FOUR DOWNS: Tahir Whitehead makes the most of his start

Posted Aug 22, 2014

Four downs following Friday night’s preseason win over Jacksonville covers Tahir Whitehead’s impressive performance, troubling penalties, a run game boost and solid defensive play.


Tahir Whitehead played on the line of scrimmage and in space when he was the SAM linebacker in Temple’s 3-4 scheme in college.

What Whitehead was asked to do in college is similar to what the Lions ask their SAM linebacker to do in Teryl Austin’s 4-3 scheme. That position is part linebacker and part pass rusher, which seems to suit Whitehead’s game just fine.

Whitehead has been playing well as of late and head coach Jim Caldwell rewarded the third-year linebacker with a start Friday night against Jacksonville.

Whitehead returned the favor with a terrific performance.

“You know, he’s one of those guys that’s been playing well the last couple of weeks. He’s really certainly been asserting himself,” Caldwell said. “I think you can see why. He’s played well he was really playing at a level of one of the top three linebackers. So we put him in position to see what he could do, and obviously he took advantage of it.”

Whitehead was all over the field in the Lions’ 13-12 victory. He racked up 10 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss in an impressive showing.

“I played in this style of defense in college,” Whitehead said. “I played the SAM linebacker on the ball and it just came to me when I knew we were going to play this type of scheme.

“All this week I just prepared really hard, just to try to take advantage of the opportunity.”

He certainly did, and with rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy sidelined for an undisclosed amount of time with an abdominal injury, Whitehead’s performance couldn’t have come at a better time for him.


Penalty Flag Penalty Flag (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Caldwell was perturbed at a number of things in his post-game press conference, but the penalties accumulated by his football team seemed to especially upset him.

“It’s painful now as a coach and it’s one of those things that I think bothers you and you have to get them straightened out because they are preventable,” Caldwell said of the penalties.

“There’s an old coaching adage, ‘you achieve what you emphasize,’ so we just have to keep emphasizing. I don’t expect it to go away overnight but I expect it to improve in a hurry.”

The Lions were flagged 15 times totaling 131 yards.

Broken down they looked like this:

Offensive holding (4)
Illegal block
Roughing the passer
Neutral zone infraction
Offensive pass interference
False start
Illegal contact
Intentional grounding
Defensive offsides
Unnecessary roughness
Illegal use of the hands
Face mask

The one problem with that list is that there are so many penalties that range across the board. Besides the four holding penalties on offense, the Lions weren’t penalized for another one more than once.

Coming off an 11-penalty performance last week in Oakland, this is trending in the wrong direction for the Lions.

“I know there’s an emphasis on certain things in the preseason and you don’t really know how that’s going to carry into the regular season, but anytime the penalties are going in the upward direction, it’s not good,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.


Reggie Bush made one cut, got outside the first level of defenders and out-ran the rest of the Jacksonville defense on his way to an 86-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

The 86 yards gained on that play helped the Lions amass 178 total rushing yards for the game, which was 49 more than they had the first two games combined.

More than the total number of yards gained, Bush said he was most happy with the couple explosive plays (20-plus yards) from the ground game.

“Coach Caldwell talks all the time about getting those explosive plays,” Bush said of his run and Mikel Leshoure’s 30-yarder in the second half.

“Plus 20-yard runs or catches, those are explosive plays. Those are plays that are going to keep drives alive and help us to score touchdowns and win games.”


While the first-team offense struggled to score points against Jacksonville’s defense, the first-team defense kept the Lions in the game by keeping the Jaguars out of the end zone.

The first-team unit allowed just two field goals and 169 yards of offense before they were pulled in the third quarter.

“I thought they played well and played tough,” Caldwell said of his starters on defense.

“But like I said, the thing that happened we had so many drives that were extended because the fact we had a penalty here and there which kind of really marred a pretty good performance out of that group.

“I think they controlled the line of scrimmage which is something you look for. I think the number one unit ran to the ball well I think they closed on the ball well. They limit big gains, and I think they were pretty solid except for the penalties.”

A couple things to note overall on defense for the Lions were the two turnovers and six sacks. They had far too few in both of those categories last year.