Detroit Lions’ defense creates turnovers by having ‘a party at the ball’

Lions tied for NFL lead with 11 takeaways

ALLEN PARK — Last season, one definite shortcoming of the Detroit Lions defense was in creating turnovers.

So in the offseason the coaches emphasized it, the players worked on it and after four games, it is working.

“It’s a lot of fun. Eleven turnovers in four games, it’s a party at the ball, that’s the way we see it,’’ said weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead who has one interception and two fumble recoveries.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t go so far as to say turnovers are contagious.

“Usually the more people that you have around the ball when the ball is loose, the better off your chances are at getting it. If you got guys hustling, tipped balls don’t typically hit the ground in this league,’’ Caldwell said. “If people are moving in the right direction at the right speed, then we should be able to get our fair share of them, things of that nature, but, contagious? No, I’ve certainly never been able to see that kind of virus going around a locker room.”

Next time the Lions create a turnover, take a close look and you’ll see plenty of Honolulu blue swarming the ball.

The Lions are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for most takeaways in the NFL with 11.

They are leading the NFL in the takeaway/giveaway category with a plus-nine. The offense has lost one fumble and Matthew Stafford threw an interception. So they are doing their part too.

Whitehead says it’s a mindset.

“If you don’t talk about it then it’s not going to happen. If you don’t work at it, if you don’t work at forcing a turnover, getting the ball out, if you don’t work at ‘OK how to recover the ball when it’s on the ground and make sure the offense ends up with the ball at the end of the play.’ Then it’s not going to happen. It’s been a topic of conversation this year and it’s ongoing,’’ Whitehead said.

Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay each have a pair of interceptions while Whitehead, Miles Killebrew and Tavon Wilson each have one. They also have four fumble recoveries. In 16 games in 2016, the Lions had a total of 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

“Everybody wants a piece of the pie, they’re like, ‘I’m next in line, it’s my turn,’’’ Whitehead said.

“You definitely get guys that pushing each other, challenging each other to get to that ball. It’s like OK I’m going to get the opportunity this time, and that’s the way the defense, that’s how we’re made that’s how we practice,” Whitehead said.

Exactly.

Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have specific drills and methods to use.

“We have a period of time during the spring where receivers or any ball carrier that’s going back to the huddle running with the ball is free game to try to strip the ball out of their arms, all the way up to them handing it to the manager,’’ Caldwell said. “No. 1, it gets us in the mindset that we’re trying to get it out. No. 2, it makes certain that the guys that have the ball in their hands are concentrating, I mean they could be crossing the line of scrimmage with that ball and there’s a defensive guy that’s trying to knock it out of their arms. Now, we have to put certain restraints on certain guys because there’s certain guys a little bit too strong for their own good, and the quarterbacks are off limits obviously, which I think you would quite understand. But nevertheless, I think that part of it.

“But then also, we had defensively in particular, had set up circuit training, just to work on a little bit of what we’ve been talking about and preaching. And I think the emphasis in itself (is important). There’s an old Bo Schembechler term, I think he used to always say, ‘You achieve what you emphasize.’ And I think in this particular case, we gave it a little bit more emphasis, and hopefully it’ll pay off for us for the entire year,’’ Caldwell added.

In other words, it’s not pure luck. It’s hard work that leads to creating turnovers.

“Bottom line. If we get an interception, it’s because we’re running to the ball. We’re in the right spots. So, I won’t ever qualify any turnover as well it’s something that they did. It’s something we did,’’ Austin said. “So, we’ll keep going until something does change. But I think we got a chance to be a pretty good defense we just got to continue to improve each week.”

 

 

 

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Detroit Lions TE Darren Fells uses his athleticism in NFL after years as pro basketball player

Five things to know about Fells

ALLEN PARK >> Funny, Darren Fells doesn’t feel like he’s 31 years old.

There’s a good reason for that. The Detroit Lions tight end has only been playing in the NFL since 2013. So his body is not beat up like you might expect from a 31-year-old tight end.

“It’s a lot of fun for me to come in here and try to do things to turn people’s heads that his old man can still do a few things,’’ Fells said on Wednesday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Fells didn’t play football in high school — instead focusing on basketball. That led to a scholarship in basketball at UC Irvine.

After playing professional basketball from 2008-2012 in Belgium, Finland, France, Mexico and Argentina, he decided to give the NFL a try.

He’s in his first season with the Lions after he spent 2014 through 2016 with the Arizona Cardinals.

