Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Three key Lions sidelined with injuries

If the Lions’ hope to snap their three-game losing streak, they need to play practically perfect football against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Ford Field. It will be the first of three straight home games.

The Panthers (6-3) are coming off a Thursday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers so they’ve had extra time to prepare for the Lions who are 3-6.

The Lions (3-6) will be without three injured starters — wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tight end Michael Roberts.

It’s been a rough start under first year coach Matt Patricia, after the Lions finished 9-7 last season.

Still quarterback Matthew Stafford said the team hasn’t quit.

“I think we have a bunch of professionals, a bunch of guys that want to win. Nobody wants to go out there and work their tail off and not win,’’ Stafford said. “So, everybody’s out there trying to figure out a way to be better. Any way we can do it, we’re going to try.”

Five things to watch against the Panthers:

1. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games. Somehow, some way, they have to find a way to protect him while allowing him to be effective. “I think everybody’s doing everything they can to try and get us going. I think it’s a total team effort, everybody’s trying to play better at all positions, at all spots,’’ Stafford said. “I think our coaches are putting a ton of work in trying to be as good as they can be. So, it’s a total team effort. Offense is no different, we’re out there trying to find ways to make sure we score points. That’s the name of the game at the end of the day. Obviously, limiting sacks and turnovers and all that kind of stuff is going to help us do that, so any way we can do that kind of stuff is going to be beneficial for us.” The offensive line will be without right guard T.J. Lang for the rest of the season.

2. Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are on the same wavelength when it comes to the offense, but they’ve got to translate it from practice to Sundays. They work closely together. “He and I shoot texts throughout the week while I’m at my place and he’s here working. I know he’s up all hours of the night trying to figure out what’s going to be the best way for us to go out there and score a bunch of points, and I’m thinking about it constantly, too,’’ Stafford said. “So, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other all day at practice, trying to find ways to make ourselves score some more points. That’s the name of the game, which has been good.”

3. Detroit’s defense will have its hands full with quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the one-two offensive punch. Each has four rushing touchdowns while Newton has thrown 17 touchdown passes (against just five interceptions) and McCaffrey has caught four of those TDs. Also wide receiver Devin Funchess averages 12.2 yards per catch with 477 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions defense has particularly struggled in the run game giving up 176 rushing yards in the loss to Seattle and 128 to the Vikings. They found better success against the Bears last week holding them to 54 rushing yards, although Mitchell Trubisky passed for 355 yards.

4. Cornerback Darius Slay, who was out last week with a knee injury, is expected to be back in action which will provide a needed boost to the secondary. “He’s a tough player. (He’s) a guy that really, through the course of the season, I’ve had the pleasure to kind of work with and be around and kind of use some of his different talents and attributes in different ways through the course of the game,’’ Patricia said. “I think he gives us some multiplicity in the backend, which is great.”

5. Coaching, as always, is key. While Cooter and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni make the calls on game days, Patricia is heavily involved. The coaching staff has got nine games of working together, but they’re facing a huge challenge with the talent on the Panthers roster. The Lions are 2-2 at Ford Field.

EXTRA: Stafford was asked what makes veteran Panthers’ defensive end Julius Peppers so good.  “Have you seen the guy before? He’s 6-6, 295 pounds, whatever he is. Extremely athletic, a very smart player. He’s seen a lot of football, he’s a smart rusher,’’ Stafford said. The two have a history going back to 2011 when Peppers (who played for the Bears) tackled Stafford, injuring his shoulder and knocking him out of action for six weeks.

PREDICTION: Panthers 35, Lions 14

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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