Lions Jim Caldwell on Taylor Decker, Ziggy Ansah, the bye and more

Next up are the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night

ALLEN PARK >> When last we left the Lions, they limped into the bye week with two straight losses and too many injuries.

The players returned to work on Monday after having five days off for the bye week.

They face the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), who are coming off wins over the Chiefs and Bengals, on Sunday night at Ford Field.

It’s too early to know how many of the injured Lions (3-3) will be ready to go. The list includes: Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Kenny Golladay, Ziggy Ansah, Dwayne Washington and Paul Worrilow.

Their first practice this week will be on Wednesday with an injury report at 4 p.m., that day.

Here are thoughts from coach Jim Caldwell at Monday’s press conference:

— Obviously the Lions need left tackle Taylor Decker to return and he should be close. His three-week practice window could start this week, although Caldwell would not say. Decker has surgery on his right shoulder in June and started the season on the physically unable to perform list. It could take a week or so of practice for the second-year left tackle to be activated from the PUP list. “It just takes a little time to get their timing back and physical nature of the game, and all of those things that go along with it. It’s a process–best way I could explain it to you,’’ Caldwell said, speaking in generalities. He said the process is different with everyone.

— Caldwell defended defensive end Ziggy Ansah who has four sacks after six games.  “When you look at him, he’s gotten some production for us. Often times you don’t see it stat wise, you guys look for sacks and those kinds of things, we look for disruption and assists,’’ Caldwell said. “He has a lot of that, makes plays for us, he sets the edge for us, he does a lot of things extremely well. But when you talk about overall, the things you guys focus on are strictly numbers in terms of sacks. Let’s see where he is at the end of the year, then let’s talk about it. But I think he’ll be alright.”

— During the bye week, the Lions brought back rookie quarterback Brad Kaaya who they drafted in the sixth round. He’s familiar with the offense because was with the Lions through training camp. He didn’t make the final cut so was placed on waivers and picked up by the Carolina Panthers. They waived him on Oct. 17. So for the first time in the regular season, the Lions have three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. It could means changes in the daily routine. “We practice in terms of making certain we get Matthew (Stafford) ready for the game. That’s the key. Jake does get some reps, but not necessarily many, and Brad Kaaya will get obviously what’s left in that regard. But obviously, we like him. Obviously, we think he’s a fine player, and has a good potential and we want to continue to work with him,’’ Caldwell said.

— The coaches had some time to breathe during the bye week also. “Just kind of gives you an opportunity to kind of look at yourself a little bit. You got a couple of extra days. You do a little bit more self-scout, those kinds of things,’’ Caldwell said. “But then also you get a chance to get a little ahead on the next opponent as well. So, you get a little extra viewing time in terms of preparation. So, those things all bode well.”

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Detroit Lions have quite a to-do list for the bye week

Problems abound on offense and defense

ALLEN PARK — Like any NFL team the Lions would have preferred to go into their bye week riding a high with a win.

Not only did they lose 52-38 on Sunday in New Orleans, it was a game that exposed their shortcomings.

Coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t mind that the players have an extra week to stew about the loss.

“Sometimes festering’s a good thing. So, we try to balance it and it kind of depends on where we are as a team and how we see it and we adjust it in that regard. But there’s nothing wrong with being really determined about making certain you correct your errors,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. “So, it just kind of depends on the week. When you got one right away, you certainly try to get it behind you within a relatively short period of time, and this particular week, it’s not a bad thing that we need to be concerned about a whole lot of things in terms of how we’re playing.”

Players and coaches went over film on Monday — it couldn’t have been any fun— and will look to correct those mistakes before the players get league-mandated time off.

The Lions (3-3) will  worry about their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, when they get back from their break.

