The Lions sure do like to use every last second of those 60 minutes don’t they? The Lions overcame a 20 point halftime deficit last week and upped the ante by overcoming a 24 point 3rd quarter deficit this week against the Cowboys. The Lions continue to dig themselves deep holes with poor play calling and early mistakes, but their opponents keep making bigger mistakes and making poor play calls as well.
I have been saying for four weeks that the Lions’ play calling is an issue and it cropped up again today in the first half. The Lions started the game in a three receiver set with Stafford under center and ran Jahvid Best off the left side for 19 yards. After that they went right back to the shotgun and got pass happy calling 23 passes out of the next 28 plays and digging a huge hole. On the other side the Cowboys kept a balanced offense and moved the ball at will against a very tough Lions’ defense.
What made the play calling even more horrendous was the fact that Stafford’s bruised hand was obviously affecting him as his throws were off the mark. Tony Romo was struggling with injuries and the Cowboys protected him with balanced play calling to open things up for play action and screens. Stafford was obviously struggling, but Scott Linehan didn’t protect him with a running game or keeping backs or tight ends in to block and for the second straight week Stafford took a pounding.
The defensive play calling was lackluster as well in the first half. The Lions played soft coverage to protect against the deep ball, but the Cowboys were without their best deep threat in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant was hobbled by a thigh injury. The Cowboys were more than willing to take advantage of the loose coverage with passes underneath the coverage and Romo finished the first half with 250+ yards in the first half.
The script flipped in the second half when the Lions forced two turnovers that directly led to 14 points on picks by Bobby Carpenter and Chris Houston. Just a few minutes prior to Houston’s pick six, he was shown on the bench pleading to play more press coverage and lo and behold the Lions defense shut the Cowboys down once they did play tighter coverage.
After the defense provided the jump start Stafford and Calvin Johnson took the game over as they hooked up twice in the second half for touchdowns, including one of the most impressive catches you’ll see this season. Johnson was just standing in the end zone with two guys covering him and he just jumped over them and pulled the ball in. He truly is a man amongst boys.
The Cowboys tried to rally back for a game winning touchdown of their own, but Willie Young killed the drive with a sack using an awesome bull rush. The Cowboys (and Joe Buck) lost track of the down as they called an underneath pass to Felix Jones who stepped out of bounds to preserve the clock on 4th down and 20. The Lions took over on downs and took a knee to move to 4-0 in 2011.
The Lions dodged another bullet today, but they need to start playing better in the first half if they want to continue winning games. The play calling has to be more balanced to avoid defenses sitting in coverage or pinning their ears back and going after Stafford. The Lions have gotten out of a couple of big holes the last two weeks, but they are holes they dug for themselves. They need to cut down the mistakes because their margin for error will get slimmer with each passing week.