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.”

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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.”

Detroit Lions’ Eric Ebron has support of his teammates

Tight end continues to work hard to improve

ALLEN PARK — If Eric Ebron wasn’t working hard, his Lions’ teammates would be concerned. That is not the case.

Wide receiver Golden Tate said he expects Ebron will have a career type game “real soon.”

The tight end has had issues holding onto the ball, especially in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers  when he was targeted four times and had one catch. On the opening drive he dropped a third-down pass in the end zone.

Ebron met with Matthew Stafford to figure out what he can do better.

“I’ll keep that between Eric and I. I don’t feel like I need to share that with you guys,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “But he’s a guy that’s really talented that can help us, and he’s got to continue to work hard and continue to try to improve just like everybody.”

In the first five games Ebron has a dozen catches for 93 yards.

In Week 2, he was targeted five times and caught all five for 42 yards and a touchdown.

“I think the best thing to do is to know when you ball out, the social media will be there to praise you. The next week if you don’t ball out they’ll be right there to tear you down. It’s kind of a what have you done for me lately kind of deal,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said on Wednesday.

“I just want to remind him, ‘Hey, you’re a heck of a player, you’re here for a reason. We need you in order to go where we want to go. All we want you to do is keep working hard, keep working hard, be mentally strong, understand your assignment and just keep growing,’’ Tate said.

“We understand mistakes are a part of this game but us bashing him — or anyone in this organization — is not going to help us. Our job is to build each other up and keep working, keep working together, it’s going to come around,’’ Tate added. “He’s here for a reason and he knows that, he’s a heck of a player, he’s shown time in and time out in practice that he deserves to be here. We keep supporting him, keep working together.

“The problem would be if any player is messing up consistently but not out here working, not trying to get better but you don’t see that from him,’’ Tate said. “He wants this bad. He knows how good he is, sometimes you need to be reminded of that.’’

Coach Jim Caldwell was thinking along those same lines when he commented on Ebron’s play on Monday.

“There’s a lot of folks that have a bad game or a bad stretch. And he’s got talent. He works at it, and it’s our job to get it out of him,’’ Caldwell said.

 

Detroit Lions place Haloti Ngata on IR; sign 2 free agents

ALLEN PARK — More bad news for the Lions defensive line today when Haloti Ngata was placed on injured reserve with a bicep injury sustained in Sunday’s loss at the Vikings. The defensive tackle was unable to finish the the game.

Ngata was off to a good start with a pair of sacks and seven tackles in five games. It’s his 12th NFL season, his third in Detroit.

The Lions have signed free agents defensive end Datone Jones and defensive tackle Caraun Reid. Also they waived linebacker Thurston Armbrister.

In his fifth season, Jones comes to the Lions after most recently spending the 2017 preseason with the Minnesota Vikings. Prior to this year, he played four seasons (2013-16) with the Green Bay Packers and appeared in 59 games with seven starts during that time.

A former first-round draft pick by the Packers in the 2013 NFL Draft out of UCLA, Jones’ career totals include 72 total tackles (53 solo), nine sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception.

Reid returns to Detroit after originally being drafted by the Lions in the fifth-round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Princeton. In two seasons with Detroit (2014-15), he appeared in 26 games (12 starts).

Reid most recently spent the 2017 preseason with the Los Angeles Chargers after playing in seven games for the club in 2016. Currently in his fourth season, his career totals include 36 total tackles (28 solo), three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Detroit Lions: Jim Caldwell’s Monday thoughts on Ebron, Stafford, pass protection

Examining 27-24 loss to Panthers

ALLEN PARK >> In the aftermath of the Lions’ loss to the Panthers on Sunday, coach Jim Caldwell was resolute.

The coach saw the good and too much bad. He isn’t panicking, he never does.

“At this point in time we need to improve on everything, we need to improve on every single thing we do from top to bottom offense, defense, special teams,’’ Caldwell said on Monday.

Of course, he would say the same thing after a win.