“In basketball the biggest beating you take is a lot of jumping on your knees here and there. I wasn’t the most explosive guy so I didn’t take that much beating on my knees,’’ Fells said. “It’s drastically different (than football).’’

Five things to know about Fells:

1. He had his best game with the Lions in the win at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday when he had four catches that were all first-down conversions. Fans started to notice No. 87.

2. On those catches he started out blocking, then got open for Matthew Stafford to find him. “It’s definitely a huge weapon especially since I’m seen as a blocking tight end first, they’re not going to really respect me in that aspect,’’ Fells said. “It helps me get open a lot more, I don’t have the speed (Eric) Ebron has to get open.’’

3. When the Lions signed him as a free agent they saw more than a blocking tight end in the 6-foot-7 Fells. “That was the first thing they actually said to me is they were surprised I wasn’t doing more as a receiving tight end, especially being 6-7,’’ Fells said. The Lions felt with his basketball background that he could go up for a pass like he did for rebounds.

4. The Lions started working with him in OTAS and training camp testing out different routes. Obviously he passed the test.

5. Stafford has been happy with the play of Fells along with Ebron and rookie tight end Mike Roberts. “ think our guys did a nice job, and you’re going to see it in the pass game and the stats and stuff, but I think they did a really nice job on the run game too. We asked them to block the defensive ends one-on-one a lot of times in the run game and in the pass game, and they did a heck of a job, so hats off to all three of those guys for pulling their weight in the run game, and then getting some big conversions from Fells early, Ebron had a couple nice plays and obviously the one to Mike Roberts was a big one as well,’’ Stafford said.

Las Vegas shooting brings back ‘terrible memories’ for Detroit Lions WR Golden Tate and his wife Elise

They were in Seattle bar after a game when shots were fired

ALLEN PARK >> While it was nothing on the scale of the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay shooting, Lions wide receiver Golden Tate and his wife, Elise, were left scarred by a shooting in 2012.

It was on Dec, 23, 2012, the night of a big win while Tate played for the Seattle Seahawks.

Elise Tate posted on Instagram after the Las Vegas shooting that it brought back “terrible memories.”

(Photo from Instagram account of Elise Tate)

Golden Tate talked about that night on Wednesday.

“We’d just beaten San Francisco late in the season when we were both powerhouses. We were out at a place a block from my house, Munchbar, where guys on the team would go every Sunday night after we won, hang out and enjoy each other.

“The crowd that day wasn’t a typical crowd. My brother was there, I had probably 7-8 friends there. Elise and I and a couple friends, we were just in a circle kind of hanging out. The next thing we know we heard gunshots that were so close it kind of messed up her hearing permanently, like some sounds.

“It all happened so quick and we all felt so helpless because you hear gunshots, I didn’t see anything. (They were about 20 feet from where  the shooting happened.) Just reaction, I pushed her down, gave her a concussion and was on top of her until the shooting stopped and momentarily we got up and ran to the bathroom where we were in a stall with (Seahawks’ tackle) Breno Giacomini. It was scary because she had cut her foot on glass as her heel came off and we were scattering.

“She had a concussion so she was a little confused. I didn’t know if she got shot or not because I just saw blood, I just saw her bleeding. I was like, ‘Did you just get hit?’ She didn’t. We made it out safe, I think someone ended up dying that night from getting shot.

“We got to the hospital, to make sure she’s OK. They cleaned her all up. Probably one of the hardest things that day was to call her parents at that time of night and calmly let them know your daughter is OK, but this is the situation,’’ Tate said.

One man was killed according to the Seattle Times.

That night has changed them.

“When we go in places, no matter where we are, we try to look at the exits because you don’t have much time for something like that,’’ Tate said. “We find the exits and if we’re out and about we try to hang out within reach of the exits so we can get out of there quick.’’

Tate said Elise, who was his girlfriend that night, wasn’t the same for a while.

“You can’t help to think what if one of those stray bullets — stray bullets don’t have eyes — it just happened. We both felt so helpless. You hear gunshots, you can’t find them. The first thing you’re going to do is drop and pray one of those don’t hit you and if it hits you that it skims your arm,’’ Tate said.

The Vegas shooting brought back images from that night in 2012.

Elise Tate’s Instagram post included these words: “Only a few shots were fired but deadly in the shooting I was in, but in Vegas there was 10 minutes of active rounds. I can’t stop thinking about the pain I went through and multiplying that by thousands for what these people have and are going through.’’

Detroit Lions ranked as high as No. 2 in NFL power rankings

Check out rankings, comments from several sites

With the Lions off to a 3-1 start, people are starting to notice that maybe this team could be something special.

