Lions look for answers as they head into their bye week

ALLEN PARK — Frustration among the 1-4 Lions is not unexpected. Even though this is early for an NFL bye week, it may be perfect timing for this bunch. Many of them need to heal physically and they all need to examine what has led to this train-wreck of a start.

The 29-0 loss to the Patriots just put an emphasis on the shortcomings on both sides of the ball.

The offense imploded after good showings in the first four games. The defense, which is ranked last in the NFL, slightly improved, according to coach Dan Campbell.

One of the team leaders, running back Jamaal Williams, gave a speech during training camp that was featured on ‘Hard Knocks.” His anger showed after the team just won three games a year ago.

He has not given up on his teammates or coaches.

“I sense the disappointment, we don’t do this, we don’t work everyday for us to come out and be 1-4, we don’t accept losing, I don’t accept losing. I’ll never get used to losing. Losing will never be – that (is something) I feel in this locker room right now that we’ll get used to. I understand the status of this team the last few years,’’ Williams said on Monday.

“For me I’ve only been here for two years and, for me, I feel like this team can be very great. We can be good and have a good winning season, we can go to the playoffs, we can win a whole Super Bowl,’’ Williams said. “That’s my mindset because I’m here, I see these people every day. I see my teammates, I see my coaches, I see these people every day.’’

Still for Williams and everyone, including Campbell, the game against the Cowboys in Dallas on Oct. 23 is the total focus.

The one game at a time approach is not exactly a novel idea, but not many alternatives. No one in the Lions’ building seems to doubt this team has the work ethic. Great, but it doesn’t always lead to wins.

Center Frank Ragnow said they don’t necessarily have to work harder, but maybe work smarter  and trust each other more.

“The biggest thing we’re missing right now is complementary football. I know that’s coach-speak but it’s real,’’ Ragnow said. “Last week as an offense we scored 45 and the defense struggled. This week we put the defense in a lot of tough spots. We need to be able to have each other’s back so we can have the flow of the game. We’re a young team and we need to figure that out.’’

Campbell’s message about the next game being key, working hard and playing smart has gotten through to at least some of the team. It shows in their words to the media.

“Everybody is in the same boat, everybody is upset, everybody is frustrated, nobody likes losing here. I think everybody knows we’re better than 1-4, but we haven’t shown that collectively,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “In pieces we have, but I also know what kind of group of guys we have in this locker room. Brad (Holmes) and I built it that way. These guys are not going to lay down, they’re not going to give up, it’s a good group of guys, we have to regroup, we have the bye to do that, make adjustments, figure out what we can do better, how do we use our personnel, what do we do to maximize the personnel.’’

Immediately after the game he said he thought the defensive played better — they only gave up 29 points instead of the average of 35-plus. 

“Watching the tape, the defense played much better. I felt like we stopped the bleeding from what we’ve been going through the last couple weeks,’’ Campbell said. “Good in the red zone, good on third down, good in the run — aside from two runs they popped when we didn’t fit the gaps right,’’ Campbell said. “We gave ourselves a chance really for what we were getting ready to play and the style they were going to play. I thought we did what we needed to do.’’

Due to injuries during the game, they were so critically short on defensive backs.

“The late touchdown was tough. We had (Chase) Lucas playing safety. He had never played safety and Bobby (Price) is out there at corner and they had got us,’’ Campbell said. “Those guys will learn from it, they got put in tough spots particularly Lucas.’’

The bye week should give many of the injured time to heal.

Five things to watch as Lions face Commanders; plus prediction

The second week in the NFL can’t produce a must-win game. However the Lions need a win over the Commanders to get to 1-1. When losses snowball it’s never a good thing, ask any Lions fan. 

The Lions played in front of a raucous and loud crowd in their opening loss to the Eagles. They want to keep the fans in the game and winning is a surefire way to accomplish that.

Coach Dan Campbell said he’s not talking about winning to the team.

“I’m talking about playing better, and let’s clean up our details. Because if we do, that winning is a byproduct of that. That’s got to be our sole focus, and so man, let’s just play better than we played last week,’’ Campbell said. “To a man, let’s coach better. I’ve got to coach better, our coordinators have got to coach better, the position coaches, and the player’s got to play better. And if we’ll just – everyone of us get a little bit better and clean up these issues, and the same issues that have bitten us or bit us last week, they don’t show up again, we’ll be that much better. That’s all we’ve got to worry about.”

Here are five things to watch as the favored Lions (0-1) face the Commanders (1-0):

1. The offensive line injury woes continue. Center Frank Ragnow (groin) has been ruled out and likely will be replaced by Evan Brown. Left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) was downgraded to doubtful on Saturday. And remember, starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back) was placed on IR before the opener. He was replaced by Logan Stenberg who had a rough first series but calmed down. Stenberg could line up at right guard again or shift to left guard. It’s likely Drew Forbes, who has been with the Lions for two weeks, will start at one of the guard spots. Campbell said the rash of O-line injuries changes what they do a bit. “Just the style at which we need to play and you just – you will have to shift the burden a little bit, other places of the load to other places on our team, which is OK. It’s what we got to do. It’s what we’re charged with,’’ Campbell said. Last season the five O-line starters never played together in one of the 17 games due to injuries. 

