Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 44-41 loss to the Tennessee Titans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski has forgotten more football than most of us will ever know. So it's worth noting that he suggested Monday morning on ESPN Radio that quarterback Shaun Hill's footwork implied an intentional quarterback sneak on the game's final play. That would differ from the narrative provided by coach Jim Schwartz, who said center Dominic Raiola erroneously snapped the ball on a play the Lions were trying to draw the Titans offside. I strongly believe Schwartz is telling the truth. (And I don't fault him for "calling out" Raiola. This is a man's game. No one needs to be protected.) If the Lions hoped to entice a penalty, Hill's footwork would have to mimic a real play. It's more likely that Hill was faking the footwork for a sneak to add weight to the possibility. If you saw Hill and Raiola interacting afterwards, it sure appeared they were not on the same page. I don't think there are any conspiracies here. The Lions got too cute and paid for it. If anything, an argument could have been made to call a real quarterback sneak. Both Dean Oliver of ESPN Stats & Information and Brian Burke of NFL Advanced Stats have pointed out the Lions had at least an equal, if not better, chance of winning if they had tried to convert the fourth-and-1 than if they had attempted a game-tying field goal, as they planned.

  2. We noted in Sunday's post on replacement officiating gaffes at the Metrodome that other NFC North games had been impacted as well. But at that moment I didn't realize how bad it got at LP Field. As several writers have already noted, replacement officials, in essence, put the Titans in field goal range for their eventual game-winning kick in overtime by marking off 27 yards, instead of 15, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Sports Illustrated's Peter King theorized that referee Gerald Wright marked off the penalty from the Lions' 44-yard line instead of the Titans' 44, which was actually the original line of scrimmage. So instead of taking over at the Lions' 41-yard line, the Titans got the ball at the 29. Place-kicker Rob Bironas, who had already missed two field goals in the game, eventually was put in place to boot an easy 26-yarder. The Lions could have avoided the entire mess if Tulloch didn't commit the penalty, but it's a basic expectation of any referee to maintain an accurate line of scrimmage.

  3. Let's not sugarcoat this. The Lions were inexcusably sloppy and undisciplined Sunday -- and not just on the final play. They committed 10 penalties, were successfully targeted on a gadget punt return and became the first team in NFL history to allow five touchdowns of at least 60 yards. A tight end as big and as strong as Brandon Pettigrew should never allow the ball to be yanked from his hands by a cornerback, as Pettigrew did in the fourth quarter Sunday. We saw safety John Wendling take a poor angle and cornerback Jacob Lacey lose track of the ball on Nate Washington's 71-yard touchdown play. The list goes on. Said Jaworski: "Something is wrong there in the detail of coaching. Either they're not coaching it or the players are not listening."

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

Was there any connection between Matthew Stafford's right leg injury, initially diagnosed as a muscle strain, and the Lions' decision to give the ball to running back Mikel Leshoure 16 times in the first half and target receiver Calvin Johnson only twice? The Lions trailed 20-9 at that point but outscored the Titans 32-24 afterwards. Were the Lions trying to manage Stafford's workload? After all, he said he suffered the injury last week in practice and felt it grab several times during Sunday's game. Or, were the Lions purposefully running the ball to force the Titans into more favorable coverages against Johnson later in the game? If that were the case, it might have worked. Johnson was targeted 12 times and caught nine passes after halftime. Did the running "loosen it up" for the Lions? Or did they simply get more aggressive after halftime? I'm not sure.