Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host the Los Angeles Rams

Ndamukong Suh makes first return visit to Ford Field

A young coach, a balanced offense with a solid quarterback and a defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. The combination has spelled success for the Los Angeles Rams and why wouldn’t it? Any NFL team would like to have some or most of those components.

That includes the Detroit Lions (4-7) who will host the Rams (10-1) on Sunday.

“They’re a very balanced offense and I think something we talk about all the time, that when you can be balanced on offense, it’s very difficult to defend and they’ve done a great job of that all year,’’ coach Matt Patricia said.

The Lions will have their hands full in all three phases.

“One of the things that’s really important with this team is just understanding how good they are on special teams and how good they are defensively. I think John Fassel does a phenomenal job on special teams. It’s one of the most dominant units in the league,’’ Patricia said. “They’re very consistent and they really make big plays.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Somehow, some way the Lions must get their run game going even without running back Kerryon Johnson who will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. LeGarrette Blount was the workhorse in the Thanksgiving loss to the Bears with 19 carries for 88 yards. “I think for our guys, we’re always on the program of whoever’s out there playing, we’re expecting everybody to do their best and go out and perform at a high level. We’ll do the same this weekend,’’ Patricia said.

2. Can’t overlook the Lions’ passing game either. Marvin Jones is out for the season, leaving Kenny Golladay, Bruce Ellington, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick  and the tight ends to pitch in. Matthew Stafford needs a better game, but he also needs his receivers to get open and run the right routes. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the shortcomings on offense are all on him. “It’s a team game. We have 11 guys out there. We all have to execute and be on the same page. A lot of that stuff’s on me. You guys at home don’t always know exactly what’s going on on the field. I’m accountable for everything that happens on this offense. Bad things that happen, things that don’t happen right, whether it’s a decision or being in a different spot, or some sort of decision somebody out there on the field is making that maybe isn’t even seen on the TV copy of the game. That stuff’s all on me,’’ Cooter said this week.

3. Stop running back Todd Gurley, the NFL’s second most prolific back. The Lions run defense has been one of the few units that has improved this season, holding teams to a total of 148 rushing yards combined over the last three games. (See blog below.)

4. Pressure quarterback Jared Goff (26 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) who has been sacked 24 times. He’s got a flotilla of solid receivers in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. “They’re a very explosive team. They do a great job with the scheme. Coach (Sean) McVay does an outstanding job of controlling the game on the offensive side of the ball with tempo. They use different tempos, they probably have about three or four different tempos that they can use offensively to dictate the game. So, we just have to do a good job of being really sound fundamentally and making sure that we’re doing a good job with our reads and our eye control.

5. Ndamukong Suh will return for his first game at Ford Field since he signed as a free agent with Miami in 2015. He and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are a powerful inside force that could present problems for the Lions’ offensive line and Stafford.

PREDICTION: Rams 35, Lions 17

 

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Detroit Lions run defense faces next challenge in Rams’ Todd Gurley

Damon Harrison’s presence beneficial against the run

ALLEN PARK — While the Detroit Lions have struggled, losing four of their last five games, their run defense has been the one bright spot.

Their next challenge is Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) on Sunday at Ford Field.

Gurley ranks second in the NFL with 1,043 rushing yardsm averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He’s scored 13 rushing  touchdowns and has also caught 43 passes for 441 yards and four more touchdowns.

“Todd Gurley is one of the best backs in the League. This guy’s phenomenal. So, it’s a big challenge for us. And then obviously, the other skill players that they have,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

In the past three games the Lions’ defense has given up just 148 total rushing yards. In that span they haven’t given up a run of more than 10 yards. They played solid running teams — Chicago twice with Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard and Carolina with Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey.

“It’s been a great job and all those games we’ve for the most part given ourselves an opportunity to win. That’s always the goal to stop the run game,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

A number of factors play into the improvement.

“We’ve tackled well, we’ve had great play up front. Our D-line has been playing phenomenal, our linebackers have been playing phenomenal. As a secondary we’ve made tackles when we had to,’’ Quin said. “You look at a lot of the games we played in … we’ve been playing great in the run game and then we give up one run for 60 or 70 yards and it kills all the averages. We’ve been playing solid run defense for a while this year, these last few weeks we haven’t given up any big runs.’’

