Recently, it's become en-vogue to call the Detroit Lions undisciplined and point to that as the biggest problem holding the team back. 19 penalties in two games with plenty of personal foul calls included will do that to a team, but in reality, the yellow flags were merely a scapegoat Sunday.
Offensively, Detroit had the ball six times in the second half Sunday, and those drives produced a total of 24 plays, 90 yards and one turnover. The team was missing Reggie Bush thanks to his knee injury, but with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and Joique Bell in the fold, the results should have been much better, or at least more consistent.
Instead, the Lions departed from the running game entirely. Only six runs were called by Detroit in the second half. In Monday's press conference, Jim Schwartz admitted this was a problem. "I think the difference was, we had a very effective run game against Minnesota. In this game, we never got that going," he said.
The reason was, of course, Bush's injury. Though the Lions haven't had a runner who can consistently do the things he can as a rusher, Bush himself cannot be allowed to dominate the offense in this way. Though nobody wants to dwell on it, early in his career, Bush has certainly lacked durability, missing numerous games from 2007-2011. Chances are, with as much as the Lions wish to rely on him in 2013, injuries, no matter the size, are going to be a reality.
Knowing this, the Lions should have some type of contingency plan for when Bush goes out. They should have tried the run more with Bell, worked in more play action passing with targets like Scheffler and of course, made better use of the screen pass, something which the Vikings couldn't contain in week one. Without Bush, the Lions reverted back to the bad offensive habits which sunk the team in 2012, trying to throw over the middle too much. If Bush leaves, the same type of panicked, disorganized response can't happen again.
As far as penalties are concerned, there's never an excuse for parades of personal fouls, but we're probably not talking about a team which will challenge Oakland's 2011 record for most penalized yards in a season (1,358), or Oakland's record for penalties in a season (163) which also came in 2011. If Detroit exceeds an NFL record of 22 penalties in a game, or comes close to going over the record for penalty yardage collected in a game (212 yards, 1999 Tennessee Titans) then we'll be able to admit there's a true epidemic present.
Until then, penalties just serve as the convenient window dressing to hide the bigger issues, namely, the Lions constant inability to get creative when being forced to play without an elite talent or involve all of their play makers. Truth is, the Lions still came within an eyelash of being 2-0, even with 19 penalties.
Certainly, flags remain an important issue, but they're not the only thing which will hold these Lions back.
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