Takeaways from the Lions loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving

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The Detroit Lions failed to deliver a win once again in Week 12. Playing at home against a banged-up Chicago Bears team that had lost five in a row, the Lions once again couldn’t seal the deal on a late lead and fell, 16-14, on a last-second field goal by Bears kicker Cairo Santos.

Now that the tryptophan has worn off from the postgame turkey spread, it’s time to dive back into another game where the Lions played well enough to win but also just a bit worse to create the loss. Now 0-10-1 on the season, this game represented Detroit’s best chance all season to notch an entry in the win column.

Here are some morning-after takeaways on the Lions’ Thanksgiving loss to the Bears.

Aaron Glenn's defensive scheming needs logic

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Lions defensive coordinator generally gets favorable reviews for coaxing as much as he can out of a defense that doesn’t have any real impact talent. And while that was true for some of the game on Thursday, Glenn let his players down with some poor schematic choices in critical times, too.

Case in point: the final Bears scoring drive. As Albert Breer correctly notes, this is setting your secondary up for failure. Playing with such a cushion in a short-yardage situation is mind-boggling.

There were other instances as well where Glenn dropped the ball for his players. In an early third-down situation, the Lions rushed only three against Bears QB Andy Dalton. The theory on rushing just three is that it should provide much better coverage with more players dropped into duty. But between the relative lack of coverage skills of the safeties and the dilapidated secondary overall and the amount of time it gave Dalton to survey the field, it was a terrible, flawed strategy. Dalton bought a little time and easily found an open target for the conversion.

The Lions did not blitz much against a Bears offense that came in with the highest sack percentage allowed of any team since at least 2006. Detroit managed to get Dalton to the ground just once, and he had far too many clean pockets. Given the ongoing communication and coordination issues with the back-end coverage, bringing more pressure is the easiest way to help. But against a vulnerable foe, Glenn backed off when his defense needed to step on the gas.

Good defensive units have an identity, something they consistently do well. Think of the Ravens and their exotic pressures, the Packers and their speedy coverage, the Colts and their relentless aggression at taking the ball away. These Lions defenders play hard for Glenn, but there needs to be more than that. Right now the identity is “too many mistakes” and “laying off the gas in crunch time”. Those are not positives and they were on full display in Week 12.

Whoever is running the offense cannot return in that capacity in 2022

There is plenty of blame to go around here for the Lions’ unacceptable offensive performance on Thanksgiving. The patchwork line didn’t block well, D’Andre Swift was too passive before leaving with a shoulder injury, penalties of all types stymied some success, all of that is true. But the playcalling and play design just aren’t good enough.

That’s been true on a weekly basis in 2021, but it was magnified under the national spotlight against the Bears. One sequence in particular was infuriating.

The Lions got 1st-and-10 at the Bears 29-yard line after some nice runs by Jamaal Williams and a couple of good, timely throws from Jared Goff. Here is the sequence from the NFL’s official scoring; it’s too painful to type it out and relive the agony.

Two pre-snap penalties, a valid holding call and then three absolute give-up play calls. Note the short pass to Williams on second down. Every single Bears defender sniffed out that play as soon as the Lions stepped to the line. It had no hope. In a situation like that, Goff as the quarterback either needs to kill that play and option to something else or call a timeout. If he doesn’t have that ability — and based on comments from press conferences he might not — because the coaches don’t trust him or empower him with it, Goff shouldn’t be on the field. That’s an epic fail of offensive scheme and coaching.

Sadly, it was far from the only instance in this game where the offensive talent, as modest as it may be, was held back by Anthony Lynn’s play designs and Dan Campbell’s playcalling. This team badly needs a fresh, modern offensive mind to revamp the fundamental roots of an offense that is way too predictable and conservative.

Injuries really made an impact

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Before you even roll your eyes claiming “no excuses”, this is not blaming the injuries for the loss. It’s simply explaining what impact they had on the Lions and their inability to overcome them, something the Bears did a better job with on Thursday.

Tommy Kraemer starting at right guard in place of Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a disaster. Kraemer, an undrafted rookie making his first career start, didn’t play well on his own. But not having Big V to his inside shoulder also coaxed out the worst performance from right tackle Penei Sewell of the season. Don’t think for a second that isn’t a coincidence.