He’s the captain guiding the ship in the calm in the storm of criticism. It doesn’t bother him one bit.

“The thing I’m interested in the most is winning, I’m not interested in window dressing, what the numbers should say, what they look like and all that stuff,’’ Caldwell said. “It’s never mattered to me. I’m interested in scoring, defense and obviously winning games.’’

Here are his thoughts on a few key plays and moments from Sunday:

— Not surprisingly, he wouldn’t give an update on Matthew Stafford’s ankle. The quarterback injured his right ankle in the game — he was limping noticeably. “Like most of the guys he’s pretty sore after games,’’ Caldwell said. He would not offer any specifics. Stafford refused to talk about it after the game.

— Eric Ebron was targeted four times and made just one catch. The worst drop was in the end zone when the ball was clearly in the tight end’s hands. A touchdown there would have given the Lions a 7-0 lead. Instead they settled for a field goal. “I think, like I said yesterday, everybody will point to one game or one play or whatever it might be,’’ Caldwell said. “There were a lot of folks having a bad game, a bad stretch. He’s got talent, he works at it, it’s our job to get it out of him.’’ Caldwell said. The coaches will go over film with him, like they do with everybody, to show him where he has to improve. Remember back to Week 2, Ebron had five catches on five targets. He’s got it in him, he just has to hold on.

— In many games, like Sunday’s loss, it comes down to chunk plays. The Panthers had plenty — wide receiver Ed Dickson averaged 35 yards per catch (175 total). “It’s always a key, one of the things you look at is the contrast how many big plays you get, how many you give up. You always want to be on the plus side of that. We were minus-2 yesterday. We’ve got to be better. Just keep working. We have the potential, we have the ability just keep working at it. We’ve gotten big plays, we got big plays out of (Darren) Fells in the end zone, we got a number of big plays during the course of a game, just not enough. We’ve got to get more.’’ Bingo.

— Pass protection was woeful. Stafford was sacked six times, the same number as the previous Sunday. It’s not all on the offensive line, the blame can be spread around. “There’s a number of different things that happen during the course of a ball game and you don’t know all the details to all of them, so I’m not going to expect you to know … That it’s our job to protect him no matter if they’re blitzing, not blitzing, four-man rush, whatever it might be,’’ Caldwell said. “We didn’t do a good enough job with that. There are a lot of moving parts that get with protection — it’s routes being run properly, guys getting open, balls thrown on time, offensive linemen blocking, tight ends blocking, backs blocking. There’s a lot of different things going into it. We scan the entire gamut throughout the course of the game. We have to get better at it — we were pretty good at the beginning, we were good at the end in terms of getting the ball out, making catches and making plays. We just had a bit of a lull there that you can’t afford against a good team.’’

— A bright spot in the loss was the return of rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis after he missed two games with a concussion and a neck injury. “Obviously, I think he had eight tackles or something like that. Jarrad’s a good downhill, aggressive player,” Caldwell said. “Does a nice job for us, and no doubt about it, he helped us. There’s no question.” His eight tackles were second only to Tavon Wilson who had 10.

Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost to the Carolina Panthers

Not much went right for Lions’ offense or defense

DETROIT — It  was the Cam Newton show most of the afternoon at Ford Field on Sunday.

The Panthers quarterback wasn’t perfect but he was close as Carolina defeated the Lions, 27-24.

The Lions, who  dropped to 3-2, play at New Orleans on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Detroit’s defense, which has been its backbone in the first four games, didn’t have an answer for Newton.

Detroit’s offense was out of kilter too. And, that’s being nice.

Here are five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Lions’ defense missed tackles and alignments consistently. Panthers wide receiver Ed Dickson tore them up with five catches for 175 yards. Newton finished 26 of 33 for 355 yards, that’s by far the most Detroit’s defense has given up this season. Coming in second was holding Atlanta’s Matt Ryan to 277 yards. “It just comes with preparation the way you prepare for a game, the way you set yourself up during the week,’’ rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “You have to make sure you’re putting yourself in the best position in the game to where it’s second nature. it’s almost automatic you think about coming in flush and hitting a guy and cleaning up a guy without thinking about it. It’s muscle memory and repetition that’s going to create that.’’

