Five reasons the Detroit Lions were able to pull out 27-24 win over Bears

Detroit wins third road division game

After a first quarter eerily similar to the Lions’ game against the Browns a week ago, the Lions got on track offensively and defensively for a 27-24 win over the Bears at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sunday.

It was the third NFC North road game the Lions have won. They have also beaten the Vikings at Minnesota and the Packers at Green Bay. Oddly enough, the Lions are 4-1 on the road and 2-3 at home.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

The Lions are now 6-4 while the Vikings beat the Rams, 24-7, to move to 8-2. The NFC North rivals meet at Ford Field on Thursday for a key Thanksgiving battle.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. Kicker Matt Prater nailed a 52-yard field goal with 1:35 left to give Detroit a 27-24 lead.  Bears kicker Connor Barth missed 46-yard field goal wide right with 3 seconds left. Good snap, good hold, but it wasn’t even close. If it was good, the game would have been tied and gone into overtime and who knows what would have happened then.

2. When the Lions fell behind 10-0 early in the first they kept their composure. They had plenty of time, they showed discipline and patience — two trademarks of a Jim Caldwell coached team.

3. The offense was resilient in the second quarter with two touchdowns — a 28-yard touchdown catch by Marvin Jones and a 2-yard run by Ameer Abdullah. Detroit was up 21-17 at the half. Still the Lions had trouble running the ball finishing with just 65 yards — Theo Riddick with 35, Abdullah with 22. Matthew Stafford got off to a slow start but finished 21 of 31 for 299 yards, two touchdowns, one fumble lost and a 120.2 rating.

4. Cornerback DJ Hayden recovered a Mitchell Trubisky fumble and ran it 27 yards in for a touchdown early in the second quarter to get the Lions on the board. They were down 10-7 at that point. Always helps when the defense pitches in with a score. It was the fifth defensive touchdown this season. The play seemed to provide a spark on both sides of the ball.

5. The Lions won despite the defense giving up 222 rushing yards with 125 of them from running back Jordan Howard who averaged 8.3 yards per carry. They knew they had to stop him but they could not. He also scored on a 12-yard run in the second quarter. Prior to this game the Lions defense had given up an average of 110.6 rushing yards per game.

BONUS: It was cold (wind chill was 23 at start of game) and windy at Soldier Field, but the Lions were as ready as they could be. They practiced outdoors all last week in Allen Park including Wednesday in the pouring rain. Caldwell’s mantra is he wants to have an indoor team with an outdoor mentality. It looks like he’s succeeded with that.

 

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Lions’ RB Zenner active with Dwayne Washington out; Ansah inactive again

Offensive line starters all active for first time

For the first time all season the starters on the Lions offensive line are active today at the Chicago Bears. Look for left tackle Taylor Decker to play every snap after getting eased in last Sunday with 36 snaps. Right guard T.J. Lang will return after missing one game with a concussion.

Ziggy Ansah will miss his second straight game. He was declared out on Friday. The defensive end, who has a back injury, hasn’t practiced for two weeks. Cornelius Washington could get the start like he did last week in the win over the Browns.

Running back Zach Zenner is active for the fifth game this season with Dwayne Washington out with a hip injury.

Don Carey (knee) will return after missing two games.

Other Lions inactives: OL Emmett Cleary, OL Don Barclay, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (ankle), running back Tion Green and wide receiver Jace Billingsley.

Five things to watch as the Lions face the Bears; plus my prediction

Lions’ offensive line is finally healthy

ALLEN PARK — It would be easy to overlook the Chicago Bears. They’re 3-6 and unlikely to make any noise in the NFC North race.

However, the Lions mantra is one game at a time. Next up they face those Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon.

The Lions (5-4), who have won two straight, have to keep stacking wins if they hope to overtake the Minnesota Vikings (7-2).

They’ve practiced outdoors all week — even in pouring rain on Wednesday — to be ready for any weather condition they may face at Soldier Field.

“I played in a bunch of games there. I played early in the season, played late in the season. Like you said you never know what you’re going to get. That’s how we’ll prepare. You got to go out there and see the way the game’s unfolding, see the way the weather is either affecting the game or not affecting the game,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “But our biggest opponent is their defense. From our offensive standpoint, they’re really talented. They’re big, physical guys up front. They can get after the passer, stop the run, and their guys on the outside do a really nice job of keeping everything in front of them. So, we’ll have a good challenge for us to go with whatever the weather brings.”