There is another major difference too.

His name is Damon “Snacks” Harrison. The veteran defensive tackle was acquired in a trade with the Giants on Oct. 25. In his five games with the Lions, he has 2.5 sacks, 26 tackles and four quarterback hits.

“I think he makes a difference, he’s a big-time player in the middle, he’s a big-time run stopper. So when an offense knows they have to block him a certain way or put a certain amount of guys on him that frees up other guys to get one on ones in different situations,’’ Quin said. “So pretty sure he changes the clocking schemes for a lot of those teams, when they don’t block him or when they try to single him he makes the plays.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Patricia notes that it’s a team effort but does agree Harrison has made a difference.

“I would say with Damon, (he’s) obviously done a great job for us helping us inside and really, just seeing a guy that has great experience be in the middle. (He’s) seen a lot of different blocks, has seen a lot of different schemes, and maybe helps settle some things down for some of the younger players that we are trying to play with out there and some of the new guys with the scheme,’’ Patricia said. “Harrison’s familiar with the techniques that we use because he’s been coached similarly in the past with some of the same techniques. So, from that standpoint, it’s been beneficial to have his experience out on the field.”

Five reasons the Detroit Lions wasted a perfect chance to defeat Chicago Bears

Another Thanksgiving Day game to forget

DETROIT — It was the perfect time to get a win over the NFC North leading Chicago Bears who were without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and coming off a shorter week than the Lions.

Perfect.

Except the Lions did not get the job done. They lost 23-16 and fell to 4-7 in Matt Patricia’s first season. That matches the total number of losses from 2017.

No one has the answer on how to get the season back on track. They all take blame and say they have to work harder but they now have lost four of their last five games.

“Obviously, not the way we wanted that thing to end. It’s a good team over there, Chicago. They’ve done a good job all year. Played us tough all the way to the end and made some plays when they needed to at the end, which were critical for their football team, and we didn’t,’’ Patricia said. “So, we have to get back at it and go back to work. So, we have a lot to do, a lot to improve on, and things that we’re continually trying to get better at. There’s not a lot of time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.’’

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Matthew Stafford had a lousy day. He’s missing Marvin Jones Jr.,  and Kerryon Johnson who both have knee injuries; and Golden Tate who was shipped to the Eagles. It is not all on the quarterback. Some of it rests squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford’s teammates who have to be in the right position. Stafford was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter. The second one was on a pass intended for tight end Mike Roberts. “I was thinking Mike was going to be in a different spot, but you know, that’s cutting the ball loose and hoping sometimes that you’re on the same page,’’ Stafford said. “And obviously it didn’t work out in our favor tonight.” When pressed he said Roberts was not supposed to be deeper. “He’s not supposed to be anything, it’s a feel thing,’’ Stafford said.

2. Cooter called a conservative game of quick routes. He didn’t open it up until later in the third quarter. With a quarterback like Stafford, it didn’t seem to make much sense. Although Stafford was sacked six times in the loss to the Bears on Nov. 11 and didn’t want a repeat of that. :They played a lot of two high safeties, some off corner. You know, these guys are good, good defense. To get guys down the field you got to hold the ball and holding the ball against these guys is not a good recipe for success,’’ Stafford said. “So we tried to get the ball out as quickly as we could.”

3. Quarterback Chase Daniel was starting just his third career game, yet he played just fine going 27 of 37 for 230 yards, and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times but had enough composure to get the job done when needed. His touchdown passes to Taquan MIzzell and Tarik Cohen were right on the money. Never a doubt.

