The Detroit Lions know they aren’t going to be able to put up 39 points every week.
They were able to do it last week against a patchwork Indianapolis Colts defense, but in upcoming games, the defense is going to have to pick up the pace. Andrew Luck threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, and the Colts added another 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The most disturbing thing was the way Luck was able to move the ball at will against Detroit’s defense down the stretch. The Colts had the ball three times in the fourth quarter and scored 17 points.
Down 28-21, they moved the ball 94 yards in nine plays to tie the game, and after the Lions answered with a touchdown and missed extra point, they only needed eight plays to go 75 yards and take the lead.
Matthew Stafford saved the game by leading the team to a winning field goal in the last 37 seconds, but it wasn’t an acceptable performance by a defensive unit that came into the season knowing they needed to improve.
There were promising signs, though. The Lions defense looked stout as Detroit built a 21-3 first-half lead, but Luck sliced them up for a touchdown in the final 1:37 of the second quarter, then added 25 more points in the second half.
“For 28 minutes, we played outstanding defense,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Thursday. “For two quarters, we played awful defense.”
One of the biggest questions going into the season was how the secondary would stand up against a top-tier quarterback. Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs had breakout seasons in 2015, and Glover Quin gave them a solid veteran presence at safety. However, Nevin Lawson had struggled as the No. 2 corner, and Austin went into the season without a clear starter at free safety.
Lawson didn’t have a good game against Luck, but the Indianapolis receivers were getting open against everyone on Detroit’s defense. Slay and Diggs both gave up big plays, and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle combined for seven catches, 88 yards and three touchdowns.
“They gave us a lot of problems in those areas,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “Those are things that we need to improve.”
DeAndre Levy’s return was supposed to solidify the linebacker position, but he was dealing with a sore quad and barely made an impact on the game. His frustration level boiled over when he committed a key taunting penalty to keep a Colts drive alive.
Next to him, Tamir Whitehead struggled to cover receivers, allowing Luck an underneath option on almost every play.
With the Titans coming to Ford Field this season, the Lions know that they aren’t likely to put up 39 points on a Dick LeBeau-coached defense. The Vikings scored 25 in a Week 1 win, but 13 of them came on an interception return and a fumble return. Shaun Hill and Adrian Peterson only managed four field goals.
A healthy Levy would be huge against Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray, but he didn’t practice on Wednesday. Austin said Thursday that he expects Levy to play against Tennessee, but no one knows how effective he will be.
Either way, there are a lot of players who need to perform better if the Lions want a 2-0 start. The Colts were able to neutralize Ziggy Ansah’s pass rush - Kerry Hyder had the only two sacks of Luck - but that won’t work in the long run.
It’s going to be a good test for Austin - he’s got one week to fix a lot of problems.