Five things to watch against the Bears:

1. For the first time this season, the offensive line as envisioned by GM Bob Quinn last spring, will be on the field at the same time. Look for left tackle Taylor Decker to play more than he did last Sunday in his first game back since shoulder surgery in June. Right guard T.J. Lang was out in the win over the Browns with a concussion. The line could prove to be a tremendous asset for the final seven games this season starting with the Bears. Coach Jim Caldwell credits his assistant coaches for keeping the line mostly effective no matter who has been a starter. “They don’t blink at a challenge, and you’re presented with challenges all the time in this business. And our approach is, no matter who it is, we’re going to coach who shows up, and our job is to go win a game regardless of the circumstances,’’ Caldwell said. “So, I think they’ve taken that on and worked with it. We haven’t been perfect, but I think we’ve got them headed in the right direction.”

2. Matthew Stafford has been lights out in the last two games with a combined 610 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He should have more time with the offensive line up to speed. Stafford has won three of the last four contests at Soldier Field with a 17-14 loss last season.

3. The Lions’ run game must be efficient because the weather could curtail the passing game. This is the case every week but it’s critical against at Soldier Field. “I’m not necessarily concerned about how we get it, but the (rushing) yards, the possessions, and all those things are key. I don’t care if it comes in big plays. I don’t care if it comes increment by increment, small bit size. The big thing is to get it going and make certain we’re consistent in that area,’’ Caldwell said. “So, that’s the most important thing.” The Lions have rushed from more than 100 yards in two of their eight games, most recently on Sunday in the win over the Browns.

4. Darius Slay, Glover Quin and the Lions’ secondary should make life miserable for rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky who has completed 51.3 percent of his passes in five starts with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s somewhat mobile, averaging 22 rushing yards per game. “Right now they haven’t opened it up for him,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

5. Rookie Kenny Golladay is always a downfield threat, same with tight end Eric Ebron. “Well it just adds — you know, the more guys that can make plays, whether that’s underneath, way down the field, handing it to him, tossing it to him, whatever it is. The more of those guys we can put on the field and let impact the game, the better for us,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “That was a really good throw and just a heck of a catch and run after by Kenny Golladay. So, he hasn’t been back with us on the field very long, we’re going to keep him coming and sort of do that with our whole offense.’’ Golladay missed five games before returning in the win over the Browns where he had two catches for 64 yards.

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Bears 14

 

Five things to know about Lions defense as it prepares to face the Bears

Stopping Chicago’s run game is key

ALLEN PARK — It’s tough to evaluate the Lions defense because one week it looks almost unbeatable and the next it gives up 201 rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns.

That was last week and this Sunday the Lions face the Chicago Bears who depend on the run especially with rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a starter.

“That’s a little bit frustrating because then I always go back and the first thing I look at is not our guys, I look at what did I do because I know we can play. I know we can play sound run defense, and we didn’t do it that week, that particular week,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “So, like every game, good and bad, you go back and look at it and say, ‘Hey, what are some things that you have to do better this week?’ Because obviously if we allow this group this week to rush for 200 yards, it’s going to be a long day just like it was last week. We had a real struggle last week because we weren’t doing a good job in stopping the run.”

The Bears average 121.8 rushing yards per game, but in the last three games they’ve averaged 152 rushing yards. Turns out the Lions defense is not the only inconsistent factor in this game equation.

Overall Detroit’s defense ranks 21st in the NFL giving up 23.3 points per game and they rank 22nd giving up an average 349.7 yards per game.

They miss defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, their top run stopper, who is lost for the season. But the game goes on.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to know about the Lions defense as it prepares for the Bears:

1. Austin has the utmost respect for Bears running back Jordan Howard who had 23 carries for 111 yards when the Lions played the Bears in Chicago last year.  “I mean, he ran up and down the field on us, and he is a load. He’s got really good vision. He’ll run through arm tackles. If you jump out of your gap, he’s going to find it. I really like the young man and how he runs,’’ Austin said. Obviously it’d be good to see the Lions’ rushing defense play like they did in Week 5 holding the Panthers to 28 rushing yards.

