroit had 10 men on defense on two defensive plays, something coordinator Cory Undlin called “bad coaching.”
Bad coaching has been an issue for Detroit, especially on defense, all season long and far too often during Patricia’s tenure with the Lions. Against Minnesota, the Lions looked unprepared and outmatched again.
Detroit hasn’t won a divisional game this season and haven’t won an NFC North game since Dec. 30, 2018 -- nine straight losses against their most common foes.
After Sunday's loss, Patricia was asked where his team has improved since the start of the season. After the loss to the Vikings, it was hard to see much other than the team's punt rush, which Patricia pointed to.
"We talk a lot about consistency and obviously that’s one thing that has not been good enough," Patricia said. "I think some guys have individually have definitely improved and have definitely gotten better. It was real good to get Austin Bryant out there tonight, that was good. Thought he played well. But we’ll look at the tape and obviously Desmond Trufant">[Desmond] Trufant back out on the field. So that was good.
"But, in those areas, obviously you play a game like we did today, you know there’s not a lot of things that look like we improved on."
Describe the game in two words: Just. Ugly. The Lions could do little right on offense and nothing right on defense -- had special teams not played well, it would have been Detroit’s worst game of the season and might have been anyway.
QB Breakdown: Matthew Stafford, who missed all week of practice while in COVID-19 protocol while not testing positive for the virus, completed 23 of 32 passes for 211 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions before leaving the game in the fourth quarter to be checked for a concussion. Chase Daniel replaced him.
Biggest hole in the game plan: All of it, defensively. The Lions couldn’t handle Cousins -- who had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first half -- and they had no answer for Cook. Minnesota averaged 8.9 yards a play -- the most the Lions have allowed in a game this season -- and an atrocious 8.1 yards per rush.
Silver lining: Detroit hadn’t blocked a punt since 2007. Now, the team has blocked punts in back-to-back weeks and three in two games after Austin Bryant, in his first game activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Saturday, essentially came on a one-man rush by himself to block Britton Colquitt’s punt in the third quarter, giving Detroit the ball on the Minnesota 18-yard line, some of the team’s best field position of the day. This comes a week after Miles Killebrew, one of the team’s top special teams players, blocked a Rigoberto Sanchez punt against the Colts. It’s the first time a team has blocked a punt in back-to-back weeks since Philadelphia did so in 2014.
Then the Lions blocked a second Colquitt punt -- Romeo Okwara getting in there this time -- the first time a team has blocked two punts in a game since Minnesota did against Carolina, also in 2014. Special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs and Okwara have been two small bright spots in an otherwise rough season for the Lions.