Finishing is issue for Detroit Lions who have led in all 12 games but won just 3

ALLEN PARK — In a few weeks when the Lions obituary is written for this season, not finishing games will be one of the causes of an early exit from playoff hopes.

The Lions (3-8-1) have led in all 12 games but won only three of them.

It gets worse. They have led or been tied in the fourth quarter five times, losing four of them.

Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni is optimistic about improvement.

“We’re a play or two away from being in position to hold those leads that we’ve had. We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve held a lead in a lot of games – probably all of them, maybe,’’ Pasqualoni said. “We just have to make another play. We’re a couple of plays away. I think it’s important that we’re playing well against the run, which gives you a chance to at least have an idea they’re going to through the ball, so you’re not always kind of in between what they are doing. I think the guys are playing really hard. I’m really pleased with how hard we play. I think we play really, really hard and I think we have a lot of guys that are going in and out of the game.’’

He thinks some of the young guys have responded “pretty well.”

“We just have to take care of some little things and get a little bit better and just make a few more plays. It’s a game of inches, you know I’ve always said that this game is a game of inches and I really believe it is a game of inches,’’ Pasqualoni said.

It’s on defense for not making stops and offense for not getting the big play when it most matters. The Lions have been outscored 105-70 in the fourth quarter.

If it continues on Sunday at the Vikings, put another one in the loss column. 

In their first meeting — a Vikings’ 42-30 win on Oct. 20 — the Lions held an early 14-7 lead, tied at the half and then were outscored 21-9 in the second half.

Lions’ awful defense not all Patricia’s fault, but it’s up to him to fix it

This defense worse than the 0-16 team in 2008

ALLEN PARK — The Lions’ defense is bad, it’s ranked 30th in the NFL giving up 412.8 yards per game. In Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, the defense gave up 509 total yards. No other team amassed more yards on Sunday.

It might not be the Lions’ worst defense ever, but if not it comes close.

In 2008, you remember the season the Lions went 0-16, Detroit’s defense allowed 404.4 yards per game. It was the worst in the NFL but still allowed less yards than this season’s bunch.

So what now?

The Lions (3-6-1) play at the woeful Washington Redskins (1-9) on Sunday. The Redskins ended their streak of 16 straight quarters without a touchdown when they scored a pair late in a 34-17 loss to the Jets on Sunday. The Lions are 2.5-point favorites.

With a championship, playoffs and likely a winning season out of the realm of possibility, coach Matt Patricia on Monday said: “We’re playing for this game, that’s what we do and that’s really honestly that’s how the week is for us. It’s one-game seasons, that’s what they are, that’s how the NFL works.’’

While Lions’ penalties were an issue Sunday (11, costing 89 yards) and are most every game day, the defense is the reason the Lions lost to Dallas, 35-27.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said he had time to go through his progressions two or three times. It was crazy. It seemed like he had all day because he did. No wonder he passed for 444 yards — the most against the Lions this season. Often his receivers were wide open. Four of them had single catches of 21 yards or more (21, 23, 41,49). That’s a little crazy too.

So Patricia was asked if there will be changes on defensive play-calling immediately after the game. He danced around a straight answer.

He was asked again on Monday and remained vague. It’s uncertain if he or coordinator Paul Pasqualoni are making the calls during the game. 

This was Patricia’s reply on Monday: “I think for us as a staff, and how we’re doing things on defense, I think we need to continually improve it. I definitely feel that that has been my message to those guys throughout the entire season, so that we can help the players more. I try to do as much as I can and will continually try to do that, but I think the coaches are working really hard to try to get it right from that aspect of it. We obviously have to do more, and we will. Sometimes I look at it and think I have to teach it differently too. I always try to evaluate, ‘OK, what can I say differently here? How can I explain it different? How can I term it different that we’ll at least maybe understand it and maybe be able to play a little bit better from that aspect of it?’’’

