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Monday, November 5, 2012
Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

By Kevin Seifert

After the Detroit Lions' 31-14 victory over Jacksonville Jaguars, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Free Head Exam
    The Lions followed through on our expectation that they could grab a rare early lead against the Jaguars. Entering the game, they had scored three offensive touchdowns in 43 first-half possessions this season. Sunday, they doubled that total with three touchdowns among their five possessions. And that happened even though the Lions punted after their first possession and missed a field goal attempt on their second. I suppose you can say what you want about the level of competition, and it's true that the Jaguars have been awful at home this season for some reason. But this was an important development for the Lions regardless. The worst bi-product of three come-from-behind victories this season would be making it a routine. Generally speaking, teams win much more often when they take an early lead than when they enter the fourth quarter trailing. I'm going to pull those numbers and post them on the blog later this week. (I hope I'm right!)
  2. The Lions' evolution into a team that embraces power football has been interesting to watch. Sunday, they passed on five of their first six plays but ultimately realized the Jaguars were vulnerable to the power game. After that first series, the Lions -- gasp! -- ran the ball as many times (20) and they dropped back to pass (20). What a concept! Tailbacks Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell combined for 66 yards on 19 carries, and Leshoure's three red zone touchdowns accounted for a 21-0 lead. Already this season, the Lions have more rushing touchdowns (10) than they had in all of 2011 (nine). Granted, quarterback Matthew Stafford has three of those 2012 scores, but that is just an illustration of the larger point: The Lions are getting better at capitalizing on what defenses are giving them.
  3. Credit the Lions for finding a creative way to get first-round draft pick Riley Reiff involved even though he hasn't cracked the starting lineup. Barring injury, there isn't usually much need for a backup offensive lineman, except on special teams or the occasional jumbo package. The Lions, however, have turned that jumbo package into a regular portion of their offense. Sunday, Reiff played on 33 of 72 snaps, all of them as an extra offensive lineman. As Tim Twentyman of the Lions' website noted, Reiff was on the field for all three of Leshoure's touchdowns and overall has blocked for six of the 10 this season. All teams try to utilize their personnel, but it's rare when an offensive lineman can contribute off the bench.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
How debilitating will receiver Calvin Johnson's knee injury be for the rest of the season? Johnson told reporters Sunday that "it's something I expect to linger," although coach Jim Schwartz expects it will eventually be "put to bed." Mostly, it sounded like the Lions did a really nice job of giving Johnson routes he could handle. According to Johnson, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan met with him before the game and understood that it was "tough to cut" using his left leg. I'm not saying that's the first time a coach has accommodated an injury to that extent, but it drives home that Johnson's injury -- while unidentified -- is significant. Sunday, he needed painkillers to get through the game. The Lions have already had their bye week, so Johnson will be toughing it out for a while. Of course, if he can have a 100-yard day on painkillers and a limited route tree, there doesn't seem too much to worry about.