4. The Lions got the ball back with six minutes left and down 23-16. Stafford leads a hurry-up offense as well as anyone. But there was nothing hurry-up about the slow pace of the drive that ended with the Lions at the Bears’ 11 and Stafford being intercepted by Kyle Fuller in the end zone. “”So, it wasn’t a situation where I felt like we had to score quick and try to get the ball back. It’s an explosive offense, they have great players, too. So, definitely a strategy there, as far as — we felt like we were doing things well to move the ball and not be in a panic situation, just go down and try to score,’’ Patricia said. “Use all the clock if we have to, and if we needed extra clock, use extra clock. So, that’s really about it.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Ziggy Ansah got the start and looked like his old self with a sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles. He wasn’t the only solid player on defense. Glover Quin got a rare sack and DeShawn Shead forced a fumble that was recovered by Jarrad Davis in the second quarter. Detroit’s defense held the Bears to 38 rushing yards, well below their average of 122.9 rushing yards per game. “We didn’t do enough. Their defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t. They’re defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t, so we didn’t do enough,’’ Quin said. All three units have to play well for these Lions to win. They need to play complementary football and it didn’t happen on Thursday.

NEXT UP: The Lions (4-7) host the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Lions LeGarrette Blount won’t point fingers after home loss to Bears but says everyone has much work to do

Loss drops Lions to 4-7, with Rams coming upu next

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense appeared to take a step backward in Thursday’s 23-16 loss to the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.

Yes, they were without wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., and running back Kerryon Johnson. But Chicago was forced to lean on quarterback Chase Daniel who hadn’t started a game since 2014.

That’s a wash.

No excuses.

Detroit running back LeGarrette Blount had a good day (19 carries for 88 yards). He was in no mood to celebrate. He didn’t even know his touchdown earned him a $350,000 bonus for his fifth touchdown of the season.

Blount has won three Super Bowl rings playing for the Patriots and the Eagles. He knows what it takes to be a winning team.

“I’m a Detroit Lion right now so that’s all I’m focused on. I think there’s a lot of things we need to fix in order for us to be a successful team,’’ Blount said. “There’s a lot of things that we’ve got to do that we haven’t done to put ourselves in position to win games like this. When it’s close games like this we have to finish them off. We’ve got to close them out and we didn’t. That’s our fault.’’

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a rough day, throwing two interceptions in the fourth quarter with one returned for a touchdown by Eddie Jackson.

“I don’t like to point fingers and I don’t think it is his fault. I think as a team we’ve got to do better and I don’t think you should put all the blame on Stafford. Obviously he’s an elite quarterback. I think he’s one of the best in this league. I don’t think it’s his fault, I don’t think it’s fair for us to put it all on him,’’ Blount said. “You can go on and on about that. Like I said, he’s a great quarterback, he’s really good at what he does, he’s great at his craft. There’s no quarterback that’s going to go into a full season and not make any mistakes, he’s human he makes mistakes, I make mistakes, we all make mistakes and a lot of mistakes give you an ‘L’.’’

Blount also wouldn’t put the blame on offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter who called a conservative game except for a touchdown drive in the third quarter that feature a 43-yard pass play to Kenny Golladay.

“Our play caller calls plays but we have to go out there and execute the plays. Whether we’re doing it right or wrong, people may not know, but he does and we do,’’ Blount said. “It’s just minor details we have to fixed. Whenever we have those minor details that don’t get fixed, you have bad plays and you have plays that stall your offensive drive. We have to get back in the lab and be more detailed at what we do, pay a lot more attention to our craft and try to get this thing back on pace.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions dropped to 4-7, matching their loss total for all of the 2017 season. Next up are the Los Angeles Rams who own the best record (10-1) in the NFL.

“We’re competitors, we’re warriors, we’re not going to go out there and lay down for anybody,’’ Blount said.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving

Bears beat the Lions easily in first meeting

ALLEN PARK — When it comes to Thanksgiving, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford says he’s no different from most people.

“I just eat a ton of food like everybody else. Eat a bunch of food, relax a little bit. It’s kind of a nice little couple days off for us,’’ Stafford said.

Unlike others, before he hits the dinner table he has a football game to try to win. Stafford and the LIons have won four of the last five games on Thanksgiving, losing, 30-23, to the Vikings a year ago.

Usually players on both teams love the Turkey Day spotlight.

“It’s awesome. I grew up watching it as a Cowboys fan. I’ve been a part of it now for 10 years here. It’s cool that the city and the fans and really our team, we embrace this game, we love it, we love playing it every year,’’ Stafford said. “So, it’s just a great tradition to be a part of and obviously a lot of fun when you win it.”

