Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 31-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Benching a kick returner qualifies as a mild message at best, but nothing would be weaker than sending Stefan Logan back onto the field Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Logan had two brainlocks that would be inexcusable for a rookie, let alone a four-year veteran who has returned 301 kicks in his career, and he hasn't had a good enough season to merit tolerance. His accidental fair-catch signal and his inexplicable downing of a live return are the exact type of mistakes people refer to when calling the Lions undisciplined. Most of Logan's potential replacements are unavailable because of injury, but coach Jim Schwartz still has a ready-made opportunity to demand accountability. Speaking to reporters Sunday, Schwartz brought up receiver Mike Thomas and running back Joique Bell as potential replacements -- which for him is a major hint that Logan's job is in jeopardy. Quite frankly, it should be.

  2. Schwartz was asked Sunday why a team with the production of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson is 4-11. Schwartz pointed squarely at the Lions' turnover ratio, and the comparison between this season and last year is striking. They have endured a 23-turnover swing between last year's plus-11 ratio and this season's minus-12. The Lions have forced exactly half of the turnovers they created last season (34 versus 17) and have committed 29 as opposed to 17 in 2011. Their three turnovers Saturday night led to 17 points for the Falcons in a game decided by 13 points. Their defense, on the other hand, did not have a takeaway. It's as good of a place to start as any when analyzing the Lions, and again, it fits the undisciplined narrative the Lions seem to object to.

  3. If Saturday night's game wasn't an indication that the Lions need to prioritize their secondary in the offseason, I don't know what is. The Falcons have a pair of really good receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, but it couldn't have been more clear that their game plan was to take deep shots every time they indentified man-to-man defense. White beat cornerback Chris Houston for a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and White later weaved through a host of defensive backs who had been blocked to the ground for a 39-yard score. Meanwhile, while Jones beat Houston for a 16-yard score just before halftime. Ryan is one of the league's best quarterbacks, but statistically he had a near-perfect game despite a significant pass rush from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (half-sack, four quarterback hits). The Lions need more playmakers in their back end. End of story.

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

Stafford is going to finish with one of the most contradictory seasons in recent memory. He leads the NFL in completions, attempts and yardage and is 305 yards away from becoming the first player in league history to throw for 5,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Saturday night, he also set the Lions' franchise record for career completions, breaking Bobby Layne's mark of 1,074. Stafford is 24 years old. On the other hand, as we noted last week, it's hard to look at his actual game performances and see this season as anything other than a step back from 2011. He has thrown for only 17 touchdowns, and his statistical splits show he has been much less effective when games are close. In the end, I guess we should all be so lucky to have a near-5,000 yard season be a disappointment.