Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 35-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. We've had plenty of offseason discussions about the value of defensive backs relative to pass rush in the NFL's current passing era. A reasonable argument can be made that an elite pass rush, as the Lions have displayed at times, can better protect an average group of cover men than if the situation were reversed. Perhaps that's why the Lions have felt comfortable cobbling together their secondary on a yearly basis under general manager Martin Mayhew. Sometimes it has worked, but Sunday it was a big reason for the Lions' loss. Veteran cornerback Drayton Florence gave up receiver LaVon Brazill's 42-yard fourth-quarter touchdown in a situation where the cornerback's only job is to keep the receiver from getting behind him. Florence was signed just before the start of the season and clearly was available for a reason. I'm not blaming Florence for the loss and I'm not saying an elite cornerback couldn't also get beat in that situation. I'm saying that a patchwork secondary has its risks, and Sunday we saw what can happen. If you're playing a corner who can't cover in a prevent-style defense, and you're playing him because you realized at the end of training camp that you needed more help than you gave yourself in the offseason, then, well, you probably deserve the result.

  2. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had an indisputably great game. The Colts lost yardage on four of his six tackles. He had one sack, hit Luck six times and batted down a pass. It's hard to ask for more than that from a defensive tackle in a regulation game. Perhaps you could question why one of those hits didn't come on the last play of the game, when Andrew Luck seeped through the pocket long enough to find receiver Donnie Avery for the game-winning score, but you could say that about everyone on the Lions roster in some way. We noted earlier that Colts guard Mike McGlynn was furious with Suh for what he viewed as celebrating the concussion of teammate Winston Justice, but I haven't seen a replay yet. It's not visible on the version the NFL puts on its Game Rewind feature. McGlynn isn't the first opponent to accuse Suh of such antics, but at this point there is nothing conclusive we can say.

  3. I know there has been plenty of debate about the Lions' playcall on third down just after the two-minute warning. A conversion would have sealed the game for the Lions, but Mikel Leshoure's one-yard run ensured the Colts would get one final possession. Coach Jim Schwartz played it by the book, opting to run down the clock with the Colts out of timeouts rather than attempt a pass considering there was five yards to go. (It should be noted that quarterback Matthew Stafford had hit only one of his six attempts in the fourth quarter.) I think this is one of those situations where people would be upset with whatever Schwartz decided if it didn't work. Don't forget the 2010 game against the New York Jets, when an incomplete pass by quarterback Drew Stanton late in the game provided the Jets ample time on their final possession. Sunday, the ball was at midfield and the Colts were going to have no more than 1 minute, 14 seconds to work with. The Lions were let down by a poor directional punt by Nick Harris and atrocious defense on the final drive.

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

If the season ended today, the Lions would have the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 draft. And amazingly, we could craft a relatively long list of needs for a team that returned 21 of 22 starters this season because it believed itself close to contending for a championship. Nate Burleson's injury, Titus Young's maturity and concern over Ryan Broyles' knee makes receiver a surprisingly thin position. As we just discussed, the Lions are paying this season for the little attention they've paid to their secondary. Allowing four fourth-quarter comebacks is indicative of poor pass coverage when it was required. And you wonder who among the Lions' long list of pending free agents on defense, from Cliff Avril to DeAndre Levy to Justin Durant to Louis Delmas to Chris Houston, will need to be replaced as well.