By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Not often does a team win when it surrenders 131 yards on 15 penalties.
The Detroit Lions did it Friday, eking out a victory in their preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the bottom line did not seem to ease the concern the penalties caused Lions head coach Jim Caldwell.
“It’s painful,” Caldwell said. “It’s one of those things that I think bothers you, and you’ve got to get them straightened out because they’re preventable, and what we do is, that’s why we have officials at practice, to give them a chance to see on a daily basis where we’re making mistakes if we are making any, and we stress them that way, and then we talk about them consistently. It’s an emphasis.
“There’s an old coaching adage, ‘You achieve what you emphasize,’ so we’ve just got to keep emphasizing it,” Caldwell continued. “I don’t expect it to go away overnight, but I expect it to improve in a hurry.”
The referees came down hard on both teams Friday, as the Jaguars got tagged for 12 penalties for 101 yards.
Yellow flags flew freely throughout the game as the officials whistled players for almost every indiscretion possible – offensive holding, illegal block above the waist, illegal contact, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, neutral zone infraction, illegal use of hands, offensive pass interference, false start, chop block, intentional grounding, defensive offside, face mask.
If reading that list of penalties seemed interminable, one can imagine the experience of watching a game that included all those calls – many of which were whistled more than once.
“The refs seemed like they were flag-happy today,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said with a smile. “It seemed like there was a penalty every play, but if that’s the way it’s going to be this year, then there’s nothing we can do about it. All we can do is control what we can control, and we have to find ways to get better and not commit those same penalties.”
Whether the hail of yellow flags will abate in the regular season has yet to be seen, but teams have to prepare as if nothing will change.
“The refs came and spoke to us, spoke to every team, and they said I think there’s going to be a little bit more emphasis on pretty much everything,” Bush said. “If that’s the case, we can’t fight it. We have to find a way to just get better.”
The Lions can certainly tighten down the screws, but Bush said the stricter enforcement of rules probably played a role in the number of penalties.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Bush said. “I think it’s a little bit of officials, a little bit of us being undisciplined and not being mentally focused enough. I think it’s a little bit of everything. I don’t think it’s just one thing.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford seemed to agree.
“I know there’s emphasis on certain things in the preseason, and you don’t really know how that’s going to carry over into the regular season, but any time the penalties are going in the upper direction, it’s not good,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to take care of those, got to play smarter football. And they weren’t all late in the game – it was throughout the game. So we’ve got to do a better job.”
Caldwell said the team’s practices had not hinted that penalties would be such a problem.
“Every practice you’re going to have some,” Caldwell said. “This game is not a perfect game, obviously. We can take about three or so, but you get beyond that, and that’s an issue. That’s a concern. And no, we haven’t seen a rash of 15 in a practice session. We’ve certainly seen some, but within our normal limits.”
The Lions gave up 32 yards on five penalties in their preseason debut against the Cleveland Browns, and they committed 11 penalties worth 74 yards the following week against the Oakland Raiders.
Detroit’s offense should be its strength this season, but too many yellow flags could thwart the team’s scoring efforts.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bush said. “Obviously you saw today there were a lot of drives where we got down into their territory and penalties backed us up and forced us to turn the ball over or kick a field goal or whatever it was.
“Mentally it can be demoralizing, especially to an offense,” Bush continued. “If you have a big chunk play and it gets called back because of a holding or whatever it is, you have to now kind of replay that play over, and you’re kind of putting a little extra added energy into that next play because now you have to not only get the 10 yards but you’ve got to get whatever else the penalty yardage was back. It just makes it tougher on offenses, and it hurts drives.”