O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: A slow start and a bad finish in 37-27 loss to Steelers

Posted Nov 17, 2013

Mike O'Hara on the questionable coaching strategy and bad plays on both sides of the ball in loss to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – Burning questions – a slow start  and bad finish by the Lions, questionable coaching strategy, and bad play on offense and defense – in the Lions’ disastrous 37-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday:

Q. Coach Jim Schwartz put himself on the hot seat with a fake field goal in the fourth quarter. The Lions had a 27-23 lead and could have made it 30-23 with a chip-shot field goal. Sam Martin was stopped, and the Steelers drove 97 yards to the go-head touchdown.

Right call by Schwartz?

David Akers, Sam MartinK David Akers and P Sam Martin (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

A. No. Wrong call. It goes against every principle of strategy.  With fourth-and-five at the 10, it was a chip-shot field goal for David Akers that would have given the Lions a seven-point lead at 30-23.

At the worst – it seemed – they would go into overtime.

Sam Martin was stopped short of the field down and fumbled the ball ahead to the three, where the Steelers recovered.

From there, they drove 97 yards to the go-ahead touchdown, then finished off the game with another score after an interception.

Q. Is the whole loss based on the field goal call?

A. No. It didn’t cause the defense to give up a 97-yard TD drive – or another TD after that that widened the lead and put the game out of reach. It wasn’t the reason the passing game went into the deep freeze after the second quarter.

But on its own merit, the fake field goal was a bad decision, and it’s something that will be remembered.

Q. What does the loss mean to the Lions’ bid to win the NFC North?

A. That’s something we won’t know for another six weeks. All that’s known for sure is that the Lions had the Steelers on the ropes, with a  chance to keep a firm hold on first place in the NFC North, and they played some of their worst football of the season most of the game.

Q. Misfire start: What went wrong that put the Lions in a 17-3 hole in the first five minutes of the second quarter?

A. Everything – including a 35-yard field goal by Akers that gave the Lions their only points. The kick bounced off the upright and ricocheted over the crossbar. It was a lucky break for the Lions to get three points.

They didn’t do much on offense, and part of the problem might have been the wind. Matthew Stafford overthrew three receivers – Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew – who were open for big gains.

All three were overthrows, and the one to Pettigrew – at the goal line – was with the wind at his back.

And the defense didn’t stop anybody. Antonio Brown caught two TD passes, covering 34 and 47 yards, and on both plays he was wide open to make the catch and the tackling in the secondary was nonexistent.

Q. Big Ben’s big run – what was the key play in the Steelers’ 97-yard drive for the go-ahead TD with 4:46 left?

A. There were a lot of big plays by the Steelers and many that were not made by the Lions’ defense, but the big play was a 10-yard run by Ben Roethlisberger on a third and 12 to the 36. That gave the Steelers a manageable fourth-and-two situation, and they converted it on a pass to Le’Veon Bell, who got away from Rocky McIntosh to make the catch.

From there, the Steelers chopped away until they scored – on a one-yard pass to Will Johnson.

Q. Bell for Bush: Bush had some problems holding onto the ball. Was he benched in favor of Joique  Bell, who played well until he went out in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury?

A. I wouldn’t say benched. A more diplomatic way to put it was that there was a heavy rotation in Bell’s favor until he went out.

Q. Officiating call I -- Beat the clock: Did the Lions put one over on the Steelers with a quick snap on their first possession? Reggie Bush lost the ball at the end of a 17-yard gain on a reception. On the field it looked like a fumble, but referee Walt Anderson ruled Brown was down by contact.

The Lions didn’t give Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin time to throw the challenge flag. They snapped the ball in a hurry. Did they get the jump on the Steelers on that play?

A. It sure looked that way. After watching replays, there’s a good chance a replay review would have overturned the call on the field and given the Steelers possession at the Lions’ 43.

Put it this way: if the Lions were sure it wasn’t a fumble, they wouldn’t have been so quick to snap the ball to avoid a replay review.

Q. Officials call II -- Not telling it like it was: Reggie Bush lost a fumble in the first half, and the Steelers returned the recovery to the Lions’ 32. Referee Walt Coleman said the whistle blew, and the ball would be taken back to the spot of the fumble. It never was. What was Coleman’s explanation?

A. There wasn’t any. Presumably, the officials decided there was no whistle, but that never was announced. It was bewildering, and it looked like mass confusion on the field.

Q. Ending the half: The Lions got a field goal with four seconds left to boost their lead to 27-20. Should the Lions have been satisfied with a seven-point lead?

A. Yes and no.

Yes because they came back from a 17-3 deficit and scored 24 points in the second quarter. But no, because they let themselves get that far behind – and their last possession left something to be desired.

Q. How can a field-goal drive in the last 1:02 leave anyone unsatisfied?

A. When you don’t give yourself a chance to do more, it’s not satisfying.

It started on the punt – a 31-yard shank by Mat McBriar that Micheal Spurlock returned to the Steelers’ 31. However, that was nullified on a holding penalty against DeJon Gomes,.

The penalty forced the Lions to start the last possession at their 49.

They were still in good shape, with first and goal at the four. After an interference penalty in the end zone on a pass meant for Calvin Johnson, it was first and goal at the one.

From there, three straight incomplete passes forced the Lions to settle for a field goal.

Q. Down 17-3, then leading 27-20 –- how could that be disappointing?

A. It’s because of what the Lions didn’t do. They left points on the field by not being sharp on offense, and gave up points by being anything but sharp on defense at the start and finish.

The biggest disappointment is that they’re 6-4 instead of 7-3 – which they should have  been had they played the way they should have.