Five things to watch as Lions play at Cowboys; plus prediction

After a bye week of rest and reflection, the Lions will see if they found the answers during their deep dives into what went wrong (and right) in the first five games.

Detroit (1-4) takes on the Cowboys (4-2) at Dallas at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Lions were close in three games losing by 4 or fewer points. They got blown out by the Patriots 29-0 heading into the bye. 

We’ve got to figure out how to make that one play now when we get in those close games. The key is, man, we can’t let this be like New England was for us when we’re not even in the game. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance to get back in it,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “You’re in it the last two minutes of the game, you’re either in two-minute or four-minute. And then, you’ve got to come away with those wins and that’s what we haven’t done. But we’re close.”

Five things to watch:

1. One of the deep dives during bye week had the defensive coaches examining the pass rush or lack of it in the first five games. The return of defensive lineman John Cominsky should provide a boost. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said while some may look at stats (the Lions have seven sacks total) he looks more at pressure. “When you pressure it ends up bringing takeaways, that’s what comes. I’ve talked to our guys about that. I understand from the outside they’ve been hearing about that, especially as a young player I know that Aidan (Hutchinson) is the guy everyone talks about,’’ Glenn said. “I’m trying to get him to calm himself down so he won’t get out of character just continue to work. We’re going to continue to do what we have to do to put you in positions, you just close yourself off from everyone and go play. I think he’s going to do a good job this week.’’

2. Missed tackles and missed assignments have also been an issue in the first five games. “Those are the things that we really looked at all week to make sure we cleaned that up,’’ Glenn said. … He said it’s an issue they can fix. “I would say more physical. Not wrapping up, shoulder tackles, not vice tackling, things like that, which are really correctable and that’s the good thing about it. And in this League, man, sometimes guys think that they can make a tackle just by diving and lunging. And I’ll tell you what, that’s the one thing across the League now, not just us but across the League that’s the one thing that you see that’s went down is tackling. But the thing is, I try to teach to our guys, well let’s be the guy, let’s be the team on the other side. Let’s not be like everybody else, let’s be a team that can tackle and we worked on that this week.’’

3. The Cowboys have the NFL’s third best defense allowing just 16.3 points per game. One reason is their rush. “That is the biggest challenge for us will be that rush, and not just handling it, but as much as we can to stay away from it, which means you’ve got to be good on first and second down. You have to be real good,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “But they do, they present a challenge. I mean (DE Dorance) Armstrong, he’s come on. It’s not just that, you watch him on punt rush, I mean, he’s a menace. And (DE DeMarcus) Lawrence has still got it, and ( LB Micah) Parsons we all talked about. We know what he is, and (DE Dante) Fowler off the edge, and so they can do it multiple ways. I mean, they can still bring ( LB Anthony) Barr too. But yeah, they present a challenge, but there again, I like our O-line. I like our tackles. We’ll have a plan. We can’t let those guys wreck the game, but yeah, that’s an issue, and it’s caused a lot of teams problems. That’s why this is one of the better defenses in the League.”

4. The bye week was bad timing for Detroit’s defense which was shut out by the Patriots. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said after careful study he came up with three points the offense needs to improve —  communication, fundamentals/technique and critical situations. “That’s what showed up in the first five games where there’s short yardage, third downs, two-minute, four-minute all those where we could potentially close the game out or end the game with the ball. We have to be better there. So, I think the guys took that to heart,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. 

5. After years of being spoiled with Jason Hanson and then eventually Matt Prater, kicking is an issue with the Lions. Austin Seibert was 3-of-5 on field goals before he was injured. In the loss at New England, kicker MIchael Badgley didn’t play. Punter Jack Fox took care of kickoffs. Instead of taking a chance of a 50-yard field goal, the Lions instead went for it on fourth-and-9 and Jared Goff took a sack, fumbled and the Patriots returned it for a touchdown. “We’ll look back at this (kicking) thing at the end of the year and say, ‘You know what, we got good production out of that position. I think we can turn it around.’ So, it’s still early in the year,’’ special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. “When you look at percentages right now, one miss makes a big difference on the overall percentage, so when you look at it that way, I think, yeah, it’s hard to swallow right now, but I would say, when it’s all said and done, I think it’ll be better than what we’re looking at right now, for sure.’’

INS and OUTS: DL John Cominsky is expected to return. Rookie DL Josh Paschal could see his first action this season. RB D’Andre Swift was officially listed as questionable on Friday’s team report.  CB Jerry Jacobs will come back from injury. The bad news is that WR DJ Chark was placed on injured reserve and CB Bobby Price is out for the season. Officially out will be DE Charles Harris, S Ifeatu Melifonwu and T Matt Lesson. 

(Prediction: Cowboys 30, Lions 28)


After the Lions bye, Campbell eyes changes in practice; injury update

ALLEN PARK — Coach Dan Campbell had a good chance during the bye week to take a deep dive into what he can do to turn around his 1-4 Lions.

Detroit plays at Dallas (4-2)  on Sunday.

“I feel pretty good about it, I feel like once you get away from it and look you realize how close you really are, but we can’t just say that, we can’t just say we’re close, we can’t just be close,’’ Campbell said on Monday.

The coach is looking at every detail in preparation each week.

