Tim and Mike: A look at the keys to Week 3 at Washington, personnel and Ndamukong Suh

Posted Sep 18, 2013

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara discuss Sunday's loss in Arizona, Ndamukong Suh's practice habits, Brandon Pettigrew and keys to winning in Washington Sunday

The first person who said "over-reaction Monday" should have registered the phrase. It would have been worth a fortune.

The reaction to the Lions' loss at Arizona began before the team flight home landed early Monday morning.

Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy started it on NBC Sunday night, when he  said "same old Lions," and also saying he's a life-long Lions fan from having grown up in Jackson.

Jay Glazer of the Fox network said Ndamukong Suh has riled teammates by being as rough in practice as he is in games.

And – News Flash!!! – there's also talk about personnel and game strategy. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and young cornerback Bill Bentley have had tough days.

Start with Dungy. What's the fallout – if there is any – from his "same old Lions" comment?

Mike: Tony Dungy has the stature of a retired Secretary of State or Four Star General. He is an iconic figure, and his words carry weight. He isn't looking to make sound bites or get web hits.

Coach Jim Schwartz pretty much dismissed Dungy's comments at his Monday press conference, but he didn't fire back, either.

I'd be most interested to know the feelings at the ownership level, and what GM Martin Mayhew thinks.

Mayhew was a cornerback for the Tampa Bay Bucs when Dungy became head coach in 1996.

Many in Bucs management at the time put Mayhew in a group of players who were responsible for changing the franchise's culture from wayward losers to a powerhouse that eventually won a Super Bowl. Dungy and Mayhew both were gone by then, but they helped establish the foundation.

The new regime – Mayhew and Schwartz – have done a lot of good things in five years, but losses bring out the warts.

Is that a stretch to wonder about the internal reaction to Dungy's comment, and would you discount it?

And aren't there bigger issues at the moment that should occupy everyone's attention?

Tim: I wouldn't discount Dungy's comments, because he's well respected around the league, but I can see with a lot of certainty that I don't think Mayhew or Schwartz care much about outside perception.

You are right, losing does bring out the warts, but Mayhew and Schwartz can't be judged on things that happened before their watch.

I thought Schwartz made a good point Monday when asked about Washington and the Lions not ever having won there. I thought his comments showed how he really feels about the "same old Lions" talk.

He said he's never played in Washington as the coach of the Detroit Lions. Neither has Matthew Stafford, Louis Delmas or a host of other players.

Schwartz and Mayhew should be judged on one thing and one thing only, 23-43, which is their record since taking over.

That's not a good mark, but they now tailored the roster to their liking since 0-16 and I get the sense that coaches, players nor the front office are panicking over a 1-1 start.

The Lions lost a close game on the road in the NFL. It happens. Was it a winnable game? Certainly. Will they look back on it in December and with they could have it back? Maybe.

But let's not overreact to a loss Week 2. The "same old Lions" probably would have lost that Minnesota game last week after a terrible start.

My point is, let's watch this thing play out a little bit before we start labeling teams after two weeks.

Take a step back from the ledge.

Was Jay Glazer's report about Suh and his practice exploits a case of piling on?

Mike: I wouldn't call it piling on. Glazer has rock-solid sources at a lot of levels throughout the NFL. He breaks big story after big story. His report on Suh does not fall into the category of a big story.

We haven't heard anything to suggest that Suh has been marauding through practice, but that doesn't mean some player with a gripe didn't vent to Glazer. It happens.

Based on Suh's work ethic – and it's exemplary – I'd be surprised if there haven't been some linemen who've had a tough practice day working against him. But I don't think that's anything out of bounds.

The immediate issue for the Lions – as it should be for any team and coaching staff – should be getting production out of players. For the Lions, that means getting Pettigrew to play at the level that made him a pass-catching machine for his first three seasons.

Do you think his problems now are mental, or physical? And can he turn it around?

And by the way, the noise you're making from tapping the keys so hard is starting to annoy me. Lighten up, pal!!!!

