Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Packers; plus prediction

Lions haven’t won a game since Oct. 1

ALLEN PARK — It’s all in the details.

In the Lions’ loss to Pittsburgh last week the details fell short, way short.

Tonight the corrections have to be made in the key divisional game at Green Bay.

It’s huge for both teams.

“We’re really close to doing some good things this past game, but close doesn’t really matter in this league. I think Bill Parcells said, ‘You are what your record says you are,’ and that’s sort of true as a team. And I think offensively we can sort of look at points scored, at the end of the day 15. 15 is not enough usually to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, that’s a good team we were playing and we got to score touchdowns down there in the redzone,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said.

Here are five things to watch on Monday night;

1. After going 0-for-5 in the Red Zone in the loss to the Steelers, obviously it’s a point of emphasis. Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter agree that it’s not just one thing that went wrong. “I think it is just execution and detail oriented. I don’t think there’s any massive scheme over all. We’ve got good players. We just got to go out there and execute. Sometimes, we just got to make plays,’’ Stafford said. “I mean we were extremely close on a couple, a couple balls that I could maybe throw a little bit better, a couple that maybe their defenders made some really nice plays on, or we could come down with whatever it is. We just got to find a way to get it in.”

2. Stafford had a cleaner pocket and more time against the Steelers than he had in previous weeks and despite a formidable Steelers’ pass rush he was only sacked twice. Brian Mihalik will get his second start at left tackle. “I think he did a nice job playing against guys that he had sort of been with, worked with in training camp, worked with over the offseason. He held up well, he fought,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Wasn’t perfect, could have been a little cleaner technique wise, but I thought it was an admirable performance and I thought he showed himself pretty well. He’s got to keep coming, keep getting better. We’re going to count on him moving forward in whatever role he has.” The best news for the offensive line is that Taylor Decker returned to practice this week after shoulder surgery in June. He won’t get back into action on Monday but he is close.

3. Defensively the Lions just need a little more consistency. A few hiccups last week against the Steelers were costly but overall they held Le’Veon Bell to 76 rushing yards and Antonio Brown to 70 receiving yards. Look for more pass rush against quarterback Brett Hundley who might get more rattled than a veteran.

4. The run game still lacks consistency and the ability to pick up short yardage. Dwayne Washington was the power back last week and struggled. Washington has that role due to  “size, power, things like that’’ according to Cooter. It’s one of the reasons the Lions have struggled in the red zone. Even though Matthew Stafford is the second leading rusher with 68 rushing yards on 13 carries, but they rarely call a quarterback sneak.

5. The Lions have been outscored 40-20 in the first quarter and 102-74 in the first halves. It’s a concern. It would be more of an issue if the Lions had not outscored opponents 102-67 in the second halves. “We talk about it. We try to emphasize it, those kinds of things. But I really do think that the basic rudiment of it all is just to play better,’’ Caldwell said. “If you performing better, if you’re executing better, those kinds of things will take care of themselves and we haven’t done that as frequently as we’d like to.”

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Packers 17

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Five things to know about Lions facing Packers with Brett Hundley at QB

Hundley off to rocky start replacing Rodgers

ALLEN PARK — Playing the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers does not mean an automatic win for the Lions on Monday night.

Rodgers broke his right collarbone on Oct. 15 so Brett Hundley has taken over starting quarterback role.

“We’re not getting a break we have to play better,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin (in photo) said on Friday. “So, I don’t think we’re in any position to say, ‘Hey, well because Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing, things are going to be easy.’ We haven’t had it easy right now, and we’ve got to play better football than we’ve been playing.’’

Don’t forget when the Lions played against the Packers on Jan. 1, 2012, with Rodgers out, Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn had a career day with 480 passing yards and six touchdowns. Stafford threw for 520 passing yards and five touchdowns but Detroit lost 45-41.

Rodgers is 13-3 playing against the Lions.

Five concerns about playing against Brett Hundley:

1. Jim Caldwell said most people who have watched Hundley can see that he’s fast.In his only start (the loss to the Saints), Hundley had three carries for 44 yards and a rushing touchdown. “Not just — he can run, really run. So, he’s not one of those guys that are easy to get down on the ground because he’s going to be able to avoid and certainly give ground to gain ground in times with some extraordinary ability to run with speed to get outside and that kind of thing,’’ Caldwell said on Friday. “So, we’ll have to do a good job at containing him and do a good job of when we have an opportunity, get him on the ground.”

2. Hundley took over in the Oct. 15 game after Rodgers was carted off and threw three interceptions against one touchdown in the loss to the Vikings. The next game — after a full week of practice with the starters — Hundley was 12-25 for 87 yards and one interception in the loss to New Orleans.

