ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Despite their playoff run a year ago, the Detroit Lions were labeled as an undisciplined team that takes too many foolish penalties.
Guilty as charged, but they insist they’re trying to do something about it.
The Lions were charged with only one penalty in their preseason opener last week, a 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
And that lone personal-foul penalty for a late hit out of bounds by safety Ricardo Silva actually appeared to be a bad call by a replacement official because Silva whiffed on the tackle.
Before training camp started a couple weeks ago, coach Jim Schwartz showed his players where they ranked last year in penalties compared to some of the league’s top teams.
It wasn’t a pretty picture. The Lions finished 30th out of 32 teams in penalties per game. Detroit averaged 7.9 per game, ahead of only Seattle (8.6) and Oakland (10.2).
The Lions were also second-worst in penalty yards per game with 67, better than only Oakland (84.9).
Whether it was a false start, offsides, late hit or even for stomping on an opponent, the penalties were too much to overcome at times.
“It’s been a huge emphasis,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “We want to show that we can go out each week and not do those dumb things. Last year, those dumb things cost us games.”
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus said: “You look back on last year and realize it’s something that we need to clean up and focus on. I think we did a decent job last week, but we’ve got to continue doing it.”
Schwartz tried to send a message to his team early last season when he benched offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus for the second game after Cherilus was called for an unnecessary-roughness penalty late in an opening victory at Tampa Bay.
The problems didn’t stop there, though. Far from it.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended for two games following his infamous foot stomp of a Green Bay player on Thanksgiving.
In another nationally televised Sunday night game a little more than a week later, the Lions were called for 11 penalties totaling 107 yards while losing at New Orleans. The infractions included an unsportsmanlike penalty against receiver/return specialist Stefan Logan and unnecessary-roughness penalties against receiver Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Penalty totals don’t necessarily translate to wins or losses in football.
Indianapolis was No. 1 in fewest penalty yards per game, but the Colts won only two games.
On the other hand, Green Bay was No. 1 in fewest penalties per game (4.7) and No. 2 in penalty yards (36.4) while going 15-1 in the regular season.
New England is another example of a quality team that didn’t commit a lot of penalties (sixth with 5.4 per game).
The Super Bowl champion New York Giants ranked 11th with 5.9 penalties per game.
In the end, though, the more penalties a team makes at the wrong time, the bigger the obstacle becomes. Talented teams can overcome them; weaker teams can’t.
What’s more, undisciplined penalties tend to be judged as an indictment of the coaching staff, particularly the head coach.
Schwartz is trying to clean things up without taking away his team’s aggressiveness. Sometimes that’s a fine line.
“As much as we took a beating on the penalties last year, I’d much rather win the game and have to explain 10 penalties than lose the game and try to take solace in the fact that we only had one penalty,” Schwartz said.
“It is something that we’ve talked about. It is something we have to do a better job of. But the object’s to win the game.
“There were some things in the game (last week) that probably got missed. There were some things that got called (incorrectly), just like any normal game.
“Our goal isn’t to not have penalties. Our goal’s to play well.”
Sometimes, to play well, it means cutting down on the penalties. The Lions did that a week ago, but the jury is still out — and it will be for a while. EXTRA POINTS
Madden Curse fears were put aside when receiver Calvin Johnson returned to practice after missing a day. Johnson had two fingers taped together on his left hand to protect an injured index finger.
• Backus sat out practice Tuesday to rest his back, which has been experiencing some tightness, Schwartz said.
• First-round draft pick Riley Reiff, along with some of the other offensive tackles, took some snaps at guard. Reiff has the versatility to move inside if needed.