When the Detroit Lions win the coin toss, they choose to take the ball. This isn’t an uncommon decision, although it has become less common in recent years. With the Lions offense not finding early success, some fans and media have questioned the Lions refusal to defer to the second half.
Jim Schwartz was asked about his reasons for taking the ball when he met with the media yesterday and his answer was simple: Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. You could add Reggie Bush as another reason.
Honestly, I’m not sure why this topic has generated as much debate as it has. It makes perfect sense to me to want to get your best players on the field as soon as possible. After all, your best players have the best chance at setting an early tone for the game.
In Detroit sports, “different” is almost always taken as “better: – that’s why the joke says the two most popular players in town are the Lions backup quarterback and the Red Wings backup goalie. The offense isn’t scoring on their opening drive so putting out the defense must be better, right?
What would be your expected result of the opening kickoff if the Lions defer to the second half? If you said “touchback”, you’re probably right. So then let’s take a look at the result of the Lions first drive of each game this season:
Week 1 vs. Minnesota: 10-play, 67-yard drive, botched field goal attempt
Week 2 vs. Arizona: Punt to Cardinals 16-yard line
Week 3 vs. Washington: Punt to Redskins 20-yard line (touchback)
Week 4 vs. Chicago: Punt to Chicago 19-yard line
Week 5 vs. Green Bay: Punt to Packers 20-yard line (touchback)
Week 6 vs. Cleveland: Punt to Browns 5-yard line
Week 7 vs. Cincinnati: Punt to Bengals 10-yard line
How many times has the drive resulted in something worse than the opposition taking over at the 20-yard line – exactly what we would expect to happen if the Lions kick off? Just once, and that was a drive that should have ended in a field goal.
The Lions offense hasn’t put up points but that doesn’t mean they won’t, and they’ve at least been able to gain some field position for the defense.
Ah, but the defense, the unit so many people want to put on the field first. Now, let’s take a look at what they have done the first time they have seen the field in each game this year:
Week 1 vs. Minnesota: 78-yard touchdown run
Week 2 vs. Arizona: Punt to Lions 11-yard line
Week 3 vs. Washington: Punt to Lions 9-yard line
Week 4 vs. Chicago: 34-yard field goal
Week 5 vs. Green Bay: 26-yard field goal
Week 6 vs. Cleveland: Punt to Lions 34-yard line
Week 7 vs. Cincinnati: 82-yard touchdown pass
They’ve allowed points on the opening drive of four of seven opponents and given the ball back to the offense with field position of better than the 20-yard line just once. Forgive me if I’m not seeing a unit I want “setting the tone” on future Sundays.
Some will say the Lions should defer just so they can have the ball to start the second half. That’s fine and I have no problem with that philosophy – it just isn’t the reason given by most fans who want the Lions to stop taking the ball. The solution to not scoring points on opening drives isn’t to give the ball to the defense. After all, the first drive is the first drive no matter when it occurs.
The Lions have made a heavy investment on the offensive side of the ball and they need to be counted on to set the tone early.