2. In his second game in this new offense, quarterback Jared Goff needs to step up. The offense seemed to find a rhythm in the second half on Sunday against the Eagles when the Lions scored three touchdowns.There was plenty to like last week.Goff threw both of his touchdowns on third downs. “I think the stuff that we loved was we scored every time we got in the red zone and we were really efficient on third down. And typically those numbers are resulting in wins and ultimately, this one didn’t,’’ Goff said this week. “But I think if we can continue that trend, it’ll be good for us.”

3. The defense struggled more than the offense giving up 38 points to the Eagles. Of course Washington quarterback Carson Wentz is not as mobile as Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts which should make a huge difference. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson is expected to take another step in his development (he wasn’t bad in his debut, but perhaps more was expected). Cornerback Jeff Okudah, coming back from a torn Achilles in the opener a year ago, impressed, finishing second in tackles with 10.

4. Running back D’Andre Swift sparked the offense against the Eagles with 144 of the Lions 181 rushing yards. Swift (ankle) is on the injury report and listed as questionable, but should be able to go. Will he be 100 percent? Not likely. Still the Lions need to be able to count on the running attack. “It’s helpful for any passing attack. I think it’s a quarterback’s best friend when you can have that and have the play-action off of it and the keeper’s stuff off of it, the roll outs and whatnot,’’ Goff said. “So, it’s super helpful and it’s fun to watch Swift take off too..” If Swift is gimpy, Jamaal Williams can help pick up the slack.

5. Perhaps you’ve heard this from previous seasons and coaches, the Lions need to finish. This team is better than last year’s bunch but there’s a long way to go. The Lions were down 17 points in the third quarter on Sunday, but the comeback came up 3 points short. It’s all in the details.

PREDICTION:  Lions 27, Commanders 21. The Lions know this is a big home game against a beatable opponent.

Lions Hank Fraley leans on experience dealing with rash of injuries

ALLEN PARK — Hank Fraley had a good story to tell about his offensive line group.

The Lions offensive line coach said when they came off the field after the first possession in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, his focus was on right guard Logan Stenberg who was a first-time NFL starter, filling in for the injured Halipoulivaati Vaitai.

In that first series, Stenberg was whistled for back-to-back false starts.

His offensive line teammates had his back. 

“Logan jumped off twice, you can’t imagine how pissed off I was. We have to stay even keeled. We can’t go up, we can’t go down. If we do that as an O-line you’re going to fold. We get emotional and all that,’’ Fraley said on Wednesday.

“You’ve got to love the O-line when they’re coming off. I’m just eyeing Logan — and we scored so it was a little different — we were up 7-0. The vets running by me said, ‘Let him go.’ That’s what you have to love about the group. ‘That’s our guy, let him go.’ OK, (so I) just told him don’t let it happen again and he didn’t (for) the rest of the game. I would say they’re very close as a unit,’’ said the coach who was an NFL center for 11 seasons.

“It’s all about comfort. Once I settled down and got comfortable I played a really good game. I was excited to see that on film,’’ Stenberg said.

Fraley needs this group to remain close because while they’re preparing for just their second game, they’ve been dealing with injury woes.

Starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai underwent back surgery this week and it’s uncertain how many games he will miss. Fraley has texted with him since the surgery and said he’s in great spirits and told him he’ll be ready to go.

“I can’t wait for him. He’s great for the room too. He’s the big teddy bear in the room,’’ Fraley said. “Big V is the loose, childish kind of guy that we love in our room. Every O-line room needs one and that’s him. … It’s a big loss.’’

While center Frank Ragnow played every snap on Sunday he has been dealing with a sore groin. He sat out practice on Wednesday. It’s uncertain if he’ll be ready to go on Sunday against the Washington Commanders.

“(Frank) makes you proud, that’s what you want all your guys to do – across the team. Who knows what his percentage was, how healthy he was. He battled, he had a mistake here and there but he plays physical, he’s a leader, he wasn’t going to come out of the game,’’ Fraley said. “It was fun to see him battle through it. You want that in the middle, his leadership, his mind, his focus, his control.’’

Three other offensive linemen appeared on Wednesday’s practice report. Left tackle Taylor Decker (calf) and guard Tommy Kraemer (back) did not practice. Left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) had limited practice.

From Fraley’s comments, Stenberg will start again at right guard on Sunday against the Commanders. Fraley’s been there which gives him a better understanding of Stenberg’s situation.

In fact, in his first NFL start with the Eagles in 2001, Fraley fumbled the ball on the exchange to quarterback Donovan McNabb.

“Let’s see what he does from here. I take myself to my first start, there’s a lot I had to clean up,’’ Fraley said. “So he’ll clean it up and we’ll see it from there. I’m excited for him, he gets to write another chapter in his book, chapter 2, week 2.’’

(Commanders (1-0) at Lions (0-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field. Game will air on FOX with Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma on the call and Shannon Spake on the sidelines.)