Lions’ defense can’t contain Trubisky in loss to Bears; Driskel in for Stafford

The Lions had to win on Sunday to keep whatever weak chances they had of making the playoffs. Lousy play on both sides of the ball resulted in a 20-13 loss at the Chicago Bears.

Yes, the Lions were missing quarterback Matthew Stafford who was not cleared to play by doctors due to broken bones in his back. He had started 136 straight games. Jeff Driskel got the start. 

Here’s the thing, Stafford doesn’t play defense. 

The Lions dropped to 3-5-1 while the Bears (4-5) snapped their four-game losing streak. 

The Bears’ offense looked nearly Super Bowl worthy starting with their last possession in the second quarter and continuing through the third quarter – just long enough to do too much damage on the scoreboard. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who had been struggling this season, threw touchdown passes on three consecutive possessions. 

The Bears quarterback was nothing special in the first quarter, then he was transformed into more of what he looked like last season. It likely had something to do with going against the Lions’ defense, one of the worst in the NFL ((31st in yards allowed per game). Late in the third and into the fourth, the Bears were forced to punt four straight times. So give the Lions’ defense credit there.

After two Matt Prater field goals in the first half, Driskel connected with Kenny Golladay on a 47-yard touchdown play with 5:53 left in the fourth to cut the Bears’ lead to 20-13. Time was not on the Lions’ side. The Lions defense forced a punt on the Bears’ last possession and Detroit got the ball back with 1:48 left at their own 10-yard line but there just was not enough time to get to the end zone.

The Lions’ defense is missing key players (Tracy Walker, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara). Sorry, no excuses. The Bears ranked 29th in the NFL in total offense (266.8 yards per game) before Sunday’s game. It was a game where the Lions’ defense should have stepped up and made a statement no matter who was playing

The Lions played the second half without running back Ty Johnson and right tackle Rick Wagner who were both tested for concussions. 

After Driskel completed his first five passes in the first quarter, he struggled which was expected. He started five games for the Cincinnati Bengals last year (going 1-4) but other than that the 26-year-old quarterback just doesn’t have the knowledge, the experience and feel for the game. He finished 27 of 46 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also Detroit’s leading rusher with five carries for 37 yards. That also speaks volumes about the offense.

Several reports say that Stafford is week to week. He was on the sidelines, giving advice to Driskel. 

Up next: Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17. (Dallas hosts the Vikings on Sunday night.)

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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Lions Matthew Stafford to sit today at Chicago; breaks streak of 136 starts

Wife Kelly says no one knows what he has gone through

Matthew Stafford’s streak of 136 straight starts will end today at Chicago. The Lions quarterback was listed among the Lions’ inactive players 90 minutes before kickoff.

Stafford had been limited in practice all week and was listed as questionable for the game on Friday’s report.

Jeff Driskell is expected to start. He started the final five games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018 and played in four others. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes, threw for 1,005 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Schefter reports Stafford has fractured bones in his back and is considered week to week. It appears he was injured on first-and-goal at the end of last Sunday’s game. 

On Wednesday, Stafford downplayed it and said it was different from injury at the beginning of the year. “I’ll be good to go. I’m not really worried about it. Something different, but I’m totally good,’’ Stafford told reporters.

Stafford’s wife Kelly posted on Facebook: “I don’t think there is anything this man hates more than to not be out there battling with his guys. These men work so hard all year long. It’s it’s tough to sideline them. So I’m grateful for our team docs. He has battled through so much, so much more than anyone knows. I’m incredibly proud to be his wife, he the toughest SOB. But I’m happy his body will get a little healing time … I know I can speak for all of us when I say it’s always nice to beat the Bears. Let’s go!”

His streak started on Sept. 11, 2011. His last missed start was on Jan. 2, 2011.

Other Lions inactives vs. the Bears: Tracy Walker, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, Miles Killebrew, Michael Jackson and Beau Benzschawel.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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.)

Lions QB Matthew Stafford among the best halfway through the season

Unlike the Lions, Matthew Stafford is having quite a season.

The Lions quarterback has thrived in the new offense created by coordinator Darrell Bevell. Of course, he’s got a tandem of wide receivers in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay who have combined for 13 touchdown catches. And newcomer Danny Amendola has stepped in and been a good fit, averaging 12.1 yards per catch.

Stafford’s numbers are starting to draw attention across the league even as the Lions have faded, losing four of their last five.

He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (312.4) and yards per pass (8.6). Stafford’s 19 touchdowns are second only to Russell Wilson (22) who has played one more game. He’s fourth (2,499) in total passing yards. He has the most completions of 20-plus yards wit 41 and is the NFL leader with at least 3 touchdown passes in 5 games.

Whenever he’s asked about his game day accomplishments, the always humble Stafford says he would trade them in for a win. 

Next test for the Lions (3-4-1) is Sunday at the Chicago Bears (3-5). 

“I’ve always had the ultimate respect for Matt Stafford. Some of the throws that he’s made over his career are just ridiculous. I mean there are not many players in the NFL that can make the side-arm throws that he does on the run, running left throwing right, just putting it where no one else can get it,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said in a conference call this week. 

“He’s tough, he’s a competitor, and when he’s back there at the quarterback position, he’s scary because he can make any throw and you always have a chance with him,’’ Nagy added.