D’Andre Swift was not playing well before his injury, but losing him and his pass-catching ability out of the backfield hurt the offensive options in the second half. Williams is a capable receiver in his own right but a different kind of weapon. Using him in passing options designed for Swift is the same level of futility as using Swift on the interior power run plays designed for where Williams thrives.

On defense, moving Will Harris to the slot position to fill in for injured AJ Parker didn’t work well. Harris struggled with the quickness and intricacy of the route running from the Bears out of the slot. Moving him closer to the line didn’t help his run defense, either. But playing Harris in Parker’s place forced more extended play from reserve safeties Dean Marlowe and C.J. Moore. They were clearly exposed.

The Bears directly attacked that on the Dalton-to-Darnell Mooney pass that set up Chicago’s lone touchdown, among several instances. Players who aren’t used to being where they are on the field lead to communication issues and coverage breakdowns, and that creates fissures in the confidence of the players around them. Outside corners Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs weren’t playing with the confidence and aggression they normally have (Oruwariye still played well overall, however). It’s not difficult to think the shuffled secondary had something to do with that.

Quick hits

Some more concise observations from the game:

Jared Goff: Loved him throwing down the field, hated his pocket presence. The more aggressive Goff is a better Goff, and the Lions’ two touchdowns are directly credited to the typically timid QB’s willingness to let a deeper route develop and actually throw it. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an established, seasoned quarterback who has less of a sense of how to manipulate the pocket or escape pressure than Goff, and that was on full embarrassing display as well.

Amani Oruwariye: The cornerback is getting more confident in his ball skills and more adept at playing with his back to the quarterback. He still needs work on controlling the receiver’s release, but Oruwariye picked off one pass in the end zone and would have had another if not for former Lions free-agent flop Jesse James yanking his head backward. Illegal hands to the face, anyone…?

Alex Anzalone: For the second week in a row, preconceived notions about the linebacker are going to show themselves. If you’re not a fan, you’re likely to only remember his one missed tackle and his role in the communication/coverage breakdown that led to the Jimmy Graham touchdown. If you generally like him, you probably thought Anzalone played a great game in run defense and will praise his two pass breakups. That’s Anzalone in a nutshell — you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of No. 34.

General

The Lions mismanagement of the clock in the fourth quarter has been bad all season. On Thursday, it ruined any chance of holding on for the victory. Shameful use of timeouts by Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn.

The missed opportunity to down a brilliant Jack Fox punt inside the Chicago 5-yard line by KhaDarel Hodge was brutal. Hodge is normally a fantastic special teams player, but he blew it while imitating a dreidel and not locating the ball.

It would have been very nice for the officials to pay the same amount of scrutiny to the Bears offensive line as they did the Lions. Not saying the plethora of penalties on Detroit was not deserved, not at all. But referee Adrian Hill’s crew sure called it tighter on Detroit than it did Chicago. In real-time, it appeared Bears RG James Daniels (No. 68) failed to set for the required count before the snap several times and it only got called once.

New kicker Riley Patterson passed his first test. Lions kickoff coverage remains very good, too.

One passing target for TE T.J. Hockenson in the first seven offensive drives is not nearly enough. The Bears, like most opponents have done, tried hard to take him away, but maybe one of the 12 (I’m estimating) dead-to-rights screens could have at least tried to get to Hockenson, the team’s best offensive weapon. File this with the above diatribe on offensive coaching.

Nice to see rookie DE Levi Onwuzurike get his first career sack. His overall play has perked up the last two weeks. Fellow rookie Alim McNeill played well in run defense, too. Would like to see more pass rush oomph from McNeill, but if the defense is depending on a nose tackle to get pass rush, it’s not the nose tackle’s fault…

The Lions benefitted from a weird rule quirk on the Jack Fox punt that bounced off CB Bobby Price’s helmet. Because the Bears were called for holding after the kick, the ball hitting Price turned into a designation of a muff, which meant the initial contact point by the Lions didn’t matter. Bad rule, good break for the Lions. Expect the NFL to clean that one up.

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