Lions’ RB Zach Zenner returns: Five things to know

Healthy after snapping 2 bones in his back

ALLEN PARK >> Zach Zenner said he was actuall a little nervous for Wednesday’s practice, his first since the Lions re-signed him on Tuesday.

The running back had not been with the Lions since he signed an injury settlement and was waived on Sept. 12.

“Where I’ve always fit is whatever I’m asked to do whether it’s on special teams or offense, whatever they need,’’ said Zenner who played in eight games last season mostly on special teams.

He wasn’t done with football but he wasn’t sure if football was done with him until he got the call from Lions GM Bob Quinn.

Five things to know about Zenner:

1. First things first, he had to get healthy after a back injury. That took about six weeks which matched the settlement. He feels great now. He had snapped two bones in his back but said he was lucky it wasn’t worse. “If you’re going to break your back, that’s what you want to do,’’ Zenner said.

2. When he signed the agreement there was some talk about bringing him back. “The thing is it was so long ago, you can have whatever intentions you want but then eight weeks into the season who knows what’s going to be happening,’’ Zenner said. “I was aware of that although whether they wanted to or not who knew if they were going to be able to bring me back.’’

3. While he was away from the team he said he watched every game except two. “While I was not healthy I was enjoying being at home watching, but when I got healthy it got harder to watch because you feel like you could be out there playing and participating or at least helping out during the week at practice,’’ Zenner said on Wednesday. “Once you’re healthy that’s when it’s this is getting tougher to watch.’’

4. He was preparing for either a return to football or moving on with his life. He studied for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test.) “I took it five years ago in May so I need to retake it. Was I going to have to retake it? Yes, sucks but I have to. Spent a lot of time studying for that, still plan to take it in March or April.’’ His teammates call him “Doc” because of  his intentions to go to medical school after football. He also got to spend quality time with his wife and young son. “He is working on crawling which is exciting and terrifying,’’ Zenner said.

5. Zenner and Ameer Abdullah joined the Lions at the same time and became great friends. “He’s been my teammate my whole career. It’s tough to see him go, I wish him the best. I’ll be watching whenever I can. Great guy, great teammate,’’ Zenner said. The Lions waived Abdullah on Tuesday and the Vikings claimed him.

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Lions make coaching staff change, fire special teams coordinator Joe Marciano

Marciano originally hired by Jim Caldwell

Matt Patricia has made the first big change to his coaching staff.

On Monday night, the Lions announced that special teams coordinator Joe Marciano had been fired.

The team released this statement from Patricia: “Tonight I spoke to Joe and informed him of my decision to relieve him of his responsibilities with our team. I appreciate Joe’s leadership of our special teams units over the last three and a half seasons and have great respect for his many years of service as a coach in the National Football League. On behalf of our team and the entire coaching staff, I want to personally thank Joe for his commitment to the Detroit Lions and wish him and his family the best moving forward.”

When Patricia was hired in February he kept Marciano who had been hired by former coach Jim Caldwell in 2015 and led the special teams since then.

This season, which the Lions have started 3-5, sloppy special teams play has been an issue along with 14 penalties that cost 132 yards. That included three special teams penalties in each of the last two games, both losses.

Patricia said on Friday that he thinks across the league, there might be more innovation in special teams than on offense or defense.

“There’s a lot of teams that do a lot of good stuff on all three phases really to be honest with you. I would say if you dive into just in general with the League, special teams I would say right now is the one that’s having kind of the most change or adaptation, especially with the kickoff, kickoff return,’’ Patricia said. “It’s interesting to see how teams are handling that situation with the rule change and the alignments and all the rest of it. That’s a big one to take a look at and study.’’

Marciano, 64, had been a special teams coordinator with the New Orleans Saints (1986-1995), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001), Houston Texans (2002-2013) and the Minnesota Vikings (2014).

The team did not announce a replacement. Devin Fitzsimmons is the assistant special teams coach.

Lions Matt Patricia: Fundamentals, execution holding us back right now

Next up, Lions head to Chicago, the NFC North leader

ALLEN PARK >> Matt Patricia said there was not one glaring factor when Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times in the 24-9 Lions’ loss at the Vikings on Sunday.

Obviously, more sacks than points scored is never good.

“It’s a full team thing, it’s a full unit thing and we have to do a better job. We can’t play that way,’’ Patricia said at his Monday press conference.

And, even though it’s November, half of the season is history and the Lions are 3-5, the first-year coach is leaning on basics.

