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.

Detroit Lions without Jarrad Davis again; complete info on inactives for both teams

Travis Swanson returns after missing last week

The Lions will again be without starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (concussion/neck)  in today’s divisional game at the Minnesota Vikings. It’s the second straight game Davis has missed.

Also out for the Lions will be rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) and safety Don Carey (knee) who plays mostly on special teams.

Running back Dwayne Washington (quad) and guard Zac Kerin (knee) had been declared out on Friday.

The offensive line will be back to normal with center Travis Swanson (ankle) returning after missing last week. Kerin started at left guard last Sunday.

Other inactives for the Lions are running back Tion Green, guard Tim Lelito  (who was signed this week) and linebacker Thurston Armbrister.

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum will start for the second straight game in place of Sam Bradford (knee).

Other inactives for the Vikings: Tackle Rashod Hill. WR Rodney Adams, WR Stacy Coley, G Danny Isidora, DE Tashawn Bower and DT Jaleel Johnson.

Five Detroit Lions to watch vs. the Vikings

Lions swept the Vikings in 2016

While the Lions swept the Vikings in 2016, it was no easy task.

In the game at Minnesota they needed a last second 58-yard Matt Prater to get to overtime then Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate connected for the winning score.

It won’t be easy on Sunday either as the 2-1 teams meet in a huge division NFC North matchup.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

“I think it’s unique about our division is very competitive. I mean, it’s been that way since I’ve been here. Very good players, very good coaches and it makes for really, really good I think, a contest, week in and week out, home and away,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “Obviously, every division game is hotly contested because of ramifications down the road and that’s the key, so yeah, it’s a lot of fun playing in our division.”

Here are five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford is 3-4 in his career on the road at Minnesota. He’s off to a good start this season with seven touchdowns against just one interception and a 64.5 completion percentage. He’ll need good protection from his offensive line especially against defensive end Emerson Griffen who has four of the Vikings five sacks so far this year. Griffen called Lions left tackle Greg Robinson “lazy” which might provide more motivation for Robinson who wouldn’t reply to Griffen. Look for the Lions to add some tight end help on that side.  Robinson has struggled while filling in for Taylor Decker.

2. The Lions run defense was dinged last week allowing the Falcons to rush for 151 yards — 106 by Devonta Freeman. That might have been good preparation to face Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook whose 96 yards per game average has helped Vikings’ fans forget Adrian Peterson. Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis, who missed last Sunday with a concussion, could return on Sunday. That should help.

3. On the other side, the Lions have to continue to run the ball even if they come up with too many plays of negative yardage. Eventually it should come around — at least that’s what expectations are . Ameer Abdullah is averaging about 54 yards per game and 3.5 yards per catch. Both numbers need to jump. We might see more carries from Zach Zenner who will be active on Sunday since he’s a special teams captain. Also Dwayne Washington (quad) has been declared out. Theo Riddick has been quiet the first three games with just 19 yards rushing and 82 receiving. Stafford is the second leading rusher with 56 yards.

4. Quarterback Case Keenum will run the offense for the second straight week with Sam Bradford still injured. Last week he completed 75.8 percent of his passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, he blew up the Lions while the Rams quarterback. He completed a whopping 84.38 percent of his passes that day for 321 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Lions pulled out the win, but Keenum put on a show. At one point he completed 19 straight passes. He may be the same quarterback this year just with a new team. The LIons’ secondary is much improved over 2016 but will be tested by Keenum.

5. Look for tight end Eric Ebron to have a better game. He was targeted seven times last week and only made two receptions. And, he had at least two drop. Caldwell said in the previous week, Ebron had not had one drop in practice (they keep an eye on these things). After the loss to the Falcons, Ebron tweeted out that he knew he performed poorly. He’s got to do better or offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford will lose confidence in him. Caldwell still has faith in Ebron. “I do believe this guy works at it, he’s dedicated to it, and I think he’ll be able to have a week like he had last week, last week he had five catches (in win at Giants), no drops, right? So, I anticipate he’ll keep continuing to improve,’’ Caldwell said.

BONUS: Look for wide receiver TJ Jones to possibly get more involved in the offense. “I think obviously he serves a great role for us because he can play almost any position. He’s very smart. He knows I think the assignments of all of the pass eligible individuals and he executes well,’’ Caldwell said. “So, I think depending on the ball game and certain situations, that could happen. But I think we’ve got a pretty good rotation going right now.”

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Vikings 24. It will be a tough win on the road but at this point in the season, Detroit is the better team.

Detroit Lions notes: Giving the run game a go, Golden Tate, recovering from loss

Abdullah leads in rushing, Stafford is second

Well, we can say this about the Lions run game this season — they are giving it a go.

The Lions have run the ball 78 times in the first three games averaging 3.7 yards per carry. That compares to 64 rushing attempts for their opponents averaging 4.0 yards per carry.

Ameer Abdullah leads with 163 rushing yards (3.5 yards per carry, while Matthew Stafford is second with 56 (8.0 yards per carry). Theo Riddick has just 10 carries for 19 yards.

Certainly there are positive signs.

