As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Detroit at Ford Field, we asked Dave Birkett, the Lions beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1) You may have heard. The Lions are quickly gaining a reputation as an undisciplined and ill- tempered team, continuing to commit stupid and costly penalties.
Detroit drew 11 flags for 107 yards in Sunday’s 31-17 loss in New Orleans. Three of those penalties were after-the-whistle personal fouls. Suddenly, warranted or not, so much of the conversation surrounding the Lions has centered around their self-destructive ways and whether coach Jim Schwartz has lost control of the ship.
“They have this hard-line about them,” Birkett said. “And Schwartz had kind of brought that in and instilled that in the locker room. I think they needed it in order to dig out of the hole they were in when he took over. But you look at it now, it’s something they really need to get under control.”
Worst of all, the Lions may now be drawing extra attention from officials, having lost the benefit of the doubt.
Said Birkett: “I think that reputation they have developed may be leading to even more questionable calls going against them. They do get a flag or two that maybe they shouldn’t because of the personality of the defense and everything that surrounds that.”
Schwartz’s accountability for all this?
“At the end of the day, a lot falls on the player,” Birkett said. “If you commit a foolish act, you’re the one doing it. But the culture here that maybe some of these [penalties] were not stamped out earlier should be considered. It’s unfair to say that Schwartz is the reason they’re happening. But he may need to take more ownership so that they stop happening.”
Stafford is coming off a 408-yard performance in Sunday night’s loss to the Saints. He had five completions longer than 20 yards and also had four more completions for 94 yards negated by – you guessed it – Lions penalties. Stafford fractured the index finger on his right hand in Week 10 and played the next three weeks wearing a glove and a splint on his throwing hand. Nine of his 14 interceptions came during those three games. But Stafford removed the splint and the glove this past weekend. And he continues to be a major bright spot.
“He’s young, he’s got an arm, he’s not afraid to try to fit the ball into tight windows,” Birkett said. “He’s the best quarterback they’ve had here in a long time.”
Birkett describes the current state of the Lions offense as “Stafford, Calvin Johnson and not much else.”
“The fact that they’re still one of the highest scoring teams in the NFL [averaging 27.8 points per game] says a lot about those two and about Scott Linehan as an offensive coordinator,” Birkett said.
3) The Lions 26-23 overtime win at Mall of America Field in Week 3 was something of a catalyst for heightening the belief in the locker room.
The Lions trailed the Vikings 20-0 at halftime of that game. They responded by gaining 308 yards after halftime and left the Twin Cities with a triumphant victory.
Confidence boost? The next week, the Lions trailed Dallas 27-3 in the second half yet rallied to win. In Week 11, they clawed out of a 24-7 hole to beat Carolina 49-35.
“I think that game in Minnesota really helped them from a confidence standpoint to realize that when they are in a big hole they have the firepower and the mindset to come back,” Birkett said. “And that they can also do it in different ways. They saw they have a defense that could shut you down. They have an offense that can quick-strike you.”
4) Glass half-empty or glass half full: Detroit’s defeats have come to five NFC teams with a current combined winning percentage of .750.
The losses have come to the Saints, the Packers, the Bears, the Falcons and the 49ers.
“They’ve lost to the five best teams they’ve played this year,” Birkett said. “And so that tells me and I think it tells a lot of other people that while they’re a good team and much better than they’ve been historically and recently, they still have a long way to go.”
In Birkett’s eyes, it was encouraging that the Lions were able to hang with both New Orleans and Green Bay the past two weeks, before ultimately making costly mistakes. But even in defeat, the drama has been elevated.
“There’s a lot of drama around these guys when they lose,” Birkett said. “It’s strange.”