The Detroit Lions are back to winning.
After a couple of ugly losses, there was a notable lack of costly 15-yard penalties against the Minnesota Vikings—good thing, considering how close that game turned out to be.
Regardless, penalties continue to be an issue for the Lions, and Jim Schwartz continues to be a lightning rod for criticism in that area.
With Ndamukong Suh returning from his two-game suspension, and the Lions closing in on a playoff berth, there will be a magnifying glass on the Lions' behavior down the stretch, and Schwartz is likely to see more than his share of blame for any missteps the Lions see down the stretch.
But should he? Certainly, discipline issues tend to trace back to the head coach, and that's fair to an extent. When a worker steps out of line, blame the supervisor. But there's more to the situation than just Schwartz failing to corral a pack of wild dogs.
For starters, let's address the most obvious argument.
Jim Schwartz has not gotten flagged once this season.
That may seem obvious, but considering how many people are blaming a guy who has never been penalized for penalties, I thought I should point that out.
Now, certainly, Schwartz is responsible for the overall demeanor of the team, and there is little doubt that the team has had some trouble walking the line between gritty and illegal.
But does anybody think Schwartz is in the locker room telling his players to step on other players, draw taunting penalties, or go after guys post-play?
Of course not, and he is also not out there doing any of those things himself.
In the very first game of the season, Gosder Cherilus took a stupid penalty that could have cost the Lions an undefeated start.
Schwartz responded by benching Cherilus for the next couple of days.
Now that stupid penalties are starting to increase in both stupidity and damage, Schwartz is being forced to address the issue again. So this "zero tolerance" policy Schwartz is instituting is nothing new.
It's actually something Schwartz has been talking about all year. Schwartz's stance on penalties has not changed since he took over in 2009. His level of concern for penalties during the play is approximately zero. But pre-snap and post-snap penalties are unacceptable.
This has been Schwartz's mantra since he took over. Physical errors are acceptable, mental errors are not.
But why hasn't it sunk in? Well, partially it's because...
Let's frame this in terms of personal experience.
How often do you do try to get over on your boss at work? Once in a while? Do you really care all that much about hurting your boss' feelings?
What about your co-workers? How do you feel trying to get out of work when you know your buddies are going to have to pick up the slack?
How about after one of them calls you out on it?
OK, maybe I'm just a slacker, but I have a feeling this resonates with more than a couple of people.
Ultimately, the players have to be accountable, but it's more important that they're held accountable to one another than to the coaches.
Coaches may penalize players for poor discipline, and that's fine, but hearing it from the guys who work in the trenches alongside them is far more powerful.
Of course, this is problematic because...
Whenever discipline is a problem for a football team, the first place coaches look is to the veteran leaders that have the respect of the team.
Who is that guy for the Lions? Where is the six-time Pro Bowler? The Super Bowl hero? The longtime constant?
Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola have been around forever, but neither has a Pro Bowl or a playoff game to their names. Raiola takes on the leadership role, but does he have credibility?
Kyle Vanden Bosch is a team captain, but he's relatively new to the team.
The Lions don't have that respectable presence in the locker room. Nobody really has enough credibility to call a team meeting and take that true leadership role.
And so Schwartz has nobody he can legitimately call on to help him enforce discipline.
Perhaps we should put this in perspective.
The 2011 Lions consist of good players with some difficulty keeping their composure on the field.
Past Lions couldn't get on the field in the first place.
Charles Rogers couldn't get on the field because of substance abuse. Mike Williams busted because of a total lack of discipline in conditioning.
And as far as the Lions giving games away because of stupid penalties? Did you see any games in the 2008 season?
Ultimately, the Lions' discipline issues this year are more noticeable because the Lions are actually relevant. But they're nothing new.
In fact, you could argue that the Lions, at 8-5, are being less affected by penalties this year than they have in the past couple years.
Yes, penalties have torpedoed a couple of games this year, but they haven't made it impossible for them to win any games, which was the Lions' default setting for years prior.
The last three games of the season will have a great deal to do with the perception of this season, but if the Lions make the playoffs, it's entirely possible that Jim Schwartz will deserve respect for reining in penalties, not blame for failing to.