FIRST DOWN: BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES
We praised Detroit's offensive line last week for how well they played against a really good Washington front. They allowed just one sack and one quarterback hit, and opened some nice holes in the run game against a Washington team that came into that contest with 27.0 sacks.
It was almost an exact opposite performance in Carolina Sunday against the Panthers. Detroit's offensive line allowed 5.0 sacks, 11 quarterbacks hits and three tackles for loss. Detroit rushed for just 40 yards. All five sacks came in the second half when Detroit fell behind by double digits on the scoreboard.
Left tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow have been playing terrific football all year for Detroit, but even they had negative plays that contributed to the loss.
Ragnow had a low snap that Matthew Stafford couldn't handle resulting in a first-half turnover. Decker was beat for a sack in the third quarter, and then he and running back Kerryon Johnson got mixed up and blocked the same defender a little later in the second half leaving Brian Burns a free path to another Stafford sack.
"I mean, that's not good, we have to protect our quarterback," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said after Detroit's 20-0 loss to Carolina. "We have to give him pockets so we can get the ball downfield and we have to do a better job there. Certainly those aren't good numbers."
SECOND DOWN: PLAYOFF ODDS
Sunday's loss in Carolina dropped the Lions to 4-6 on the year. It's certainly not an envious place to be in for the Lions, who still have contests remaining against Chicago, Green Bay, Tennessee and Tampa Bay, all teams currently .500 or better.
Since 1990, there have been 167 teams in the NFL who have started the season 4-6. Of those, just 13 have made the playoffs.
Had the Lions won Sunday and gotten to 5-5, those odds would have increased significantly. Of the 142 teams who've started 5-5 since 1990, 42 have gone on to make the playoffs, according to NFL Media Research.
Sunday's loss put the Lions behind the eight ball and left the margin for error razor thin the rest of the way.
O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: How much did injuries contribute to Lions' performance on offense? RECAP: Lions at Panthers INACTIVES: Lions at Panthers
THIRD DOWN: MISSING SWIFT
D'Andre Swift got his first official start last week against Washington, though the Lions have been leaning on the rookie running back for a few weeks now.
Unfortunately, Detroit didn't have Swift's services Sunday because of concussion symptoms that started developing Thursday. Swift was ruled out Friday.
Adrian Peterson and Johnson tried to fill the void, but it was obvious Sunday just how much Swift means for Detroit's offense, not only running the ball, but in the passing game too. His ability to be a mismatch in the passing game changes how a defense attacks the Lions.
Swift rushed for 81 yards and caught 68 yards worth of passes with a touchdown last week. Peterson and Johnson combined for just 56 total yards between them on Sunday. Detroit didn't rush for a single first down in the game.
FOURTH DOWN: IMPACT PLAYS NEEDED
With Detroit's offense as banged up as they were coming in with Stafford dealing with a thumb injury and not having Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola or Swift, there was an opportunity for Detroit's defense to stand up and make a big impact Sunday.
Detroit did intercept two P.J. Walker passes, both in the Lions' end zone taking points off the board, but that was about as much impact as that unit really had all contest. Carolina was able to rush for 116 yards, led by running back Mike Davis' 64 yards and a touchdown, and they had 374 total yards of offense.
Detroit's defense had just one sack, one quarterback hit and two tackles for loss. There just weren't enough impact plays. Carolina ran 70 plays to Detroit's 55. They won the time of possession 36:48 to 23:12.
Detroit was shut out for the first time since 2009, so this loss has more to do with the lack of offense than it does the play of Detroit's defense, but the defense could have stepped up more to help out an injury-riddled offense.