Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 34-31 loss to the Houston Texans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. In the hours after the loss, many Lions fans were upset to see the emphasis on coach Jim Schwartz's mistaken challenge and Ndamukong Suh's kick of quarterback Matt Schaub -- rather than several other plays that worked against the Lions. There is no doubt that Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt should have been called for a hit to quarterback Matthew Stafford's chin, and it sure appeared that the Lions should have gained control after a first-quarter challenge on what looked like a muffed punt return. But missed calls are part of any game. What made the Schwartz decision and the Suh kick unique were that they came outside of the normal flow of a game. Both will merit attention from the league office. Schwartz likely triggered a re-write of the rule so that plays can still be reviewed even after a delay of game penalty. Suh could face a fine or suspension. I understand the frustration, but noting unique plays does not necessitate a recitation of all potential officiating mistakes to be fair.

  2. I'm sure there were some people who got perverse pleasure from seeing Schwartz make a mental and/or emotional mistake during a game. After all, Schwartz has twice been caught lecturing others about knowing the rules. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and referee Ron Winter were both recipients of such sentiment last season. Schwartz said afterwards that he knew the rule, which I believe, and took full responsibility for the impact of his mistake, which was what he should have done. So what did we learn from this episode? Frankly, Schwartz lost some credibility when it comes to imploring his players to maintain their composure during games. I've tried to avoid making the easy connection between Schwartz's fiery personality and the Lions' frequent mistakes of aggression during his tenure. But this incident makes that connection more difficult to avoid. The play came too early -- with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter -- to be directly responsible for the loss. But according to ESPN's expected points model (explanation here), it was as big of a swing play as you'll see (6.5 expected points lost). If nothing else, it was another example of the Lions making it too hard on themselves.

  3. The Lions' offense got the ball into Texans territory on each of their final six possessions, including three in overtime, but didn't score once. Still, the day was far from a wash in terms of positive implications. Most notably, rookie receiver Ryan Broyles caught a season-high six passes for 126 yards, including big gainers of 40, 37 and 25 yards. Broyles is a different kind of receiver than the deposed Titus Young, but in the end it's about production rather than where a player lines up on the field. Broyles played 80 of a possible 89 snaps, while newcomer Mike Thomas played 58 snaps as the No. 3 receiver. At least Thursday, neither player appeared to have trouble getting open. Their performance -- Thomas caught a touchdown and also had a 14-yard run -- certainly reduces the urgency on getting Young back anytime soon. With a 4-7 record and some emerging talent, the Lions can afford to take a long-term view of Young's attitude rehabilitation.

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

The more the NFL emphasizes concussions, the less I understand them. Last Sunday, Lions cornerback Drayton Florence absorbed a hit to the head on the first play of the game against the Green Bay Packers. He was visibly woozy, so much so that game officials noticed and sent him off the field. He passed sideline concussions tests and returned to the game. Monday morning, he was diagnosed with a concussion. Thursday, he started and played well -- five tackles and a broken up pass -- while missing only three of a possible 79 snaps. The Lions have credibility when it comes to concussions, given the year-long absence of tailback Jahvid Best, so I'm not suggesting anything untoward occurred here. But when you see such a quick turnaround for one concussed player, while others take weeks or longer to get back, you realize how unpredictable these injuries really are.