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.

 

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ offense and how it can be fixed

Can’t blame it all on the offensive line

The Detroit Lions offense was a disappointment in the first six games. Plain and simple.

Injuries played a role along the offensive line but that is not the only reason the offense has not found a consistent rhythm.

The offense is ranked 26th in the NFL, averaging just 298 yards per game.

After a bye week, a little reflection and much needed rest for the players, the offense will be tested big-time by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. The Steelers’ defense ranks second in the NFL overall and first against the pass.

There’s no head-hanging among the Lions, just a renewed determination.

“I don’t know all the stats and stuff but we have potential to be a whole lot better than we are right now. Yeah, I see us being a much bigger part of our team winning ball games as we move forward,’’ Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “The goal here is to win. I think we’ve won three and lost three. We’re not as successful offensively helping our team win as I and we would like us to be at this moment, and I do see us improving, and really becoming a big factor in that thing.”

Five thoughts about the offensive woes and how to fix them.

1. Cooter said he learned a “bunch” through self-scouting. “It’s good to have time to sort of spend diving deep on what we’ve done this year, what we’ve done well, what we need to do better, and hopefully improve those things and maybe throw away some of the stuff we don’t do as well,’’ Cooter said. “Throw away is probably a little bit strong, but you see certain things that maybe aren’t working great and you maybe push them to the back for a little while. Doesn’t mean they don’t come back up one of these days. But yeah, sometimes when a certain things not working and you figure out there’s maybe a reason for that with our guys, or our scheme, or our people or whatever. Sometimes a play is just not very hot, so you shove it away for a couple of weeks and maybe bring it back down the road.”

2. Matthew Stafford, who has been sacked 17 times in the last three games, needs to step up too. It would be easier if he had better protection but the Lions have to make it work with the personnel that they have. Stafford said his play was like the team’s a little up and down. “I wish it was probably a little bit more consistent like everybody does in this league. You wish you’d go out every week and play great and an extremely high level, and don’t make mistakes. But they happen, and we got to learn from them and make sure they don’t happen again,’’ Stafford said. So far he’s completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,428 yards, thrown a dozen touchdown passes and four interceptions.

3. Cooter is not concerned that the offense is too predictable. “We’re aware of tendencies. Sometimes it’s best to run a certain play a certain way and that’s the best way to run it. We’ve looked at all the alternatives, let’s run that play this way. Maybe it’s in the shotgun or whatever. Defenses know that as well. You might set some tendencies,’’ Cooter said. “Sometimes you have to counteract those tendencies. Sometimes you go, ‘Boy, let’s just let our guys do what’s the absolute best thing to do.’ So, sometimes you set tendencies. You got to have the ability to counteract those things as you see fit. I don’t think it’s exactly a 50/50 thing and I know it’s not 100/0 thing, and so you just kind of go out there and try to play your best game and sometimes switch things up.”

4. The run game — or lack of it — continues to be an issue. “I think we have a good running game but we have a lot of negative to no yardage runs. but we’ll also have a 60-yarder and so statistically you look at that average is OK but it could be a lot better,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said. “I want to see every time we put the ball in the running back’s hands in the backfield we get three (yards). That’s the goal when you’re doing that it makes it tough on the defense to know if you’re going to pass or throw, it makes it more manageable on third down. I think those are all huge points to be a successful offense.’’ The Lions average 84 rushing yards a game which ranks 26th in the NFL. Ameer Abdullah leads with 342 rushing yards and Stafford is the second leading rusher with 57 yards.

— They are confident but know there is work to be done. “Just really knowing the personality that this offense has and seeing the trend in the past, just keep working, we know that we can do it, we know we have the personnel to do it, we just need to have all 11 men on each play to be on the same page,’’ Tate said. “As we’ve seen may many times in the past if one guy doesn’t do his job correctly that can mess up the whole play it’s not on Jim Bob by any means it’s a collective effort.’’

Touchdown celebrations an art form of sorts

ALLEN PARK — A monster was unleashed when the NFL loosened up the touchdown celebrations for this season.

It’s a fun thing and the Lions have been taking advantage of it.

Wide receiver Golden Tate has been having some fun in the first six weeks after his two touchdowns.

