NFL Team Report - Detroit Lions - INSIDE SLANT
As the Detroit Lions were letting another game slip away last Sunday while they were self-destructing with penalties and botched assignments against the Arizona Cardinals, former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy was clucking his tongue.
"S.O.L.," he said during a spot on NBC's Football Night in America. "Same Old Lions."
Dungy grew up a Lions fan in Jackson, Mich., so he probably harbors the same cynicism most Lions fans have. He was also passed up for the Lions coaching job back when they hired Steve Mariucci.
And, he has had some bitter clashes against both head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham over the years.
So, all of that said, Dungy's remarks were met with a measure of disdain and dismissal in the Lions' locker room.
"I didn't hear him say that, but I don't appreciate those words," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "I'm very sensitive about my team. I wonder what he said after Week 1. Did he say the same thing after we started the season off on a good note against a good team with a good running back and get a victory?"
Quarterback Matthew Stafford waived the comments off.
"I don't really listen to it," he said. "Tony Dungy has been a great coach in this league for a long time. He's a well-respected member of the NFL family. But his job now is to talk and we understand it.
"We're doing everything we can to play as clean a football as we can and make as little mistakes as we can. I don't have time to be paying attention to what everybody says. If I did that I wouldn't be getting ready every week."
The Lions amassed 101 yards in penalties. They fumbled once inside their 10. They missed two field goals and had another blocked. But, they were still a couple of first downs away from beating a solid Cardinals team on the road.
And that was what the Lions were focusing on.
"I'm glad he is a fan of the Lions but I've never seen him come to one of our practices," Schwartz said. "I haven't seen him along with you guys on the sidelines or anything else. I'm sure he watches and every fan has an opinion. I mean his criticism means as much as anyone else's.
"We know exactly where we need to improve and where we need to play better. We're 1-1 right now. We can't under-react to a loss but we also can't over-react to a loss. I think there is a tendency to do that in this league."
Schwartz said the errors that cost the team a win Sunday were physical and were not indicative of some systemic failure.
"We know exactly went wrong, we know a couple plays," he said. "We fumbled and that led to three points; our defense went in and did an outstanding job of getting a stop. That was three points. We missed a field goal -- three points. We had a field goal blocked -- that was three points.
"We had a sack-strip that was negated by a penalty. That was a physical error. There were probably four plays, four physical plays in this game where we needed to find a way to make. If that means we're the same old Lions then he is entitled to his opinion. But I look at like it's half full."
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. The Lions trail the series 12-27 and have lost three playoff games against the Redskins by a combined 63 points. The Lions have never won a game in Washington. Counting the playoff losses, they have lost 21 straight times dating back to 1939. Oddly enough, quarterback Matthew Stafford is 2-0 against the Redskins, beating them in 2009 and 2010, both games in Detroit. Calvin Johnson is the only current Lion to play the last time they traveled to Washington - a 34-3 drubbing in 2007.
NFL Team Report - Detroit Lions - NOTES, QUOTES
--Lions head coach Jim Schwartz vehemently denied a report that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is overly aggressive during practice. During Fox's pregame show Sunday, Jay Glazer reported that Suh's teammates have expressed concern about him being uncontrollable in practice.
"Even in practice, Ndamukong gives guys the business," Glazer said. "He'll slam a guy's head against the ground. He'll stomp on a guy. He'll take little shots at guys. And guys are concerned if he can't control himself even in practice with us, how can he control himself against someone else's jersey?"
Said Schwartz: "I can say, unequivocally, he has never slammed anybody's head to the ground or stomped on anybody. That's just inflammatory stuff that it gets headlines and it gets a reaction. I would bet that you guys (reporters) would've reported that long before a guy that's never been to one of our practices reports it."
Center Dominic Raiola, who butts heads with Suh as much as anybody, also said the report was bogus.
"I've never seen it," he told the Detroit Free Press. "I've been here with him since he was a rookie, since his first day on the practice field. And he practices hard like a professional, like how a pro should practice. And I see no problem with the way he practices. I don't think he'd be our captain right now if all that being said is true. I don't think there's one ounce of truth to that at all."
--What happened to the Lions' vertical passing game? Through the first two games, their passing game has been little more than an assortment of screens and slants, dinks and dunks. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has amassed 630 passing yards in two games, but his passes are traveling an average of about seven yards in the air.