“Fundamentals and execution is what’s holding us back right now,’’ Patricia said.

Talent? The coach said they have plenty of talented guys to help them win.

So where are the wins? How could they get humiliated two straight weeks? Yes, the Vikings and Seahawks are good teams, but the Lions didn’t just lose, they were embarrassed.

Certainly the Lions’ coaches made adjustments as Sunday’s game went on, it was just difficult to see the improvement.

“What happens as the season goes and you have some success in certain areas, obviously teams are going to gear up to try to stop those things you do and make you do them differently,’’ Patricia said. “We have to be able to handle those changes better than what we do right now and put our players in a better situation to give them some success, especially with the offensive run game. The defensive run game definitely seeing some repeat runs which are giving us problems.’’

And, of course, there was Dalvin Cook’s 70-yard run which Patricia called “catastrophic.”

The Lions ran for just 66 yards at the Vikings and the Detroit defense gave up 128 rushing yards.

“With both offensive and defensive lines I would say the point of emphasis right now is fundamentals,’’ Patricia said. “Some of our fundamentals (Sunday) got out of whack, some of our technique stuff was not necessarily where it needs to be on a consistent basis.’’

It all seems a little nuts. They worked on fundamentals in long, grueling training camp sessions in July and August. Much of the roster is composed of NFL veterans who should not need to go back to square one for Football Fundamentals 101.

But they will work on basics this week in the meeting rooms and Patricia said he might add some extra periods during practice. “It’s hard when we’re trying to get everything we can done and get ready to go. It is what it is, we have to get it done, put a little more effort into it,’’ Patricia said.

Next up is another road game against a divisional opponent, the first-place NFC North Chicago Bears (5-3).

Patricia said they had a good week of practice last week, it just didn’t carry over.

“We were prepared and ready to go we just didn’t show up on Sunday enough all the way around,’’ Patricia said. “Just got to do a better job.’’

That is everyone, coaches included.

When Patricia was hired by the Lions in February, he was not brought in for a rebuild. The long-time Patriots defensive coordinator was expected to improve on the Lions’ 9-7 record from 2017.

General manager Bob Quinn made it clear the reason Jim Caldwell was fired was because he thought they were capable of winning more than nine games each of the last two seasons. He traded Golden Tate, the top wide receiver, last week. Maybe it’s a move for the future but Quinn knew they had two divisional opponents coming up.

Any talk that the Lions are currently sinking because it is all a part of the plan is just not true unless they’ve changed course and didn’t mention it.

Sunday’s loss at the Vikings was cringe-worthy.

Fundamentals and execution. Seems like we’ve heard those two words before.

The season appears to be basically over thanks to a 3-5 record. Not sure this was part of the Quinn-Patricia plan.

Five reasons the Lions lost to the Vikings

Stafford sacked career-high 10 times

In a crucial NFC North game, the Lions were no match for the Vikings who won 24-6 in Minnesota on Sunday.

It was a particularly ugly game for Detroit because, once again, they were ineffective in all three phases. Right off the bat, Sam Martin slipped and fell on the opening kickoff. It was an omen for another wretched loss.

The Vikings are now 5-3-1 and the Lions fall to 3-5.

It was their first game without leading wide receiver Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday. The Vikings defense typically would have to account for Tate on every play. Now they don’t. Think about it. Yes, Theo Riddick can line up in the slot and catch the ball, but he is no Tate who was usually Stafford’s best option especially on third down. This is what would happen to most NFL teams if they all of a sudden lost their top wide receiver.

Hey, this loss was not all because Tate is gone, but that is a part of it.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The offensive line had no answer for the Vikings’ bull rush.

The Lions defense had another bad day at the office even though coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist and he has some decent talent on the roster. They did hold the Vikings to 283 yards and 24 points and Darius Slay came up with a big interception. But it wasn’t enough.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Vikings defense came out fired up and the Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers. If he made adjustments, they were not apparent. The Lions had their lowest offensive output (in yards) for a game this season with just 209 and their lowest points with 9. The lowest had been 264 in the win over the Packers in Week 5.

2. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times, a career high for him and a Vikings’ franchise record. Ouch. The offensive line was responsible for not providing protection on most of the sacks, although Stafford could have thrown it away a few times. One time he was ground so far into the turf, the Lions had to call a timeout to dig pellets (from the field turf) out of Stafford’s left eye. Entering the game, he had just been sacked 13 times in the first 7 games. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 199 yards for a rating of 83.0. It was the first game this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

3. The Lions also couldn’t get the run game established, finishing with 66 rushing yards. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 6.2 yards per carry, rushed 12 times for 37 yards (3.1 yards per carry).

