Breaking Down the Detroit Lions Penalties Against Tennessee

The Detroit Lions saw a lot these penalty flags in the home opener. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Lions saw a lot these penalty flags in the home opener. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /
The Detroit Lions saw a lot these penalty flags in the home opener. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Lions saw a lot these penalty flags in the home opener. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions lost to the Tennessee Titans 16-15. They also lost to their own penalty count, an astonishing 17 accepted infractions.

It’s natural for fans to grumble about the calls, but on first watch I thought the officials did a fair job in throwing flags where they were needed. While there were a couple of times they definitely missed blatant penalties–the low hit on Matthew Stafford that threw off his game and the hold on Kyle Van Noy that set free Demarco Murray’s one good run–my initial takeaway was the Lions were just guilty of sloppy, undisciplined play.

I decided to test that takeaway. I went back and watched the game again, evaluating the validity of each penalty.

Here they are in their bountiful chronological order and whether they were merited or not:

Offsides on Haloti Ngata. This one was an easy call on Tennessee’s first offensive snap. If only we knew this would be the beginning of a very long day filled with yellow laundry all over Ford Field.

Offsides on Khyri Thornton. Another easy one. Marcus Mariota apparently worked hard on his cadence inflection this summer.

Holding on Brandon Copeland. This was on the kick return following the Devin Taylor safety. A letter-of-the-law call well away from the action. This one is pretty cheap.

Holding on Eric Ebron. The first of three Detroit Lions touchdowns wiped out by a flag, the tight end earned this one. It merited two different officials throwing their flags and was the reason Abdullah broke off the would-be touchdown.

Holding on Darius Slay. One play after a fantastic Kerry Hyder effort created 3rd and 11–and should have earned an intentional grounding penalty on Mariota–Slay was indeed guilty of the downfield hold. The Lions corner had a big old handful of Tajae Sharpe’s jersey as the wideout tried to square in.

Offsides on Devin Taylor. The only black mark on an otherwise outstanding first half from the Detroit Lions defensive end, Taylor obviously jumped offsides on the last play of the first quarter.

First quarter summary

Six penalties, including four on the defense. The only real questionable call is the one on Copeland on special teams.

Holding on Travis Swanson. After a clean drive from the Detroit defense where the Titans evened up the penalty tally with three more of their own, the Lions center got in on the infraction act. This came one play after the Titans were guilty of a defensive hold to set up a first down. Swanson didn’t like the call and I didn’t either; there is far worse holding on most offensive plays than this one. This flag was thrown by an official who was behind the play and couldn’t possibly have seen Swanson’s hand lightly grasp the jersey as Jurell Casey pulled away in pursuit.

And now is where it gets fun…

Offensive pass interference on Eric Ebron. You be the judge on this one:

If that’s a penalty, my shorthaired house cat is a mountain lion.

Holding on Laken Tomlinson. One play after Ebron’s nullified TD, the Lions lost another touchdown. Tomlinson was so badly beaten by Karl Klug right off the snap that he almost didn’t have time to hold. The left guard did hook a little with his left arm but this is probably action that shouldn’t have been flagged. Still a terrible play by Tomlinson, however.

Holding on Anquan Boldin. The very next play was a very obvious penalty on the Detroit Lions wideout. Boldin had a bear hug on the defender as Golden Tate sashayed up the field after a short pass. Easy call. This set up 1st and goal from the 31.

Tomlinson got away with a bad hold on the third down throwaway by Stafford here too. He was astonishingly bad, but that’s for another article…

Halftime tally

Ten infractions. Seven were no doubters. Two were iffy. One was awful. Two of the no doubters and the awful one took touchdowns off the board and the Lions led just 12-3.

Illegal shift on the offense. Another pre-snap penalty, which is a good barometer for judging how well the players are prepared mentally by the coaching staff. Golden Tate and Eric Ebron couldn’t get aligned properly and Tate was the guilty party here.

Holding on Laken Tomlinson. This came with the Lions still up 12-3 and right after Glover Quin’s diving interception. Tomlinson was guilty as sin here. Working on an edge block, Tomlinson’s feet got crossed as he tried to stay engaged and he spun the defender around with a textbook hold.

Crackback block on Golden Tate. The easiest call of the game, particularly after Tajae Sharpe had ben flagged earlier for the same infraction. Tate left his feet and threw a shoulder into a defensless defender who couldn’t see him. While many fans consider this “football”, it’s a point of emphasis that every NFL team and player knows well. Dumb but accurate.

Offensive pass interference on Anquan Boldin. A vintage Anquan Boldin pushoff on his release. This almost never gets called but when it happens to the Lions defense we all get in a tizzy. While it’s indeed a penalty, this one gets called maybe two percent of the time league-wide.

Defenisve pass interference on Nevin Lawson. This probably should have been defensive holding and not pass interference as the throw sailed some 15 feet out of bounds. Lawson absolutely had a handful of Sharpe’s jersey and spun him around by the collar.

End of third quarter tally

15 penalties. Four of the five in the third quarter fall in the “definitely guilty” category, while the OPI on Boldin is one that fans can rightly question as overzealous officiating.

Delay of game. After an offensive drive where Tomlinson got away with two blatant holds and with the score 15-10, Sam Martin purposely let the play clock expire to give him more room to punt. It worked, as Martin pinned the Titans at their own 9 with a booming high punt.

Defensive pass interference on Darius Slay. The last accepted penalty was another easy call that drew multiple flags. Slay was all over Andre Johnson. As with the earlier Lawson penalty, even if this pass was uncatchable this was an obvious defensive hold.

There’s your 17 penalties. The Titans declined one more, an illegal use of hands on Brandon Copeland on the game-winning scoring drive.

Final tally:

13 were clear fouls and good calls

3 were iffy, violations that are technically correct but normally don’t draw flags

1 was downright awful, and it cost the Lions a touchdown that would have won the game