Perception of ‘evil’ Lions doesn’t match reality


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — For a 5-2 football team, there sure are a lot of critics trying to pick the Lions apart.

Even the league’s own website got into the fray. They have billed the Lions game Sunday against the Broncos as Good vs. Evil — the good being Tim Tebow and the bad being Ndamukong Suh.

“I don’t know if that’s appropriate,” coach Jim Schwartz said.

It’s not appropriate, or accurate. But don’t think it won’t be used as a motivator this week. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham posted the headline and artwork from the NFL.com piece in the defensive meeting room.

“Yeah, I guess evil’s coming to town,” middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “The media likes to portray us as a dirty team, but that’s not the way we play. We’re just physical, we play hard and we hold everybody accountable.”

The critics aren’t letting the facts get in their way. Case in point — the accusations made by two Falcons players last week. No matter how much evidence is compiled — video and audio — that Suh and Cliff Avril were several yards away from fallen Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and didn’t kick him or taunt him, the perception they did won’t go away.

Lions myths are mounting by the week. It might be a good time to debunk a few of them.

Myth : Suh is going through a sophomore slump and he isn’t having the kind of impact he had last season.

Sports Illustrated poured gas on this one, naming Suh to their midseason all-underachieving team. It doesn’t pay to get too upset with these types of lists. Their intent is to stir debate.

But there is a growing perception that Suh is somehow not impacting games like he did last season.

“He is playing some kind of football and if anybody wants to deny that, they don’t know what they’re talking about, and probably never will,” Cunningham said. “He’s playing outstanding football.”

Critics point to his three sacks and 22 tackles as evidence that his impact is less. Certainly they are off his 10-sack, 66-tackle pace last season. But for one, those numbers don’t begin to measure his impact; and two, to expect him to duplicate or surpass 10 sacks is unrealistic.

“You can’t measure everything on a statistic like a sack, because I can take each stat that you have and turn it upside down for you,” Cunningham said. “He’s been very productive, very explosive. He’s played more physical this year than he did last year.”

Here’s a mini-myth: The Lions sack numbers are down. Really? They have 17 as a team, four behind the league leaders.

Schwartz just shook his head at the SI jab at Suh.

“He’s an impact player,” he said. “Everybody has a plan for him. Everybody tries to take him out. We are very satisfied with his production. He plays hard and he affects the game. We will worry about what our expectations and evaluations are, not those from people outside this building.”

Myth : The Lions can’t stop the run.

This one is a little trickier to defend. The Lions do rank 29th against the run, allowing 129.4 per game.

They have also allowed three consecutive 100-plus games — Atlanta’s Michael Turner (122), San Francisco’s Frank Gore (141) and Chicago’s Matt Forte (116).

“According to a lot of people, we can’t stop the run,” Tulloch said. “That is false. We’ve had some lapses lately but we are back in tune to what we need to do.”

What would be a more accurate criticism is the Lions have given up too many big plays in the run game.

Turner broke a 50-yarder. Gore accumulated 102 of his 141 yards in two carries.

There have been some major breakdowns in the back end — either at outside linebacker or safety.

But to say their run defense is bad seems harsh.

“That’s everybody else’s opinion,” Suh said. “I personally don’t think you can line up and run the ball on us all day. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on. We’ve let out some big runs, which makes it look a lot worse than it really is.

“But perception is reality some times.”

Here’s a reality: Nine times the Lions have stoned a third-and-1 or a fourth-and-1 play. Suh stopped a third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 back-to-back against the Bears.

They stopped a fourth-and-1 at the goal line in Dallas, a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in Minnesota, a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs, and a huge fourth-and-1 from their 11 in the fourth quarter at Tampa.

They can stop the run.

Myth : Matthew Stafford struggles to throw accurately on underneath routes.

This one came out of the blue and from a surprising critic — former quarterback Kurt Warner. He told NFL Network the reason the Lions’ offense struggled the last two weeks was Stafford’s inability to connect on those short passes in front of the linebackers.

A quick review of the numbers shows that Stafford has completed 73.5 percent of his throws behind the line of scrimmage (36 for 49 for 204 yards) and 67.4 percent of his throws from 1 to 10 yards (91-for-135, 805 yards).

Combine those and he’s hitting 69 percent of his underneath routes with five of his 16 touchdowns and two of his four interceptions.

It’s not Tom Brady-like by any measure, but it’s hardly a red flag. If Warner or anybody else wants to nit-pick at the sixth-best quarterback in the NFL, he could have pointed out his struggles with passes in the 21- to 30-yard range.

He’s hit only 4 of 16 there.

Stafford has struggled the last two weeks, no question. But to single out his accuracy on underneath routes seems random — just like a lot of the attempts to deconstruct the Lions’ 5-2 start.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

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