5. Detroit Lions
Head Coach: Jim Schwartz
2012 Record: 4-12
2012 Offense: 372 points scored, 17th in points, 3rd in yards (2nd in passing, 23rd in rushing)
2012 Defense: 437 points allowed, 27th in points, 13th in yards (14th in passing, 16th in rushing)
RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, WR Devin Thomas, DL Jason Jones, DL CJ Mosley. K David Akers, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DB Darius Slay
T Jeff Backus, K Jason Hanson, WR Titus Young, CB Drayton Florence, LB Justin Durant, DE Cliff Avril, G Stephen Peterman, CB Kevin Barnes, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson
Why 2013 will be better
Reggie Bush brings a running game to Detroit, something that was nearly non-existent in 2012. Having any consistency from the running attack will nearly guarantee more production from an offense that had no problem moving the ball last season, but had difficulty turning yards into points. A defense that lacked aggressiveness underperformed in 2012, forcing only 17 takeaways for the year. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley had good seasons, with Suh doubling his sack production last season (8 sacks) while Fairley racked up 5.5, but the Lions overall pass rush took a step back. It is hoped that the additions of Ansah and Jones up front should add more pass rush and create a better wall against the run, but the loss of Avril is noticeable. The additions of Slay and Quinn should improve the secondary, though Slay lacks physicality to complement his coverage skills and is currently behind Ron Bartrell on the depth chart. Head Coach Jim Schwartz is coaching for his job this season, so nothing less than an 8-8 record is likely to be acceptable in the Motor City this season, and even that may not be enough. And if a head coach is fighting to keep his job, that usually means the same for the starting quarterback. Matt Stafford has tons of talent, but took a step back last season from his breakout 2011 campaign. He will need to return to form if the Lions have any hope of competing for the playoffs.
Why 2013 will be worse
Calvin Johnson is a sensational receiver, but the Lions lack secondary targets to help distribute the load. The Lions have done little to upgrade this group, meaning Johnson is again a predictable focus of any opposing defense. Having Bush as the primary back is a major plus, but if he struggles to gain consistent yards and move the chains, the Lions will again be a team who pass for a lot of yards but fail to put up points. The defense appears to be improved, but the linebacker corps is thin in talent, and is playing in a read and react system off of Suh and Fairley. Stephen Tulloch is among the nest middle linebackers in the game, but he needs DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer to step up their games, or else the defense continue to hemorrhage points.
On paper another 4-12 season seems unthinkable; this team is more talented than that. But the Detroit Lions gave the vibe in 2012 of a team that felt it was entitled to win, but wasn’t necessarily willing to give the effort to make it happen. Schwartz doesn’t always seem to be in control of his own team, and the use of the term undisciplined seems an accurate way to describe this team, who ranked 23rd in penalty yards last season. Bush’s addition is important, but the receiver corps is weak after Megatron. Given the strength of the division that they are in, the Lions will do well to win six or seven games this season, in which case 2014 promises a new head coach as the first of what is likely to be many changes.
If the Detroit Lions didn’t have enough go wrong on Thursday against the Houston Texans, Ndamukong Suh made sure that there was more to talk about this week, as the talented but troubled defensive tackle appeared to intentionally kick Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin. Watch the video below for yourself. Note that Suh’s foot appeared to be going along a certain path until he seems to flex/push it, then making contact with Schaub.
Suh of course was famously suspended for two games last season after he pushed Packers’ offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground three times, then stomped on his arm, all of which took place after the whistle had blown. Suh was penalized for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game. Initially, Suh denied stomping on Dietrich-Smith, saying he was only trying to get his balance back. However, after the Lions issued a statement calling Suh’s actions “unacceptable,” Suh then acknowledged that he’d “made a mistake” a day before and intended to learn from it. After this incident, what he learned will be a matter of interesting debate.
Mike Freeman reports that the situation will be reviewed Monday, and that Suh could be facing a one game suspension. While I recognize that this incident is not as serious as the shots he took against Dietrich-Smith last season, the fact is that discipline for behavior like this should be progressive, and be strongly influenced by his past behavior. If it were up to me, the “Dirtiest Player in the NFL” would be losing at least three pay checks for this one.
Finally, it has been said by some that this incident is not a big deal because Schaub is protected by a cup. Wrong. Because contact to the groin is relatively rare in football, the practice of wearing cups is a thing of the past at most levels of football. While still worn in youth leagues, most high school football players do not wear cups and it is nearly unheard of in the college and pro ranks. Players argue that their speed and agility is impacted by wearing an extra protective device, and that the protection is rarely needed.
This story will be updated after the league has reviewed the incident and announced a decision.
UPDATE (11/26/12): According to Greg Aiello of the National Football League, there will be no suspension for Suh, but the play will be reviewed for a fine. Frankly, this is not just surprising, but disappointing. There is enough of a smoking gun in this case to warrant at least a one game suspension, and players across the league have demonstrated time and again that fines are not an effective deterrent to future violations. Given Suh’s history, I’m not sure that he should have been given the benefit of the doubt in this case. More news when fines are announced at the end of the week.
With just under seven minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Houston Texans found themselves trailing the Detroit Lions 24-14 in their Thanksgiving match-up. Then Justin Forsett took a handoff from Matt Schaub and ran the ball for a six yard gain. Or what appeared to be a six yard gain. Or what should have been a six yard gain. Instead, after Forsett’s knee and and elbow contacted the ground (and thus ended the play) he kept running, going 81 yards for a touchdown.
