Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Here is a scary snapshot of 3 3/4 seasons under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz. Beginning with the start of the 2009 season, the Lions lost 20 of 28 games. Then they won nine consecutive games to bridge the end of the 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Since then, they have a 9-15 regular-season record. That's a lot of losing mixed around one intense winning streak. It's easier to argue that 9-0 as an aberration, at least from a statistical perspective, than it is to view their current slump as a temporary blip. To borrow a political phrase, the Lions are better off than they were four years ago. But they clearly weren't good enough to parlay what seemed a breakthrough moment last season into lasting success.

  2. The decision to start receiver Kris Durham, days after his promotion from the practice squad, was revealing only in that it passed over veteran Mike Thomas, whom the Lions acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars last month. I realize Thomas is a 5-foot-8 slot receiver, and perhaps not ideally suited to playing a full game on the outside. But in a game the Lions were without Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles, Thomas saw only 17 of a possible 84 snaps. Durham, meanwhile, played 78 snaps. Thomas is due $1.45 million next season, of which $1 million was originally guaranteed. If the Lions planned to make him a big part of their offense next season, you would think he would have played more Sunday night. Durham is a big target and made a wonderful one-handed catch in the first quarter, but he understandably looked like he needs more work as a professional route runner.

  3. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley added another sack Sunday night and brought his season total to 5.5. That's the third-most among defensive tackles in the NFL at the moment, behind the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins (10.5) and the Chicago Bears' Henry Melton (6.0). That's an impressive figure considering he was not even a full-time player when the season began. Fairley was playing about a third of the Lions' defensive snaps until Week 4, and he really didn't become a full-time starter until a month ago. I think we can all agree Fairley has earned a full-time job playing next to Ndamukong Suh for the rest of the season and beyond.

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

What should the Lions do with safety Louis Delmas, who has been trying to limp through his fourth season with a knee injury that has plagued him since the start of training camp? He was inactive Sunday night after playing a part-time role in the Lions' past two games, and he'll play in no more than half of the team's games this season. He missed five games last season and the Lions have been forced to fill in with a parade of special teamers, practice squad promotions and street free agents. Delmas' contract expires after this season, making him one of six defensive starters who will be eligible for free agency. The Lions are clearly a better defense when he is healthy and plays, but those moments have been relatively rare over the past 1 1/2 seasons. How much money can you afford to offer a valuable but unreliable player, at least from a health standpoint? That's a difficult question the Lions must decide in the coming months.