“Maybe I’m a little biased but I think our celebrations have been amazing. In my mind some of the ones in the past were OK but could be better. We’re just having fun we’re enjoying the new celebration rule and having fun,’’ Tate said on Thursday. “I think it’s drawing more attention to our league, I think we’re drawing more fans.’’

Coach Jim Caldwell said he misses most of them when they happen live, because he’s moving on to the next phase of the game.

Five things to know about the Lions and celebrations:

1. While you will never see coach Jim Caldwell involved (he barely cracks a smile during a game), he’s well aware and has no problem with it. “Coach Caldwell after the bye, after the meeting, he’s standing over me and I’m like, ‘Oh crap, what did I do? Am i in trouble? …  He showed me a video of his grandson catching a touchdown and running up to the camera and blowing a kiss.’’ That was one of Tate’s celebrations from 2016. Tate told Caldwell to make sure his grandson doesn’t practice the “Peoples Elbow” — a Tate special from the Saints game — unless he’s on a bed. Word is the 2-year-old has been practicing in his bed every night. “(The players) enjoy it and any time you can add enjoyment for them it’s good,’’ Caldwell said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

2. Anything that can draw more young fans to the NFL is a positive. “It’s getting our young fans more involved, I think that’s what makes these celebrations more powerful — it’s things we’ve all done,’ Tate said.  “We’ve all played hide go seek, we’ve all watched The Rock at some point, we’ve all played hopscotch, duck-duck-goose and jump rope that’s what makes it so amazing.’’

3. The Lions have a players ad hoc celebration committee comprised of the usual suspects. They discuss celebrations on group texts. “And maybe on a Monday or something we’ll throw some ideas out there and see if there’s something. If it’s something that needs to be rehearsed we’ll do it once and be done with it,’’ Tate said. They are not crazy. The key to all their hard work is winning and scoring more touchdowns. The bulk of their time goes to that goal.

4. A celebration has to be short and impactful without lasting for three acts. “It happens so quick that there’s a lot of things you have to think about. That clock is still going. You’d hate to be penalized or leave (Matt) Prater with 1 second because we’re out there messing around after a touchdown we have to manage our time,’’ Tate said. “We’re just having fun, enjoying what we do.’’

5. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is more of a bystander during these celebrations. “I think he’ll get there at some point when the time is right for him. He’s so focused during the game, he’ll come and give you a high-five and he keeps it moving. … I don’t think it’s his personality. If he wants we’d love to have him,’’ Tate said.

BONUS — “This is something fun. I remember when I grew up and would see different players celebrating i thought it was the coolest thing ever. I think about our young crowd, I understand where we are in 2017, everything is about social media. … A lot of fans miss some of those things. It’s something that’s relevant right now,’’ said Tate who uses social media to send links to celebration videos.

Lions sign Matt Prater to 3-year extension; no place he’d rather be

Prater has scored 45 of Lions’ 161 points this season

ALLEN PARK — Matt Prater has proven his worth since he joined the Lions early in the 2014 season. The kicker been rewarded with a three-year contract extension worth $11.4 million.

“It kind of happened quick, management came up, wanted to get a deal done and I was excited —  I’m all about staying in Detroit and hopefully retiring here at the end of the day,’’ Prater said on Wednesday.

He said when he first signed the one-year deal he was thinking maybe he could stick around, but it was tough to tell.

Turns out he loves it in Detroit.

“Just everything from top to bottom, from ownership, the Ford Family, Bob Quinn upstairs, Matt Harriss, coach (Jim) Caldwell, the team, fans, everything,’’ Prater said. “There’s no place I’d rather be than in Detroit.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Obviously, Quinn values special teams players. Punter Sam Martin signed a four-year extension 13 months ago worth $13.6 million. Martin is the holder for Prater’s field goal attempts.

“We have good chemistry together and work well together,’’ Prater said. “I’m excited to be with him for another three years.’’

Martin has been out injured since the start of training camp but is back in the fold this week.

“He’s great I don’t think we’ll miss a beat,’’ Prater said. “He’s working hard and doing really well.’’

Prater, 33, accounts for 45 of the Lions’ 161 points scored through the first six games this season. He’s a perfect 15 of 15 on extra points and 10-of -12 on field goals.

What makes him better than most of the rest is his distance and consistency.

His teammates love what he brings to the team.

