Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford feels good, not concerned about back issues

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford said he’ll be ready to go for the offseason workouts.

The Detroit Lions quarterback is not worried about his back injury so he’s not sure why it should be an issue going forward.

“I’m not concerned about it, that should make people feel good. I’m the one living with the back. I feel very good about it,’’ Stafford said on Monday during the team locker clean-out period.

The 31-year-old quarterback missed the final eight games of the season with broken bones in his back. Sounds like the same back injury as a year ago, but he said it is not.

He’s confident the back won’t be an issue going forward because of how he feels right now. 

Stafford was off to a hot start — on pace for nearly 5,000 passing yards — before he was injured in the loss at the Oakland Raiders. 

He said the offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevell felt like a good fit. 

“Felt like we were doing some good things, obviously always room for improvement but I was liking the direction we were going in,’’ Stafford said.

He wouldn’t project on when he could play but said he is throwing the ball.

“I feel really good which is good. I’ve had quite a bit of rest and I think I’ll be feeling really, really good pretty darn soon to tell you the truth,’’ Stafford said.

Stafford, who turns 32 in February, just wrapped up his 11th season with the Lions. He doesn’t seem concerned about the window closing on his career. 

“I think every offseason is (important). If I was going to be 29 or 28, I  wouldn’t come into the offseason thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got years,”’ Stafford said. “When we come back here in April and again for training camp we’re trying to win right now. If that’s not our goal every season then I’m missing something because that’s what I think it is.’’

Five things to watch as Lions play at Chicago Bears

ALLEN PARK — If the Lions are going to turn around the season, a win at Chicago might be a good place to start.

The Lions (3-4-1), who have lost four of their last five, have lost two of their last three at Soldier Field. After a 3-1 start the Bears have lost four straight.

Without question, the offense is the Lions’ strength with Matthew Stafford having one of his best seasons. The Bears’ defense has faltered without injured defensive tackle Akiem Hicks the last four games. Still it’s much better than the offense led by Mitchell Trubisky who has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions and was still called a “great player” by Matt Patricia.

Five things to know about the matchup:

1. The Lions’ struggles can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the defense. Whether it’s scheme or mixed tackles or lack of pressure by the line, it’s not working. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said it’s not fair to say it’s been inconsistent all year due to the talent they have faced. “Every week, everybody tries to get better every day. Everybody here tries to get better. So, every week’s a new week. We’re moving on to this one-week season,’’ Pasqualoni said. “I’ve always considered – whether it was in college or pro ball – every week was a one-week season. To be honest with you, I don’t look much past beyond that. I think it’s the best way to handle the game. We’re into this – we’re in our division, Chicago Bears, great tradition, excellent team. So, we’re getting ready to play them.

2. After Miles Killebrew suffered a concussion in practice Thursday, the LIons are down to three healthy safeties — Tavon Wilson, Will Harris and C.J. Moore. So the secondary, which has been struggling, will be further depleted. Patricia said they cross-train guys at different positions in case of a situation such as this. It’s possible cornerback Mike Ford could pitch in at safety. 

3. Detroit’s defense has been really inconsistent at stopping the run, allowing 138.5 rushing yards per game. Again, the defense has to step up. Bears running back David Montgomery has scored all of their rushing touchdowns (5) but is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. “They were running the ball a week ago, two weeks ago against the Chargers. I think they ran it 38 times for – I don’t know – 138 yards. They really did an impressive job there. (Tarik) Cohen is an excellent, excellent back in the backfield. They have excellent wide receivers. (Trey) Burton is an outstanding athlete at the tight end position. They’re explosive, they can make big plays. We’re going to focus on what we feel we need to do to stop them and have a consistent day defensively,’’ Pasqualoni said.

4. Put the offense in the best position to succeed. Chicago’s offense may be nothing to write home about, but the defense is among the 10 best in the NFL. The fourth-down play call from the end of the game last week is still a head-scratcher. “I want to call plays that score touchdowns, so it didn’t score a touchdown. But we were on the one-yard line, so we ended up going with goal line package which we practice all the time,’’ Bevell said. For the most part Bevell and Stafford seem to be on the same page in their first season working together.

5. Protect the Franchise, Mathew Stafford. He was on the injury report this week after a big hit last Sunday. It should be slightly easier to protect him with Hicks sidelined but the Bears’ defense is not a one-man band. “To be honest with you, this Bears defense is loaded. Their whole front, their linebackers, their backend – about as impressive as a group as you’ll find. It’s a huge challenge to block Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Their second-most sack leader is (Nick) Williams on the inside and Eddie Goldman is playing outstanding’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “They have people that have been able to pick up the slack. I think just from the front all the way working through to the back, they have linebackers that can run, they have corners that can cover. It’s a really, really great defense.”

