There has been one common theme of the last two games played by the Detroit Lions: a lack of offense. Detroit hasn't scored a touchdown in either contest, and not surprisingly, the Lions have lost both games.
Many opponents will struggle against Arizona and New England, the two teams the Lions have lost to in recent weeks, dropping their record to 8-4. But Detroit's problems go beyond that. The Lions offense hasn't lived up to expectations all season long. Now the team has just a few days to find answers and prepare for their Thanksgiving showdown with the Bears, whose defense has allowed just 13 points in each of their past two games.
"We definably have noticed and definitely understand that's the situation, but we have a positive attitude that we can get things going," Lions wide receiver Golden Tate told Chicago-area reporters during a conference call on Tuesday. "Once we do get our offense going, we can be a dangerous team. We have no doubt in our mind, with the personnel that we have and the way we've practiced, it's unfortunate that we haven't scored in two games, but I think this week is a great opportunity to change that."
Detroit's offensive problems have been a surprise, given the plethora of weapons they possess on that side of the ball. With quarterback Matthew Stafford leading the way, the Detroit attack has historically been among the league's premier units. The Lions even went about improving the offense in the offseason, signing Tate from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and using their first-round draft choice on talented tight end Eric Ebron. Tate has been a strong addition, leading the team with 72 receptions for 1,047 yards.
However injuries have set the team back this season. Running back Reggie Bush has missed four of the team's past six games recovering from an ankle injury, while wide receiver Calvin Johnson was out three games earlier in the year, also because of an ankle.
Those absences from the offensive lineup have hurt Detroit's production. The Lions rank 21st in yards at 332.5 per game and 28th in points, scoring 17.9 a contest. Compare that to the 2013, when the team ranked sixth and 13th, respectively, in those two categories.
"I think overall, I can sum it up by saying we've been inconsistent," head coach Jim Caldwell said about the offense during his conference call. "We've had spurts where we've done things well and spurts where we haven't done things very well. That's the issue we have to solve. And it crosses all boundaries. Run game, pass game, you name it."
Stafford has had an up-and-down season under center, with protection issues in front of him causing some problems. The quarterback has played in all 11 games, but he's thrown only 13 touchdowns on the year, compared to 10 interceptions. The stat that jumps out the most is the sacks he's taken, 33, second-most in the NFL.
He hasn't been helped by the team's run game too much, as the Lions gain just 80.8 yards per game on the ground, third-fewest in football.
"One of the things that jumps out at you right away when you spend time with him is that he's a guy that certainly has a great passion for the game," Caldwell said of Stafford. He's extremely studious, works extremely hard and tries his best to get better every single day in all phases… And when you have that combination of things, you'll see some improvement in his play and I think he's on his way to doing just that."
Stafford has been clutch this season, with three consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks earlier in the season. With Johnson back in the lineup and Bush likely returning to the field soon, the Detroit offense could soon be firing on all cylinders again. The team has hit a bump in the road, but knows from experience they have the ability to overcome it.
"We learned quite a bit early in the season," Caldwell said. "Our team came back from quite a few deficits to win it at the end, showed determination, diligence, passion, never give up and I think those things still hold true even though the last few weeks we haven't gotten the results that we wanted. I still think this is a team that has resilience and is certainly capable of playing well."