At 7-3, the Detroit Lions have made a substantial bit of noise early in the NFL season with some thrilling come-from-behind wins.
However, the elephant in the room nobody wants to discuss? The ways mental mistakes, specifically penalties, continue to cost the team. Sunday, Detroit’s offense struggled to consistently mount a charge, but a few key sequences may have spoken the loudest about the reasoning behind that.
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Immediately after getting a field goal to stem Arizona momentum at 14-3, Detroit’s defense did the job, holding the Cardinals to a punt. Afterward, Detroit took over and began driving, with Matthew Stafford hitting a 30 yard pass to Golden Tate on third and long. Then, after another short third down conversion, Detroit had the ball on Arizona’s side of the field and seemed to be inching toward another key score.
It was all for naught. Guard Rob Sims was flagged for a foolish facemask penalty on the next play and 15 yards later, the Lions’ offense was completely stalled. They punted.
Detroit’s defense did the job on the very next series, stoning the Cardinals again. Even in spite of a hold by Mohammed Seisay, the Lions’ offense began to methodically move the ball out from the shadows of their own goalposts with a mix of solid runs. They converted another clutch third down on a 10 yard pass to a wide open Eric Ebron, moving the chains.
Except to gain his major separation, Ebron simply threw Cardinals’ defensive back Antonio Cromartie to the ground, drawing a flag. One play later, Calvin Johnson dropped a tough catch in Arizona territory, and Detroit had to punt again.
Two series, each of which could have led to points and momentum flipping, stopped cold by usual Lions mistakes. Arguably, both failed series are the reason Detroit lost the game. A touchdown or field goal on each drive could have helped things end differently by sundown. Each drive looked promising, and each was stopped dead by crushing mental errors.
Near the end of the fourth quarter with Detroit desperate for yardage to start a comeback, an unidentified player was flagged for taunting while flexing at the Arizona sideline after a punt. It was a 15 yard penalty that effectively ended Detroit’s already slim chances of rallying.
“In a game like that, it’s so tight, penalties particularly stand out and we gotta do better,” Jim Caldwell said while revisiting the carnage on Monday.
The more some things change, the more others stay the same.
“Those are a concern,” Caldwell said regarding Sunday’s barrage of calls. “We have far too many penalties, that’s the honest fact, and we gotta get that straightened out.” As a whole, Detroit is penalized more in 2014 than last season. Caldwell commented the way to fix such mistakes is to keep emphasizing them in practice and even remove players who have committed them.
But when will those lessons ever consistently carry over on the field?
Blaming officials for bad spots or odd interpretations of rules is one thing, but claiming bias against Detroit due to in-game calls is another. The Lions cannot put themselves in a position to be flagged for avoidable errors. It’s what’s prevented the team from contending, and until this group proves they can win statement games without making such mistakes, it’s fair to label the team pretenders even within a new regime.
The Lions cannot put themselves in a position to be flagged for avoidable errors.
After all, considering how they slipped and fell Sunday on the big stage, it’s clear they’ve proven little in this department. The hot start has been a nice talking point, but it will mean nothing if things cannot get cleaned up in between the lines. 80 yards in penalties won’t win a division or a playoff game. Arguably, it won’t even help a team reach the playoffs.
Stakes get higher with every game, meaning pressure must create diamonds. The usual causes behind Sunday’s road defeat proved why these Lions are not ready to be taken seriously until further notice.