PREDICTION:  Lions 27, Bears 21. (Tough game to pick but going with Lions’ offense over Bears’ defense.)

Five things to watch as Lions host Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Turn the page, it’s been the Lions’ motto of this short week after the loss at Green Bay on Monday night.

While fans still lament the blunders from the officials in that game, the team has moved on. That’s been coach Matt Patricia’s message and the players have apparently bought in. They couldn’t even stick to the 24-hour rule —- there was no time for that.

Matthew Stafford said that by Tuesday morning he had moved onto the Minnesota Vikings who will play the Lions at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Vikings (4-2) are second the NFC North to Green Bay (5-1), while the Lions (2-2-1) are in the basement. Is there time left for the Lions to climb up the ladder? Yes, but not much. A win on Sunday would be huge. A loss would not mean the end of playoff hopes, but would certainly diminish them.

Five things to watch as the Lions play the Vikings: 

1. The Lions have to finish games. They have outscored opponents, 69-46, in first half action but have only scored 46 second-half points while opponents have scored 69. The fourth quarter is a standout ‚ they’ve been outscored 49-31 in the final stanza in the first five games. “We understand there are a lot of factors that go into closing out a game. Some of it happens earlier in the game, some of it happens later,’’ Patricia said. “That’s part of the process right now of trying to improve as a football team, is identifying some areas we think we can get better at. For us, that’s part of the work. That’s part of the improvement. … We have to stay dialed in and we have to make sure we finish it the right way, both coaching and playing, and I think everybody knows that.”

2. Perhaps you’ve heard this before, the Lions run game is too anemic. Detroit’s rushing game had its lowest output of the season at Lambeau with 56 rushing yards on 20 carries. “I think that we need to give credit to Green Bay. They did a nice job in some of the areas, but then I think it ultimately falls – it’s always going to come back to us and how we’re handling things,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “It kind of goes back to what I talked about a couple weeks ago in terms of – in the run game you have to really be on point. We were close on some of those runs. We just had either a guy falling off a block or just other issues where we were really one guy away again, and like I said, it’s happening too much. We have to get that corrected.” Kerryon Johnson had 13 carries for 34 yards against the Pack.

3. The offensive line needs to protect Stafford. Last year the Vikings sacked him 10 times in the Week 9 loss and twice in the Week 16 loss. “Obviously, they have a unique pressure system that is pretty good. But at the same time if they just want to rush four, they’re pretty good at that, too,’’ Stafford said. “They’ve got talent and scheme, which makes them a difficult out.”

4. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins may have gotten off to a slow start, but in the last two games — wins over the Giants and Eagles — he’s thrown six touchdown passes against just one interception. “He’s doing a really good job with decision making. I think he’s really trying to get the ball to his go-to players in just critical situations where I think they are very calculated plays,’’ Patricia said. “Give credit to Coach Stefanski (Vikings offensive coordinator) and the game plans that he set up. I think he’s doing an awesome job getting the run game going, letting the line of scrimmage kind of get going, take over up front. I think he’s using the tight ends really well. I would say (Kyle) Rudolph is in a little bit of a different role than he’s been in the past, but with the addition of Irv Smith and some of the things that he’s able to do, they are putting defenses in a lot more of a bind. … I think they’re giving plays to Kirk Cousins that are plays that he knows where the ball is going to go right now. He can get the ball out very quick, the decision making is very fast. When you balance that off with a consistent run game, I think that’s what you’re seeing that offense, or why you’re seeing that offense be so productive.”

5. It’s been a short week and while the players appear to have turned the page, they are only human. Deep inside it would only be normal if they’re still incensed about the bad calls against them. Will they come out angry and zeroed in? Or not. It should be clear early in the game. Patricia said he won’t know for sure about their mindsets until Sunday. He knows what he saw after the heart-breaking loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago. I’ll say this, in the game last week, I thought we were focused on that game. I thought the guys were trying to go out and compete hard in that game. Everything I would say, up to this point, about our team, I would say our team knows that,’’ Patricia said. “They’re mentally tough to do that and I anticipate our team doing that. Just doing everything they can to go play. We’ll see how Sunday turns out from that standpoint. We have to go play the game, but I think we’ll be out there fighting really hard. I love standing up in front of that group every single day knowing the mental toughness and the drive and the competitiveness that the team has to go try to win every week – it’s great for a coach because you can just put everything into it for them.”

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 17 (Expect the Lions to be focused, but Minnesota tough to handle.)