Detroit Lions’ Jim Caldwell on run game, adjustments, his contract and more

Coach also likes how his team prepares

ALLEN PARK — Jim Caldwell was his calm, steady self on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Lions’ 24-10 road win at the New York Giants.

Under “unflappable” in the dictionary you’ll find a photo of the Detroit Lions coach.

It’s the first time the Lions have started a season 2-0 since 2011 but that doesn’t really excite Caldwell.

“Only thing it guarantees you is that you won’t be 1-15, that’s about it, so still got a lot of work to do,’’ Caldwell said at his press conference.

It was an impressive win and could put the Lions on a path to earning national respect. They don’t get much, never have.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever been glowing in appreciation of us in which we don’t expect. That’s just how things are,’’ Caldwell said.

Indeed, the ESPN power rankings for Week 3 dropped the Lions from tenth to 12th after the Giants win. Four teams with 1-1 records are ranked ahead of Detroit.

Here are five differences he sees in this team:

1. They have built and developed a team that has multiple personalities, a requirement of a successful NFL team. A good team can’t always win with passing or a run game, the defense needs to be flexible too. The opposition can dictate that.  “Like my old basketball coach used to always say to us, if we had a right-handed guy, make him play left-handed. So, we’d overplay that right side and make him go to the left if he’s a guy that was dominant right side, and he’d better be able to dribble with that left hand and have some balance and pass or otherwise his evening was going to be a rough one. And the same thing happens in this league,’’ Caldwell said. “They end up taking away some of the things that you think are your staples or things you’d like to do. So, you have to be able to adjust.’’ He added in every game at least two of the units — offense, defense or special teams — need to be dominant.

2. Caldwell is most impressed with how this group prepares. “That’s the bottom line. How our guys do a very, very good job of working at it, paying attention to the details, and the older guys are doing a tremendous job I think of setting examples for the younger ones, mentoring along the way,’’ Caldwell said. “And we got a serious group of young guys that have some talent that want to work at it and want to become good at their craft, so those are the things I’m most impressed with, is how hard we work.” The roster does include a good mix of veterans and young guys including rookies and second-year players. The veterans teach the youngsters while those young guys help invigorate the guys who have been around.

3. The coach has tried to mold this bunch into an indoor team with an outdoor mentality. He wants them to be able to win anywhere in any circumstances. “The reason why we feel that way is because you’re going to have to be able to be that way in order to win, and win consistently, so you have to be accustomed to practicing outside versus under all circumstances,’’ Caldwell said. “And you also have to be able to play on the inside as well, and play well, but speed is not something that you ever sacrifice, that’s the difference in this league. Guys can run, so you better be able to move, so Bob (Quinn) and those guys have been doing a great job of finding guys that can run for us.”

4. The Lions run game which has been an issue more or less since Barry Sanders retired took a step forward on Monday night. The Lions had 138 rushing yards (86 for Ameer Abdullah) and were able to ice the win by running the ball for long stretches in the fourth quarter.  “I think overall we performed better. Not quite where we want to be yet, but we’re better. And I think Ameer is getting back into his old form. He ran hard and guys were patient with the running game, so our offensive line did a nice job there creating some holes for us, but we still got a ways to go in that area,’’ Caldwell said.

5. The ESPN broadcasters — Jon Gruden, in particular — were so impressed with the Lions during the game, they were campaigning for Bob Quinn to sign Caldwell to an extension. He’s in the final year of his contract. Caldwell has made it clear he doesn’t want to talk about it. He has not changed his tune. “Just like I’ve said before, I’ll say it a thousand times, I’ve told you guys I’ll answer it the same way now and you ask me eight weeks down the road, I’m only concerned about a couple things. It’s my men and my mission. And our mission is to win. Everything else will take care of itself,’’ Caldwell said. “And they aren’t worried about anything else other than that. So, that’s our focus.”


Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat the N.Y. Giants on the road

Defense sacked Eli Manning 5 times

It’s early so no need to get too excited but with the 24-10 win at the N.Y. Giants on Monday night, the Lions are 2-0 for the first time to start a season since 2011. Also, at 2-0 they are atop the NFC North with the Packers and Vikings at 1-1 and the Bears at 0-2.