Five things that should be on the to-do list for the Lions:

1. Get healthy. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Caldwell said after the game, and again on Monday, if they had to play on Thursday night they might be in trouble. “If we were playing a Sunday game it might be even fairly tough, so this comes at a great time for us,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. The injured include Matthew Stafford (ankle, ribs), Glover Quin (concussion), Golden Tate (shoulder), T.J. Lang (back), Greg Robinson (ankle) and likely more we don’t know about. And, of course, Caldwell wouldn’t provide any news. When asked if any of the injuries are long-term, he just said, “We’ll see.” No injury report will be released this week due to the bye.

2. Fix the offensive line. It will help when left tackle Taylor Decker returns which could be in a few weeks. Caldwell wouldn’t say. But in the meantime, they’ve got work to do on the line. Don’t know where to start. They seem stuck with Greg Robinson until Decker returns. It’s a mash-mash of bodies. It’s a mess. The line is part of the reason that Stafford has been sacked 17 times in the last three games. Fix the line and Stafford will look like the quarterback he can be. Funny how that works.

3. Figure out how to get the offense out of neutral and off to quicker starts. The Lions have been outscored 37-17 in the first quarter in the first six games and 92-62 in the first half. Caldwell said it changes from game to game, but they are not executing early

4. The defense has to stop the run. Sounds easy, eh? Well they allowed the Saints to scamper for 193 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. They miss Haloti Ngata but other guys have to step up. Plain and simple. “I’m as much concerned with the turnovers that we had that cost us points, that gave up points as anything. That teams going to score some points, but we certainly got to be able to keep them at bay,’’ Caldwell said. “It’s really the yards on the ground obviously we’re concerned about. Anytime they can churn up that kind of yardage on us we’re concerned and the turnovers mar a lot of different things just in terms of, when you look at strictly how the game unfolded, turnovers kind of clouds your mind a little bit.’’ The Lions lost two fumbles and Stafford threw three interceptions.

5. This is specific. Figure out how the Saints were able to tip a dozen balls on Sunday. It was the most in the league on Sunday. Caldwell said it didn’t mean that the Lions offense is too predictable just that it was an unusual game.  “I mean, you just look at the game, it’s kind of changed a little bit. I think A’Shawn (Robinson) has 10 at such a young stage in his career. And big John Henderson when we played when he was at Jacksonville was a big, tall guy in there, J.J. Watt’s one that’s done a great job of adjusting. I just think it was just one of those games that you — we’ve played a lot games around here within the same system and it was just unusual. Just unfortunate, and they were all different ways that they had them,’’ Caldwell said. “Maybe it was a lineman didn’t cut his guy, his hands got up, he’s supposed to get him on the ground, maybe it was a launch angle, those kinds of things. So, it was a lot of different scenarios, but the great thing about it, even though it was difficult, and it wasn’t pretty, and we’re not happy with it, it’s correctable. So, we’ll go to work on that.”

BONUS: Caldwell on the loss of Aaron Rodgers and what it means to the NFC North: “He’s a great player but you find that you look across the League and there’s a number of teams that have guys starting for them that they’re not starter at quarterback position that still play extremely well. That’s a good football team all the way around. They’re good on defense. They’re good kicking game. They have a really good unit. He’s obviously a phenomenal player, but I still think Green Bay is Green Bay.”

Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost to the New Orleans Saints in a weird game

In second half, Detroit scored 28 unanswered points

Not much went right for the Lions on Sunday in New Orleans where they lost 52-38 to the Saints.

Give them credit though for fighting until the end.

Detroit was down 45-10 in the third and came back to within a touchdown scoring 28 unanswered points.

“We don’t give up, our guys show a lot of resolve. They think We’ll get things straightened out as we move along. Our guys always think they have a chance to get it done, always think they have a chance to close the gap, they believe in one another,’’ coach Jim Caldwell told the media afterward. “I don’t think these guys ever think they’re out of a ball game.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions dropped to 3-3 and will be off next weekend on their bye. With so many injuries it’s perfect timing. Perhaps the time off will allow some guys to heal up.

The injury list is long and lengthened in the second half when Glover Quin (concussion) went down, same with Golden Tate (shoulder).