“It’s awesome. Every time we touch the ball we want to score a touchdown, but we know we got a pretty good option if we don’t,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “He’s shown the ability to make all sorts of kicks, in all sorts of environments in all sorts of climates. So, he’s made some big time clutch kicks for us, I think he relishes that moment, which is pretty fun to see. Some kickers maybe don’t, and he’s a gamer and does a great job for us.”

In his 11-year NFL career Prater has made 40 of 51 field goals from 50 yards or longer (78.4 percent) which ranks as the highest in NFL history. His 40 50-yard or more field goals are tied for fourth all-time in NFL history.

In fact, Prater made a dozen straight 50-yard or longer field goals from Jan. 3, 2016, through Sept. 24, 2017. He averaged 54.7 yards per field goal during that stretch.

When he kicked a pair of 55-yard plus field goals in the loss to Atlanta on Sept. 24, he became the second kicker in NFL history to kick 10 field goals of 55 yards or more.

He is first in the NFL to kick four 55-yard plus field goals in a single season. This occurred during the first three games this season. Chances are he could add to that in the next 10 games.

Prater was named the NFC special teams player of the week after the first week of the season.

When punter Kasey Redfern injured his knee early in the win over the Cardinals, Prater then became the punter too which was a first in his career. He had four punts averaging 34.8 yards.

He kicked a 58-yard field goal — his only attempt of the day. It was the longest field goal in team history at home and tied for the second longest ever.

Prater was signed as a free agent on Oct. 7, 2014, after the Lions struggled in the kicking game with Nate Freese and Alex Henery. He had been suspended for four games by the NFL and when he returned the Denver Broncos cut him, opening the door for Detroit.

Oddly enough, Prater was originally signed by the Lions in 2006 as the backup during training camp to Jason Hanson. He was cut before the season started.

Lions Jim Caldwell on Taylor Decker, Ziggy Ansah, the bye and more

Next up are the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night

ALLEN PARK >> When last we left the Lions, they limped into the bye week with two straight losses and too many injuries.

The players returned to work on Monday after having five days off for the bye week.

They face the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), who are coming off wins over the Chiefs and Bengals, on Sunday night at Ford Field.

It’s too early to know how many of the injured Lions (3-3) will be ready to go. The list includes: Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Kenny Golladay, Ziggy Ansah, Dwayne Washington and Paul Worrilow.

Their first practice this week will be on Wednesday with an injury report at 4 p.m., that day.

Here are thoughts from coach Jim Caldwell at Monday’s press conference:

— Obviously the Lions need left tackle Taylor Decker to return and he should be close. His three-week practice window could start this week, although Caldwell would not say. Decker has surgery on his right shoulder in June and started the season on the physically unable to perform list. It could take a week or so of practice for the second-year left tackle to be activated from the PUP list. “It just takes a little time to get their timing back and physical nature of the game, and all of those things that go along with it. It’s a process–best way I could explain it to you,’’ Caldwell said, speaking in generalities. He said the process is different with everyone.

— Caldwell defended defensive end Ziggy Ansah who has four sacks after six games.  “When you look at him, he’s gotten some production for us. Often times you don’t see it stat wise, you guys look for sacks and those kinds of things, we look for disruption and assists,’’ Caldwell said. “He has a lot of that, makes plays for us, he sets the edge for us, he does a lot of things extremely well. But when you talk about overall, the things you guys focus on are strictly numbers in terms of sacks. Let’s see where he is at the end of the year, then let’s talk about it. But I think he’ll be alright.”

— During the bye week, the Lions brought back rookie quarterback Brad Kaaya who they drafted in the sixth round. He’s familiar with the offense because was with the Lions through training camp. He didn’t make the final cut so was placed on waivers and picked up by the Carolina Panthers. They waived him on Oct. 17. So for the first time in the regular season, the Lions have three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. It could means changes in the daily routine. “We practice in terms of making certain we get Matthew (Stafford) ready for the game. That’s the key. Jake does get some reps, but not necessarily many, and Brad Kaaya will get obviously what’s left in that regard. But obviously, we like him. Obviously, we think he’s a fine player, and has a good potential and we want to continue to work with him,’’ Caldwell said.

— The coaches had some time to breathe during the bye week also. “Just kind of gives you an opportunity to kind of look at yourself a little bit. You got a couple of extra days. You do a little bit more self-scout, those kinds of things,’’ Caldwell said. “But then also you get a chance to get a little ahead on the next opponent as well. So, you get a little extra viewing time in terms of preparation. So, those things all bode well.”

