Detroit Lions: Regardless of Record, 2011 Could Be a Failure for Jim Schwartz
Jim Schwartz is dangerously close to being a failure in 2011.
In the Detroit Lions' Week 13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Schwartz's team was a failure in just about every way imaginable, and as the losses continue to pile up, that failure is starting to define the Lions in a number of ways.
Sure, with seven wins already the Lions have already improved on their win total from 2010. Yes, this team is improving just a few years removed from 0-16. OK, losses to San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay and New Orleans aren't exactly embarrassing.
Overall, however, this team is extremely embarrassing.
A ridiculous lack of composure
On Thanksgiving, when Ndamukong Suh stomped on a Green Bay Packers offensive lineman, it rocked the nation. Not only was it a game-changing moment, not only was it a horribly egregious penalty, not only was it a nationally televised game, but the "stomp heard 'round the world" also solidified everyone's preconceived negative notions about Suh. It also quieted any supporters he had left.
Suh is a dirty player.
This is a dirty football team.
The dirtiness and stupidity continued on Sunday Night Football.
The Lions were penalized 11 times for 109 yards. That's embarrassing. Three of those penalties were offensive pass interference calls on the same receiver. That's embarrassing. A return man cost the Lions precious yards by throwing the ball at an opponent. That's embarrassing. The starting tight end pushed an official. That's embarrassing.
None of these actions in a vacuum would be damning—well, pushing an official and smacking an opponent still would be—but together these actions create a body of evidence that the Lions can't run away from.
These are no longer things the Lions do, this is who the Lions are.
Attitude reflects leadership
The Lions haven't just started having a disturbing series of penalties.
In 2010, Corey Williams was penalized 15 times and Suh was penalized nine times—mostly offsides and encroachment, but a few personal fouls sprinkled in for flavor. On offense, Stephen Peterman led the way with 12 penalties and Brandon Pettigrew followed closely behind with 10.
Like many bad apples in the "real world," none of these infractions were capital offenses, but with so many minor offenses on the rap sheet, it's hard to call these Detroit Lions anything other than what they clearly are: undisciplined, dirty, thugs, etc.
Meanwhile, Schwartz has largely just stood by, and all those players listed above are starting in 2011 and not one of them seems to have turned over any sort of new leaf.
Instead, young players like Titus Young and Cliff Avril seem to be taking after their elder teammates and the Lions as a team are racking up fines from the league office as if they were all named James Harrison.
Where has Schwartz been?
Jim Schwartz has been getting into his own post-game scuffles, yelling obscenities on television and showing a general lack of class.
If he can't control himself, how can he be expected to control his team?
It's more than just the penalties
Oh, that penalties, personal fouls and fines were the only issue with the Detroit Lions' lack of leadership!
With 13 minutes left in the game, the Detroit Lions were down by a touchdown at New Orleans' 35-yard line. Three plays later, the Lions had lost two yards and decided to kick a 55-yard field goal.
Now, Jason Hanson kicking a 55-yard field goal isn't exactly beyond anyone's wildest imagination, but failing to convert that field position was the beginning of the end for the Lions. After that, New Orleans scored another touchdown with its short field and the Detroit Lions gave up.
With less than seven minutes left, the Lions were down 14 and punted in New Orleans' territory.
A few minutes later, following an idiotic Pettigrew penalty and a Matthew Stafford interception, the Lions got another stop—still down 14—and with time left on the clock. Not a ton of time, but enough time to take a few shots at the end zone and hope for a miracle on national T.V.
You're only fighting for the playoffs, nothing important, why try, right?
Instead, a few dumpoffs later, the game was over.
Why not just take a knee and tell the whole world you're conceding defeat? Everyone was already intermittently laughing and feeling sorry for you already—there was literally nothing else to lose.
The final quarter in New Orleans was a microcosm of the 2011 season—some offensive ineptitude, some stupid penalties, idiotic coaching and neutered decision making.
By not going all-in late against the Saints, Schwartz and the Lions showed America exactly who they are right now. Able to push others around when it matters least and folding when the chips are actually on the line, the 2011 Lions are nothing more than a schoolyard bully.
How do you measure success?
It's Week 13 and the Lions are facing three straight games against mediocre competition—the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. Simply taking care of business against those teams could—no, should— give the Lions their first playoff berth in over a decade.
For a team with the stink of Matt Millen still on them, a playoff appearance sounds like success.
The question that should be asked, however, is what foundations are being laid.
Does anyone expect the Lions to "lock it up" anytime soon? Will Schwartz change his stripes? Will Suh, Williams, Pettigrew, Young or any of the other Lions who have cost their team wins during the Schwartz era?
Moreover, will players that cost the team dignity be punished even if the wins keep coming?
Are the Detroit Lions a Dirty Team?
This isn't about the NFL becoming a "sissy league" or a "No Fun League." This isn't about wanting the Lions to be someone they collectively can't seem to be. This isn't about ever sacrificing wins for an antiquated notion of chivalry.
This is about building a foundation for future success.
If the Lions continue to lose games because of penalties or continue to have star players suspended and fined because of personal fouls, if the team continues to incur financial penalties because of boneheaded plays, the fan base and the organization are going to tire of the nonsense.
I'm not calling for Jim Schwartz's head, just seeing a fatal flaw in the makeup of this team that needs to be corrected.
If this team trades a decade of ineptitude for a decade of mediocrity, no one—including Schwartz—should accept that as a step in the right direction.
If Schwartz isn't careful, 2011's failures could pile up as quickly as personal fouls by Ndamukong Suh and the season-long impact for the Detroit Lions could be just as embarrassing.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.
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