We’re optimistic but we would like to see more results. We would like to see better production in the run game, carry after carry after carry. As an overall offense, that’s on all of us. That’s on me. That’s on the players. That’s on everybody,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “For us to really get where we need to be as a team, that things got to be better on a carry-by-carry basis and not kind of up and down like it has been.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Coach Jim Caldwell is optimistic about the run game which has been a concern since he landed in Detroit, in part due to injuries.

“We’re not going to be a 150, 200-yard rushing team. That’s not how we’re built. We want to just have a good, respectable running game, make teams honor it where they don’t just discount it,’’ Caldwell said. “I think that’s the way in which we’d like to approach this thing. And I think we’re working to get to that point.”

On Sunday the Lions’ defense will face one of the best rookie running backs in Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. He is averaging 96 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.

— Golden Tate isn’t the tallest or speediest NFL wide receiver but he routinely gets the job done. Matthew Stafford calls him “a gamer.” It’s hard to disagree.

Certainly Cooter appreciates Tate.

“He makes plays. Makes plays. It’s not always picture perfect. It’s not always exactly the way it’s drawn on the sheet of paper or the way maybe you thought it might go,’’ Cooter said.  “Sometimes, he kind of gets into some funny body positions but he tends to catch the ball and he tends to make plays once he has it in his hands. And we plan on getting it to him quite a bit this year.”

 

— The Lions are over the call that decided Sunday’s game — the 10-second runoff.  Perhaps it  took longer for some (Tate) than others, but they’ve been focusing on the Vikings since Tuesday.

“I think anytime just in terms of competitive individuals that when things don’t go their way the week before, you would think that they would certainly be eager to get back out there and prove that they can get back on a winning track again,’’ Caldwell said. “I think that’s a normal process, and does not have to do with whatever the situation is.’’

Caldwell says the best teams have the same demeanor on Mondays after a win or loss. That’s been his goal to get these Lions to think like that. He has changed their attitude in his three-plus years as coach.

This goes for wins or losses.

“If they won the game, they know that one is behind us. There’s nothing they can do about it. And they can rest on their laurels. You can’t get caught up in flattery when you do do well. Flattery is much like flowers, you can smell them but you can’t eat them,’’ Caldwell said.

— Caldwell’s quote of the week came from St. Augustine: “A lot of truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it, let it loose and it will defend itself.”

Depth on defense key for Detroit Lions’ coordinator Teryl Austin

Seven interceptions matches total from 2016

ALLEN PARK — In the Lions’ first three games, the defense is hardly recognizable from last season although the cast of characters is familiar.

In 2016 they finished with seven interceptions in 16 games. They’ve matched that number in just three games with Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew each returning interceptions for touchdowns.

“I think our guys are doing a good job flying around to the ball and taking advantage of opportunities,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Thursday. “I think that’s the one thing in this league, anytime that ball gets tipped, anytime you have an opportunity to make a turnover, you’ve got to make it and I think we’re taking advantage of it this year.”

Five things to know about the Lions defense:

1. Austin had them working on creating turnovers prior to the season and it has paid off.  “Sometimes you are able to get it done, sometimes you’re not. We really made an effort in the offseason because we know how important turnover are and how they can keep you in games when you’re not playing your best, and if you’re playing really well and you get turnovers you’re able to extend the lead,’’ Austin said. “And so, we’ve made a really conscious effort of getting our hands on balls, and finishing plays and it’s showing out for us right now the first three games and we just hope it continues.”
2. One way they’ve created more turnovers is through drills. Seems obvious but maybe not. “Whenever we have an opportunity to strip the ball from our offense, or whenever we have an opportunity to catch it, it’s been a very big deal for our guys to make sure they finish the play,’’ Austin said. “Sometimes maybe we didn’t emphasize it enough as coaches that, ‘Hey, look, those plays have to be finished,’ and I think looking what’s happened the last two years in terms of when our turnovers have come down, I put that on me. Hey listen, that’s my job for emphasizing enough, because I think like anything in coaching, whatever you emphasize, that’s what you’ll get from your players.’’

3. The Vikings’ starting quarterback Sam Bradford sat last week with a bum knee and backup Case Keenum performed well in a 34-17 win over Tampa Bay. The Lions won both games over the Vikings in 2016 when Bradford was the quarterback. Keenum was with the Rams in 2016 when he completed 19 straight passes in a loss to the Lions. “They both have different styles in terms of how they do, but one thing they both are, they’re very accurate passers. They can get the ball to the right guy, they know where the ball’s going. Sam’s obviously a little bit bigger, maybe a little bit more arm strength, but in terms of how they quarterback and how they run the team, they both do a really good, efficient job of it,’’ said Austin who is preparing for both.

4. Having more options has made Austin’s job easier and the defense better overall.  “I think when you have the depth we have, and you can mix and match and you don’t feel over-matched at a position, I think that really helps you,’’ Austin said. “You’re not hamstrung, you’re not afraid to play some certain coverage because you know there’s a big mismatch out there, and I think we match up well with just about anybody we play.’’

5. The core is back from last year but a few changes have made a difference: “We’ve talked about our depth, we’ve improved our depth. And so, I think when you improve the depth, you improve the competitiveness of the guys in the room, so they play better and I think that’s what we’ve done,’’ Austin said.