DREW SHARP: No need for alarm bells

There are no alarm bells for execution errors midway through the exhibition season. There are plenty of moving parts and new pieces, making miscommunication an unavoidable circumstance.

That’s more easily understandable, thus more easily forgivable.

But Jim Caldwell’s problem as the Detroit Lions approach the only exhibition game that remotely comes close to a regular-season game — Week 3 — are the mental blunders.

The Lions still can’t count on special teams. Why does it remain so hard for them to remember that the correct number for players on the field is 11?

Not 10. Not 12.

Caldwell is fighting for his coaching life this season. He’s only here for a third season because his new boss, general manager Bob Quinn, understood the greater importance of evaluation in Year 1 rather than immediately identifying “his” head coach.

There is no need for urgency with Quinn. He has time because he knows the Lions are a much bigger rebuilding project than perhaps he initially thought. But Caldwell doesn’t have limitless time to prove he still belongs behind the steering wheel.

“I don’t think anybody played particularly well, to be honest with you,” Caldwell said following Thursday night’s 30-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field.

He should send a strong message that the boneheaded mistakes carry a stiff price, starting with promptly giving defensive tackle Kerry Hyder his walking papers. Cut him loose for no other reason than he ridiculously delivered a late hit on backup quarterback A.J. McCarron well after he threw an incomplete third-down pass that would have forced the Bengals to punt inside their 10.

Instead, the Bengals got a fresh set of downs and a better field position after a 15-yard personal-foul penalty against Hyder for roughing the quarterback.

Caldwell justifiably draws criticism for some of his strategic decisions — using pass rusher Ziggy Ansah as a defensive back on the Green Bay Hail Mary in December comes to mind — but he’s rightly credited for minimizing the lack of discipline that results in sloppy mistakes.

Players speak highly of Caldwell demanding accountability from them. They understand there are potentially severe consequences for mistakes that stand out.

“We’ve done a good job of holding ourselves accountable in making sure that we learn from our mistakes and work on improving our play,” offensive lineman Larry Warford said. “That’s what the preseason is for. Giving you the opportunity to keep working and limiting those mistakes.”

But the Lions don’t have a wide margin for error. They’re not good enough to simply write off a handful of mental blunders. They had eight penalties, two interceptions and a Matthew Stafford fumble that the Lions recovered for a huge loss.

It’s equally important that they play a clean game. And Caldwell admitted there was little clean about the collective effort against the Bengals.

The Lions had 12 players on the field on a Cincinnati punt in the third quarter, giving the Bengals a first down when it was fourth-and-1. There were at least a couple of occasions last year when the Lions had only 10 players on the field in a kicking situation.

Caldwell clearly wasn’t happy. It seemed out of character for a coach customarily evasive in revealing too much during news conferences. But he knew this was something a little more than merely “watching the film” before rendering judgment.

“Everything needs more work,” he said.

The Lions have one last chance to “clean it up” before the start of the regular season, because you won’t see any starters in the Game 4 exhibition finale. Caldwell must make it clear to his team after such a sloppy effort on various fronts that time’s running out for them.

He should know, because it’s certainly running out for him.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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