Matthew Stafford started with a wonky ankle and got beat up early and often — he was sacked five times and pressure more. At one point he was holding his ribs when the Lions were down five touchdowns (45-10) in the third quarter. Jim Caldwell kept him in the game and he fought back.

“It was a different one for sure. I talked to Drew (Brees) about that after the game. He came up and said that was a weird one, eh? It was, it was crazy. We have to find a way to start faster and make it competitive early on,’’ Stafford said.

Right guard T.J. Lang surprisingly was inactive when his back tightened up before the game. Late in the game right tackle Rick Wagner left the game with an injury and came back in. Left tackle Greg Robinson also went out with an ankle injury.

Injuries, though, are not an excuse in the NFL. In the first half Detroit’s offense stunk.

Ditto for the defense. Even Matt “Mr. Automatic” Prater missed a 56-yard field goal, although it wasn’t a difference maker.

It’s tough to narrow it down, but here are five reasons the Lions lost.

1. The Lions defense couldn’t stop the run. Last week in the loss to the Panthers they held Carolina to 28 rushing yards. The Saints had 128 rushing yards in first half and 193 total. Inexcusable. “Any time we allow a team to run consistently on us and run well we’re not happy about that. … In terms of run defense we weren’t able to do that consistently. Once things got turned around we started playing better defense and started tackling better to give ourselves a chance,’’ Caldwell said.

2. Detroit’s defense couldn’t stop the pass either. Drew Brees had a good day with 186 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those were his first two picks this season. Detroit’s defense was also caught off-guard by two straight plays  in second quarter — a fullback option on fourth-and-1 for the first down, and a flea flicker that gained 20 yards. Inexcusable.

3. On the plus side for the Lions’ defense, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson got his hands on a Brees’ pass, held on and sprinted two yards into the end zone. The Saints defense scored three touchdowns — one on a fumble recovery in the end zone and two on interception returns by Marshon Lattimore and Cameron Jordan. Also Darius Slay also had an interception but the Lions couldn’t capitalize on that.

4. Stafford was playing with wonky ankle, but worse than that the make-shift offensive line stunk. Right guard T.J. Lang was inactive after his back tightened up so Emmett Cleary started at right guard. It’s not all on Cleary either. Left tackle Greg Robinson, who has struggled throughout the start of the season, was benched in the first half, came back and injured his ankle. Sacks are not all on the offensive line, but they share the blame. The consistent pressure on Stafford gave him little time to work. Stafford was sacked five times which makes it 17 sacks in the last three games. Guess what? Inexcusable.

5. Stafford had a dozen passes tipped. That was the most in one game in the NFL this season. Part of that goes on the offensive line and credit also goes to the Saints’ defense. Stafford’s stat line wasn’t too pretty — 26-of-52 for 316 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and two fumbles lost. Caldwell said Stafford had ups and downs, but also mentioned he’s got to have help. There was some question about whether Stafford should’ve started with his bad ankle. He practiced all week and Caldwell, like always, left the decision up to the doctors. Afterward Stafford said his ankle felt “great” but the bye week for his body is coming at a good time. The quarterback wasn’t himself but even at 75 percent (or whatever) he is better than Jake Rudock would be at 100 percent.

Detroit Lions T.J. Lang a surprise inactive vs. Saints; Golladay remains out

Cornelius Washington also out today

The Detroit Lions’ offensive line takes a big hit today with right guard T.J. Lang (back) inactive against the Saints. Lang had no practice on Wednesday or Friday and was limited on Thursday. It’s not unusual for him to get a day off for rest so it’s a surprise that he will not play.

Look for Tim Lelito to start at right guard. Lelito was signed as a free agent on Sept. 26. He has yet to play a snap for Detroit, but he started 24 games for the Saints from 2013 to 2016. He played in all 16 games for New Orleans in 2016 with seven starts.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who injured his ankle in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, will start as expected. He had full practices all week.

Defensive end Cornelius Washington was not on the injury report this week but is also inactive for today.

