Key Question: Is it time for a change in the return game?

Posted Dec 23, 2012

Head Coach Jim Schwartz answers questions such as whether the Detroit Lions need a change in the return game in his Sunday press conference.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz spoke to the media less than 24 hours after a bittersweet, 31-18, loss to the Falcons that saw the team lose their seventh-straight contest, but also celebrate receiver Calvin Johnson breaking the all-time single-season record for yards with 1,892.

Schwartz answered a number of key questions during the media session, including questions about Stefan Logan and the return game, how turnovers have played a big factor in the team's 4-11 record, and Johnson's greatness.

Do the Lions need more production out of their return game? Is it time for a change?

Stefan Logan will probably make an appearance this week on the 'Not Top 10' highlight real on SportsCenter and could also be the subject of a 'C'Mon Man!' segment from the ESPN NFL crew after downing a kickoff following a safety at his own 4-yard line Saturday.

The blunder came at the 1:21 mark of the fourth quarter with the Lions trailing 31-18 after getting the ball back following a safety.

"I don't know. I've seen a lot of different things in the NFL," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Logan downing the ball. "I've seen quarterbacks spike it on fourth down for clock stoppage. Last year we played a team that a player ran out of bounds on fourth down to conserve time and didn't get a first down.

"But that's probably the first time I've seen somebody concede a punt in the field of play like that. It's a poor decision. Like I said last night, part of a returner's job is to know where he is on the field. Saying 'I didn't know where I was, I thought I was in the end zone,' is not a valid excuse. Your job as a returner is to know where you are on the field, particularly after we had gotten a safety."

Logan entered the weekend ranked last in the NFL in kick return average (22.1 ypg) and 13th in punt returns (9.1).

"It's coaches, it's our job to put players in position to make plays," Schwartz said. "It's players' job to make plays. But then it also reaches a point that if players don't make plays then it's coaches jobs to put different players in place there.

"During an NFL season there's not a lot of opportunity to do that but we'll certainly look at everything."

Schwartz said Mike Thomas (both kickoff and punt) and Joique Bell (kickoff) have return capabilities. It might be time to see one of them in those roles vs. Chicago next week.

How do the Lions only have four wins despite Calvin Johnson breaking the receiving record and quarterback Matthew Stafford closing in on another 5,000-yard season?

Schwartz pointed to the Lions' minus-12 turnover ratio as a good place to start.

"Well, I mean, we've had close games and I think it's been proven in the National Football League that the No. 1 determining factor of success in games is turnover ratio and we've turned it over a lot more this year and gotten a lot fewer turnovers than last year," Schwartz said.

In fact, the Lions had only six lost fumbles all year a season ago. They already have 13 this year.

On defense, they have failed to score a single defensive touchdown.

"We lost by 13 and 17 points off of turnovers," Schwartz pointed out. "We need to do a better job at taking care at the football and also on defense we need to be able to come up with some. Last year we had scores on defense.

"We haven't gotten any this year and turnovers obviously play a big part. You're not going to have every game where you don't turn one over, particularly when you throw it as many times (as we do). But we need to do a better job of No. 1 protecting the football but No. 2 getting the football. We've been on the minus side of turnover ratio way too often and it shows in our record."

Are some of those yardage stats for Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford a little hollow because of the 4-11 record?

Johnson's 1,892 yards are the most for a receiver in NFL history.

With 303 yards next week vs. Chicago, Stafford will become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Missing from that equation are touchdowns, though. Stafford has 17 touchdowns vs. 16 interceptions and Johnson has just five touchdowns. It should be noted that Johnson has been tackled inside the 2-yard line six times this season.

"I mean, it's hollow in the fact that we only have four wins and you'd like for that production to translate to wins and you'd like to be able to celebrate that production with wins, but we haven't been able to do that," Schwartz said.

"I think if it's late in the game and you're down multiple scores and you're doing it against prevent defense (it might be more hollow). We've had very few of those where they were just willing to give up yards.

"Almost every one of our games has been close where they've been challenging all those plays. I mean, even this last game. Up until the final possession, the game was certainly still in the balance so I don't see that."

Can Calvin Johnson's accomplishments this season be put into proper perspective right now?

There's never been another receiver in the history of the game that's done what Johnson has done this season. Let's not forget that it isn't over yet, either. Johnson has a chance to reach 2,000 receiving yards with 108 next week.

"To see somebody do what he's done when every game plan is designed to stop him. It says a lot about Calvin," Schwartz said.

""He's the greatest player I've ever seen and, like I said, I've seen a bunch of them. I haven't coached a lot of them, but I've seen a bunch of them and it's an inspiration to have a guy like that here and for a guy like that to be a cornerstone for what we're doing."

The fact that Johnson is one of the hardest workers on the team and one of the best people you can ever hope to meet makes what he's doing this season that much more special.

"You guys were in training camp, you see that guy diving. I mean, his success, there's no question of where it comes from," Schwartz said. "The work ethic that he brings every day, the competitiveness that he brings every day, there's something in me as a coach that wants to tell him at times, 'Hey look, ease off. Don't dive for that ball in practice.' I mean, Calvin will dive for balls in pre-game warm-ups.

"You know, he sprained an ankle last year in the opener against Tampa in pre-game warm-ups because he was so intent on making the catch. That's what makes him a great player."

What can an encore to this season look like for Johnson?

"I think the encore would be success as a team which we're all judged on," Schwartz said. "We're still only seeing the beginning of Calvin Johnson. This isn't his gold watch. This isn't his parting song or anything else. This is only the beginning of Calvin and he's going to lead us to great things."