3. Caldwell said there’s no blueprint for going up against an inexperienced quarterback like Hundley. “I think everybody has, you have to look at them and see what they do well, what they don’t do well, where you think your advantages are, and adjust your game plan accordingly,’’ Caldwell said. “This guy, he plays with a lot of poise — and I don’t anticipate — and he’s got a supporting cast.’’ It’s not like Hundley is the only guy on the Packers’ offense.

4.R Hundley is unlike Rodgers since he’s younger and more mobile. “I think you look at (Hundley) and you say he’s a very athletic young man, moves around well. He has good arm strength but I think the biggest thing is when Aaron Rodgers gets out of the pocket, his eyes are scanning down field all the time, like most of the times he runs when he absolutely has to,’’ Austin said. “This guy can take off, and he’ll take off maybe a little bit sooner, and he can really run and get down the field. So, that’s really going to be a big challenge for us.”

5. Matthew Stafford said for him it’s not a different feeling playing the Packers without Rodgers. “We’re going to their place. We’re playing in their house. We know it’s going to be a tough environment. They play well at home. I’m going up against their defense. No question that each game unfolds differently, and you got to kind of figure out how to play that game to give yourself the best chance to win it. But we’re playing against their defense,’’ Stafford said. “They’re a talented defense with a bunch of young guys in the secondary that are really physically talented, and guys up front that can get after the passer.”

 

The case for Lions RB Zach Zenner

Zenner was inactive Sunday

ALLEN PARK — Zach Zenner has scored five rushing touchdowns in the last 17 games — none of his teammates are even close to that mark.

Yet, the Lions running back was inactive in Sunday’s 20-15 loss to the Steelers when the Lions were 0-for-5 in the red zone.

Zenner has only been active in four of the seven games this season and yet, at the moment, he appears to be the Lions best chance at a rushing touchdown inside the 10-yard line.

It’s a head-scratcher.

In that 17-game stretch the only other running back to score a rushing touchdown was Ameer Abdullah on Oct. 8 when he ran in from 3 yards out at the Vikings. The only other Lions to score rushing touchdowns in the last 17 games are tight end Eric Ebron on a 1-yard run and Matthew Stafford who ran in from 7 yards out. Both were in 2016.

Dwayne Washington, Sunday’s featured power back, has only scored one touchdown — a 1-yard run —  and that was in his first game as a rookie on Sept. 11, 2016.

Zenner was huge at the end of last season with four rushing touchdowns in the last 10 games and three in the last two games. He had a good camp and preseason, yet was inactive the first two games so he hasn’t had much chance to pick up where he left off.

Here is a look at Zenner’s scores:

Oct. 23, 2016 — 1-yard touchdown run vs Redskins

Dec, 26, 2016 — Two touchdowns including a 7-yard run and a 1-yard run

Jan. 1, 2017 — 1-yard touchdown run.

Oct. 8, 2017 — 1-yard touchdown run against the Panthers

Zenner also excels at pass blocking and in 2016 had 18 catches for 196 yards. He doesn’t have one reception in the four games he played this season.

He has good hands, losing only one fumble in 2016.

Look, the Lions certainly have these stats. They do their homework. So maybe there’s a reason that’s not so obvious that has kept Zenner on the bench. In his four games this season he has 10 runs for 16 yards — one of those was for 14 yards.

Just seems Zenner could provide an option in the red zone.

Lions Jim Caldwell on Eric Ebron: ‘We’ve got to get the best out of him’

Ebron subject of trade rumors with deadline on Tuesday

ALLEN PARK —  Jim Caldwell won’t address rumors about the possibility of trading tight end Eric Ebron. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday.

“I do my very best not to comment on any rumors or innuendo,’’ Caldwell said on Monday.

Ebron was targeted six times and caught two passes for 58 yards in Sunday night’s 20-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The tight end had a 44-yard pass play late in the fourth quarter, getting the Lions to the Steelers’ 11-yard line. But they couldn’t punch it in. The Lions didn’t score a touchdown in the game.

“He’s a guy who can make plays for us, I think you saw the catch and run he made,’’ Caldwell said. “He’s got ability, we’ve got to get the best out of him.’’

Ebron was booed loudly when he didn’t make the catches, even though a few of them weren’t necessarily on him.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

He missed a deep pass down the middle on a third-and-6 in the first quarter.

“In my mind I should’ve dove for it, it was a great ball. I just couldn’t catch up to it, I blame that on me,’’ Ebron said.

He heard the boos.

“There’s nothing I can do about it, like I said they don’t know my story,’’ Ebron said on Sunday night. “I want to always be positive, you can boo me all you want. I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve been booed.’’

