Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 27-23 victory over the St. Louis Rams, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Here's another way of looking at the accomplishment of quarterback Matthew Stafford's latest comeback effort: The Lions won with a minus-3 turnover margin, courtesy his three first-half interceptions, for the first time since 1974. In other words, it doesn't happen very often. Stafford described his approach this way: "Trusting everybody to go out there and make plays." But I think we can agree there is something special about Stafford's makeup that has allowed him, from his earliest days as an NFL rookie, to maintain concentration and poise while still aggressively pushing the ball down the field for quick scores. And oh, by the way, Stafford's 355-yard effort allowed him to become one of four quarterbacks to surpass 8,000 yards in his first 30 starters. The others? Guys named Kurt Warner, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.

  2. Via Twitter and the mailbag, some of you have suggested that receiver Calvin Johnson needs to exert better leadership to help teammate Titus Young overcome his maturity problems. I respectfully disagree. That's not Johnson's job and this isn't his problem. Johnson's role is to set a positive example for conduct on and off the field, which he absolutely does 100 percent of the time. It's on Young to understand, embrace and emulate it. Allowing a rookie (the Rams' Janoris Jenkins) to draw him into a confrontation that ended with a head-butt, and a 15-yard penalty, was infuriating, immature, and a clear sign that Young doesn't have control over his emotions even under the highest of scrutiny. I'll say this: Young must be one heck of a talented receiver. Otherwise, the Lions might have moved on already.

  3. The Lions were down to at their fifth cornerback Sunday after Bill Bentley departed with a concussion, and the Rams found a way to exploit him. Quarterback Sam Bradford found rookie cornerback Jonte Green matched 1-on-1 with receiver Brandon Gibson at the Lions' 23-yard line in the fourth quarter. I thought Green did a nice job recovering after Gibson beat him off the line of scrimmage, but Gibson still hauled in a touchdown that gave the Rams a 17-13 lead. Now the question is what kind of secondary the Lions can put together for Sunday night's game against the 49ers. It's not out of the question that Bentley, starting cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and safety Louis Delmas (knee) could all be sidelined.

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

For me, one of the hardest Lions players to figure out over the years is tight end Brandon Pettigrew. By all accounts, he is an excellent blocker. He is tough, as evidenced by his quick return from a late-November torn ACL in 2009. And he has been exceptionally productive as a receiver when defenses focus attention on the Lions' downfield receivers. In his past 33 games, including Sunday, he has 159 receptions. On the other hand, Pettigrew has developed a habit of dropping passes, including several -- as in Sunday's game -- that would have gone for touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Information unofficially had him with seven drops last season, tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. It's hard to ignore how open he gets in the red zone, and Stafford wouldn't throw his way if he didn't trust him. But to me, the drops are the only thing keeping Pettigrew from being recognized as perhaps the best all-around tight end in the NFL.