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.

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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.

Five reasons the Detroit Lions came back to beat the Browns, 38-24

Detroit was able to overcome a slow start

DETROIT — All week the Lions showed respect for the Cleveland Browns who have not won a game this season.

All week fans and pundits repeatedly talked and wrote about how the Lions, who were double-digit favorites, should absolutely beat the Browns. It just made sense. The Lions were at home and the Browns were the Browns and they were 0-for-8 in the first half of the season.

So when the Lions found themselves down 10-0 early in the first half, the team wasn’t surprised but most everyone else at Ford Field was.

The Lions pulled out a 38-24 win on Sunday and to coach Jim Caldwell that is what matters.

Detroit is now 5-4 and plays at the Chicago Bears (3-6) next Sunday. The Browns dropped to 0-9.

“Not really worried about (the slow start). I’m really worried about how we play at the end. It’s very difficult to play a team that everybody thinks that doesn’t have players. That team has players,’’ Caldwell said. “… A lot of people – I’ve been on that side before — I know what it looks like and they played just exactly like I anticipated they’d play. They played very, very well. So, for our guys to come out and get a victory, I don’t care who we’re playing, in this league, a victory is hard to get. You can downplay it and all that kind of stuff, but I’m just telling you that there are no easy wins in this league. They’re all difficult, so I’m glad our guys measured up.”

Caldwell did repeat the same message that he has after every game — he knows they have a lot of work to do.

Here are five reasons the Lions won:

1. The run game, which has been brutal at times this season, was executing in the first half  and helped set up the passing game. “Going against this defense we knew that they took pride in the stopping the run and they were dominant run stoppers,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said.  “I think we kind of took it personal. I think we had a great week of practicing it and we were prepared. On top of having some great runners like Theo (Riddick), Dwayne (Washington) and Ameer (Abdullah) we just made it happen. We got some guys back on the offensive line that made a difference and those holes were opening up.’’  Taylor Decker at left tackle and Corey Robinson, who started at right guard, returned.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said that when the game was in hand late, he thanked the backs and the offensive line for keeping them in the game in the first half. “We were having to adjust to some different looks in the passing game and some different coverages we didn’t expect to see,’’ Stafford said. The Lions had 89 rushing yards in the first half which is more than they average per game (79.9). Detroit finished with 103 rushing yards. Stafford was 17 of 26 for 249 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

2. Golden Tate’s 40-yard touchdown pass play with 3:06 left in the game sealed the deal giving the Lions a two-touchdown lead. Tate said Stafford called an audible. “We actually had another play on and we knew they were going to cover zero blitz, Matthew made an incredible call, something we hadn’t really practiced this week,’’ Tate said. “We were all on the same page, T.J. (Jones) made a heck of a block, Marv (Jones) made a heck of a block and I had two linemen coming out to cover anybody else. It opened up like the Red Sea and the next thing you know I’m on my way to the end zone. I felt fast there.’’ It was a short right pass to Tate on a third-and-six at Cleveland’s 40. The Browns had time to score another touchdown to tie it so that score was crucial.

3. Cornerback Nevin Lawson got beat on the Browns’ first play from scrimmage giving up a 38-yard pass from DeShone Kizer to Sammie Coates. Lawson redeemed himself big time in the second quarter when he recovered a fumble and ran it in 44 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions their first lead at 17-10. “Yeah, that’s not a typical play. It’s some savvy and he just grinds all the time, that’s his nature. And then to be able to take it and run, most people probably don’t realize this guy, he can move. And he demonstrated it there, and particularly in a situation where we really needed a score, so that was good for us,’’ Caldwell said.

4. The Lions overcame a bad start from the offense and defense. It looked like a nightmare upset was ready to unfold but the Lions made adjustments and came back for the win. “We never waiver. When the team scores that early in the game you’ve got a lot of time to come back. That attitude isn’t, ‘Oh man it’s over.’ The attitude is, ‘Hey man, offense is going to get a drive, defense get a stop and we’re right back in the ballgame,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

5.  Tight end Eric Ebron only had two catches but one of them was the 29-yard touchdown catch on third-and-3, that put the Lions up 31-24. “Loved it, it was a great route, great ball and great protection,’’ Tate said. “He made it look easy and pretty much walked in. Eric’s last two weeks have been tremendous, he’s been working his tail off at practice, studying more film, he’s playing at a high level, we’ve seen over the last few weeks he is a dangerous player. He’s got some agility, he’s got speed, he’s got size. When he shows up he makes it easy on everyone. I expect Eric to keep building on what he’s doing and keep proving himself right. As you could hear today a lot of people doubted him at time. He stayed strong and kept making plays that’s what we need.’’

