DETROIT (AP)This year was supposed to be different for the Detroit Lions.
With one postseason victory in 65 years and a 21st century filled with a series of unsuccessful coaches, Dan Campbell came into the season with a high approval rate from the fanbase.
Yes, they had gone 3-13-1 last season, but they played well down the stretch and Campbell had another offseason to tweak his coaching staff and get his players to buy into his system.
It hasn’t worked yet. The Lions have reached their bye week at 1-4 and coming off a 29-0 loss in New England.
The Patriots came into the game at 1-3 and started third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.
To make it even more difficult, the Patriots offensive play-caller is Matt Patricia, who struggled as Detroit’s head coach.
After the game, Campbell talked about hitting ”rock bottom,” but he was more upbeat on Monday.
”I didn’t see us being 1-4 going into the bye – we know we’re better than that, but we haven’t shown that collectively,” he said. ”We’ve shown it in pieces, and I know the guys we’ve got in this locker room. I know what we’re capable of doing, and if we can get some momentum, this can turn around in a hurry.”
Last year, the Lions were 0-8 when they reached their bye, and Campbell made major adjustments to the offense. It worked well enough for Detroit to finish that season 3-5-1.
This season, the focus will be on the defense. The Lions are last in the NFL, allowing 34.0 points and 429 yards per game entering Monday.
They were better against the short-handed Patriots – only allowing one offensive touchdown – but still only forced two punts against an inexperienced quarterback.
”I thought we stopped the bleeding from what we’ve been going through,” Campbell said. ”It was better – I’m not saying it was good enough, but it was better. If we had played half as well on offense as we had in the first four games, we would have given ourselves a chance to win.
”But we didn’t do that.”
Despite Sunday’s shutout, the Lions still rank third in points and yards entering Monday, thanks in great part to a rushing game that is averaging 5.4 yards a carry.
They hope to have D’Andre Swift back after the bye, which should provide another big-play threat.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense has struggled at every level. They have seven sacks in five games, but five of those came in their win over the Washington Commanders on Sept. 18. They didn’t sack Geno Smith or Zappe in the past two games, and the linebackers are struggling to cover running backs and tight ends.
The secondary hasn’t been any better, which is why the Lions are allowing 7.9 yards per pass and 5.5 yards per rush.
”We’re going to look at everything during the bye week, but especially at the way we practice,” Campbell said. ”I already know we need more one-on-one drills, both in pass coverage and blocking.”
The absences of Swift and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown have proven how vital they are to Detroit’s offense. With Swift out on Sunday and St. Brown trying unsuccessfully to play on a high ankle sprain, the Lions went from averaging 6.6 yards per play in the first four weeks to 5.0 against the Patriots.
Amani Oruwariye was the No. 1 cornerback in 2021, and Jeff Okudah’s return from injury was supposed to give defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn two solid corners to anchor his secondary.
Instead, Oruwariye has taken a significant step back, getting beat deep and forced into penalties, and was a healthy scratch against New England.
”We felt like a number of our defensive issues were popping up at the back and we needed to shake things up,” Campbell said. ”We’re not discarding Amani. He’s going to get another shot to go out there and win back that job.”
Campbell is hoping to have several players back for the Dallas game on Oct. 23, but the biggest relief was that safety Saivion Smith was released from a Boston hospital in time to fly home with the team. Smith was taken off the field in an ambulance but passed all spinal tests. He remains in concussion protocol.
Four – the number of wins Campbell has in his first 22 games as the Lions head coach.
Spend the bye week getting players healthy and figuring out the problems on defense.
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