Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 26-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. In the 2012 debut of safety Louis Delmas, the Lions doubled their season's takeaway total (three). They hit quarterback Michael Vick 11 times, including three sacks, and made 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage against the run game. It was no coincidence. As we noted last week, there was a clear drop-off in takeaways and playmaking last season when Delmas departed the Lions lineup. Sunday, he had an interception and two tackles for loss, but his biggest contribution was his frenetic attitude and energy. You might think that kind of boost doesn't exist on the professional level, but coach Jim Schwartz said: "It was real on the field. It was real this week in practice. It was real in the locker room before the game, pregame warm-ups. He's that kind of guy. He's got personality." Said Delmas: "No matter what the circumstances are, I can motivate them and get them to play that extra [bit] and use that energy and effort." I would equate Delmas' impact to the role of the first confident souls on a dance floor. If they're kicking it and having fun, as the kids say, soon the floor will be full of crazy people. If not, you have a lot of people standing nervously near the punch bowl. (Not that I would know anything about dancing or the dance floor. Although I am familiar with punch.)

  2. We've had plenty of discussions this season about the Lions' ineffective downfield passing. But an interesting split has developed. During the first three quarters of games, quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed only eight of 22 passes that traveled at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. One has been intercepted, none have gone for touchdowns and only one has resulted in a play of at least 30 yards. In fourth quarters and overtime, however, Stafford has completed 10 of 19 such passes. Why is that? One explanation: Lions players are pretty good at ad-libbing with each other when the game turns into a scramble. One example came in the fourth quarter when Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson discussed a potential adjustment to an inside route if Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha took it away, as they expected. That adjustment led to Johnson's 16-yard sideline reception that set up Jason Hanson's game-tying field goal. Johnson: "I'm supposed to get inside, but Nnamdi was taking away the inside for most of the game, especially in the second half. I just found open space back there. The crazy thing is me and Matt had talked about it. It was there and I just took it." Sunday went pretty much as the matchup might have suggested for three quarters, as Stafford was 1-of-5 on downfield throws against the Eagles' elite secondary. After the start of the fourth quarter, however, he completed 4 of 7 such throws.

  3. Place-kicker Jason Hanson is 42 years old and in his 21st season, and guess how he felt as he jogged onto the field for the game-winning field goal in overtime? "I was nervous," Hanson said. Obviously, Hanson wasn't hand-shaking nervous. I interpreted his sentiment as the Lions' most overt admission of how important they considered the outcome of this game. There is only one game's difference between 2-3 and 1-4, but a loss Sunday would have pushed a losing streak to the other side of their bye week. "We needed it," Hanson said. "We needed it bad … We needed it to get our season back on."

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

Did Delmas' return also help settle the Lions' special teams? I'm not sure if we can make the connection, but here goes: With Delmas and 2011 partner Amari Spievey each making their first start of the season at safety, the special teams got two of their better players back on a full-time basis. John Wendling and Erik Coleman both focused on their special-teams duties -- although injuries forced Coleman to play a handful of defensive snaps -- and the Eagles' return game was largely stymied. The Eagles averaged 24.4 yards on five kickoff returns and didn't have a punt return longer than 11 yards. Lions cover man Kassim Osgood bottled up the Eagles' DeSean Jackson on his only return, a loss of 3 yards at the end of the first half.