Analysis: Lions See Elite Status Is Far Off

"We have some work to do." Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci summed up how the Lions fared in their first big test of the regular season, falling hard to the Philadelphia Eagles 30-13 at Ford Field Sunday. Is all lost for the Lions? Insider Mike Fowler shares his analysis.

(DETROIT) - "We have some work to do."

Lions head coach Steve Mariucci summed up how the Lions fared in their first big test of the regular season, falling hard to the Philadelphia Eagles 30-13 at Ford Field Sunday.

Detroit's problems, defensively, remain in the secondary. The Lions have not really address their problems at the safety position since they lost Mark Carrier to free agency a few years ago. Detroit bypassed opportunities to add quality safeties through the draft. While other teams added quality players like Ed Reed, Roy Williams, Troy Polamalu, and many others, Detroit passed on the chance to add Jacksonville safety Donovan Darius through the trade route, electing to add only aging veteran Brock Marion - a tough, heady, but slower player - and they have paid the price.

Teams consistently target the deep secondary for big plays and seem to be getting them more often than not. While Detroit has a talented but inexperienced player in Terrence Holt, they seem unwilling to risk playing Holt in extended minutes. However, the diminishing returns that the team gets from Marion and fellow greybeard Bracy Walker is cause for concern.

Despite only rushing for 59 yards, the Eagles were able to hit the Lions secondary hard, with quarterback Donovon McNabb throwing for 356 yards and two touchdowns. McNabb had pass plays of 55, 47 and 27 yards against the Lions, who were also without cornerback Dre' Bly, the mainstay of their defense.

This indicates that the safeties in Detroit's two-deep are unable to cover the deep zones effectively. Adding to the problem was some shoddy tackling of Eagles receivers, allowing them to get extensive yards after the catch.

It didn't take McNabb long to figure this out.

On the Eagles second possession of the ball game hit wide receiver Lamar Smith for a 25 yard completion, just behind the zone occupied by backup corner Chris Cash. Two plays later, McNabb connected with wide receiver Freddie Mitchell for 48 yards on a ball that should have been intercepted. Instead, the Eagles set up shop at the Detroit 9-yard line and three plays later the Eagles were up 7-0.

Philadelphia continued to run plays that got their receivers in matchups against the Lions safeties rather than their linebackers. Mostly the Eagles stayed away from corner Fernando Bryant, but they got in some shots on him as well.

Detroit's offense was hampered by two major problems, the inability to effectively run the football and to convert on 3rd down. The Lions lost running back Kevin Jones early in the first quarter to a high ankle sprain. The severity of the sprain is unknown, but will likely be updated at Mariucci's weekly press conference. Detroit totaled just 77 yards rushing with Artose Pinner getting only 16 yards on six carries. Veteran Shawn Bryson turned out to be Detroit's most effective back with 43 yards rushing on five carries.

Problematic for the Lions three games into the regular season is that they have been unable to establish a rushing game, despite spending millions of dollars to acquire free agent guard Damien Woody. The Lions rely heavily on the right side occupied by Woody and tackle Stockar McDougle to open holes for the run game but it hasn't materialized.

Journeyman Dave Loverne has protected well in the passing game but has been unable to provide a push in the run game. Mariucci vowed that his team would not become one-dimensional as they were a season ago, but with Jones (high ankle sprain) and fullback Cory Schlesinger (hamstring) both out with injuries and his offensive line unable to get a push, the coaches worst fears are beginning to materialize.

Troublesome too, for the Lions was the step back that Joey Harrington took in his quarterback efficiency. Harrington was brilliant a week ago against Houston, but seemed to wilt under the pressure of Jevon Kearse (3 sacks) and the Philadelphia blitz.

The Lions converted just one of six third down tries in the first half and four-of-14 for the game, just 29%. Granted, the Eagles have a good defense, but they're not that good.

Part of the problem was that Detroit put Harrington in 3rd-and-long situations way too many times. That allowed the Eagles pass rush carte blanche in going after Harrington. Detroit needs to get more yards on first and second downs. But its inexcusable on 3rd-and-2 to complete a 1-yard pass.

All is not lost for the Lions.

Detroit has an important road game against a very beatable Atlanta Falcons team (3-0) after the bye. While the Falcons are undefeated they were unimpressive in their 6-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Lions need to regroup, get their players healthy and try to get a second road win. If Detroit can finish this three week period (Philadelphia, bye, Atlanta) with a split and a 3-1 start, it would be a successful first four weeks of the season. There are not many teams in the NFL that can beat Philadelphia the way they are playing now so let's not overreact to a loss here.

However, a 2-2 start would be a major disappointment after starting 2-0. The more important game might be on the road against Atlanta.

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