He said 99.9 percent of the fans could not come out and make those catches.

“Yes, those were tough grabs, I get paid to make those grabs yes, but too damn tough. Cut a brother some slack, it’s rough. Whenever I get the opportunity and I can make a play I’m going to try to make the play and do what I can with the football in my hands.’’

Ebron has heard the trade rumors but does not seem upset by him.

“I mean it is what it is, they’ve got until Tuesday. This is a business if they want to cut ties with me, then they cut ties. Then if they can continue to use me my skills and abilities, it’s a long season,’’ Ebron said.

Well, not as long as it used to be.

Nine games remaining starting at Green Bay on Monday night.

Five reasons the Lions lost to the Steelers

Plenty of yards, but no touchdowns

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense gained plenty of yards on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense which was second-rated in the NFL.

It didn’t matter.

Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense accumulated 482 yards (411 passing) in the 20-15 loss to the Steelers on Sunday night at Ford Field.

Those gaudy offensive numbers were useless because the Lions could not score a touchdown. The 15 points were courtesy of Matt Prater’s five field goals.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Lions’ offensive effort of 482 yards ranks third all-time in NFL for most yards without a touchdown in a game. No. 1 was San Francisco with 501 yards versus Washington in 1986 and second was Cincinnati with 496 yards versus Seattle in 1994.

Yikes. Not exactly a record you want to break.

“Couldn’t execute (in the red zone). We were close on a lot of plays whether I missed a throw or we didn’t catch a ball or whatever it is. It’s obviously frustrating to get down there and not come away with points twice,’’ Stafford said.

The Lions have lost three straight and now hold a 3-4 record. It was their third straight home loss.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. They were 0-for-5 in the red zone. Three times they settled for field goals but twice they got nothing. Zip, zilch, nada.

In the third quarter they got to the Steelers’ 4-yard line after a 23-yard catch by TJ Jones. On first-and-goal, Dwayne Washington got stopped less than a yard from the goal line. Then an incomplete pass to Marvin Jones was followed by a Washington run for no gain.

They went for it on fourth-and-1. “We had a pass play called, they dropped a lot of guys into coverage, thought I had a stop to step up and make a play and their guys did a good job rallying and tackling me,’’ said Stafford who was sacked for a one-yard loss.

Then in the fourth quarter, when they were losing 20-15, Stafford checked into a draw play for Theo Riddick on third-and-5 from the Steelers’ 6. He was stuffed, losing two yards. Stafford made the decision because the Steelers had dropped eight in coverage.
“We just didn’t execute it well and that’s on me to get everybody on the same page,’’ Stafford said.

On the next play they went for it on fourth-and-7. Stafford’s attempted pass to Eric Ebron was broken up by Ryan Shazier. That was basically the ball game with 1:54 left.

2. The run game struggled again, combining for 71 yards. Ameer Abdullah had 27, Theo Riddick has 21 and Dwayne Washington 12 yards on six carries.

Coach Jim Caldwell was defensive when asked why Washington, who had missed the last four games due to injury, is the power back. He’s their best option but was not good in the red zone. No one was.

“It’s annoying because, I mean, we’ve got a good kicker, but we’ve got a good offense too. We’ve got to score,’’ Abdullah said. “We’ve got guys that can score. We’ve got guys who, if we put them in the right position, they can make big plays for us down there. We’ve just got to find a way to do that.”

3. Detroit was 2 of 12 (17 percent) on third downs. In comparison, the Steelers were 7 of 14 (50 percent). Enough said.

4. Mistakes, miscues, you name it. You can’t pin this all on tight end Eric Ebron but he was targeted six times and caught just two — one was for 44 yards. Still he has to be more consistent. He knows that, everyone at Ford Field knew that.

Even the sure-handed Golden Tate caught a pass and then the ball slipped out of his arms and was recovered by the Steelers. “That was a great play by everybody but me. It got away from me, I don’t know what it was, if I was thinking about my next move. I have to hold onto the play. This team looks to me to make plays,’’ Tate said.

5. This loss can’t be pinned on the defense but they can take their share of the blame. They had a lousy start on the Steelers’ opening play on their first drive, a 41-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster.. And then there was the 97-yard pass play from Roethlisberger to Smith-Schuster in the third quarter that put the Steelers up 20-12.

“I don’t know, (Smith-Schuster) just made some catches. He got put in some good situations and he just made some plays for them,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “We go into a game, you know, if they’ve got a top receiver like that (Antonio Brown), you want to force the next guy to do that. He did.”

Quin intercepted Roethlisberger and also recovered a fumble.

Running back Le’Veon Bell was held to 76 rushing yards after rushing for more than 300 yards in the past two games combined.