Detroit is starting to earn the respect that comes with winning.

The Lions are ranked No. 2 in power rating released today by the NFL.com and USAToday.com. Not everybody is buying in, but they’re at least top 10 in most rankings.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Here’s a look at the ratings and comments from several sites:

— No. 2 from NFL.com. Comments: “These aren’t the same old Lions. They are 3-1 (with a bit of an asterisk on the 1). They made the playoffs last year. And since owner Martha Firestone Ford addressed the media midway through the 2015 season — announcing the firings of team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew while sternly advising that the circumstances around her football team would change — Detroit is 18-10. Also keep in mind that two of those losses came on an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary and the dreaded rulebook monster. If running back Ameer Abdullah can keep this going (109 total yards on Sunday), the Lions will win the NFC North.”

— No. 2 from USAToday.com. Comments: “All steak, no sizzle. Detroit leads league with 11 takeaways, plus-9 turnover differential and can suddenly run ball. Probably deserve to be 4-0.”

— No. 5 from BleacherReport.com. Comments: “It’s refreshing that Stafford doesn’t have to pull three magical rabbits out of his butt to win every week. This defense is tough and physical, Stafford is being careful with the football, and we’re finally seeing a running game. It’s safe to say Detroit is a complete team.”

— No. 6 from CBSsports.com. Comments: “They found a way to win a physical game at Minnesota, which keeps them tied for the division lead with the Packers. They could easily be 4-0.”

— No. 6 from SportingNews.com. Comments: “It was nice to win a road game without the fourth-quarter heroics of Matthew Stafford and on the strength of stingy defense and much-improved power running from Ameer Abdullah. The Lions are becoming a very complete and dangerous team.”

— No. 8 from ProFootballTalk.com. Comments: “Put Jim Bob Cooter at the top of the list of 2018 coaching candidates (if he decides on a first name).”

— No. 9 from ESPN.com. Comments: “The best offense is sometimes a good defense. The Lions are tied for the league lead with 11 takeaways, which has led to 47 points off turnovers. Last season, Detroit had 14 takeaways, leading to only 28 points off turnovers.”

Detroit Lions’ Ebron on field for less snaps; don’t read too much into it

TE Darren Fells has more snaps, 4 key catches

ALLEN PARK >> Tight end Eric Ebron had his lowest percentage of offensive snaps this season in Sunday’s win at the Vikings, while Darren Fells had his most.

Probably smart to not read too much into that. It could change on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (3-1).

“We’re wrapped in different personnel groupings, they mix and match here and there,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said on Monday. “Next game you may see a few more or the other way around.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Fells, who is 6-foot-7, was in on 73 percent of the offensive snaps, helping out left tackle Greg Robinson on blocking on most of them. He also tied a career single-game high with four catches. All four resulted in first-down conversions.

Fells, a former professional basketball player, was signed as a free agent after spending time with the Arizona Cardinals.

“Once we had him here we had a chance to look at his skill level on the line of scrimmage, and also receiving,’’ Caldwell said. “He’s got talent. You can see he’s a big body, he’s got nice hands and he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it. Those four first downs he was able to get were key, battling for them, driving forward and making a huge difference in the game. You haven’t seen the best of him yet, he’s getting there.’’

Ebron played in just 44 percent of the offensive snaps, finishing with a pair of catches for 27 yards.

“Eric’s doing good, he’s doing well. He made a couple nice catches for us that were huge catches, and a nice catch and run,’’ Caldwell said. “It doesn’t mean he’ll get 10 balls very game or five balls every game. When he gets an opportunity, he’s got to take advantage of it.’’

The previous week — in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons — Ebron was targeted seven times and made only two catches, with at least two drops.

His best game in the first quarter was in the win at the New York Giants in Week 2 when he had five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie tight end Mike Roberts was in for 31 percent of the offensive snaps. He had one catch for 15 yards, his first NFL catch.

Turns out, Detroit Lions defensive line a strength not a weakness

Anthony Zettel comes up big in win at Vikings

About that Lions’ defensive line …

You know, the position group that most everyone thought would be the ruination of these 2017 Lions?

Uhhh, you can rest easy.

The Lions are not perfect but they have bust out of the gate with a 3-1 record.

The coaching staff, who had confidence in the line all along, obviously was right.

The defense has played well in all four games, but in the 14-7 win at the Vikings on Sunday they were something special. They won the game on a day that the offense struggled.

It might be the best Lions’ defense we’re seen in a few years.

And, of course it all starts with the defensive line.

