Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 27-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 16 interceptions in 663 pass attempts last season. Nine of those interceptions came during a three-game stretch when Stafford used a glove to protect a broken finger on his throwing hand. This season, Stafford has thrown four interceptions in his first 80 attempts. Sunday, his errant first-quarter throw toward receiver Titus Young set up the 49ers' second touchdown. (Stafford said after the game he tried to pull back the ball after deciding to throw it, resulting in it sailing high.) So is there anything to be concerned about here? Stafford said: "I don't think as an offense we've hit our stride yet." For what it's worth, I didn't feel like Stafford was making a bunch of poor decisions Sunday night. If anything he played with discipline and stuck to a script that, in essence, eliminated the Lions' downfield offense. I would have been more concerned if Stafford tried to force the ball downfield against the 49ers' deep safeties, which he did not.

  2. Before reviewing film, the general consensus in the Lions' locker room was that they left sizable number of rushing yards on the field. Coach Jim Schwartz said "we missed some cuts," and center Dominic Raiola was a bit defensive to suggestions the Lions didn't run well enough. (They netted 82 yards on 26 carries, including an 11-yard draw by Stafford, against a defense that kept no more than seven players in the box.) Raiola: "I mean, you're asking me like we can't run the ball. We can run the ball. I think we're pretty good up front. We can run the ball. We just didn't get it done overall today." It goes back to part of what we discussed Sunday night: With Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure unavailable, the Lions didn't have the personnel to pull off a run- dominated victory.

  3. Ndamukong Suh recorded 1.5 sacks and Kyle Vanden Bosch added another, but overall the Lions' defensive line fell short Sunday night. At least, that's what the 49ers' offensive line suggested in the postgame locker room. Left tackle Joe Staley said the Lions' defensive front is "extremely" overrated and added: "They didn't want any part of us up front. Look at the game. We killed them. Every single pressure they got was cheap. It was on a keep or something like that. They weren't beating us one-on-one. We ran for [148 yards] on the so-called best D-line in all of football." The 49ers ran 61 total plays and grossed 349 yards. I'm guessing those words won't be forgotten should the teams meet in the 2012 playoffs.

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

The Lions clearly determined they weren't going to make the strength-on-strength challenge to the 49ers' downfield defense, as we discussed during the week. Instead, as Schwartz said, the Lions wanted to "be able to hurt them underneath and hurt them with the run." Under that approach, however, it's worth wondering why the Lions had rookie receiver Ryan Broyles in uniform but did not play him a single snap in the game. Lions coaches have praised Broyles since his arrival for an innate understanding of how to get open from the slot position and how to work the middle of the field for extra yardage. If that's the case, couldn't he have helped the Lions on Sunday night? Or am I missing something?