Five keys to the Lions loss at Titans, 46-25

This was never going to be easy. The Detroit Lions’ defense has had trouble stopping the run and Titans’ running back is nearly unstoppable even against the best defense.

The Titans opened up the game in the second half, defeating the Lions 46-25 at Nashville on Sunday.

The Lions drop to 1-2 under interim coach Darrell Bevell and 5-9 overall. Still, even though it was a lopsided loss, there is a renewed sense of energy on the offense but two turnovers were costly.

“It can’t happen, one on the 1-yard line, the other in the red area, you can’t turn it over against good teams and have a chance to win. I thought we were moving the ball well on good, long sustained drives, you turn it over and you don’t give yourselves a chance,’’ Bevell told WJR.

The defense continues its struggles like it has most of the season, giving up six touchdowns and 463 yards.  “We knew it was going to be a huge challenge, great running back (Derrick Henry) that they have, hard to stop, physical, he also has speed. We knew that was going to be a challenge and it turned out that way,” Bevell said.

Five keys to the Lions’ loss:

1. Two turnovers in the red zone were critical. D’Andre Swift tried to leap over the pile from the 2-yard line on third down in the second quarter, had the ball punched out and the Titans recovered. Also T.J. Hockenson had a third-down catch, fumbled it and Titans recovered early in the third quarter.

2. The Lions defense just couldn’t stop running back Derrick Henry who finished with 24 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown. Overall the Titans had 195 rushing yards which is nearly 40 yards more than their average per game. 

3. Since the defense couldn’t stop the run game, things opened up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was 21 of 27 for 273 yards, three passing and two rushing touchdowns. Late in the third, on a third-and-11, Tannehill completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Anthony Firkser for a first down. It was a defining play of the quarter and the game. The Titans converted 9 of 11 third-down attempts. That’s an incredible 82 percent.

4. Matthew Stafford, who was playing with injured ribs and was uncertain to go until Sunday morning, played like there was nothing wrong with him at all. We all knew he was tough, he proved it on Sunday completing 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards, one touchdown and a 102.6 rating. “It was a gutty performance by him,’’ Bevell said. He was pulled with nine minutes left after taking a big hit the previous drive. Chase Daniel stepped in and handled it well but it was too late to pull off a comeback with the Lions down by 21 points.

5. The Lions offensive line, which was without center Frank Ragnow (fracture throat), protected Stafford fairly well. He was not sacked but took a few big hits. Joe Dahl, who started at center, had never snapped to Stafford in a game but it didn’t really show. There was a miscue in the fourth quarter on a snap but surprisingly there weren’t more. Then Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started at right tackle, couldn’t finish the game due to a concussion. 

NEXT UP: Tampa Bay Bucs (9-5) at Lions (5-9) at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 26. The Bucs topped the Falcons, 31-27, on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Lions face Titans

The Detroit Lions run defense will face one of its biggest tests when Detroit (5-8) plays at the TennesseeTitans (9-4) on Sunday.

Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing and is a big reason the Titans have won three of their last four and sit atop the AFC South.

The Lions in their third game under interim coach Darrell Bevell look to bounce back after a home loss to the Packers.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford didn’t practice until Friday and then it was on a limited basis. He is questionable to play due a rib injury that occurred late in Sunday’s game. He’s tough and if he can throw the ball and feel comfortable, expect to see him in the lineup. He said on Wednesday that he is not counting himself out. If he can’t go, backup Chase Daniel will be prepared after taking most of the snaps in practice throughout the week.

2. Center Frank Ragnow has been ruled out with damaged vocal cords. It’s uncertain who will start in his place. The center took a hit in the throat area which damaged his vocal chords on Sunday. The Lions are one banged up team. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay remains out while defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand has been placed on injured reserve along with Jeff Okudah. Cornerback Daryl Roberts is out. Defensive tackle John Pensini is questionable. 

3. The Lions’ defense is ranked 29th in the NFL against the run, allowing 132.8 rushing yards per game. The Titans have the second-best ground game (157.8 yards per game). Something’s got to give. Stopping Henry will be a huge test. “Critical that we start fast (on defense) in the run game, and then if we can get a ball off of (Henry), or if we can get an interception and kind of create a spark there early in the game, that will help us,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “You don’t want to get down early, because you’re just letting them do what they want to do, and that’s just (to) continue to run it and wear you out. Really, really good challenge.”

4. While the Titans’ offense revolves around Henry it’s not a one-man band. “Derrick Henry is the leader and that’s how they want to build the thing, and kind of the same thing that I’ve been preaching here is, when you have a solid run game in the way that they’re able to use him, it really opens up the explosions in the pass game in terms of play action and that kind of thing,’’ Bevell said. “Ryan Tannehill has done a great job for them. I know I said it, but Comeback Player of the Year and he’s still playing like that. A lot of weapons over there, and they can be explosive. Some of those explosives also come in the run game with those big, long runs by Henry as well.”

5. The Lions have about a 1-percent chance to make the playoffs and Bevell will take that. “So you’re saying there’s a chance, right? That’s why we play these games. We’re going to get them playing, and just like I said when I started this thing, this is an opportunity for all of us,’’ Bevell said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us, whether it’s going to be on this team, whether it’s another team – people are watching. They want to see how the Detroit Lions are going to be acting: if they’re just going to throw in the towel or if they’re going to keep fighting. If I have anything to say about it or these players do, we’re going to keep fighting – and 1 percent (chance to make the playoffs)? We’ll take it. I don’t even know if that’s right, but we’ll take it.”

PREDICTION: Titans 28, Lions 17

Lions C Frank Ragnow fractures throat, doesn’t miss a snap against Packers

Want to talk toughness? Frank Ragnow, the Detroit Lions center, fractured his throat early in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay and finished the game.

The NFL Network first reported the injury on Wednesday, saying it occurred in the first quarter.

“I knew something was going on, but pretty crazy that he was able to finish the game with that,’’ said quarterback Matthew Stafford who didn’t finish the game due to injured ribs.

“He came up to me early in the game and was very hoarse and kind of feint sounding. (He said) I can’t really talk just to let you know. Just make sure you’re communicating with everybody up front even more so than I normally would,’’ Stafford said. “It was kind of crazy but it was good. We didn’t have any communication issues the rest of the game.’’

According to the Free Press, Ragnow is able to breathe and eat with the injury.

Even with the fractured throat he didn’t allow a quarterback hit. He played all 67 offensive snaps and four on special teams.

“He’s played awesome, he’s played fantastic. Ultra physical in the run game and does a really nice job in the pass game as well just clearing up a bunch of stuff,’’ Stafford said. “When he gets one-on-one he plays at a high level so we’re lucky to have him. He’s a young player who’s got a ton of talent, a ton of ability, the right head on his shoulders and works extremely hard and leads those guys really well.’’

Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey also noted Ragnow’s toughness.

“The guy goes out there, he’s beat up, he plays center. You watch some of the plays he’s getting hit, he’s getting just blasted almost every play,’’ Caskey said. “The guy plays through a lot, the amount of things we put on his plate from week to week, he’s a very valuable piece of this puzzle.’’

“Love him as a teammate,’’ Stafford said. “Obviously he’ll play through a bunch.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)