Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 49-35 victory over the Carolina Panthers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. We will get into this in much further detail over the coming days, but Sunday's game at Ford Field was a prime example of why the Lions seem to be a good matchup for the Green Bay Packers. At their best, the Lions are a team equipped to match the Packers score for score. Their average of 30.1 points per game ranks third in the NFL, and the only team that has thrown more often than the Lions this season is the New Orleans Saints. You think the Packers are pass happy? The Lions have thrown an average of seven more passes per game than the Packers this season. If you're a Lions fan hoping for an upset Thursday, you no doubt noticed that the Packers defense allowed 342 yards Sunday to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. That performance made the Packers' stingy game in Week 10 against the Minnesota Vikings seem more like a blip against an outmanned opponent.

  2. The Lions took a deep breath Sunday and realized their 24-7 deficit resulted from an unmatchable chain of events. Coach Jim Schwartz recalled this sentiment on the sideline: "'Hey, we're not going to turn it over three times in a quarter again. We're not going to give up a kickoff return again, we're not going to keep drives alive with penalties on special teams' and things like that.' Those were the things that were getting us. It was certainly a case of they weren't beating us. We were beating ourselves. I don't know if there has ever been a more obvious situation. So it’s easy to keep your confidence there." Still, I give the Lions credit for not panicking regardless of how the deficit occurred. As we discussed Sunday, I thought the key possession was the touchdown drive that brought the Lions to 24-14. That's where quarterback Matthew Stafford really appeared to settle down and fall into a rhythm. After missing on five of his first 10 passes, including two interceptions, Stafford finished the game with completions on 23 of his next 26 throws.

  3. Sunday's victory put the NFL back on the Lions' bandwagon after a 1-3 dip. The league flexed their Week 13 game at the New Orleans Saints from an afternoon game to an 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff on NBC, meaning that both of the Lions' next two games will be on national television. The Lions haven't played on Sunday night since 2005, but it will be their second prime-time game of 2011. Everyone wants to see if the Lions can end their streak of 11 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, currently tied for the longest active streak in the NFL.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

The Lions acknowledged their underperforming punt coverage group last week after giving up an 82-yard return to the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester. So what will they do now after the Panthers' Kealoha Pilares's 101-yard kickoff return? Overall this season, Lions opponents are averaging a gaudy 15.4 yards per punt return and 29.4 yards per kickoff return. Packers returner Randall Cobb has been shaky at times but has the speed and open-field running ability to exploit poor coverage teams. Is there a quick fix available?