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) will miss his third straight game.

Also, running back Dwayne Washington (quad) will be out for the fourth week.

Linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) will miss his second straight game. He was ruled out on Friday.

Other Lions inactives: Running back Tion Green and defensive lineman Datone Jones.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions visit New Orleans Saints

Lions have won 3 straight against the Saints

For some reason Matthew Stafford and the Lions seem to find success against the New Orleans Saints, at least recently.

“Man, you don’t have to remind. No. 1, I’d say his decision making, his accuracy, the ball comes out. He’s tough to get to, he’s got a quick stroke, he’s got playmakers outside and versatility at the running back position,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said this week on a conference call.

“So obviously, especially here, I thought we played better up there in ’14 in a real close game, but the last two games have been challenging for us, and we obviously are going to have to play better to avoid those results,’’ Payton added.

In 2016 at New Orleans, the Lions won 28-13. And then in 2015 — again in New Orleans — Detroit won 35-27. It was closer in 2014 when the Lions won 24-23 at Ford Field.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The two NFC teams meet again on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Here are five things to watch:

— Matthew Stafford must stay upright after being sacked a dozen times in the past two games. He injured his ankle last Sunday in the loss to the Panthers but practiced at full-tilt this week. This had to be a priority this week among the Lions coaches. They have to protect their quarterback better. It’s not all on the offensive line, each person (tight end, back, wide receiver) must take his blocking responsibilities seriously.

— The offense, as a whole, must be more consistent throughout the game. We know they excel in the two-minute offense. They need that same intensity each time they are on the field. They’re coming off their worst game this season in the 27-24 loss to the Panthers.

— Eric Ebron needs to catch the ball and hold on. He can do it, we’ve all seen him. He knows it’s a problem, so does everyone else. In Week 2, he had five targets and five catches. That seems like a long time ago. Last Sunday he dropped a pass in the end zone.

— The defense fell apart a bit against Cam Newton on Sunday. They did hold the Panthers to 28 rushing yards which is huge, but Newton threw for 355 yards. When the LIons get behind, the defense can’t change. Each guy has to do his job. Sounds simple. When things are looking horrific, guys want to step up and help out a teammate. That’s when they get into more trouble. It seems so simple — do your job. But several of them have named that as one of their problems.

— The secondary, which had played well in the first four games, fell apart Sunday. It’s not all on cornerback Darius Slay but he had his worst game of the season. Drew Brees is having a good season with eight touchdowns, 1,135 passing yards and zero interceptions. He’s got a few big targets in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. And while the Lions are minding their own responsibilities, they also need to get back to creating turnovers. The Saints have not turned the ball over once in their first four games. Glover Quin said he likes the law of averages on that. The defense has to make it happen.

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Saints 24. Detroit bounces back from the loss to the Panthers and keeps their win streak against the Saints alive.

Detroit Lions must do more to protect Matthew Stafford against the Saints

Quarterback has been sacked 12 times in last 2 games

Granted, the Lions have played top-notch defensive fronts the last two weeks in the Vikings and Panthers. Still it’s no excuse to allow quarterback Matthew Stafford to be sacked six times in each of those games.

The law of averages says that one time he won’t be able to get up.

Stafford did injure an ankle late in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, but was able to have full practices this week which is a good sign he’ll be ready to go on Sunday in New Orleans.

Still, the sacking has to be limited. The Saints’ defense has sacked quarterbacks 11 times in four games with Cameron Jordan leading with three of the 11.

For the Lions, it’s too simplistic to put all the blame on the offensive line. Part of it is on them, but tight ends, running backs and wide receivers need to improve their blocking. And Stafford has to make sure he’s not holding onto the ball too long.

When Stafford is being pressured on play after play it obviously takes a toll on the offense.

“Anytime a defensive line can get penetration whether it’s in the pass game or the run game, I think it’s a positive for the defense,’’ Stafford said. “You always want to play on their side of the line of scrimmage if you possibly can on offense, and that’s in the run game and the pass game, and anytime they’re in the back field, it’s a disruption to really any play you have going.”

