Third and one: Lions

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

After Detroit’s 28-20 loss to Pittsburgh, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. The end result of last week’s linebacker commotion was that rookie DeAndre Levy replaced veteran Ernie Sims in the starting lineup. Levy continued to demonstrate speed and playmaking ability, making one tackle for loss and also tipping a pass. But was Sims benched? Coach Jim Schwartz said the decision was based more on the condition of Sims’ shoulder, which caused him to miss a game two weeks ago. But was it? Schwartz has been quick to rotate personnel based on performance. If Sims’ shoulder was healthy enough to play in sub packages, as it was Sunday, then why wouldn’t it be healthy enough to play in base as well? It’s not like the hits are softer in the nickel.

  2. Daunte Culpepper played decently in his first start of the season and had the Lions chasing a game-tying score as time expired. I’ve suggested that Culpepper might have given the Lions a better chance at early success this season than rookie Matthew Stafford, but I didn’t see much evidence of that Sunday. Culpepper’s 32-yard scramble in the first quarter was the kind of play Stafford might not make. But I didn’t find Culpepper’s passing Sunday to be any sharper than what Stafford has provided. And in his first two series, Culpepper fumbled twice (recovering both) and committed an intentional grounding penalty that he could have avoided. That’s what you accept from your veteran backup, not a veteran starter.

  3. Rookie Derrick Williams displayed some juice in his first extended action as a kickoff returner, popping off a 34-yarder and averaging 21.8 yards on five returns. Williams looked to me like a player with speed and moves who will become dangerous once his confidence grows. I’m also a fan of fellow rookie Aaron Brown’s playmaking ability, but maybe it’s best that he focus on offense for now.

And here is one question I’m still asking:

Should Schwartz have taken the Lions’ first field goal off the board? Here’s the situation: Lions placekicker Jason Hanson converted a 46-yard field goal on a fourth-and-5 play from the Steelers’ 27-yard line. But Pittsburgh’s William Gay was offsides on the kick, a 5-yard penalty. Officials informed Schwartz that the penalty would not be enough to give the Lions a first down; technically, it was fourth-and-5 1/2. Had Schwartz accepted the penalty anyway, the Lions would have lost the field goal but would have been inches away from converting a first down. As television analyst Dan Fouts pointed out, Culpepper’s size makes him pretty reliable on the quarterback sneak. On the other hand, the Steelers have the NFL’s top interior run defense. Ultimately, I can see the decision from both sides.