2. Not unlike the defense, rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis has had his moments. “For most young guys, the first year is kind of a roller coaster, up and down. You’re going to see some really good things, and you’re going to see some not-so-good things. And I think he’s still in that area where there’s going to be games where he looks outstanding. And there’s going to be other games he’s going to struggle a little bit,’’ Austin said. “But the thing I like about him is, he puts in the work so that as the season goes on, you’re going to see the big ups and downs won’t be as big. They’re going to be less. You’ll see he may struggle in a game, but it won’t be big. You won’t be saying, ‘Boy, that was a bad one.’ Things like that. You’ll say, ‘OK, he’s maybe not as good today, but wasn’t really an up and down type ride.’ And I think that’s the biggest thing with him in terms of strides that the ups and downs won’t be as big.”

3. The value of having a top corner like Darius Slay is not lost on Austin. “It’s really nice when you have a No. 1 corner so that when you go into a game, you don’t feel out-matched against their No. 1 receiver, and that’s always a good thing,’’ Austin said. “It is what it is. I think that’s the important part. You have a guy out there that can match up with just about any receiver in this league and hold his own. It doesn’t mean he’s going to win every time, but it means that you’re going to go out there, and you’re not going to feel like, ‘Boy, we have to tilt the coverage every time to this guy,’ and do all kinds of tricks and mirrors and all the different things you have to do to try to slow somebody down. So, that’s where he’s really, really helpful, and he’s really grown this year. The thing I like about him, he’s great attitude, great worker, but he just keeps getting better.” Slay has a team-leading four interceptions so far and seems to be having his best season.

4. Defensive end Anthony Zettel’s improvement this season is without question one of the biggest surprises on the defense. Austin had an inkling this would happen when Zettel came back last spring in superb shape. He liked Zettel when they drafted him in the sixth round, but didn’t necessarily foresee this level of play.  “I can tell you that. Kris (Kocurek) and I went and worked him out at Penn State, and we saw a guy that maybe physically was like some of the other guys, and maybe doesn’t measure up. But we saw he was tough, worked hard. I remember in our workout with him, we put him through the ringer, and we were like, ‘Want to do some more?’ He’s like, ‘I got all day.’ And that’s how he works,’’ Austin said. “And so, I think the point where we thought he might end up having a pretty good year was his offseason. He came back in great shape, better shape than he was obviously through last year, stronger, moved better. And during the OTAs and offseason is where you saw that. Boy, he’s a little bit different than he was last year. Not sure how that’s going to show up til we get to the preseason and everything. And he’s just continued to grow. So, that’s really when you saw the difference when he came back this offseason and was in really good shape, really kind of transformed himself as a player.”

5. Austin said he has not made Pro Bowl votes.I absolutely am not involved with Twitter. So, I’m good,’’ he said. Darius Slay is trying to whip up votes via social media.

Five things to know about Lions LT Taylor Decker and his return to action

He played 36 snaps on Sunday, his first game of the season

ALLEN PARK — Taylor Decker is expected to pull a full load on Sunday when the Lions face the Bears in Chicago.

Last Sunday the left tackle played his first game since he underwent shoulder surgery in June.

With Decker holding down left tackle, and right guard T.J. Lang expected to return after missing last Sunday’s game with a concussion, the offensive line will finally be healthy. It should look like it was envisioned by GM Bob Quinn when he signed Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner as free agents.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“As you go through a season, a lot of times you have injuries and you get less healthy along the way. To be able to look up and get more healthy, that’s a benefit. We have a bunch of good players on this offense and every week in this league guys are dealing with things, sometimes guys are up, guys are down,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “When you have a full complement, whenever that is, that’s good for the team. That’s good for the offense and hopefully we’ll see improvement there.”

Five things to know about Decker:

1. In his first game back he only played 36 snaps in the win over the Browns. He and Brian Mihalik swapped out every other series. Decker had no problem with that plan since he hadn’t played a snap since last January. But it wasn’t easy to shuttle in and out when he’s used to playing every snap. Again, he was good with the plan because rust, indeed, is a real thing. Look for him to be more productive when he’s in for every snap.

2. Decker said those reps were needed. “It’s pretty invaluable to get those game reps, you’re not going to be comfortable until you get them. You can try to emulate, simulate that as much as possible in practice but it’s not the same, it’s not the same speed or intensity,’’ Decker said on Thursday.

