Five things to watch as Lions play at Cowboys; plus prediction

Lions coach Dan Campbell

After a bye week of rest and reflection, the Lions will see if they found the answers during their deep dives into what went wrong (and right) in the first five games.

Detroit (1-4) takes on the Cowboys (4-2) at Dallas at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Lions were close in three games losing by 4 or fewer points. They got blown out by the Patriots 29-0 heading into the bye. 

We’ve got to figure out how to make that one play now when we get in those close games. The key is, man, we can’t let this be like New England was for us when we’re not even in the game. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance to get back in it,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “You’re in it the last two minutes of the game, you’re either in two-minute or four-minute. And then, you’ve got to come away with those wins and that’s what we haven’t done. But we’re close.”

Five things to watch:

1. One of the deep dives during bye week had the defensive coaches examining the pass rush or lack of it in the first five games. The return of defensive lineman John Cominsky should provide a boost. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said while some may look at stats (the Lions have seven sacks total) he looks more at pressure. “When you pressure it ends up bringing takeaways, that’s what comes. I’ve talked to our guys about that. I understand from the outside they’ve been hearing about that, especially as a young player I know that Aidan (Hutchinson) is the guy everyone talks about,’’ Glenn said. “I’m trying to get him to calm himself down so he won’t get out of character just continue to work. We’re going to continue to do what we have to do to put you in positions, you just close yourself off from everyone and go play. I think he’s going to do a good job this week.’’

2. Missed tackles and missed assignments have also been an issue in the first five games. “Those are the things that we really looked at all week to make sure we cleaned that up,’’ Glenn said. … He said it’s an issue they can fix. “I would say more physical. Not wrapping up, shoulder tackles, not vice tackling, things like that, which are really correctable and that’s the good thing about it. And in this League, man, sometimes guys think that they can make a tackle just by diving and lunging. And I’ll tell you what, that’s the one thing across the League now, not just us but across the League that’s the one thing that you see that’s went down is tackling. But the thing is, I try to teach to our guys, well let’s be the guy, let’s be the team on the other side. Let’s not be like everybody else, let’s be a team that can tackle and we worked on that this week.’’

3. The Cowboys have the NFL’s third best defense allowing just 16.3 points per game. One reason is their rush. “That is the biggest challenge for us will be that rush, and not just handling it, but as much as we can to stay away from it, which means you’ve got to be good on first and second down. You have to be real good,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “But they do, they present a challenge. I mean (DE Dorance) Armstrong, he’s come on. It’s not just that, you watch him on punt rush, I mean, he’s a menace. And (DE DeMarcus) Lawrence has still got it, and ( LB Micah) Parsons we all talked about. We know what he is, and (DE Dante) Fowler off the edge, and so they can do it multiple ways. I mean, they can still bring ( LB Anthony) Barr too. But yeah, they present a challenge, but there again, I like our O-line. I like our tackles. We’ll have a plan. We can’t let those guys wreck the game, but yeah, that’s an issue, and it’s caused a lot of teams problems. That’s why this is one of the better defenses in the League.”

4. The bye week was bad timing for Detroit’s defense which was shut out by the Patriots. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said after careful study he came up with three points the offense needs to improve —  communication, fundamentals/technique and critical situations. “That’s what showed up in the first five games where there’s short yardage, third downs, two-minute, four-minute all those where we could potentially close the game out or end the game with the ball. We have to be better there. So, I think the guys took that to heart,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. 

5. After years of being spoiled with Jason Hanson and then eventually Matt Prater, kicking is an issue with the Lions. Austin Seibert was 3-of-5 on field goals before he was injured. In the loss at New England, kicker MIchael Badgley didn’t play. Punter Jack Fox took care of kickoffs. Instead of taking a chance of a 50-yard field goal, the Lions instead went for it on fourth-and-9 and Jared Goff took a sack, fumbled and the Patriots returned it for a touchdown. “We’ll look back at this (kicking) thing at the end of the year and say, ‘You know what, we got good production out of that position. I think we can turn it around.’ So, it’s still early in the year,’’ special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “When you look at percentages right now, one miss makes a big difference on the overall percentage, so when you look at it that way, I think, yeah, it’s hard to swallow right now, but I would say, when it’s all said and done, I think it’ll be better than what we’re looking at right now, for sure.’’

INS and OUTS: DL John Cominsky is expected to return. Rookie DL Josh Paschal could see his first action this season. RB D’Andre Swift was officially listed as questionable on Friday’s team report.  CB Jerry Jacobs will come back from injury. The bad news is that WR DJ Chark was placed on injured reserve and CB Bobby Price is out for the season. Officially out will be DE Charles Harris, S Ifeatu Melifonwu and T Matt Lesson. 


(Prediction: Cowboys 30, Lions 28)

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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