4. Teez Tabor. Enough said.

5. Coaching. It just looked like the Lions weren’t prepared for the Vikings. It wasn’t just Patricia or Cooter or defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni — it was all of them. Patricia is kind of new to the NFC North and it showed. Watching, it was hard to imagine the Lions had won their last two games there at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wait, that was when they had Golden Tate and a mostly different coaching staff.

ALSO: Interestingly enough, the Lions had a big edge in time of possession: 36:45 to 23:15. … Vikings wide receiver had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the opening eight games but was held to four catches for 22 yards. …. The Lions play at the Chicago Bears (5-3) next Sunday. The Bears smacked Buffalo, 41-9 on Sunday.

Lions: Ziggy Ansah, Theo Riddick return today at Vikings; Abdullah inactive

Slay active despite limited practice Friday

He’s back. Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah is active today in Minnesota in a key NFC North game against the Vikings.

Ansah was injured his shoulder in the season opening loss to the Jets and has not played a snap since then, missing six games. He has practiced on a limited basis for several weeks and, once again, was listed on Friday’s injury report at questionable for today.

Running back Theo Riddick, who has missed the last two games with an injured knee, also returns. Look for Riddick, who can line up in the slot, to help fill the gap left after Golden Tate was traded to the Eagles.

Cornerback Darius Slay, who showed up on Friday’s injury report, is active which is huge. The defense will have its hands full with the Vikings offense and it’d be a tougher road without Slay.

Right guard T.J. Lang (hip) who was limited in practice all week will also be active.

Ameer Abdullah, who fumbled on a return last week, is healthy but inactive

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck/toe) will be inactive.

Other Lions’ inactives: Offensive lineman Joe Dahl, DE Eric Lee, OL Andrew Donnal, LB Kelvin Sheppard and DE Kerry Hyder.

Inactives for the Vikings include wide receiver Stefon Diggs, RB Roc Thomas, safety Anndrew Sendejo, LB Anthony Barr, guard Tom Compton and DE Tayshaun Bower.

The Lions (3-4) could use a win against the Vikings (4-3-1) to stay in the hunt in the NFC North.

 

Lions: Five things to watch vs. Vikings

First look at Tate-less offense

ALLEN PARK — It’s almost halfway through the season and the Lions will play just their second NFC North game on Sunday at the Vikings (4-3-1).

It’s huge. The Lions (3-4) are in the mix but it’s close with the Bears (4-3) and Packers (3-3-1).

It won’t be easy in the Lions’ first game without Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles. Tate was Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy especially on third down, leading the team with 44 catches.

“I know you hate hearing it, but we have to take it one at a time. We can look at the big picture of all of it for sure, but this week’s starting off (with) a lot of big challenges. Really every week in the NFL, as we know, is a huge challenge,’’ Stafford said. “Going on the road in the division, I like to say division games count for two. You get the win and they get the loss. They’re big games. And the more you can go and win those, whether on the road or at your place, the better. We have a big stretch of them coming up and hopefully we’ll win more than we lose, and it’ll be a good situation for us.”

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford’s offense has been inconsistent this season and is coming off a bad showing in the 28-14 loss to the Seahawks. Stafford now has the added issue of making it work without Tate. “I think the biggest thing for me is just moving forward with what we have,’’ Stafford said. “That’s all I can do. I try to go out there and prepare each week whether somebody’s hurt or somebody’s traded, whatever it is, not available to play that week. Alright, let’s go be successful with what we have. And this week is no different from that standpoint.”

2. Look for TJ Jones to line up in the slot in place of Tate. Jones only has three catches in six games. He was inactive against the Seahawks with rookie Brandon Powell activated for the first time, but Powell only returned. He has yet to get his first NFL catch. It could happen in Minnesota. Powell will have to prove his worth. If he makes the most of his opportunities, he may get more targets. “I’ve played a decent amount of football with TJ, too. Brandon not as much. But, TJ is a savvy guy. He’s got a lot of great feel, he’s a smart guy,’’ Stafford said. “He’s a good blocker. He does everything you would want in a receiver. I think he and BP give us a really good element inside.”

