Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 13-7 loss to the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. You might view this as an overreaction, but I really thought one of the most critical moments of Monday night's game was its third play from scrimmage. On third-and-6 from the Lions' 24-yard line, receiver Calvin Johnson broke wide open across the middle but flat-out dropped a pass in his chest. I'm not sure if Johnson would have scored, but he would have provided the kind of big play the Lions have been lacking early in games this season. A scoring drive on their first possession would have been an important confidence booster and an indication the Lions had turned the corner and moved past their slow starts. Instead, the Lions were forced to punt. The Bears turned their first possession into a touchdown, and once again the Lions faced a first-quarter deficit. This season, the Lions have been outscored 40-21 in the first quarter.

  2. Depth among the Lions' receiving corps is thinner following Nate Burleson's season-ending broken leg. That's a bad thing. But I for one am interested to see the impact rookie Ryan Broyles can have after five games spent mostly on the sideline. Lions coaches have spoken highly of Broyles' instinctive knowledge of the short middle of the field, and that's where opposing defenses should be vulnerable when they play deep safeties against Johnson. The Lions don't often run four-receiver sets, and some of their three "receiver" sets actually include tight end Tony Scheffler. But Burleson's injury will give Broyles will get a chance to have a significant and unique impact during his rookie season.

  3. I've never been a fan of the "Shaq Suh" defense of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but in the case of Monday night's sack of the Bears' Jay Cutler, it actually applies. As the defense goes, Suh is so strong and athletic that the plays he makes look dirty or based in malice simply because so few players are capable of it. (Much as the NBA's Shaquille O'Neal believed he was targeted for fouls because he was so much bigger than everyone else.) Monday night, Suh grabbed Cutler's left arm with his left hand and grabbed Cutler's left shoulder with his right hand. As momentum carried him around Cutler's body, Suh kicked out his right leg to upend Cutler suddenly before falling on top of him. (Video here via NFL.com.) Receiver Brandon Marshall has objected to Suh's leg whip, but when you watch the play in slow motion, you realize how rare it is that someone as big as Suh could take down a 220-pound opponent with so little leverage. In this instance, at least, the play was more unique than it was dirty.

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

When will the heat turn up in Detroit? Or will it? In a season of high anticipation, the Lions have lost four of their first six games. Since starting 5-0 last season, in fact, they are 7-11, including the playoffs. After that playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, we suggested the Lions should no longer be complimented for progress and moral victories. Their rehabilitation had reached the point where they should be judged as any other successful franchise. In the big picture, the Lions are losing games in similar ways this season: early deficits, an inability to get defenses out of deep zones and special-teams mistakes. It's fair to expect repeated problems to be addressed and rectified at some point. Otherwise, it seems reasonable to expect accountability. I don't think it would be remotely fair to be discussing the job security of general manager Martin Mayhew or coach Jim Schwartz, but it's also not 2009, either. Close shouldn't be good enough anymore.