Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 24-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Based on everything I've heard and know, receivers coach Shawn Jefferson's sideline outburst was not directed at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday night. As bad as it looked television, Jefferson was actually upset with a late mistake by receiver Titus Young and wanted Linehan to bench him. (Linehan did on the final series of the game.) That explains why Linehan didn't respond other than to nod his head in apparent agreement. With that said, I really think Lions coach Jim Schwartz needs to address this publicly. Without context, the incident appears to be an act of public insubordination from a receivers coach to an offensive coordinator. If that were true, it would besmirch the reputations of both men. The only person who can cut off such ill-informed but understandable conclusions is Schwartz. I understand the desire to keep team business in-house, but there is a big difference between public insubordination and a fiery coach angrily reacting to a mistake by a player. Hopefully Schwartz can confirm the true version of events so as to wipe this slate clean. Then, we move on to Young. Suffice it to say, it appears at least one of his coaches is running out of patience with him.

  2. Assuming the Lions don't run the table, which is what they'll need to do to make the playoffs, there are going to be calls for some kind of change after the season. Those calls will be justified in a general sense; the Lions brought back the same coaching staff and 21 of 22 starters from a 10-6 season but have taken a step back. But finding specific and deserving targets might be hard. I know there is a lot of fan discontent with Linehan, and the truth is that he is in charge of an offense that has not been as sharp as it was last season. I'm not sure we can blame Linehan for quarterback Matthew Stafford's poor accuracy on throws like the one that led to M.D. Jennings' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown. But there was enough miscommunication to suggest something is off. If Linehan ends up being the sacrifice for change, we should note that he and his staff run one of the NFL's top quarterback programs. Every starter Linehan has coached had the best season of their careers under him. That list includes Daunte Culpeper (4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns in 2004), Gus Frerotte (2,996 yards, 18 touchdowns in 2005), Marc Bulger (4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns in 2006) and Stafford (5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns in 2011). Linehan would have job offers before leaving the Lions facility. It's a tough business, but there is as much respect for Linehan around the NFL as there is for anyone on the Lions' staff.

  3. We are watching defensive tackle Nick Fairley become a beast before our very eyes. Fairley topped last week's four-tackle, one-sack performance by notching a career-high seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was facing the Packers' backup left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith, but he did what a really good player does in that situation: totally overwhelmed him. There's no doubt Fairley benefitted from attention on Ndamukong Suh, who still managed five tackles of his own, but the eye test, at least, told us Fairley had a dominant performance. This stretch gives the Lions an easy answer to one of their main free agency questions this offseason. Given how well Fairley is playing in place of the injured Corey Williams, it's hard to imagine the Lions finding room under their tight cap to re-sign Williams this winter.

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

Have we seen the last of Jeff Backus in a Lions uniform? I know that's a bit dramatic. All we know for sure is that Backus couldn't finish Sunday's game because of a leg injury and was replaced by rookie Riley Reiff. It's fair to wonder if Backus can recover quickly enough, based on how badly he was limping on the sideline, to play in Thursday's game against the Houston Texans. If he sits, Backus's consecutive-games streak would end at 186. Reiff is the Lions' heir apparent at left tackle. Would it make sense to let him play out the rest of the season, assuming the Lions aren't in playoff contention? Or would you bring back Backus when he is healthy? It's a scenario worth considering.