The Detroit Lions, who can’t even succeed at being the league’s worst franchise, occasionally show flashes of being a competent football team capable of losing a wild-card playoff game on the road. For long stretches in between, they lose with great regularity and mismanagement. Despite all this, the Lions (3-4) enjoy an enthusiastic and borderline delusional fanbase willing to look past all faults in the hope of a rare double-digit win season.
There’s a certain sense of shame for the supporters still capable of shame when they get lured into thinking this time is any different than the previous six decades. And that’s what’s happening right now after three consecutive losses.
This is amazing but true. The last Lions rusher to surpass 100 yard in a game was Reggie Bush. He did it in 2013. Twenty-thirteen! Each of the last 59 games have come and gone without a runner reaching triple digits. It seems like it would have happened once, even on accident, but no.
This is no wacky stat. Instead it’s the logical reflection of a franchise entirely reliant on the right arm of Matthew Stafford, the highest-paid player in football. Part of the reason he’s the highest-paid player is because the Lions have no shot without him and only a decent shot with him performing at a high level.
Sunday night’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a painful, nationally televised exercise in the perils of a run game permanently stuck in neutral. The Lions mustered 15 points on five field goals. Stafford threw for 423 yards. Twenty-two rushes yielded 71 yards. How does a team gain so many yards and fail to score a touchdown?
By going 0-for-5 in the red zone.
Detroit rushed seven times for four yards inside the Steelers’ 20. Stafford struggled mightily as a result with the defense selling out against the pass. Longtime observers of the Lions understood that the third, fourth, and fifth trip into enemy territory would likely follow the same field goal script established early.
The definition of insanity is not doing the same thing over and over. It’s expecting different results.
There’s merit in using screen passes and running backs out of the backfield as substitute for the traditional ground game. But there is no substitute for being able to grind out tough yards by running between the tackles when warranted.
There are so many reasons the Lions aren’t perennial contenders. Of them all, the short-yardage disaster and unbalanced offense are two of the most frustrating. In the tradition of low expectations, fans would settle for ending this streak at 59 games. The road to respectability starts with a 100-yard rusher.
Baby steps wouldn’t look any different than the current rushing pace.