3. After surgery and two months with his arm in a sling, it’s good to be back. “I feel like every single day I’m getting better right now, I’m getting more comfortable but I didn’t get a training camp, I didn’t get a preseason or anything like that. I’ve got to accelerate my learning curve to get comfortable. But at the end of the day we’re all football players here so you’re comfortable on the field,’’ Decker said.

4. He doesn’t buy into the concept that at least he’ll have fresh legs with seven games left. “You can be in really good shape, but when you’re actually out there playing football it’s different. You’ve just got to get used to playing football again,’’ Decker said. “You could be in really good shape and I guess have fresh legs but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a real thing.’’

5. There’s no ideal opponent to face in the first games back. “No matter when you return or when you come back from an injury you’re going to play against a good player,’’ Decker said. “Everybody in the NFL is a professional pass rusher so the Bears present a challenge because they have a good defensive front and they have a varying level of rushers — they’ve got guys are more twitchy, more speed, they’ve got guys who are more power and they change it up so they present a good challenge for us.’’

BONUS: The run game had a good day against the Browns in Decker’s first game back, but he won’t take credit for that. “Correlation does not equal causation,’’ Decker said.

Detroit Lions: Darius Slay’s development clear to see, thanks to Glover Quin

Slay has a 4-3 edge in interceptions over Quin

ALLEN PARK — Safety Glover Quin has been at Darius Slay’s side for five years. Pushing the young Lions’ cornerback, teaching him, guiding him even off the field and, at times, laughing at him.

“Slay is always cracking us up. Always,’’ Quin said on Wednesday.

It’s been an ongoing growth process between the master and student.

“It’s been extremely helpful, and I think it’s kind of a two-way street. No. 1, it’s been great for (Slay) because Glover’s a great resource. He’s a guy that really does everything right. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but he’s disciplined, he’s dedicated, he’s smart, he’s tough. He works at it, and is a great family man and the whole bit,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “And Slay picked that up right away once he arrived here with him, once they got together I should say, and he’s gravitated toward him — goes down in the summertime and works out with him, stays at his house, and goes through his regimen with him.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Still Quin can pinpoint one moment from three years ago that has been crucial in Slay’s success. It was in Week 6 of 2014 in a game at the Minnesota Vikings.

“We were up on them 17-3 at the end of the game, the game was basically over, we had played a pretty dominant game. You know how teams are at the end of the game, they’re trying to score. I think Slay had a series of plays where he missed a tackle on a tight end in the flat, he got a penalty, a little illegal contact, there were only two minutes left in the game,’’ Quin said.

“I went to him and told him, ‘I need you to stay locked in. You went from having a great game to the last minute now you’ve got a missed tackle, you’ve got a penalty, we have to stay locked in until the clock  is over.’ Those are the situations where you make plays, you get an extra tackle, you get an extra pass breakup, you catch a pick like you did Sunday when they’re trying to score.’’

Indeed in the Lions’ 38-24 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Ford Field, Slay intercepted DeShone Kizer with 1:23 left.

Game over.

“The thing about that happening in 2014, and you look at him Sunday in the same situation, down two touchdowns and they’re trying to move the ball down the field and he catches a pick to end the game. I think that’s growth you see that he’s made over these years, he’s become a great player,’’ Quin said.

Slay remembers that game in 2014 also.

“I flaked out. I was playing a lot and I didn’t give up a catch the whole game. At the end, there was a minute left, we’re up by 3, 2 touchdowns or so. First I got a penalty and then a dude caught a ball on me. (Quin) said, ‘Slay lock in.’ I think he wanted to cuss at me but he didn’t. After that I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re winning.’ It’s a different aspect from a guy playing that long he said anything can happen in that amount of time so I’m more locked in now I don’t play any more like that.

“I could’ve been chilling but I was not, I was locked in. Lesson learned, good lesson learned. I knew he was going to throw the ball and there was an opportunity for this pick so just add them up,’’ Slay said

It’s just one step in Slay’s growth into one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks.

It’s just taken him awhile to get recognition from around the league. It’s what he needs to get to the Pro Bowl.

“I mean I think so, my numbers say (I belong). I lead in pass breakups and picks as a corner. Somebody has got to tell me something different. I travel against the No. 1 guys, I follow them, I don’t hide from nobody. I think that’s what a No. 1 corner is supposed to do, some guys are good at doing their thing, I went against all the best ones so far and I held my own,’’ Slay said.