 “I think that’s why everything goes back to. We have to hone in on all the little things that we do in walk-through, the urgency in walk-through and practice has to be on point,’’ Campbell said. “There has to be a focus on that day. Quit worrying about two days from now, Sunday, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the work you put in on that day.’’

Campbell changing up practices, adding more one-on-one drills and putting on pads occasionally. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said he looks forward to the changes.

“He tweaked a couple things for practice which I’m all for, I love one-on-ones. That’s going to be at practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays now for us,’’ wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “I’m excited. You can work on your craft, get better, compete and that’s what I’m going to (do).’’

Along with practice, the defensive scheme will change too.

“We’re going to give them a plan they can digest, they can play fast, very much like – for example the defense what we did in New England. We calmed some things down and let them go. So that’ll still be what we do there but we won’t be totally vanilla, we’re not going to be sitting ducks,’’ Campbell said.

While the offense struggled against the Patriots in the 29-0 loss, that side of the ball is not a huge issue. It’s the defense which ranks 30th in the NFL — dead last — in allowing 30.0 points per game.

Campbell said he sat down with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his staff to talk about the front, the back end, the scheme — everything.

“Basically like the coach said we find the problem and we fix it, we work on that, we’ve got to  come together as a team and buy in,’’ defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “We can get better in every aspect of the game from the front end to the back end, we all need improvement, so there’s not one single person or a single group, it’s everybody. That’s why we had this bye week to reassess ourselves and get ready to go to work.’’

Defensive changes will be made for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, but Campbell will keep them under wraps until then.

“Look, I’m not discouraged, I’m not happy with where we’re at, I don’t think anybody is, but when you really look at it you’re one or two plays away and all of a sudden you’re sitting with three wins, but the reality is we only have one. That’s where we’re at,’’ Campbell said.

NOTES: Campbell announced that defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike had back surgery last week and is out for the season. He called surgery a last resort and said losing him is a gut-punch. … The news is better for defensive linemen John Cominsky and Jerry Paschal, along with cornerback Jerry Jacobs. Campbell said all three are trending in the right direction. Cominsky hasn’t played since Week 2 after undergoing hand surgery. Paschal and Jacobs have yet to play this season. … Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said his ankle feels better than a week ago. High ankle sprains can sometimes linger. … Cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who was benched for the New England game, is going to get a chance to compete to get back in the lineup this week according to Campbell.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Washington Redskins

ALLEN PARK — It’s one of those games, the Detroit Lions should absolutely win. But this is the NFL and nothing is a certainty, especially when it involves the Lions’ struggling defense.

The Lions (3-6-1) face the lowly Redskins (1-9) at Washington, D.C., on Sunday. 

Quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) has been ruled out, giving Jeff Driskel his third straight start.

In preparation, Lions coach Matt Patricia said he looks more at the film than the record of the opponent.

“The tape tells us a lot, that’s really what we have to focus on. Especially with a team like this, that we don’t really know very well from a stand point of we don’t play them a lot,’’ Patricia said. “We have to really dive into their personnel and figure out who they are, how they play, how it affects what they do. They have some experienced veterans that are on that team and that they’ve added to that team, and they have some young players that are really good, up and coming players. We really need to learn those guys as we go through the course of the week.”

Five things to watch:

1. Driskel has found some success in his first two starts and is getting more comfortable with each passing play. The offense was not the reason Detroit lost 35-27 to the Dallas Cowboys. Driskel is no Stafford, but he is proving to be a fine fill-in.

2. Detroit’s defense will face rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins who has had a rough start, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and five interceptions. Putting pressure on the rookie will be key, get him out of his comfort zone. This has not exactly been the strength of the defense in the first 10 games. They need to step it up. Haskins is still quite raw. “I think the game becomes faster for a player and they don’t have to think as much, it comes a little bit easier. That’s probably the thing that we’re emphasizing and we’re working through right now,’’ interim coach Bill Callahan said on a conference call this week.

3. Adrian Peterson, who is 34, is the Redskins leading rusher averaging 4.2 yards per carry. “I had the opportunity to experience playing against him years back when he was a young guy. I’m watching the film, and I don’t see it being a whole heck of a lot different,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “He’s powerful, he breaks tackles, he’s physical. He’s got great size, we all know that. So, I just think that you’ve got to be in good position to tackle him. Everybody’s got to understand that they’re in the point of attack because the ball could end up hitting any gap on any given play. He’s got great vision, he’s got great feet. He’s powerful. There’s not much different for me when I watch the film.”

4. The Redskins offense has been outscored 253-125 overall and 75-34 in the fourth quarter. The Lions have generally faded in the second half on both sides of the ball and have been outscored 92-64 in the fourth. Could be a snoozer if neither team jumps out and tries to take advantage of the other’s weakness.

5. Lions running back Bo Scarbrough, who made his NFL debut on Sunday, could get the start again. Scarbrough, who is low-key, had 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. “I thought he came in and really did a nice job of bringing a physical presence for us. He was really hitting the hole hard, he was running downhill, breaking tackles at the first level, breaking tackles at the second level,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I mean that’s kind of what we were looking for in the run game. I thought he kind of gave us a little bit of a spark, and you could see the tenacity that he brought to it and kind of the style that we would like to play.”

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Redskins 23 (This is a tough one. Lions should win, but not much confidence after loss to the Cowboys.)