Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. I appreciate the detail and perspective that coach Jim Schwartz often provides to explain why a play worked or did not. Monday, for example, he noted that the Lions had a big punt return blocked up for Stefan Logan and might have taken a 14-0 lead had Pat Lee not collided and caused a muff. It was one of many instances this season where the Lions have just missed a big play. But "almost" shouldn't in any way mitigate "failed." In the big picture, NFL teams are relatively evenly matched. The difference in winning and losing is often the sum of "almosts" and "little things." The Lions aren't a team that is coming off an 0-16 season, one that is looking for any strand of progress. When the Lions look back on a season that has gotten away from them, they shouldn't be emboldened by near-misses. At this level, "almost" means the same thing as "losing."

  2. It would be surprising if a collapse of this magnitude were not accompanied by offseason changes in leadership. But it's worth repeating the Lions have no easy answers there. Short of firing Schwartz and starting over, what type of non-cosmetic change could the Lions make to redirect substantially? Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is a popular target, but the Lions should closely consider the impact his departure would have on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will be 67 next summer but Schwartz is fiercely loyal to him. If Cunningham plans to retire, however, it has not been reported. And would firing special teams coordinator Danny Crossman really address the root causes of the Lions' 4-10 record? Again, it sounds good to say you want to hold people accountable and fire those with culpability. But can it be done in this instance? That's a different question.

  3. If it's possible to have too much faith in the next man up, the Lions have reached that point. Getting the ball to receiver Calvin Johnson must be their top priority, and to do that they must pass regularly. But the deterioration of Johnson's supporting cast played a big part in Stafford's horrible game. At times, you saw him throw to the likes of Kris Durham, Brian Robiskie and others as if they were Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. It's admirable that Stafford trusts backups to make difficult catches or big plays, but in this case perhaps some realism was required. It is among the harshest lessons of this game: In many cases, a team can't be much better than its weakest link. The Lions couldn't be a dynamic downfield passing team with the lineup they were forced to use Sunday.

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

The Lions are at the moment positioned to select No. 5 overall in the 2013 draft. As we look ahead, it hardly seems conceivable that one of their biggest needs could be at running back. It seems as though we've discussed that every season for them, but we've gotten enough of a look at Mikel Leshoure to understand what he can and can't be in this offense. Leshoure has proved a grinder and has scored eight touchdowns on 185 carries, but he has by far the most rushes of any NFL runner without a single carry of at least 20 yards. Elevating explosiveness in their running game might not be the Lions' highest priority, but it seems to be at least an element of their offensive problems this season. I would imagine the Lions won't pin their hopes on getting Jahvid Best back next season, either.