NFC North: Brian McCann

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

November, 22, 2010
After the Detroit Lions' 35-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. I wonder if it's time for rookie tailback Jahvid Best to take some time off to rest his injured toes. He appeared more bothered than ever Sunday. Without his speed and explosive burst, Best just isn't a productive player. He's averaging 2.0 yards per touch over the past two games on 20 carries and eight receptions. That figure isn't solely his fault, but when a speed-based back has multiple toe injuries and is producing almost nothing over an extended period, it's reasonable to consider a break. Best doesn't need to be shut down for the season. But how about at least a couple weeks off to get himself right?
  2. The Lions took the relatively dramatic step of benching No. 3 receiver Bryant Johnson, deactivating him while elevating Derrick Williams to the role. Quarterback Shaun Hill didn't target Williams on any of his 47 throws, but I still think it was a fair move. Of the 30 passes that have been thrown his way this season, Johnson has caught nine and dropped three, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's pretty minimal production for a position that should draw favorable coverage while opponents track Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew. I'm not sure if Williams is the answer, but it's nice to see them hold Bryant Johnson accountable.
  3. We're getting close to that point in every recent Lions season where we start focusing on the draft. I'm not ready to rev up DraftWatch just yet, but for those interested, the Lions are among four teams currently in competition for the No. 1 overall pick. (Remember, the 2011 draft will take place whether or not there is a lockout.) The Carolina Panthers (1-9) are the leading candidates, while the Lions are among three teams that are 2-8. The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals are the others. Ties are broken by reverse order of strength of schedule. With six games remaining, there's no use running those strength of schedule rankings just yet.
And here is one issue I don't get:
Regardless of the circumstances, Cowboys punt returner Brian McCann never should have had such an easy path to the end zone on his 97-yard return. Once you get past the initial jolt of how he grabbed the ball -- just after Lions gunner John Wendling tried downing it inside the 3-yard line -- you realize the play wasn't as odd as it seemed. It represented a fundamental breakdown in coverage, something coach Jim Schwartz addressed after the game. Lane integrity and awareness remain critical whether or not a player is trying to down the ball. Had the rest of the coverage team maintained its assigned positions, McCann wouldn't have scored.

Wrap-up: Cowboys 35, Lions 19

November, 21, 2010
A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' latest road defeat:

What it means: The Lions lost their 26th consecutive road game, falling to 2-8 on the season and 4-22 during the Martin Mayhew-Jim Schwartz regime.

Today's bizarro moment: If you look at the box score, you see that the Dallas Cowboys took the lead for good with nine minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter on Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return. What you won't see, of course, is that McCann had decided to let the ball bounce -- he hoped -- into the end zone for a touchback. Lions gunner John Wendling made a nice play to tip the ball away from the goal line. But in a play that can only happen to the Lions, McCann grabbed the ball on an unusually high bounce and raced up the left sideline for the score. The play put the Cowboys up 14-12. What will they come up with next?

Hair-pulling: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was called for a horse-collar tackle of Cowboys tailback Marion Barber on a key second-down play early in the fourth quarter. In fact, Suh tackled Barber by his hair -- a completely legal play that was confirmed on the FOX broadcast by former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira. The Cowboys should have faced a third down from their 10-yard line but instead got a new set of downs from the 5, culminating in Miles Austin's 5-yard touchdown reception to extend the Cowboys lead to 28-19. Schwartz's livid reaction was completely justified.

What's next: The Lions have a short week to prepare for their annual Thanksgiving Day game. This year, they're matched up against the 8-2 New England Patriots.