“They were trying to bring a little man-pressure up the middle, not a whole lot of help from the post safety on Ebron’s side of the ball,’’ Stafford said. “He ran a nice route and I threw like a punt, that was not spinning real pretty, but it ended up in a good spot.”

(In photo, Jim Caldwell helped through his press conference by his three grandsons.)

 

Lions’ Ziggy Ansah, T.J. Lang out vs. Browns; LT Taylor Decker, Kenny Golladay return

Golladay has missed five games

DETROIT — Defensive end Ziggy Ansah will miss his first game of the season today at Ford Field against the Cleveland Browns.

Ansah did not practice all week due to a back injury. In previous weeks he had been limited in practice with a bad knee.

Left tackle Taylor Decker, who was activated on Saturday, will play his first game of the season today. Decker injured his shoulder and underwent surgery in June. He finally started practicing two weeks ago.

The offensive line will still be missing a starter. Right guard T.J. Lang, who suffered a concussion on Monday night, was declared out on Friday.

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who has missed five games with a hamstring, is active today.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (ankle) was also out as of Friday.

Other Lions inactives:  Safety Don Carey (knee), running backs Zach Zenner and Tion Green.

Browns inactives: QB Kevin Hogan, DB Darius Hillary, OL Marcus Martin, OL Larry Ogunjobi, WR Kasen Williams, TE Matt Lengel and DL T.Y. McGill.

 

Five things to watch when Detroit Lions face the lowly Browns

Cleveland’s defense is fourth against the run

ALLEN PARK — The Lions have been indoctrinated by coach Jim Caldwell to take one game at a time. You can ask players and coaches about the chances of winning the NFC North and they will steer the conversation back to the next game. Period.

One reason that is so important to Caldwell’s philosophy is Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns who are 0-8. He doesn’t want the team to overlook the lowly Browns and it’s not like he has to give them a big reason. He just wants them to stay with the same approach as the rest of the season.

The Lions at 4-4 are behind the Vikings (6-2) in the NFC North and tied with the Packers. Detroit cannot let this game get away. If ever there was a should-win game this is it.

Five things to watch:

1. Short yardage offense has to improve. It’s not like they brought in new running backs this week. Offensive Jim Bob Cooter said they were close but no one can miss an assignment. “This league is complex. You’re going to get multiple looks, you’re going to have multiple different guys moving in different spots, and different style of blitzes, and we got to be able to handle that and sort of do a better job with that. It’s very, very, very tiny details, but it’s the difference between six points and, or I guess seven points, and three points which we got to better,’’ Cooter said. “Now, you get down to the one, I think we had a first-and-goal at the one, maybe the second was at the two or so. It’s pretty fun as a play caller to kind of sometimes be sort of stubborn with the run you know, let’s hammer this thing in. So, we’ll keep evaluating that policy moving forward too, making sure we do whatever we can to score touchdown.”

2. While the Browns are pathetic in many areas, they are ranked fourth in rushing defense allowing just 84.3 yards per game. And — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Lions’ run game is a concern averaging just 79.9 rushing yards per game. Cooter will stick with it, even if it doesn’t appear to be working early on.

3. Detroit’s defense has been good at creating turnovers. That will be an emphasis again since the Browns rank 32nd in NFL with 21 giveaways. Quarterbacks DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler have combined for 17 interceptions (and only five touchdowns). Also, the Browns have fumbled 10 times, losing four of them. In comparison, the Lions have 10 giveaways (four interceptions, six fumbles lost).

4. Matthew Stafford is coming off arguably his best game of the season in Monday night’s win at Green Bay. The offense, which was a bit sluggish early in the season, needs to keep rolling. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate hauled in picture-perfect passes on Monday night and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue. Also, there’s a chance rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay will return after missing five games with a hamstring.

5. The Lions’ offensive line played better the last two games, giving Stafford more time in the pocket. The good news is that left tackle Taylor Decker has been activated so is likely to play in his first game of the season. On the other hand, right guard T.J. Lang is in concussion protocol and has been declared out.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Browns 15.