Detroit Lions have quite a to-do list for the bye week

Problems abound on offense and defense

ALLEN PARK — Like any NFL team the Lions would have preferred to go into their bye week riding a high with a win.

Not only did they lose 52-38 on Sunday in New Orleans, it was a game that exposed their shortcomings.

Coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t mind that the players have an extra week to stew about the loss.

“Sometimes festering’s a good thing. So, we try to balance it and it kind of depends on where we are as a team and how we see it and we adjust it in that regard. But there’s nothing wrong with being really determined about making certain you correct your errors,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. “So, it just kind of depends on the week. When you got one right away, you certainly try to get it behind you within a relatively short period of time, and this particular week, it’s not a bad thing that we need to be concerned about a whole lot of things in terms of how we’re playing.”

Players and coaches went over film on Monday — it couldn’t have been any fun— and will look to correct those mistakes before the players get league-mandated time off.

The Lions (3-3) will  worry about their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, when they get back from their break.

Five things that should be on the to-do list for the Lions:

1. Get healthy. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Caldwell said after the game, and again on Monday, if they had to play on Thursday night they might be in trouble. “If we were playing a Sunday game it might be even fairly tough, so this comes at a great time for us,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. The injured include Matthew Stafford (ankle, ribs), Glover Quin (concussion), Golden Tate (shoulder), T.J. Lang (back), Greg Robinson (ankle) and likely more we don’t know about. And, of course, Caldwell wouldn’t provide any news. When asked if any of the injuries are long-term, he just said, “We’ll see.” No injury report will be released this week due to the bye.

2. Fix the offensive line. It will help when left tackle Taylor Decker returns which could be in a few weeks. Caldwell wouldn’t say. But in the meantime, they’ve got work to do on the line. Don’t know where to start. They seem stuck with Greg Robinson until Decker returns. It’s a mash-mash of bodies. It’s a mess. The line is part of the reason that Stafford has been sacked 17 times in the last three games. Fix the line and Stafford will look like the quarterback he can be. Funny how that works.

3. Figure out how to get the offense out of neutral and off to quicker starts. The Lions have been outscored 37-17 in the first quarter in the first six games and 92-62 in the first half. Caldwell said it changes from game to game, but they are not executing early

4. The defense has to stop the run. Sounds easy, eh? Well they allowed the Saints to scamper for 193 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. They miss Haloti Ngata but other guys have to step up. Plain and simple. “I’m as much concerned with the turnovers that we had that cost us points, that gave up points as anything. That teams going to score some points, but we certainly got to be able to keep them at bay,’’ Caldwell said. “It’s really the yards on the ground obviously we’re concerned about. Anytime they can churn up that kind of yardage on us we’re concerned and the turnovers mar a lot of different things just in terms of, when you look at strictly how the game unfolded, turnovers kind of clouds your mind a little bit.’’ The Lions lost two fumbles and Stafford threw three interceptions.

5. This is specific. Figure out how the Saints were able to tip a dozen balls on Sunday. It was the most in the league on Sunday. Caldwell said it didn’t mean that the Lions offense is too predictable just that it was an unusual game.  “I mean, you just look at the game, it’s kind of changed a little bit. I think A’Shawn (Robinson) has 10 at such a young stage in his career. And big John Henderson when we played when he was at Jacksonville was a big, tall guy in there, J.J. Watt’s one that’s done a great job of adjusting. I just think it was just one of those games that you — we’ve played a lot games around here within the same system and it was just unusual. Just unfortunate, and they were all different ways that they had them,’’ Caldwell said. “Maybe it was a lineman didn’t cut his guy, his hands got up, he’s supposed to get him on the ground, maybe it was a launch angle, those kinds of things. So, it was a lot of different scenarios, but the great thing about it, even though it was difficult, and it wasn’t pretty, and we’re not happy with it, it’s correctable. So, we’ll go to work on that.”

BONUS: Caldwell on the loss of Aaron Rodgers and what it means to the NFC North: “He’s a great player but you find that you look across the League and there’s a number of teams that have guys starting for them that they’re not starter at quarterback position that still play extremely well. That’s a good football team all the way around. They’re good on defense. They’re good kicking game. They have a really good unit. He’s obviously a phenomenal player, but I still think Green Bay is Green Bay.”