Of course what should have happened is that a review of the play should have reversed the field decision and given the Texans the ball at their own 25 yard line, because all scoring plays are subject to booth review. Instead, the play was declared non-reviewable, and a touchdown that should never have been was allowed to stand.
How did this happen? Simply because Lions’ Head Coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on the play. In previous years such a play would have had to have been challenged from the sideline, but this year is the first season of reviewing all scoring plays. None the less, Schwartz’s emotions got the best of him, and the challenge flag was on the field before the play was even over.The officials then determined, as is outlined in NFL rules, that the challenge was illegal and unsportsmanlike, requiring a penalty against the Lions. Further, the rules state that the Lions then cannot benefit from a challenge, even one normally scheduled to take place, and the play was therefore deemed non-reviewable. To add insult to injury, Detroit was assessed a 15 yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff for the illegal challenge.
The Texans would go on to win the game 34-31 in overtime, leaving Lions’ fans outraged over the egregious call on the field that sparked the controversy. It was an error more befitting the replacement officials that we began the year with than the “real” officials, but they are human and screwed the call up on the field. And it only got worse from there.
I am not arguing that the call made the difference in the game. There was still well over a quarter of football to play, and both teams squandered opportunities to win the game in overtime before Shayne Graham finally connected on a 32 yard field goal with 2:21 left in the extra session to give the Texans the victory. The mistake simply became a part of the game, and the Lions had numerous opportunities to make sure that the play did not cost the Lions the game. The loss itself is on the Lions.
Nor am I arguing that the officials made the wrong call in their enforcement of replay rules. Point in fact, they enforced the rules exactly as they are written.
And that brings us to the real culprit; the rule itself.
Presumably, the NFL changed the rule this year to review all scoring plays in order to make sure that the officials got calls right on the plays that had the greatest impact on the game. Secondarily, I imagine that the rule was changed because the challenge system is inherently flawed; why is it the Head Coach’s responsibility to seek to correct the mistakes of the officials? Ever since the challenge system was created, I have advocated for booth review of all plays, buzzing down to the referees for further review whenever necessary. After all, if the emphasis is on getting it right, then let’s remove the doubt. Instead, the NFL created a ridiculous challenge system whereby coaches were given two challenges over the course of the game and, if they were better at officiating than the officials, they could earn a third for two successful challenges. So what if the officials make four mistakes against the same team? This arbitrary and illogical system seemed to straddle some strange concern over whether or not officials would be offended by the use of replay. My advice to the NFL? Get over it already. If we’re going to have replay, which only makes sense given the speed of the game and the technology available to us, then let’s use it to make sure that all calls are correct.
Even worse, instead of creating rules that reinforced the idea of getting calls right, the NFL adopted a rule penalizing a coach and team for an illegal challenge and then making plays non-reviewable. The only possible conclusion to the NFL’s logic is that it is more important to make sure that the Head Coach doesn’t throw a weighted red bag onto the field than it is to get the call right. Right? On what planet does it make sense to prioritize the convenience of the officials over the need to call the game right?
Jim Schwarz was overly gracious in taking full responsibility for the mistake by saying, “Yeah, I know that rule,” Schwartz said. “You can’t challenge a turnover or a scoring play and I overreacted. I was so mad that they didn’t call him down ’cause he was obviously down on the field. I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown. That’s all my fault. I overreacted in that situation and I cost us a touchdown.” No, Jim. It’s really not all your fault, at least not yours alone. This is also the fault of a system that was not very well thought out, and that considered getting the call right to be a secondary concern.
This rule is one that is likely to be changed, and the biggest wrangling seems to be over whether or not the change will occur during this season or if it will wait until after the season. In any event, it is unfortunate that a game as good as the one yesterday had to be tainted with such a horrible call on the field, and a ridiculous league rule that prevented a correction of the mistake. The call itself is no better, and probably worse, than the one made by replacement officials that awarded a touchdown to Golden Tate in the Seahawks’ win over the Packers. And this one was created by the guys we trust. At least in this case Forsett at least had the decency to later admit that he was down even if he didn’t think so at the time.
Ironically, this call was made by a field crew headed by Walt Coleman. Coleman is famous (or infamous) for being the referee who reversed his own decision in the famous 2002 “Tuck Rule” game (more appropriately referred to by Patriots’ fans as the Snow Bowl) which awarded the ball to the Patriots after Tom Brady had appeared to fumble. The Patriots, of course, went on to win due to two clutch field goals by Adam Vinatieri, and then went on to beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship before beating the St. Louis Rams to claim their first Super Bowl title. A huge difference, of course, was that the call on the field in the game yesterday was dead wrong, a major mistake by the officials on the field. In the 2002 game, the call on the field seemed to make sense from initial visible evidence (even Brady thought it was a fumble), but the replay was used to correct the call on the field to match NFL rules, whether or not one agreed with the rule. In the case of the tuck rule, eleven years later the rule is still in effect, is used at least a couple of times each season, and makes sense as a rule even if people disagree with its enforcement. In yesterday’s game, the officials were prevented from correcting their own mistake and conforming to league rules, because someone, somewhere was more worried about officials having to deal with an occasional bean bag being thrown out of order. And that rule gets our tag for being the dumbest rule ever.