It was a big team win in the national spotlight on Monday night.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

It was also a little unusual for this bunch because they held the lead wire to wire. No need for a fourth-quarter comeback

Here are five reasons the Lions won:

1. Matthew Stafford was more than solid and less than spectacular. Not only was he 15-21 for 122 yards and two touchdowns, he scrambled on key downs, gathering 23 rushing yards on three carries. ESPN’s Jon Gruden couldn’t say enough about him and rightfully so. Marvin Jones Jr., (27 yards) and Eric Ebron (seven yards) made great touchdown catches. Ebron had five total catches. Usually Stafford has more than 122 passing yards but the win is more important than his stats. He led the offense to convert 7 of 14 third downs.

2. Ziggy Ansah looks like he returned to his 2015 form, finishing with three sacks of Eli Manning. It was not a one-man show on the defensive line. They pressured Manning early and often. Haloti Ngata and rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis also had sacks.

3. Even though it wasn’t always pretty or effective, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter stayed with the run. Ameer Abdullah ran 17 times for 86 yards while Theo Riddick picked up 20 rushing yards on nine carries.

4. The Lions secondary came up big for the second straight game. Nickel Quandre Diggs made a big stop on fourth down and Caldwell wisely challenged the spot and won. Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Miles Killebrew combined on coverage to prevent a possible touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall.

5. Rookie Jamal Agnew, a fifth-round pick, returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 24-10 cushion early in the fourth quarter. Agnew made a few good moves and then let his speed carry him into the end zone. He is the first Lions rookie since Eddie Drummond in 2002 to return a punt for a touchdown.

BONUS: Taylor Decker can’t heal soon enough. Greg Robinson struggled at left tackle. Also, too many holding penalties on the offensive line.

Five young Detroit Lions to watch vs. Giants on Monday night

Second-year guys stepping up

ALLEN PARK >> The Lions have not started a season with two straight wins since 2011 when they opened with a 5-0 record.

With an opening win over the Cardinals, the Lions’ next big challenge will be the New York Giants (0-1) tonight at MetLife Stadium.

Matthew Stafford didn’t have his best game when the two teams met in December but he also had a finger injury on his throwing hand.

There are not your 2016 Lions. Same goes with the Giants who lost their opener at Dallas.

While the LIons are not the youngest team in the NFL — that distinction goes to the Cleveland Browns — they do have young players at key positions.

Here are five to watch:

1. Nickel Quandre Diggs had a good game going up against veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was no surprise with his camp and preseason play. “I thought Quandre had a good game. I think when you look back two years ago when he was a rookie, he played really well the second half of the year, and we kind of expected that last year and he tailed off a little bit. I think this was just more of him getting back to form and playing the way he’s capable of playing,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “So, it was good to see.”

2. Safety Miles Killebrew’s interception and return for a touchdown may help comprise the best game of his career. He was brought along slowly last year as a rookie. The more opportunities he was given, the more he took advantage of them. It paid off. “We can do a lot more things with Miles because he understands our system a lot better. Last year was kind of, ‘Boom, where am I going, what am I doing? I’ll get there and make some plays because I have some talent.’ This year he kind of understands really our defense and what he has to do within the defense,’’ Austin said. “Not perfect, again like all of us, still trying to get better, still got a ways to go, but you can see that he’s much better equipped this year to make more plays and to play more plays. So, I’m happy where he is but he’s still got a long way to go.”

—3. Running back Ameer Abdullah needs to find a way to gather more rushing yards. The run game needs work as coach Jim Caldwell put it. Abdullah had 15 carries for 30 yards against the Cardinals and two catches for 11 yards. It’s a work in progress but no one is panicking with Abdullah and Theo Riddick healthy to start the season. “That’s run game and pass game, just having those guys back, I’ve said it 100 times is really beneficial for us as an offense. We think those guys are productive in the run game and tough to cover in the pass game. Just adds an element, adds a guy they’ve got to be aware of and maybe make some adjustments for, so we’re glad they’re up and rolling,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said.

4. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay’s two touchdown catches got his Lions’ career off to an impressive start. He’s good, he’ll get better. While the Lions obviously like what they have in Golladay, a third-round pick, they have been cautious in not over-hyping him and setting expectations too high. “I doubt the guy gets two every week, so if fans are expecting that, that’d be a little bit of a tall order. But he’s doing better, he’s getting better,’’ Cooter said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s going about things the right way working real hard, so we’re excited to have him, excited to continue watching him get better and seeing where that leads us.”

5. Defensive end Anthony Zettel, in his first career start, had the Lions only sack and played well throughout. “Zet had a good game. Plays hard, just like he always does. Same things that he’s been doing in the preseason,’’ Austin said. “He carried it over into the regular season which is good to see. He’s been really improved from last year. The big thing is let’s see if we can improve this week and that’s really our goal.”

Detroit Lions’ rookie Jarrad Davis off to good start; preparing for Giants

Middle linebacker quickly earned respect of veterans

ALLEN PARK — Most NFL rookies slowly work into their roles as starters.

Jarrad Davis, the Lions first-round pick, is not one of those rookies.

From the get-go, the starting middle linebacker has been a serious student of the game, a hard worker and has somehow in his short time with his teammates earned their respect.

“He’s not bashful about setting the defense, making calls, typically you have to prop them up to get it done. With him it comes naturally,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s a nature versus nurture thing with him. This guy was born with it and he’s done a nice job so far.’’

Davis’ next challenge is at New York Giants on Monday Night Football. All eyes will be on the young linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin called Davis’ play in the win over the Cardinals “outstanding for a young guy.”

“He really flew around. Physical. Really he makes a difference in our defense in terms of our temperament and how we go, and that’s something that your middle linebacker should do because he’s really at the end of the day he’s the quarterback of your defense,’’ Austin said.

“He stands in front of our guys. He calls the defenses. No hesitation. He’s right up front. He’s right there, and our guys know he’s with them. And I thought he was productive,’’ Austin added. “Like all of us, there were things that we could do better last week, and that’s what our goal is this week. We want to be better than we were last week.”

Communication was not an issue for Davis which is a good thing since it is his job and if he doesn’t do it well the defense will flounder.

“He was fine. He was fine and he’s been working on that since Day One. I think that’s one of the reasons from Day One, we put him in front of the huddle. We knew this day would come, and so we wanted to make sure he was prepared and he was ready for it,’’ Austin said.

This is not an easy role for a rookie or any young player regardless of draft status.

Davis talked about leadership and how he works at it on the night in April that he was drafted by Detroit.

One of the reasons he was so desirable to the Lions is his maturity and work ethic. That has not changed since his arrival in Detroit.

“He’s really first one in, last-one-out type of guy and so, I think our veterans respect that type of work ethic, and they gravitate to a guy like that,’’ Austin said.

Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford’s 5 thoughts on facing the Giants

Stepping in as a punter crossed his mind

ALLEN PARK >> Every NFL team deals with injuries, but when the Lions lost to the N.Y. Giants last Dec. 18, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was playing with an injured finger on his throwing hand.

Never a good thing. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 273 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. If Stafford had 10 healthy appendages would the result have been different?

“Golly man, I have no idea,’’ Stafford said on Thursday.

The Lions get a chance for revenge of sorts when they play at the Giants on Monday night.

Here are five thoughts from Stafford on the upcoming game:

1. The Giants’ run defense allowed 129 yards in their opening loss at Dallas. “I think they’re a really well-coached defense. There’s not a lot of guys missing gaps and fitting wrong and all that kind of stuff. They’re good tacklers, and they’ve got some guys inside that do a heck of a job,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “They eat up blocks and let their linebackers run. And then if they’re not eating up blocks, they’re making the plays. So, it’s a big challenge for us this week and something we’re looking forward to.”

2. He likes that the Lions receivers possess various strengths.I think we do a good job of trying to use those guys’ skill sets to their strengths as much as we possibly can. Eliminate them from situations where they might be weak. So, we try to find ways to exploit defenses with those guys and they did a nice job Week 1,’’ Stafford said. Seven Lions each had at least two catches in the win over Arizona. Golden Tate led the way in yardage with 107. Rookie Kenny Golladay hauled in two touchdowns.

