Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 37-23 victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. We've all celebrated Calvin Johnson for his freakish physical attributes, but I thought Sunday was arguably the toughest performance I've seen from him. On his 13-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, Johnson dragged cornerback DeAngelo Hall some seven yards to get the ball over the goal line. And as we all know, Johnson was playing with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Johnson is pretty quiet off the field and not what you might consider an alpha leader. But when your superstar produces a three-touchdown game while playing injured, it sends a key message to the rest of the team: Winning is important, and it takes superior effort. How couldn't that rub off on other players?

  2. We've discussed the Lions' need to learn how to win. I think Johnson's performance played a huge rule Sunday, but you also must have the kind of sequences that Stafford and cornerback Alphonso Smith produced in the fourth quarter. First, with his team trailing 25-20, Smith snatched an interception away from Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong at the Redskins' 37-yard line with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the game. Seven plays later, Stafford faced a fourth-and-1 at the Redskins' 10-yard line. Obviously, they had to go for it, and Stafford calmly threw a touch pass to Johnson in the end zone for the go-ahead score. That's how teams win in the NFL. In a one-score game, they get a defensive play to gain possession and then with the game on the line, their quarterback executes with a perfect combination of calm and aggression.

  3. I'm not sure what else we can add to the performance of rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, already leading candidate for the NFL's defensive Rookie of the Year award and now on a short list for the NFC's Pro Bowl roster. So let's note that on the day he racked up another two sacks, the Lions also got two sacks apiece from defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Faced with a fierce pass rush, the Redskins managed 275 total yards and 13 first downs. For the most part, it was a textbook example of how a dominant defensive line can cover for personnel deficiencies in other areas. It should also be noted, of course, that Smith has clearly upgraded the talent at cornerback, and this was also the second start of the season for middle linebacker DeAndre Levy.

And here is one issue I don't get:

Why has receiver Nate Burleson been careless with the ball? For the second time this season, Burleson lost a fumble at the end of a reception. Sunday, it came when Redskins cornerback Phillip Buchanon poked the ball free after a 25-yard catch-and-run. Burleson lost five fumbles in his first seven NFL seasons, but now has lost two in five games this season. He has always been an excellent open-field runner, but Burleson must be more mindful of ball security.