Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

(We're sprucing up our day-after-game posts here on the NFC North blog, but the structure remains the same.)

After the Detroit Lions' 19-14 loss Sunday at the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. There will be a lot of discussion about what the Lions might or might not lose during a short-term transition from quarterback Matthew Stafford to Shaun Hill. But if the Lions take an approach similar to the one they used at Soldier Field, the impact will be minimal. Before Stafford departed with a right shoulder injury, the Lions were extraordinarily cautious with what most of us agree is a nice complement of explosive offensive weapons. Stafford completed 11 of 15 passes, but averaged a low 5.53 yards per attempt. He targeted wide receivers on three passes and connected only once, an 18-yard toss to Nate Burleson late in the second quarter. Receiver Calvin Johnson noted the Bears were using a Cover 2 scheme, which often induces teams to run the ball. But when some of your team's best players are downfield passers and catchers, sometimes you have to dictate the terms of engagement rather than taking what the defense gives you. I'm sure the Bears were thrilled to see the Lions take the bait.

  2. Fantasy owners got the big answer they were seeking on tailback Jahvid Best. Yes, as we discussed all summer, the Lions really do intend for him to be their primary back right away. That includes goal-line situations, where Best converted touchdown runs of seven and four yards. (Backup Kevin Smith was inactive, in fact.) But am I being a party-pooper by suggesting the rest of Best's afternoon was pretty underwhelming? The Bears defense certainly played a role in that. But the Lions should have had more success with the numbers advantage afforded by the Bears' Cover 2 scheme. In that situation, you would hope that Best would have gained more than 20 yards on 14 carries. Take away the two touchdowns, and Best netted nine yards on 12 carries. That's not going to fit anyone's definition of explosive.

  3. I imagine this isn't anything new for people who follow the AFC or the Tennessee Titans in particular, but Sunday illustrated what an absolute beast Kyle Vanden Bosch is. Let me throw some numbers at you. As a starting defensive end, Vanden Bosch led the Lions with 10 solo tackles. Throw in an assist and he was in on 11 tackles overall. He wasn't officially credited with a quarterback hit, but I counted three plays where Vanden Bosch got to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler just after the throw. Those are the kinds of plays that contribute, if nothing else, to inaccuracy later in the game. Remember when we discussed Vanden Bosch chasing ball carriers far downfield during training camp? Guess who made the tackle on Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu following a 20-yard reception in the first quarter Sunday? Vanden Bosch. Young Lions players, make sure you're watching this guy.

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

I've suggested that game officials correctly followed the letter of the NFL law in disallowing Calvin Johnson's apparent game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds remaining. It's true that there is a "process of the catch" continuation that applies in this situation. That's all a matter of interpretation, however. My question, one we first raised last season when it cost the Green Bay Packers a touchdown, is about intent. What is the purpose of this rule as currently constituted? Why does the "process of the catch" take so long? If a receiver catches a ball and has possession with two feet in bounds, shouldn't the play be dead at that point? Unless officials mistakenly extended that catch process too far in this case, NFL rules say it is not. I just don't know why.