The Bears’ defense is its strength this season just like the Lions’ offense which has carried the team this season (although not quite enough).

Historically, Stafford has played well against Chicago.

He ranks fifth in career passing touchdowns against the Bears with 28 TDs in 18 games. He’s in good company in this category behind three Hall of Famers, and one future HOFer. First is Brett Favre with 60 in 36 games, second is Aaron Rodgers with 46 in 22 games, third is Fran Tarkenton with 40 in 28 games, fourth is Johnny Unitas with 33 in 23 games. Also, Stafford is fourth in most passing yards (4,741 in 18 games) behind Favre Tarkenton, and Rodgers.

Last season, he threw 21 touchdown passes in 16 games and now he stands at 19 at the halfway point. The difference? 

“I think we’ve done a nice job in the play-action game, making some big plays – those guys are making great plays down the field,’’ Stafford said. “The guys up front are giving me time to get it down there. I think we’ve done a nice job on third down staying on the field, which helps. We’re getting more plays and those guys on the outside are making great plays.”

Stafford’s no-look throws have been studied, tweeted and retweeted. He has two in the loss at the Raiders. It’s not something he has worked on.

“No, that’s full feel. I’m not like working on that in the offseason or anything. It’s more just feeling it in the game, trying to see as much as I can possibly see, and then obviously trying to get to the ball to our guys with space and let them go work,’’ Stafford said.

In his 11th season, he has plenty of trust in himself to make the unorthodox throws. “I think it’s a lot of trust, obviously – trust in what I’m seeing, trust in what they’re going to do when I put it out there,’’ Stafford said. “Those guys are doing a great job of catching it and coming down with it. They always know to be on their toes and be ready for the ball.”

He’s nearly on pace for a second 5,000-yard season. His first was in 2011. He’s one of just five NFL quarterbacks who have passed for more than 5,000 yards. The list includes Drew Brees who has done it five times, along with Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Again, Stafford keeps good company.

Now if the Lions defense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL, would step up.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions face Raiders

ALLEN PARK — It’s not really going to be too sentimental for the Detroit Lions to play their final game against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. 

It’s been eight years since the Lions’ last visit. On that day — Dec. 18, 2011 — Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:59 to beat the Raiders 28-27. 

Stafford and long snapper Don Muhlbach are the only holdovers from the 2011 Lions’ bunch.

Today at 4 p.m. the Lions (3-3-1) will face the Raiders (3-4).

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller will pose challenges for the Lions defense which is ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 420.4 yards per game.

“Coach (Jon) Gruden is doing a great job with (Raiders General Manager) Mike Mayock putting a team together that has a good combination of young, very talented, explosive players combined with some veterans that are pretty savvy vets that are experienced guys in the NFL that I think are really bringing these young guys along at a high level,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

If the Lions (3-3-1), coming off a win over the Giants, hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, finding a way to beat the Oakland Raiders (3-4) who have lost two straight.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford needs to continue his stellar play. The Lions quarterback was fighting off a cold midweek, could barely talk above a whisper on Wednesday, but said he’d be fine by Sunday. Stafford has thrown 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts. Every game another guy steps up whether it’s Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson or Kenny Golladay.  Raiders coach Jon Gruden has the utmost respect for Stafford. “I think the big thing that Matt does a great job of is he protects the offense at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t get fooled often. If you blow a coverage, he shreds you. If he sees a blitz, he throws it to his hot receiver or he fixes it and changes the play,’’ Gruden said. “He’s sharp. His experience is very, very valuable to their success and, he plays with a really quick tempo. I mean he’s very fast mentally – forget about the arm talent, and all of the different plays and talented players they have – he’s just a very quick-minded player that doesn’t miss much.”

2. It would really help Stafford if the running game could do its part. It’s a tough challenge with Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve. That leaves Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic and Tra Carson (hamstring) who is questionable. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Raiders run defense has been solid.  “We’re going to need to be able to run the ball efficiently. They’re doing a great job up front. They’re not giving up explosive runs. They’re not giving up many yards,’’ Bevell said. “I think they’re one of the top in the league at doing that. So, I think that’s really where it starts for us, is to be able to find ways to run the football.”

3. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs could be a handful for the Lions’ rushing defense. Jacobs averages 5 yards per carry and has scored four rushing touchdowns. “Terrific player. Really, really powerful, breaks a lot of tackles. Makes a lot of yards you’d think he miss. A really stout, thick guy. They have a really, really nice core of running backs,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “Jalen Richards is really good out of the backfield, DeAndre Washington has got real speed. They present a lot of problems, they certainly do.” The Lions defense has allowed 130.7 rushing yards per game. 

4. The Lions’ secondary will be tested with quarterback Derek Carr who has completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. “He’s always been very accurate, and he’s always been able to get the ball out pretty quickly, but he just seems like he’s running the whole show. He seems very, very confident (and) very, very comfortable with it,’’ Pasqualoni said. “After a year in the system, he really looks on film to be very, very confident and playing very well.” Safety Tracy Walker (knee) is out so others will have to step up.

5. Finish the game like they did in 2011, if necessary. Last week in the 31-26 win over the Giants, the Lions scored what would be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Overall they’ve been outscored 70-44 in the fourth quarter of all seven games.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Raiders 27. (Just a hunch, that somehow the Lions will pull this out. Should be close — no blowout expected.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)