It will be a first for Bears coach Matt Nagy who looks forward to the chance to play with the nation watching on Thanksgiving.

“I know I am, and this will be my first time playing a game on Thanksgiving. What better way to come out and play a game on Thanksgiving? Not all players and people get these opportunities, these chances. So, the guys will be looking forward to it and it’ll be fun,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said on a Tuesday conference call.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions will be without wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., and running back Kerryon Johnson. While Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is listed as “doubtful” which means it’s likely Chase Daniel will get the start.

Five things to watch:

1. The Lions must stop the run like they did when they lost to the Bears on Nov. 11. That day Detroit’s defense held Chicago to 54 rushing yards. Whatever that game plan was, Detroit needs to repeat in. After a horrid start on run defense, they’ve held opponents to less than 60 rushing yards for two straight weeks.

2. Don’t give up on the run game even without Kerryon Johnson (knee). Between LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner stick with the one who finds the most success as the game progresses. Don’t be surprised if it’s Zenner. The Lions only rushed for 66 yards against the Bears the last game, but part of the reason is that they were down 26-0 early. “We have a bunch of guys in that room that are talented. If they need to play more, they’ll play more. If they don’t, then we’ll roll with what we have,’’ Stafford said.

3. The Lions will be without Marvin Jones Jr., for the second straight game. Stafford was able to make the passing game work in the win over the Panthers by targeting Kenny Golladay 14 times. He finished with eight catches for 113 yards and a beauty of a touchdown. Stafford is still getting acquainted with newcomer Bruce Ellington who had six catches for 52 yards on Sunday. “I thought Bruce (did a really nice job stepping in. I don’t know how long he’s been here, maybe 10 days. So, it was really good for him to get out there and get his feet wet,’’ Stafford said.

4.  When the Lions and Bears last met, cornerback Darius Slay was on the sidelines. He’s back and that should be a huge boost. “He’s a great player. He’s been doing it for a while. I think there are a lot of different things that he does well,’’ Nagy said. “He definitely makes them better, and we know that and we have to know where he’s at at all times.”

5. Get pressure on the quarterback — likely Chase Daniel who hasn’t started a game since 2014. Trubisky was sacked just once by the Lions defense on Nov. 11. Because of Daniel’s lack of playing time, it should be easier to rattle him. The defense did a solid job against the Panthers’ Cam Newton sacking him three times, although he did pass for three touchdowns. Daniel is no Cam Newton but the defense can’t think that way.

EXTRA: In the Lions first Thanksgiving game on Nov. 29, 1934, the Bears beat the Lions, 19-16. The Lions are 8-8 against the Bears on Thanksgiving.

PREDICTION: Lions 28, Bears 21

Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat Carolina Panthers, 20-19

Offense, defense and special teams came up big

DETROIT — Perhaps the Lions’ game ball should have gone to Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. He made the decision to go for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown catch by D.J. Moore that pulled Carolina within one point with 1:07 left.

The conversion failed when quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t find an open receiver and sailed one high into the end zone. Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano had missed a field goal and extra-point earlier and Newton had momentum, it just didn’t work out.

That decision allowed the Lions (4-6) to snap a three-game losing streak with a 20-19 win over the Panthers who fall to 6-4.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t thinking about Rivera’s 2-point decision at the time.

“I’m kind of just locked in on what my two-minute calls are going to be, what I’m going to have to do to go down and score and get a field goal to win the game. I trust our defense a ton to make a play but as a player you have to be ready for what’s ahead,’’ Stafford said. “It’s either going to be two-minute or take a knee. … Obviously we didn’t need (the two-minute) which was awesome.’’

He wasn’t surprised they went for 2 points since they’re so aggressive and it gave them a chance to steal one on the road.

“Obviously our defense made a great play there at the end. They were rolling a little bit there in the second half on a couple drives. I bet they felt confident, but I was confident in our guys and I’m glad we made the play,’’ Stafford said.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. Two huge defensive plays on a Panthers’ drive early in the fourth quarter were key. Cornerback Darius Slay turned on the jets and somehow caught D.J. Moore at Detroit’s 12-yard line after an 82-yard gain that looked sure to be a touchdown. Then three plays later on third-and-2, at Detroit’s 4, linebacker Jarrad Davis sacked Cam Newton for a 12-yard loss and forced the Panthers to attempt a field goal which kicker Graham Gano clunked off the post. Big Play Slay certainly lived up to his nickname on that one play. He limped off the field but was able to finish the game.  “We knew that’s what we had to do. If we stop (Newton) ‚ he’s the show — if we stop the show, we can win,’’ Slay said. “And he’s the show and we stopped him and did our best we could against him and handled that.”

