Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 45-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. The success of 2011 will bring the Lions a busy offseason and some difficult decisions. Coach Jim Schwartz has completed three years of a four-year contract and likely will get a new deal. Receiver Calvin Johnson will have an astronomic salary-cap number approaching $20 million, making him a strong candidate for a contract extension that would lower his 2012 cap figure. Defensive end Cliff Avril, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright will all be unrestricted free agents. Avril led the team in sacks (11), Tulloch led the team with 111 tackles and Wright was second with four interceptions. They'll be a costly trio to re-sign, especially Avril, who might require a franchise tag.

  2. We wondered last week how much the Saints would blitz quarterback Matthew Stafford, who faced five or more pass rushers on a lower percentage (24) than any other NFL starter during the regular season. As it turned out, the Saints blitzed on 55 percent of his dropbacks, the most of any game in his career. Stafford accounted well for himself, throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns and not taking a sack. He did throw two interceptions, but that was after the Lions had fallen behind by two scores in the fourth quarter. The best NFL quarterbacks invite the blitz because they're confident they'll find the resulting mismatches, and Stafford belongs in that category.

  3. Our other big point of discussion last week was whether the Lions could pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees with their front four and then capitalize on potential mistakes. That's how you win a shootout. The Lions did get some incremental pressure, despite blitzing on only 10 percent of Brees' dropbacks, but it wasn't enough to throw him off his game. Schwartz suggested his team had an uphill battle in that regard. "The officials took the approach of letting them play," Schwartz said. "There weren't going to be any holding penalties in this game, and that showed in the protection they were able to get." Indeed, the Saints did not have a holding call among their three penalties. The Lions had one, against right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

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

Why did a whistle blow after defensive end Willie Young sacked Brees in the second quarter? Brees fumbled, and linebacker Justin Durant scooped up the ball at the Lions' 38-yard line to began what would have been a touchdown return. Presumably, a member of Tony Corrente's crew blew the whistle because he thought it was an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. We don't know that for sure, though. But in such instances, NFL rules require the play to be ruled dead upon recovery. Schwartz was none too pleased. "Every other time in this league, they let that play go and they don't blow the whistle," Schwartz said. "… For some reason in this game, they decided to blow the whistle when that would have been seven points." It wasn't a play that cost the Lions a game, but it is one for which they deserve an explanation.