"We are doing what the defense dictates," Stafford said. "We played Minnesota and they were dropping guys as deep as you'll ever see in a game and it forces us to take the underneath stuff."
The Cardinals did the same thing, even with Reggie Bush injured and out of the game in the second half. They kept their safeties deep and had one of them shading toward Calvin Johnson at all times.
"We're just trying to do what the defense is letting us do," Stafford said. "If they play deep, we're going to take it underneath, catch and run and make good plays that way."
There will be a different dynamic to the preparation this week. Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is a master at disrupting offenses with a variety of well-disguised and not-so-well-disguised blitzes.
"We are playing a coordinator this week that likes to pressure, likes to bring blitzes and it's exciting for us as an offense to have an aggressive coordinator against us," he said.
Here's why: According to research by ProFootballFocus.com, the Cardinals blitzed Stafford 14 times last week. In those attempts he was 11 for 14 for 97 yards, a touchdown and a quarterback rating of 119.3.
--According to ESPN research, the Lions have dropped eight passes in two games, 10.4 percent. That's the most in the league.
"I think it's on everybody," Stafford said. "It's on me, too. I've got to give them more catchable passes. I take credit for some things and guys need to make a few more plays, but at the same time, I've had a lot of guys make great catches for me, too. You take the good with the bad."
Stafford made it clear he had not lost confidence in any of his receivers.
"I am ready to go right back to them," he said of his reaction when guys drop his passes. "I want to give them the ball on the next play to get them back into the swing. There is nothing more frustrating as an athlete than to mess up and not have an opportunity to make up for it."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3-for-21 - Third down conversions allowed by the Lions defense, best in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, it's just gnats in the air that keep going after you. You swat at 'em. Sometimes you hit 'em, sometimes you don't, sometimes they run away, sometimes they come back. With me, I'm just that bee going to find the honey hole." --Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, talking about Cardinals offensive guard Paul Fanaika's attempt to cut block behind the play Sunday.
NFL Team Report - Detroit Lions - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Reggie Bush (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Coach Jim Schwartz reiterated that there is no structural damage and that he is day-to-day.
--WR Patrick Edwards (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. The team did not announce the results of the MRI he took on Monday.
--RT Jason Fox (groin) was still unable to practice Wednesday. There is no timetable on his return.
--S Don Carey (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday but he is believed to be closer to returning than Fox.
--DT Nick Fairley (shoulder) went through warm-ups and individual drills but he is expected to be limited all week.
--P Sam Martin set a franchise record Sunday with a 50.2-yard net punting average on his five punts. He also became the first rookie punter to record a 50-plus net average since New England's Shawn McCarthy in 1991. Most impressive, the hang time on his punts limited returner Patrick Peterson to 10 total yards.
--QB Matthew Stafford has been pressured a league-low 22.9 percent of the time, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That's probably more a function of the short, quick passing attack than it is a validation for the offensive line.
--LT Riley Reiff allowed just one quarterback pressure in 40 pass blocking plays against the Cardinals.
--DT Ndamukong Suh was credited with five pressures on quarterback Carson Palmer last week, including two hits.
--CB Bill Bentley was thrown at nine times Sunday. Seven of those passes were completed, he broke one up and he was called for a critical pass interference penalty, which led to the game-winning score.
--CB Chris Houston had seven tackles and two pass breakups Sunday.
--OLB DeAndre Levy has one interception in each game this season. Both he returned for touchdowns, though the one against Minnesota was nullified by a penalty. He had 66-yard pick-six Sunday.
GAME PLAN: With or without Reggie Bush, the Lions have to attack what has been a horrendous Redskins defense. The Redskins have given up 71 points and 1,023 yards in two games. Against the Packers last week, they gave up nine explosive plays (seven passing and two running). The Redskins play a 3-4. The Lions attacked the Cardinals' 3-4 with a very conservative, controlled passing attack. They did not use their two-tight end packages. They will have to find a different formula this week.
On defense, the Lions have to contain quarterback Robert Griffin III. They have to make him a pocket passer, make him prove that he can beat them with his legs. Thus far, there has been no evidence that he can do that.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Lions RT Corey Hilliard vs. Redskins LOLB Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a long-armed, athletic playmaker off the edge. Hilliard, who hasn't graded out very well the last two weeks, will have his hands full.
--Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Redskins LCB DeAngelo Hall. Johnson caught six of his eight targets against Cards CB Patrick Peterson, with two touchdowns. If he can do that against Peterson, he should be able to produce more against Hall.