 

Golden Tate active for Lions vs Steelers; Billingsley up, while Zenner, Tabor out

Punter Sam Martin plays in first game of season

DETROIT — Golden Tate is a go for the Detroit Lions tonight as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night football at Ford Field.

Tate banged up his shoulder two weeks ago in the loss at New Orleans. He had limited practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and was listed as questionable for tonight’s game on Friday’s injury report.

Wide receiver Jace Billingsley will be active for the first time in his career.

Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (knee) is active after being listed as questionable.  Ansah was limited in practice all week

Linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) is out for his third straight game. He was listed as questionable and had full practices on Thursday and Friday.

Other Detroit inactives who are not injured: Running back Zach Zenner, running back Tion Green and cornerback Teez Tabor

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring), tackle Greg Robinson (ankle) and tackle Emmett Cleary (ankle) were ruled out on Friday.

Lions punter Sam Martin makes his first start this season after missing all of training camp and the season with a non-football related ankle injury.

Steelers inactives: QB Joshua Dobbs, DE Stephon Tuitt, T Marcus Gilbert, TE Vance McDonald, WR Martavis Bryant, T Jerald Hawkins and CB Brian Allen.

Pittsburgh has won eight of the last nine matchups and four straight.

The Lions are 3-0 coming off the bye week with Jim Caldwell as coach and have won the last five coming off the bye.

Five things to watch as Lions face Steelers; plus prediction

Lions 3-0 coming off bye week under Caldwell

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off two straight wins. They have the NFL’s second-best defense and the offense is generated by two guys who are tough to stop — running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

A win on Sunday night for the Detroit Lions, who have lost two consecutive games, is a tall order, but not impossible.

Under Jim Caldwell, the Lions are 3-0 coming off bye weeks. They’re rested and ready now. They needed the week off to heal and to take a good look at the first six weeks.

“Just based off the trend of the last few years I’ve been here and Coach Caldwell it seems like we always trend up in the second half of the season and that’s the plan,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We’re going to start playing our best football real soon and maintain that week in and week out. This division is wide open and there’s a lot of season left. That’s what we’re eyeing right now taking our division, one game at a time.’’

The Vikings (5-2) are atop the NFC North, with the Packers at 4-3, the Lions at 3-3 and the Bears in the basement at 3-4.

Five things to watch in the Lions-Steelers match-up on Sunday night:

1. The consensus seems to be that Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell is unlike any other. “I’ve been trying to see if I could remember someone that has a running style like his, and I cannot. I cannot place a guy that has the ability he has. He’s very patient with exception of vision, and he can start and stop, and hit it into third and fourth gear in a hurry. He’s an unusual guy, really. I mean just pretty special,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. Bell has 313 rushing yards in the past two games. (Ameer Abdullah has 342 for the season.) The Lions’ rush defense has been erratic in the first six games. They held the Panthers’ offense to 28 rushing yards one week and then the next allowed the Saints to run for 193 yards.

2. Antonio Brown is among the NFL’s elite wide receivers, leading the NFL in receiving yards with 765. Tackling him after he catches the ball is as important as the coverage. “It always is. We want to limit — we know people in this league, we have good players, and they’re going to catch the ball, and the quarterback is going to make really good throws and our job is, as defenders is OK, hey they’ve made that part of the play, let’s not let him get any extra. So, that’s going to be extremely important,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “Tackling, angles, pursuit, are going to be extremely important this week and not just with him, but — It’s always important, but especially with a guy like him in the open field who is dangerous, same thing with the running back (Bell).”

3. Matthew Stafford must have his best game. For him to accomplish that, he must get protection from the line, tight ends, backs, whoever, to stay upright and get the ball down the field. He’s been sacked 17 times in the last three games. “My job is to go back there and trust (the offensive line) every time. As a quarterback, that’s what you’re ingrained to do. I can be better in getting the ball out a little bit quicker and helping everybody out, but for those guys I think it’s just reps together are important, and they do everything they can whoever’s in there every week to try and get as many as they can,’’ Stafford said.

4. The wide receivers have to get open so Stafford can get them the ball. This is another reason the quarterback has been sacked so often. Sometimes he has nowhere to go with the ball.

5. Try something different with the run game because it has to be more effective. Along with Abdullah, perhaps it’d be wise to get Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner more involved. Zenner seems to be the best bet when it comes to short-yardage situations. Riddick has been pretty much a non-factor so far with 39 rushing yards and 180 receiving yards and a touchdown. Don’t be surprised to see Abdullah and Riddick on the field together more often.

PREDICTION: Steelers 27, Lions 20. Pittsburgh’s defense will be too much for Detroit’s offense.