The 1 Thing Holding the Detroit Lions Back From the Playoffs

Despite a long history of futility on the football field, the Detroit Lions entered the 2019 season with some optimism. They still have a franchise quarterback with a big arm in Matt Stafford and a promising young head coach in Matt Patricia. Near the midway point, however, the Lions find themselves struggling to stay near .500. After a decent start to the season, the team went on a losing streak. 

There’s one particular statistic that could tell the story of why the Lions aren’t performing better. It’s the one thing holding them back from the playoffs right now. 

The Detroit Lions 2019 season so far

Through seven weeks, the Detroit Lions have a record of 2-3-1, currently good for last place in an ultra-competitive NFC North. They’ve scored 149 points (13th in the NFL) and allowed 160 (26th in the NFL). Here’s a brief recap of each of their games so far:

  • Week one: A 27-27 tie against the Arizona Cardinals. 
  • Week two: A 13-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. 
  • Week three: A 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Week four: A 30-34 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs
  • Week six: A 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers. 
  • Week seven: A 42-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. 

The early turning point of the Lions’ season? The loss to Kansas City. The Lions led late in that game against a then-undefeated Chiefs team only to see Patrick Mahomes stage a fourth-quarter comeback. The team has yet to recover, as that represented the first loss of three in a row. 

Another debilitating loss was the week six loss to the Packers. There were two questionable penalty calls that went against the Lions late, enabling Aaron Rodgers to lead the game-winning drive. Factor those games in with the week one tie and the Lions are a few breaks away from looking at a 5-1 record. 

What can the Lions expect for the rest of the 2019 season?

With a mediocre record and a competitive NFC landscape, the Lions have little room for error over the season’s second half. Take a look at Detroit’s remaining schedule: 

  • New York Giants
  • Oakland Raiders
  • Chicago Bears
  • Dallas Cowboys 
  • Washington Redskins
  • Chicago Bears
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Denver Broncos
  • Green Bay Packers

As noted above, the Lions happen to play in one of the best divisions in football. The Vikings and Bears both possess suffocating defenses. Not to mention, the Packers seemed to have found their offensive stride after a down year last year.

It will be incredibly hard for Detroit to emerge out of this as the division winner. They’ll have to settle for a wild card in a crowded NFC playoff picture. 

The one thing holding the Detroit Lions back from the playoffs

Right now, the Detroit Lions are only scoring touchdowns on 60% of their chances in the red zone. That’s good for 14th in the NFL, and quite simply won’t cut it if the team hopes to make the playoffs.

In their loss to the Packers, it’s true Green Bay received a little help from the officials. But the Lions’ inability to put the ball in the end zone hurt them significantly during that game. 

What’s causing the Lions’ lack of success near the goal line? According to Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, there are two major issues at play: 

  • They haven’t been able to run the ball. 
  • Matt Stafford doesn’t have the mobility to avoid pressure. 

Regarding the running game, that may be fixable with some changes to their blocking schemes. As for Stafford, the Lions’ coaching staff will just need to account for his lack of wheels when it comes time to call red zone plays. Unfortunately for them, there’s no way Stafford will develop that skill set at this point in his career.