When pressed on an answer about play calling he said his role on game days changes game by game. 

“So, some games it’s been more, some games it’s been less, and that’s been consistent throughout the season. That’s true,’’ Patricia said.

Whether it’s Patricia or Pasqualoni making the calls, improvement must be made.

This mess of a defense is not all on coaching, but that is definitely a part of it. Patricia went 6-10 last season and now is 3-6-1. Is the team still listening to him? “I think there’s nothing that would give me an indication that they’re not,’’ Patricia said. 

Not so long ago — actually in 2014 under coach Jim Caldwell in his first season — the Lions finished the season with the second-best defense in the NFL, allowing 300.9 yards per game. It was Ndamukong Suh’s last season in Detroit.

It’s been downhill since.

Last season, the defense ranked 10th (335 yards per game) after it made a turnaround during the season (after the acquisition of Damon “Snacks” Harrison) and toughened up.

This season’s new low is not all because of Patricia’s defensive philosophy, but it’s up to him to right a sinking ship. 

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Detroit Cowboys

Detroit’s defense, which has struggled and is a huge reason the Lions have lost five of their last six, will face another huge test in the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Lions (3-5-1) are coming off a 20-13 loss at Chicago while the Cowboys (5-4) lost to the Vikings 28-24 on Sunday night.

Detroit will be without quarterback Matthew Stafford (back/hip) who will miss his second straight start. Jeff Driskel will step in once again. 

The Lions have been in close games — they’ve lost their last two by one touchdown — but have had trouble scoring or holding onto a lead in the second half.

“I would say for our guys – maybe with the exception of one week this year – even though we fought through every single game, I would say each game is coming down to maybe one or two plays here or there,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “I think our guys are continually trying to battle through that and trying to find ways to come out on the plus side of it, so are we as coaches.’’

Five things to watch in the Lions-Cowboys matchup:

1. The Lions’ defense must play better overall. Coordinator Paul Pasqualoni is bullish on the group and sees positive signs despite the losses. “I don’t know if there is anything missing, but I just keep talking about playing with consistency and winning them. So, we have to focus on what we need to do to win games and just being as consistent as we can be every snap because these games – the margin of error, as you guys know is not very, very big,’’ Pasqualoni said. “That’s the National Football League, so just focusing and concentrating on what we have to do to win games.”

2/ must find a way to pressure quarterback Dak Prescott who has completed 68.3 percent of his passes.  “You know I would say, one of the things is – watching him from last year when we played him early, to this year – I think he’s doing a great job at the line of scrimmage. He’s changing plays, he’s audibling, he’s making adjustments based on what he sees from the defense. I would say his post-snap read of coverage is a lot better,’’ Patricia said. “He’s doing a really good job of kind of deciphering some of the different looks that he’s getting and really taking advantage of the skill players that he has out there with the speed and some of the one-on-one matchups that are being created out there because of the run game, and some of the different things that defenses have to do.” 

3. Stopping the run has also been an issue for the Lions defense — they’ve allowed 129.7 yards per game. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott can be dangerous.  “Well, I think that he has great balance. I think his pads, he’s always moving forward. He (is) very, very hard to keep him from going forward, he does a great job with that,’’ Pasqualoni said. “He runs hard, he has really, really good vision and he has good instincts. He has all of those critical factors that running backs need to have. A lot of it is vision and balance and a feel for it, and he does a great job of making his cuts, staying square and moving downfield.”

4. Driskel did fine in his start at Chicago. Considering his lack of experience (five previous starts with the Bengals) he moved the offense as well as could be expected, but he is no Stafford. The Lions need to put plenty of points on the board against the Cowboys, because it’s a given that Dallas should barrel through the Lions’ defense. 

5. Injuries have decimated the running back group. Ty Johnson could provide a huge boost if he can return after suffering a concussion last week in Chicago. He was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. 

PREDICTION: Cowboys 31, Lions 17