2. Kenny Golladay had a big day (eight catches for 113 yards). With Marvin Jones Jr., out, Golladay was the top wide receiver on the field. No catch was bigger than his 19-yard touchdown with just five minutes left in the game. Golladay was covered by James Bradberry, but he leapt up and dove backward into the end zone, keeping control of the ball on his way down. That score gave the Lions a 20-13 lead. “(Stafford) just gave me a nice, pretty, high ball. I like balls like that for me to just use my size, hands, athletic ability to go up there and make the catch and that’s what I did,’’ Golladay said.

3. The offensive line came up big protecting Matthew Stafford. He was sacked just once (by his old nemesis Julius Peppers) and hit just once. He had been sacked 16 times in the past two games. “I was just trying to do a good job of keeping us ahead of the sticks. If I had to take 3 or 4 (yards) on first down and not wait on something that was 10 or 15, I was going to do it,’’ Stafford said. “Credit to our guys getting open and making the catches when we were able to do that. Obviously running the ball helps … I was proud of our guys up front, they pushed them around in the run game and kept me clean for most of the day which was awesome.’’

4. Running back Kerryon Johnson ran in from 8 yards out for a touchdown on the Lions’ first possession. Johnson had a great day with 15 carries for 87 yards, along with two catches for 10 yards, until he injured his knee late in the third quarter and was unable to return. In his post-game press conference, Patricia said he had no update on Johnson. FOX reported that Johnson was crying once he got in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. “He’s got some big-play ability, you see it. Some 20-plus runs, I’ve got the best view in the house right behind him,’’ Stafford said. “Sometimes splits a seam and he’s out. He’s done a nice job for us and it was more of the same today.”

5. Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter fashioned together an offense without Marvin Jones Jr., and it worked. “We knew it was going to be a collective effort. It was going to take everybody doing a little bit here and there to make that thing go for us,’’ Stafford said. “We didn’t light up the scoreboard by any means but we got enough points to win the game which was nice.’’ Along with Golladay’s eight catches, Bruce Ellington had six for 52 yards and Theo Riddick finished with five receptions for 30 yards. Stafford was 23 of 37 for 220 yards and one touchdown. The quarterback has been criticized early and often for the last three losses, he deserves credit here too.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

UP NEXT: Lions host the Chicago Bears at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. It’s a short-turnaround for Detroit or as Stafford said, “We’ve got to flip it quick.” The Lions lost to the Bears, 34-22, two weeks ago.

Lions without Marvin Jones, A’Shawn Robinson, Michael Roberts

Ziggy Ansah to play third straight game

DETROIT — The Lions’ wide receiving corps was one of the NFL’s best until two weeks ago when Golden Tate was traded. They will be without Marvin Jones Jr. (knee) today against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field. That leaves Kenny Golladay and T.J. Jones to be Matthew Stafford’s main targets. Wide receiver Andy Jones has been called up from the practice squad.

Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick are the only running back duo to each have 30 more receptions, so Stafford could be looking to them also.

Detroit will also be without defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (ankle) and tight end Michael Roberts (shoulder). Both were listed as out on Friday’s injury report.

DE Ezekiel Ansah and DT Damon Harrison Sr., who both have shoulder injuries, are active after being limited in practice all week.

Right guard T. J. Lang (neck) was placed on injured reserve this week, ending his season. Kenny Wiggins will start in his place.

Darius Slay (knee), Eli Harold (shoulder), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck) and tight end Luke Willson (shoulder) who were out a week ago, are all active.

Other Lions’ inactives (all healthy): Wide receiver Brandon Powell, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, defensive end Eric Lee and offensive lineman Andrew Donnal.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. with game televised on FOX with Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber and Jen Hale.