Tim: One point on the Glazer report, first. I agree with you, Glazer has great sources around the league and it sounds like he got some information from a disgruntled player who Suh took to the woodshed one day a practice.

But if I got information like that, I'd probably take out the NFL Black Book and give a Lions beat writer a call to see if what I was being told was also something they've seen. It's a five-minute call.

As far as Pettigrew goes, I fear the problem is becoming more mental than anything else. A couple of those passes Sunday in Arizona would have been tough catches with defenders right there on him, but those are plays the Lions had to have. They would have extended drives. Those are plays big-time players make.

By the way, excuse my typing, Mike, is it affecting you watching the television with your binoculars?

Can some of Bentley's troubles be associated with a young player whose inexperience is starting to show in certain situations?

Mike: There you go, taking shots at the visually impaired.

I wouldn't make a player's feelings the top priority right now. Performance and winning are No. 1. I don't think the coaching staff asked Mikel Leshoure how he was going to feel before making him inactive for the first two games.

Bentley's rookie season ended early because of a shoulder injury, so he isn't a true second-year cornerback in terms of game experience. The other side of that, though, is that he took bad penalties last year – remember the Titans? – and it was more of the same against Arizona.

To me, Pettigrew is the biggest puzzle. He played too much good football before to be a liability now. The sooner he gets going as a tight end who catches five or six passes a game on average, the better for the entire offense.

He has done it before. There's no reason he can't do it again. Or is there?

Tim: Pettigrew didn't all the sudden get any smaller or slower than he was in 2011 when he set the franchise record for catches (83) and yards (777) for a tight end.

That's why I think his early struggles are more mental than physical.

The only thing that can affect him getting back to those levels is if the coaches start to lose faith in him. If Joseph Fauria or Tony Scheffler start to take some of his reps, but I don't see that right now, because Pettigrew is the best blocking tight end they have and the tight end who fits best in a lot of different packages.

He just needs a good game to get things going and this week in Washington would be a good start.

Speaking of Washington, what's the biggest key to Sunday's game for the Lions?

Mike: Just play up to their ability, and don't give up anything that makes it easy for Washington.

On offense, that means giving Stafford time to throw – and his ability to read defenses quickly and get rid of the ball makes it easier on the offensive line – and breaking some runs. And the receivers have to win one-on-ones and minimize drops.

Defensively, stop giving the opponent more opportunities because of penalties. That has to stop.

On special teams, David Akers has to make field goals, and the return game has to make an impact. It's been nonexistent for two games.

Finally, just play ball. Forget about losing streaks, road games and any external pressure. The only thing that should matter to the Detroit Lions is the Detroit Lions, and how they perform.

Tim: If the Lions don't beat themselves they have a good shot of winning in Washington for the first time in their history.

Offensively, Stafford has been very good through two weeks. He's taking care of the football, which is the biggest key. Washington hasn't been very good on defense to start the season, and if the Lions don't hurt themselves, they should score points.

Defensively, everything starts with the front seven. The Redskins want to run the football. That's their comfort zone. If the Lions are good against the run, like they have been the first two weeks, and force Washington to throw the ball, they're in good shape.

Special teams wise, just don't do anything that can lose the game and make your field goals.


Let's finish off with a bonus tid-bit. Some talk-show callers complained about Calvin Johnson and Patrick Peterson exchanging jerseys after the last game. Is that fair criticism?

Mike: If idiotic is fair, then yes.

I get the fans' passion. But to think Calvin Johnson, who played last season with broken fingers and after a hit to the head that he said left him woozy, has any less passion for the game because he changed jerseys with an All-Pro opponent whom he beat all day could not be more wrong.

Tim: NFL players are part of a very exclusive club. When that final whistle blows, there is nothing but respect and admiration from most of the players for the guys on the other sideline.

A lot of these players are friends dating back to college, high school or whatever.

Johnson has much respect for Peterson and vice versa. At the end of the day who really cares who exchanges jerseys with who? Is Johnson less passionate about the game or care less about winning because he exchanged jerseys with an opponent? Really?

Must have been a slow news day.