Lions Show Signs of Moving in the Right Direction

Posted Sep 14, 2009

No one made the claim that the Detroit Lions were going to appear playoff-bound in their first regular season game under Head Coach Jim Schwartz.

General Manager Martin Mayhew has said throughout the offseason that “we should be judged by our actions.”  The truth of the matter is, while the Lions didn’t play well on Sunday according to Schwartz, there were some obvious improvements at New Orleans and some signs that Detroit is moving in the right direction.

Not only did rookies play on Sunday, they contributed.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and defensive tackle Sammie Hill all started the game. While Stafford struggled at times, throwing three interceptions, Schwartz acknowledges the problems he faced due to the situation the Lions put themselves in early.

“(A lot of his anxiousness in the pocket) probably a lot had to do with being down 14-0 and (the fact that it) took away our ability to run the football,” said Schwartz. “A lot of our play-actions, linebackers were deeper, which causes the quarterback either to get the ball intercepted or to sail the ball. That was a big part of it.”

Pettigrew didn’t have a catch in the game, but was a key part of the blocking scheme.

“Yeah, you know, there were a few times looking back at the film that we probably should’ve got him the ball,” said Schwartz.

“We were trying to push the ball deeper down the field and all of our tight ends were a little bit more open underneath. That, again, goes to being down and trying to catch back up in the game. It’s hard to be patient and take 5-yard gains when you need three scores in the fourth quarter.”

Delmas had a rollercoaster of a game. At times he lost control of his temper, accruing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a Saints touchdown, while others times he was in complete control of his body, making a goal-line tackle and recovering and returning a fumble for a touchdown.

“I think you saw the whole gamut with Delmas,” said Schwartz. “You saw the emotion that he plays with and obviously that crossed the line. He’s an exciting player. He picks up a fumble, scores a touchdown. He made a couple big hits in the game. He was consistent tackling. I think he had one missed tackle, but he was consistent in tackling.

“All those things are part of his package. He needs to grow. He needs to work. He needs to continue to learn from his experiences and you know it was his first game ever in the National Football League.”

Running back Aaron Brown was a factor in the return game, finishing with five kick returns for 180 yards and a long of 87 yards.

Asked why he didn’t reach the endzone, Schwartz said, “You know, he had run about 120 yards on that return and run through a couple other tackles and the guy had a little bit of an angle on him. I mean he’s a fast player. He’s not going to get caught very often.”

Even though the Lions defense had its ups and downs yesterday, there were some positives that came out of it. Though the Lions had a tough time getting to Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, the secondary showed improvement from a year ago.

With just one player remaining from the 2008 secondary, Detroit came away with seven pass defenses – six from the secondary – compared with 33 total from a year ago. Of those 33 in 2008, 18 were attributed to defensive backs, six to linebackers and nine to defensive linemen.

The secondary showed the physical capability to hang with some of the top pass receivers and top offense in the league from a year ago; now it’s all about communication.

“You need to put the players in good positions, they need to know exactly what to do and they need to be able to execute schemes,” said Schwartz. “There are some ways to work around it. Talent is the bottom line in this league, for sure, but can you change everything in on year? Probably not, but that’s no excuse.

“That’s no excuse at all for the defensive performance that we had. The main issue is red zone defense, third-down efficiency – I think they were close to 70% in both of those. You can do a lot better than we did.”