Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After Detroit Lions' 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Lions coach Jim Schwartz benched right tackle Gosder Cherilus in Week 2 because of a personal-foul penalty he committed at the end of a Week 1 victory. It was an aggressive, clear precedent for future offenses, and it seemed to work in Cherilus' case. But the message seems lost among many of Cherilus' teammates. If he wants to recapture control of this team, Schwartz needs to sit multiple players for next Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, including receiver Titus Young, kick returner Stefan Logan and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Given the Cherilus precedent, anything less will imply tacit consent and almost certainly disappoint veteran players who are hoping to make their first legitimate playoff push in Lions uniforms. For two consecutive weeks, post-whistle penalties have played a direct role in the outcome of Lions games.

  2. The Lions' mistakes Sunday night weren't just of aggression. They were of technique as well. Reasonable people can debate the merits of the first offensive pass interference penalty against receiver Nate Burleson. But after a call like that is made, Burleson needed to adjust to ensure that he didn't give officials a chance to make it again. Instead, Burleson was whistled two more times and negated a total of 67 passing yards. In records dating back to the start of the 2011, ESPN Stats & Information couldn't find a prior instance of a player receiving three offensive pass interference penalties in one game.

  3. Sunday night gave us our first glimpse of rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who started for the suspended Ndamukong Suh. Fairley responded with three tackles and his first NFL sack before leaving in the second quarter after appearing to re-injure his surgically repaired foot. Schwartz said Fairley's foot isn't broken but that it's "sore." It's been obvious that Fairley has been doing his best to play through what clearly wasn't a fully healed injury this season, and he deserves credit for that. It's not clear whether he'll need more time away to heal, but Lions fans should be excited about what Fairley could do next season when he is presumably fully healthy.

And here is one issue I don't get:

The Lions held the Saints 10 points below their home scoring average, but 31 points was still too much to give up on this night. With cornerbacks Chris Houston and Brandon McDonald sidelined, it's not surprising that Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 15 of 18 passes outside of the numbers. But with Suh out and Fairley injured, you wonder if the Lions should have moved off their season-long strategy of mostly four-man rushes. They entered the game rushing four or fewer on 79 percent of opponents' drop backs, and Sunday night that percentage was 77 percent. Against that front, Brees completed 22 of 28 passes for 297 yards and three scores. Brees does well against the blitz, too, but perhaps the Lions needed to mix it up more on this occasion.