Caldwell Coaches Kinder, Gentler Lions

Well, maybe that's not entirely accurate, but Detroit is playing with much more discipline than in past seasons. And we have four years of penalty information to show it.

It’s too early to make too much out of any statistic, but perhaps new coach Jim Caldwell is instilling a new, smarter attitude in his Detroit Lions.

During Jim Schwartz’s five-year tenure as coach, Detroit was regarded as one of the most undisciplined teams in the league. It ranked eighth in accepted penalties in 2013, preceded by 13th in 2012, third in 2011, second in 2010 and 12th in 2009. During those five years, the Lions averaged 115 penalties per season.

It’s just two games but, heading into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field, Detroit ranks 15th with 13 accepted penalties.

“(Undisciplined) was kind of the buzzword,” Caldwell said during his conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. “The big thing I’m concerned about is what we do now, what we look at now. This is a new day. Everybody had a clean slate coming in. I don’t try to justify, rectify, explain what they did previously, what happened previously. That’s not my concern. My concern is what we do now.

“The first game (eight penalties vs. the Giants), we did a good job of keeping our penalties in a manageable area. It’s better than they were in the preseason. The second game, we were even a little bit better (five vs. Carolina). We plan to be a little bit better this game. So we’re looking for improvements in those areas. And I think those are the fundamental principles in being able to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.”

It’s not just the penalties but the severity of those penalties. From 2010 through 2013, they were guilty of a combined 90 penalties that can be defined by their lack of discipline – 34 unnecessary roughness, 18 roughing the passer, 20 major facemasks, nine unnecessary roughness and nine personal fouls, according to Packer Report’s look at league data.

For a reference point, the Packers were guilty of 58 “discipline” penalties – 30 unnecessary roughness, nine roughing the passer, 10 major facemasks, six unsportsmanlike conduct and three personal fouls.

Lack of discipline shows up in other forms, though. Take defensive offside/neutral zone infraction. The Lions’ defensive line is so good that it doesn’t need to anticipate the snap count to make an impact. Nonetheless, over the past four full seasons, Detroit had been flagged for a combined 72 of those penalties (44 offside, 28 neutral zone) compared to 32 for Green Bay (four neutral zone, 28 offside).

“You stay focused on the things you need to improve on,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose 2009 team was the fourth-most-penalized team in franchise history before having the fifth-least-penalized team in the league the past four seasons. “Obviously, playing within the rules is important. In the early years, for a coach, you try to establish a style of play and sometimes you get into those type of things, there are things schematically and technique you look at. We just emphasized it, I guess.”

Between the overaggressive penalties and the simply foolish ones, Ndamukong Suh has been flagged 31 times the past four seasons – including his infamous stomp of Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011. In his two seasons as a starter, fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley has been flagged a whopping 19 times.

Through two games, the Lions haven’t been flagged for any of the “discipline” penalties referenced above. Fairley has been flagged twice (illegal use of hands) and Suh has been a saint with zero penalties.

“Coach Caldwell, he is great, man,” Lions receiver Calvin Johnson said. “He comes in, he set a standard from the jump, we’re going to be definitely a better disciplined team as far as not killing ourselves.”

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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