3. Offensively the Lions will have trouble sustaining drives against the Vikings tough third-down defense which is the best in the NFL and it’s not even close. They allow just 25.5 percent of conversions. That’s 6 percentage points better than Baltimore which is No. 2. Offensively, the Lions convert 42.3 percent of their third-down chances. “Third down is a critical part all the way across the board. One of the things (the Vikings) do defensively on third down, which is so difficult, is the different looks and fronts and stunts and blitzes that they are able to run,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “They have a bunch of combinations of overloads, walk-up, double-A gap looks, tight coverage that’s mixed in behind it. Some of that’s tight zone coverage, some of that’s tight man coverage. When you watch it, they do a great job with the timing, especially at home.’’

4. The Lions’ secondary will have its hands full with the one-two wide receiver punch of Adam Thielen (74 catches, 925 yards) and Stefon Diggs (58 catches, 587 yards). They’ve combined for 10 of the Vikings’ 16 receiving touchdowns. Cornerback Darius Slay can just handle one at a time. And don’t forget tight end Kyle Rudolph.  “Now with a lot of attention going to those receivers, the tight end position is now back open and he becomes more critical. Especially I would in the you’ve-got-to-have it situations or most importantly the red area. He’s a big target down there, he’s a big catch radius guy, he’s a savvy veteran,’’ Patricia said.

5. The Lions must establish the run game early and stay with it which will be difficult because the Vikings rushing defense is among the NFL’s best. “We play these guys a bunch, they’re very good defense. They have really good players, very good scheme, very sort of diverse scheme. It’s a good challenge for us kind of every year getting to play these guys a couple times. It’s really quite the challenge,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Really good players, really good scheme. Coach (Mike) Zimmer does a nice job with these guys. There always ready to play and they play a high level.” The Lions can’t fall too far behind at the half. The Vikings have outscored opponents in the second half 107-83.

Prediction: Vikings 31, Lions 17.

Herman Moore: Lions Kenny Golladay has potential to dominate in NFL

But first he has to get the ball

ALLEN PARK — Kenny Golladay’s total production in the last two games was three catches for 49 yards.

Even though the Lions’ second-year wide receiver and Golden Tate played different roles on the offense, look for Golladay to get more targets since Tate has been shipped off to the Eagles. Sunday the Lions (3-4) will play their first Tate-less game against the Vikings (4-3-1)at Minnesota.

So far it appears that Golladay has been under-used. He has 30 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns so far.

“He’s going to get some different attention based on game-plan or just general game-plans might go in different directions based on what we feel we need to do win that particular week,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “So it does change week-by-week, but there is a learning process that we’re still going through and that he’s going to see a bunch of different things that maybe necessarily he hasn’t seen before from a coverage standpoint and we just have to keep working to just keep growing and developing him as a player and also as an offense.’’

Golladay had a dozen targets, seven catches and 114 yards in the season opener but hasn’t had close to that much attention since with just 32 targets over the past six games.

He had one target and one catch for 12 yards in the loss to Seattle last week. It came on the first pass of the third quarter after he was a non-factor in the first half.

Golladay has gotten the attention of former record-setting Lions wide receiver Herman Moore who thinks, with some work, that Golladay can dominate in the NFL.

“He reminds me of almost like a Jermaine Crowell in terms of how lean he is, he’s tall and he has straight-ahead speed. He has upper-body strength,’’ Moore said. “If he can hone in the craft and say, ‘It’s not just going to be the deeper passes, I’ve got to learn how to catch the shorter ones, break tackles, make plays when plays aren’t there and just be dependable.

“He could turn out to be one of the great ones, I don’t say that lightly. Those chapters have to be written, but he has all the physical attributes for today’s NFL if you look at a prototypical dominant receiver. He has the ability to do that,’’ Moore added.

First, the ball has to be thrown his way.

“Kenny is still playing good football, we’re going to keep doing that. (Matthew) Stafford is going to keep throwing the ball to who gets the right one on one look,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “It could be a defensive decision, it could be something their doing on their side of the ball. So that thing is a little bit different week. … The ball finds its way around usually when you have multiple guys working to get open.”

Cooter and Stafford have both repeatedly said that they don’t go into a game, planning to throw more passes to one receiver than another. It just depends on how the game develops.

Moore spent some time with Golladay last year during his rookie season. Moore, a first-round pick who struggled as a rookie, could identify.

“I talked with him as he was going through some of his injuries, the frustration that he was having. He knew he had far more abilities and talent than he was able to display,’’  said Moore who was inducted into the Lions’ ring of honor on Sunday.

First he encouraged him to work through getting healthy. “The second part was learning the system and don’t become one-dimensional. Try and show you have the ability to work across the board. I think he’s improving on that,’’ Moore said.