2. The Lions offense didn’t find a rhythm until the fourth quarter and by then it was too late. “I wish I would have played better earlier in the game but I appreciate the effort our guys had, great battle. It’s a really good football team we just faced. We’ve got to find a way to play a little better on offense, especially early on,’’ said Matthew Stafford who was 23 of 35 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Tight end Darren Fells had two touchdown catches and Zach Zenner had a one-yard touchdown run.

3. Stafford blew off questions about his protection. Still, everyone at Ford Field could see that it was an issue. He was sacked six times which matches the same number against the Vikings in the win a week ago. It is an issue. One time he might not get up. In fact, he came up hobbling late in the game with a wonky right ankle. He wouldn’t address the injury situation after the game. The protection is not all on left tackle Greg Robinson, but part of it is. “I think that’s one of the things that we have to do is No. 1 for us, is protection for our quarterback. We got to be able to do well there,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “And now, here’s the thing, you’ll look at it and you’ll see some plays, but you may not know exactly what’s going on. It’s not just the offensive line. It’s not just – there’s a lot of people involved in protections, so we got to get that straightened out, all the people that are involved in that.”

4. The Lions were just 5 of 13 on third-down conversions. In other words, not enough. “There were a couple of third downs that were pretty manageable, you have to get those to stay on the field, those are big downs,’’ Zenner said. Tight End Eric Ebron dropped a pass in the end zone on a third-and-10 in the first quarter. In the third quarter on a third-and-1 Stafford couldn’t connect with Ebron. They went for it on fourth-and-1 on the next play and Zenner was stuffed by Julius Peppers for a 4-yard loss. “Those conversions, if you don’t get those, they’re going to catch up to you. Third down is a big down in this league and I think it’s one thing that showed today,’’ Zenner said. The Panthers converted seven of 16 third-down attempts.

5. In the first four games the Lions defense have 11 takeaways (seven interceptions, four fumbles recovered). On Sunday they had zero. “You get them where you can. We’d like to have them. We gave up one, we didn’t get any, but you still have to win ball games. That’s not how you strictly win by the turnover margin, you still have to execute as well. We just didn’t execute as well,’’ Caldwell said. The Lions lost a fumble to the Panthers so they’re plus-8 for the season on the takeaway/giveaway ratio. And, as Stafford said: “You don’t go into a game thinking the other team is going to make a bunch of mistakes, you go into a game trying to execute as well as you can.’’ The LIons didn’t execute and they know it.

BONUS: The loss is not all on Ebron but the tight end did not have a good game once again. He is a different type of tight end than Darren Fells (Ebron is faster, Fells is taller and bigger) but once again Fells had a better game. Fells, a former professional basketball player, had just two catches (24 yards) but both were for touchdowns.”It just doesn’t boil down to one player. We had a number of things go wrong,’’ Caldwell said when asked about Ebron.

 

All Detroit Lions starters active against Panthers; inactives listed for both teams

Rookie Jarrad Davis returns after two-game absence

DETROIT — Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis returns today to face the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field.  The rookie missed two games with a concussion and knee injury. He had been listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report.

No other surprises among the inactives. All Lions starters are a go.

Ziggy Ansah, Travis Swanson, Rick Wagner, Tahir Whitehead and Don Carey were listed as questionable on Friday but all are active.

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring), running back Dwayne Washington (quad) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) were ruled out on Friday. It’s the second straight game that Golladay has been out. It’s the third for Washington and the first for Worrilow.

Other inactives: Cornerback Teez Tabor, running back Tion Green, linebacker Thurston Armbrister and guard Tim Lelito.

Panthers inactives: DT Vernon Butler, C Ryan Kalil, QB Brad Kaaya, OT John Theus, CB LaDarius Gunter, S Demetrius Cox and S Kurt Coleman.