Wide receiver Golden Tate sees if from a little different perspective.

“When you look back and a couple times a game or, however many times a game, you see a quarterback scrambling and kind of subconsciously you start breaking routes off earlier, you start getting away from the details,’’ Tate said. “That’s one thing we have to continue to do is focus on those details and not cut off routes early because we feel there might be pressure. We’ve just got to keep doing our job and get it all figured out.

“When there’s pressure on Matt it makes everyone feel uncomfortable. For sure it makes everyone feel they have to do something extra which is when you really get in trouble. We’ve seen it in the past when Matt is comfortable back there and he has time, he can go through all his reads correctly. He throws a great ball and we march down the field. If you look back to last game when we were scoring at the end of the game we were just marching down the field. We weren’t doing anything really different, just protecting him a little more.

“I guess he had one leg in that game as he led us down for two big touchdowns and I feel if we got the ball back we would’ve scored again. We all have to do our part,’’ Tate said.

The Lions beefed up the offensive line in the offseason with right tackle Rick Wagner and right guard T.J. Lang. Then left tackle Taylor Decker tore up his shoulder in June. He could be ready to return within weeks which will help. Greg Robinson has struggled filling in for Decker.

“We just haven’t done as good a job as we’d like to. The thing about it though is you can’t, as I mentioned the other day, you can’t point to just one aspect and say, ‘It’s a protection issue.’ And that covers a lot of ground. So, yeah it’s our job to get it fixed,’’ Caldwell said. “Right now we’re not protecting as well as we’d like or doing the little things that keeps us out of sack situations often enough.”

Something’s got to give: Lions create turnovers, Saints excel at ball security

Detroit has 11 takeaways in 5 games

ALLEN PARK — Something’s got to give when the Lions play the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans.

The Lions’ defense has 11 takeaways in five games — seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Meanwhile the Saints have yet to commit a turnover. Quarterback Drew Brees has thrown eight touchdowns and zero interception. No fumbles.

“There’s a lot of things going right for you not to have at least one turnover. I haven’t watched every play of every (Saints) game, turnovers happen for all different reasons. Guys drop a pass or tip a pass and it gets intercepted. It could be a good throw, the guy just maybe didn’t hold onto it right or a running back gets ahead and fumbles,’’ Lions safety Glover Quin said. “Just because you fumble doesn’t mean it’s a turnover. The other team has to cover it. There’s a lot of factors that go into getting a turnover and not getting a turnover.’’

Quin should know. So far in five games he has a pair of interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Ball security has been an emphasis in Detroit. The Lions have given up just two — an interception by Matthew Stafford in the opener and a lost fumble in the loss to the Panthers.

Apparently Saints coach Sean Payton has made it a priority also.

“I hope it’s our overall awareness and I hope we’re doing a better job coaching it and I hope that as we get into games, you’re trying to not to be one-dimensional. I think that there’s times when you fall behind early in the season against Minnesota. The last it seemed like eight, 10 minutes we were in a hurry-up pass mode,’’ Payton said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But I think that probably for him (Drew Brees) I know (ball security) was (key) going into the season. A goal of us collectively as a team, possessing the ball better on offense, and helping our defense with a little bit more balance, and yet still recognizing how we want to play each game.”

The Saints could be due for a turnover or two.

“Hopefully the law of averages will prevail, hopefully (the Saints) are due to catch up,’’ Quin said.

It’s just another challenge for the Lions’ defense.

“I don’t think there’s any remedy for what they do. They take care of the ball. They just have not turned it over at all, I think they’re right around where we are in terms of turnover ratio, so you’re going to have a battle of two teams that haven’t turned it over very much, and so that’s going to be really I think the difference in the ball game,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “But, it’s an area that we have continued to work on. We work on taking it away, we work on taking care of it, and they do the same thing and they’ve done a great job at it thus far.”