3. It’s an advantage to have a dual threat like running back Theo Riddick going up against a stacked Giants’ secondary. “Obviously, he’s a veteran player, has played a bunch of football, played in big environments. He’s really, as we all know, really good out of the backfield catching the ball. Does some things that are really good in the run game as well. So, the more guys we have back there, Theo included, the better we’ll be,’’ Stafford said.

4. Stafford was sacked just once by the Cardinals behind the new-look offensive line featuring T.J. Lang at right guard, Rick Wagner at right tackle and Greg Robinson at left tackle.  “I think every game is different but I think they went out and executed really well the first time. And the first game of the year, those guys rushing the passer on that team were no slouch either, you know, Chandler Jones and No. 44 (Markus Golden). So, this week will be a different challenge, different guys, and we’ll have to go out there and prove it again,’’ Stafford said. “Just because somebody on our team played well Week 1, doesn’t mean they’re going to go out there and play well Week 2. You’ve got to prove it every week in this league.”

5. The Lions were running out of punters on Sunday. After Kasey Redfern injured his knee, knocking him out for the season, kicker Matt Prater punted four times. What if Prater had gotten hurt? Stafford did punt in high school. “I was more of a quick-kick guy from the gun than I was a punter. But I had some decent stats because there’s no returner back there,’’ Stafford said. “Yeah it crossed my mind for a minute, but glad I didn’t have to do it.” (To steal a line from Lions’ writer Mike O’Hara — world’s highest paid punter.)

Detroit Lions Golden Tate to Giants secondary: ‘Pick your poison’

ALLEN PARK >> First, of all know that Lions wide receiver Golden Tate respects the Giants defense.

“The Giants’ secondary, they’re fantastic. Last year they had 12 turnovers between picks and fumbles. They’re a very dangerous group of guys,’’ Tate said. “We definitely have to be on our game. We can’t come out flat like we did last week. We’re excited about it. Who doesn’t want a challenge?”

That said, the Giants defense will face their own type of challenge, especially with the Lions offense, on Monday night at MetLife Stadium. It’ll be their first time going up against rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay who hauled in two touchdown passes in his debut in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals.

“Kenny has shown he’s a dangerous player, he’s a game-breaker kind of guy, glad to have him on our team,’’ Tate said. “It makes the opposing team put some more time in scouting him and covering him.

“To me you have to pick your poison — who you going to double-cover? Me? Marv (Jones)? Theo (Riddick)? Golladay? Ameer (Abdullah)? (Eric) Ebron? (Darren) Fells? Pick your poison. We’re excited about it,’’ Tate added.

The Lions lost at the Giants, 17-6, last Dec. 18. In that game, Matthew Stafford was hampered with a wonky finger and Golladay was still playing at Northern Illinois.

Here is Tate’s breakdown of the Giants’ secondary:

— “Eli (Apple) is a young guy who’s made a bunch of plays and still learning the game. The best is yet to come for him.”

— Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: “A savvy guy, fast guy, ballhawk that can make some plays.”

— “Janoris Jenkins, been going against him for a long time when he was in the NFC West. He’s a very talented guy, a  ballhawk as well, physical guy, loves contact, going to talk some smack to you.”

— “Landon (Collins) all pro guy, he knows his assignments, savvy guy, he’s in the right place at the right time, makes plays.’’

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, but I love our guys against their guys,’’ Tate said.

In the opening win, Stafford passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Seven Lions caught at least two passes. Tate was tops with 10 receptions for 107 yards.

Of course, Tate is not alone in his respect for the Giants’ secondary.

“It’s a pretty strong group, and there’s no doubt about it between the three corners and the safety. I mean it’s hard to think there’s any team that has any more than they have. They have talented guys,’’ Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

Stafford knows he will have his work cut out for him especially after the results from last season’s game.

“They got a ton of talent. I mean you look around, they’ve got two extremely good edge rushers, a really good, if not the best, interior run presence guy in the league, an all-pro safety and two maybe three all-pro corners,’’ Stafford said.