Remember this is a defensive line missing three key players.

Kerry Hyder, the sack leader in 2016, is out for the season with a torn Achilles.

Defensive end Armonty Bryant and defensive tackle Khyri Thornton are both serving NFL suspensions. Thornton will be able to return after six games.

After serving a four-game suspension, Bryant is eligible to return to practice today (Monday).  Bryant had three sacks in five games in 2016.

In his absence, second-year defensive end Anthony Zettel has been huge.

Zettel finished on Sunday with his first career two-sack game. That brings his total to four sacks in four games to lead the defense. He also had three tackles, four quarterback hits and a fumble recovery.

“He’s been outstanding to this point. He’s a high-motor guy that just never stops, he battles through sometimes single and double blocks if he has to. He’s always coming, I love the way he plays,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said after Sunday’s game. “Because of that kind of effort he gives play after play after play, he’s always around the ball.’’

While Ziggy Ansah didn’t own any flashy stats on Sunday, he was a force on the opposite side from Zettel as he routinely was double-covered

It wasn’t just those two guys.

A’Shawn Robinson played well inside, Haloti Ngata too.

It’s early in the season, things could go wrong and probably will.

But the defensive line play is not an issue.

BONUS: In the post-game locker room, Haloti Ngata presented a game ball to linebacker Steve Longa who lost his dad on Thursday in a pedestrian accident in Pennsylvania. Longa had the option to go home and miss the game. Instead he played and was to fly back to Pennsylvania after the game. In his presentation, Ngata said he had lost his parents at a young age.

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ 14-7 win over the Vikings

Defense exceptional in big NFC North battle

It was a typical hard-fought, gritty  NFC North game.

Thanks mostly to the Lions’ defense, Detroit topped the Vikings 14-7 at Minneapolis on Sunday.

With a 3-1 record, the Lions are tied with the Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The defense deserves most of the credit for the win. Minnesota could not stay on the field. Detroit won the time of possession 35:24 to 22:53 in part due to the defense and also because the offense ran the ball.

“It’s one game, but the guys played hard. We’ve been playing good defense but we had a little hiccup in the last ball game a little bit, other than that our guys have been hanging in there. Taking the ball away I think that’s one of the things that made a tremendous difference there that we were able to cause some havoc with our guys knocking the ball loose that made a big difference in the game,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said.

The Lions host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday with the Panthers (3-1) coming off a big 33-30 win over the New England Patriots.

Matthew Stafford said the Lions haven’t played their best game yet, although he credited the defense and special teams with a high level of play.

“On offense we have to get it going a little bit,’’ Stafford said.

Here are five things to know about the win:

1. Defensive end Anthony Zettel had one of the biggest plays of the game — maybe the biggest — when he sacked Case Keenum for a 10-yard loss on third-and-goal at the Lions’ 4-yard line with 2:31 left in the fourth. It forced a field-goal attempt. The ball bounced off the left upright, so the Lions were able to hold onto a 14-7 lead. He also sacked Keenum in the second quarter. It was his first career two-sack game. Zettel now has four sacks in four games. Caldwell calls him a high motor guy who is always around the ball. It wasn’t all Zettel — the defensive line also had five quarterback pressures.

2. Cornerback Nevin Lawson got away with a few tugs and holds, but still he had a solid game, helping to hold the Vikings offense to 273 yards while their average for the first three games was 400.3 yards. Lawson had three tackles and two pass defenses along with two special teams tackles.

3. Safety Miles Killebrew always seems to find the ball and when he does he hits and he hits hard. Fox Sports Detroit’s Rob Rubick said the Lions haven’t had a safety who hits like that since Bennie Blades. That’s a long time ago. Killebrew had two pass defenses including one in the end zone. He had both hands on the ball but couldn’t hold on for the interception. Killebrew also had three tackles.

4. The Lions’ defense recovered three fumbles. Usually a team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. They won on turnovers last week but lost. Sunday they put things back in their natural order. That gives them 11 takeaways for the season with just two giveaways. It was even more impressive considering they were without starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (concussion/neck) and Paul Worrilow left the game early with a knee injury.

5. The offense did score 14 points, enough to win. Wasn’t a great day for Stafford (19-31, 209 yards) but in his defense he was sacked a half-dozen times. He had only been sacked six times in the first three games total. Ameer Abdullah rushed for 94 yards and would have likely hit 100 yards, but he didn’t play in the fourth quarter due to an ankle injury. Caldwell said after the game he could have gone back in. Abdullah scored the only touchdown on a 3-yard run in the third quarter.