There is one matter between the two. After 10 games, Slay has four interceptions and Quin is one behind with three.

“There’s not a personal wager, but if I catch one Sunday and we’re four apiece I think we can make a little wager for the next six games and see what happens,’’ Quin said.

It would kind of be perfect if the two were both sent to the Pro Bowl.

Quin was selected in 2014, Slay is still waiting for his first trip.

“In my eyes yes, I’ve put up a lot of good film for the past 3 years to be in there. It’d be crazy if I don’t, definitely this year,’’ Slay said.

Caldwell doesn’t want to get into a Pro Bowl discussion, it’s not his style.

“Those things are things that I think all of our guys, they’re secondary to what their real purpose is. Their purpose is to win games. The more games you win, the better opportunity you’re going to have to get some sort of recognition,’’ Caldwell said. “But the most important thing is that we’re winning games. That’s what we set out to do. That’s what our goal is, and I think he’s been playing extremely well. I still think he’s got a lot of upside just because of his skill set and his ability. And I think all in all, recognition will come in due time.”

Five Monday thoughts from Lions’ Jim Caldwell on Stafford, Slay and more

Coach keeps words to a minimum on a victory Monday

ALLEN PARK — Jim Caldwell was as low-key as low-key gets in his Monday press conference. His goal is to keep his demeanor on the same level each week so it’s tough to determine whether the Lions are coming off a win or a loss.

Mission accomplished.

Actually they are coming off a 38-24 win over the winless Cleveland Browns.

How did Corey Robinson play at right guard? “It was OK,’’ Caldwell said.

What about left tackle Taylor Decker in his first game back? “He was OK. He was alright,’’ Caldwell said.

That’s about how it went.

Here are five things to know.

1. Matthew Stafford has played his best two games of the season the past two weeks — the win last week at Green Bay and Sunday against the Browns. He got off to a bad start against the Cleveland defense but ended up throwing three touchdown passes. Perhaps one of his best moves was calling an audible for the 40-yard Golden Tate touchdown pass-play that sealed the win on Sunday. “It’s not like he hasn’t handled the blitz before. I know you guys look at those numbers and that kind of thing, but Matt’s always done a pretty nice job at handling that,’’ Caldwell said. The coach also wouldn’t jump on an answer about improvement with the deep passes. He’s hit deep ones before, a lot of deep ones around here before. I don’t see that, but I do see obviously his performance has been pretty steady which is good. And he keeps getting better,’’ Caldwell said.

2. The run game has been an issue in the first nine games but they found success early with 89 first-half rushing yards against the Browns rushing defense that was ranked fourth stingiest in the NFL.  “I mean it’s a really good unit, and I think our guys did a better job of executing, getting them a man-on-man, and giving our backs a crease to run in. So, I think the backs did a good job getting north and south or circling the defense. So, overall I think it was more execution than anything else.” Whatever they were doing Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick need to keep it up. Also Stafford had four runs for 17 yards.

3. While the fans were booing early with the Lions’ poor start, the players themselves were non-plussed. They knew they had plenty of time to get back in to the game after going down 10-0 within the first seven minutes. This is a resilient bunch. “I think we have a really good corps of veteran leaders. They help show the young guys the way. They believe, and they stay really focused particularly in tight games,’’ Caldwell said.

4. Darius Slay earned the second highest cornerback grade of the week from games played so far by Pro Football Focus. On 51 cover snaps he was targeted 11 times giving up six receptions but for just 42 yards and a passer rating against of 25.6, per PFF.  He leads the NFL in interceptions for a cornerback with four. I just think he continues to get better every single week. I mean, he just works. He loves to work, he loves to practice, he loves the game. He’s got unbelievable competitiveness and that’s always on his mind, regardless of what he’s doing because its competition involved in it. So, I think with that kind of attitude—and he’s got physical tools. He just keeps getting better,’’ Caldwell said.

5. The win on Sunday boosted the Lions record to 5-4 and kept them in the playoff conversation. However the NFC North leading Vikings (7-2) also won. Not surprisingly Caldwell said he’s not thinking about a magic number to make the postseason. “I think I’ve told you guys that a thousand times probably but it’s a fact. It’s one game. If that game just so happens to be the trigger game somewhere down the line, then it’s one game. So, that’s all we focus in on,’’ Caldwell said.