Are they soft, or did they just play poorly in terrible conditions?
Linebacker DeAndre Levy characterized the performance of the Detroit Lions' defense as soft after a 34-20 loss in the snow in Philadelphia on Sunday.
"Mental breakdowns, missed tackles, missed run fits," Levy said, explaining what he meant by playing soft. "They (Eagles) took advantage of it. It's hard to say (what happened). The veteran guys, the leaders in here have to find a way to not let the guys relax and keep guys running for four quarters."
Safety Louis Delmas completely agreed.
"We were definitely soft," he said
Coach Jim Schwartz isn't buying it.
"We didn't play our best run defense in that game," he said. "But I certainly wouldn't classify our defense as soft. We missed a lot of tackles in that game and LeSean McCoy did a good job with the conditions and we didn't. I wouldn't put it on anything else.
"Players can characterize it any way they want, but when you say that word (soft) it becomes sort of an inflammatory word. I think you look over the course of the season with us and I think that we are a big, tough and physical team."
The Lions came into the game with the third-stingiest run defense in the NFL. They had allowed an average of 62 rushing yards per game over the previous six games, without allowing a rushing touchdown in eight games.
The Eagles only managed 55 yards rushing and 90 total yards in the driving snow in the first half. But they exploded. Mostly running straight up the middle into the perceived strength of the Lions' defense, McCoy finished with a franchise-record 217 yards and the Eagles with 299 rushing yards as a team.
"We will give credit to a guy who is near or at the top of the NFL in rushing," Schwartz said of McCoy. "He certainly earned his yards. Our run defense is good. We don't want to over-react because of the way that game went with the conditions and everything.
"We have confidence in our ability to stop the run. Over the course of the season we have proven that."
But Schwartz said more than 180 of the Eagles' rushing yards came after missed tackle, which speaks to performance, not mindset.
"We aren't practicing harder one week and then letting up the next," he said. "We are trying our very best every week. Sometimes we play very well. Obviously this game we didn't."
The Lions' last three losses have come after they had the lead in the fourth quarter. Again, Schwartz didn't attribute that to any lack of mental or physical toughness.
"You want to hold on to the lead in games, but all three are different," he said, of the late losses to Pittsburgh, Tampa and Philadelphia. "I have never been around a game where conditions were like this last one. I know most of our players, or none of our players, have been in a situation like that.
"We have all had slippery fields or icy fields or a little bit of snow on the ground, but our guys were almost knee deep in snow in the end zones and trying to cover down the field. It was a bit unprecedented, at least in my experience."
There is a distinction between playing soft and playing poorly. As Schwartz pointed out, the same team that coughed up leads in the last three losses is the same team that finished out tough wins at Chicago, at Washington, against Dallas and recently on Thanksgiving Day against the Packers.
It's not an issue of playing soft or hard; it's an issue of playing poorly or playing well.
--CB Darius Slay had arthroscopic surgery Friday to repair a torn meniscus. Coach Jim Schwartz said he did not plan to put Slay on IR, which means he hopes he will be ready if the Lions make the playoffs.
--RB Reggie Bush aggravated his calf injury during pre-game warm-ups Sunday and did not play. Schwartz said he was day to day.
--DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) left the game in the third quarter and was unable to return. Schwartz said he didn't think the injury was long-term. Ansah could practice later this week.
--RT LaAdrian Waddle injured his elbow in the first quarter Sunday. He was medically cleared to go back into the game but Schwartz stayed with Jason Fox. Waddle is expected to practice this week.
REPORT CARD vs. EAGLES
PASSING OFFENSE: D - Conditions were miserable. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a hard time securing the snap (seven fumbles, one lost) let alone throwing down field. He completed just 10 of 25 attempts. At least three were dropped.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D - Joique Bell, a heavier back, seemed to be built for these conditions but he couldn't find any traction. He also lost two costly fumbles. The Lions averaged 2.4 yards per carry.
PASS DEFENSE: C - They did register the first interception against Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, and cornerback Rashean Mathis had three pass breakups in one series early in the game. But a 44-yard pass to Riley Cooper and an 18-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson helped the Eagles turn the game around.
RUSH DEFENSE: F - Mindboggling. The No. 3-rated run defense, which had allowed 88 total yards rushing the previous three games, got utterly gashed for 299 yards. Most of those yards came up the middle, through the supposed strength of the defense - defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. The Lions hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. LeSean McCoy put up 217.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Not only did Sam Martin average 39.3 yards on his punts in the blowing snow, pinning two inside the 20, he also booted two of the four kickoffs out of the end zone. The star of the show, though, was Jeremy Ross. He returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
COACHING: C - Both teams had to scrap their game plans because of the weather. The Lions seemed more snow-savvy early, but once McCoy started running, the defense couldn't shut him off. It was essentially the same inside run, with a tight end coming across the formation and trapping. No amount of defenders in the box could deter it.