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.”

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Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: Five things to watch

Chicago sits atop NFC North

ALLEN PARK — It’s the second straight division game for the Lions who failed miserably at the Vikings last week.

It doesn’t get any easier, going up against the Chicago Bears (5-3), the leaders in the NFC North. The Vikings are in second (5-3-1) with the Packers (3-4-1) in third and the Lions (3-5) in the basement.

The Lions have won their last two games at Soldier Field but this team is different and still difficult to figure out due to inconsistent play week in and week out.

It will be a little tougher without two key starters who are sidelined with injuries. Cornerback Darius Slay (knee) and right guard T.J. Lang will be out.

The Bears have won all five of their games against less-than-stellar teams. One of those teams is the Seahawks (4-4), who smacked the Lions two weeks ago. The Bears also beat the Cardinals (2-6), Tampa Bay (3-5), Jets (3-6) and the Bills (2-7). That’s a combined 14-28 win-loss record.

If the Lions have any hope of turning around this season and matching their 9-7 record from last season, defeating the Bears would be a great place to start.

Five things to watch:

1. The offensive line must adjust and provide more protection for Stafford who was sacked 10 times by the Vikings. It was not all on the line, but they didn’t help. Patricia said it was lack of fundamentals and execution that led to the wretched loss at Minnesota last week. So he planned to get back to basics at practice this week. “I like our offensive line a lot. These guys work extremely hard. The offensive line is a hard group to play in. Like you said, my background with the o-line, I understand that, again, I think I’ve mentioned this before, when you try to see the game through the same set of eyes five different way, it’s not easy,’’ Patricia said. This week they’ll be without Lang and they’ll be facing big-time Bears disruptors DT Akiem Hicks and LB Khalil Mack.

2. Matthew Stafford has had a rough go in the last two weeks, both losses. In that span he has completed 68.4 percent of his pass attempts for 509 yards which is not bad considering he was sacked 13 times. He has taken the blame for some of those sacks and maybe he held on too long trying to make something happen. But also it’s tough to throw to receivers who can’t get open. He also lost one fumble in each of the last two weeks. “I’m sure if you sort out certain numbers and don’t really take into account game situations, you can kind of make them say whatever you would like,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said when asked about Stafford. “Our job is to do what we can do to score points to help our team win games. It’s on us to keep ourselves in a good game situation so that we do have multiple avenues available to us to attack a defense. Sometimes we have this year and sometimes we have been a little bit further behind than we should be.’’

3. Grabbing a lead early, once again is key. The Bears have outscored opponents 120-51 in the first half — 75-23 in the second quarter. The Lions need a good start, especially with the way they’ve played the last two weeks, to have a chance of winning. Stafford used to be able to fight back and come from behind in the fourth quarter, but not sure that’s much of a possibility this season. “I think it’s on our list of musts every week, is to start fast. And that’s as a team. I’m a big part of that team, I understand that, and doing what I can do to help us get points,’’ Stafford said. “Converting third downs, hitting big shots when we get it, just making sure that when we have those opportunities from the opening kickoff that we’re ready to go. The more I can hit the throws and make the right checks, all that kind of stuff, the better we’re going to be.”

4. The defense has to stop the run and the Bears have a dynamic duo in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen who are two different kinds of backs. “Jordan Howard, a big powerful guy, downhill type of back, who has enough speed, keeps the ball rolling for them. Tarik is very dynamic, very explosive, (he can) do it all, he runs between the tackles, he runs outside, he runs routes, catches passes, screens, they get him involved a lot of different ways,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. We have to identify who’s in the ball game and understand how to play against each guy’s skill sets because they are two dynamic players.’’ And he noted that at times both backs are on the field together.

5. Mitchell Trubisky is a young quarterback who has shown much improvement over last season, completing 64.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s also mobile quarterback.  “If things break down and he runs and there’s a receiver open, he’s going to throw it to that receiver as he’s advancing towards the line of scrimmage. He has more of a tendency to put the ball away and go with it as opposed to trying to get outside the pocket, reset, look downfield and throw the ball,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.

PREDICTION: Bears 24, Lions 17

Lions Glover Quin says season not lost

‘As long as we have a chance, we have a chance’

ALLEN PARK — Glover Quin’s glass is half-full until it’s knocked to the floor and shattered.

The safety, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons, does not think the Lions season is over despite their  3-5 record.

“For me, and I say this whenever it’s appropriate, the season is not lost until it’s lost. As long as we have a chance, we have a chance,’’ Quin said on Wednesday. “If we’re not mathematically eliminated on Sunday, we’ve still got a chance. It’s just the NFL.’’

Of course he is right. Technically the Lions are still in the NFC North hunt. It’s just difficult to imagine they could finish on top due to the last two games, both lopsided losses — one to the Seahawks, one to the Vikings.

“I think when you look at these games, the Seattle game I mean we just didn’t make the plays, we were there, we were in position, we were here and there we just didn’t make the plays, that’s on us,’’ Quin said.

“You look at this last game against Minnesota, we gave up a big run on a mis-fit whatever but we played pretty solid defense for the most part in that game,’’ Quin said referring to a 70-yard Dalvin Cook scamper.

“Second half I don’t think we gave up a point. They had the first drive where they scored on us, the one run and they got a score. I think we’ve been playing pretty well we just have to put it all together. We’ve got to put together a full performance, where offensively we play well and control the game, defensively we play well and keep them off the field, and special teams we control the games and make some big plays,’’ Quin said.

“This league, this game. everything is about momentum, about confidence. When you’ve lost two in a row you just have to dive deeper and do whatever it takes to get a win because all it takes you get that one win, confidence gets high, then coming home for three straight games, you never know. It’s really on us we have to prepare well and go to Chicago with the mindset to get a win,’’ he added.

The Bears (5-3) are atop the NFC North. They are 3-1 at home with wins over Seattle, Tampa Bay and the Jets. The Lions are 4-1 in their last five visits to Chicago’s Soldier Field.

“Look at it, the Texans started out 0-3 and they won six in a row now they’re 6-3 and everybody’s talking about, ‘Oh man it’s  the greatest team,’’’ Quin said. “So who knows once you start playing well, you get on a roll, things start happening, you can win what do we have eight  games left? You never know what can happen. Like I always say, and I’ve been saying it in the past, until we’re mathematically eliminated we have a chance and that’s how we have to approach it.’’

.In Detroit’s only two divisional games so far they beat the Packers and lost to the Vikings. They will play the Bears again on Thanksgiving at Ford Field.

Lions players react to trade that sent Golden Tate to the Eagles

He was popular teammate, but they are moving on

ALLEN PARK — It was the first day post-Golden.

With wide receiver Golden Tate traded to the Eagles on Tuesday, the Lions went through their first practice and day of work without him on Wednesday preparing to play at the Vikings on Sunday.

Tate led the Lions in receiving yards (527) and catches (44) and also had three touchdowns.

“”There are a lot of difficult decisions that are made in the NFL multiple times during the course of the year. Yesterday was one of them,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “From our process, we try to evaluate everything the best we can and try to make the best decision we can as we move forward, not only for our immediate but also our long term.’’

Tate’s former teammates were obviously sad to see him go, but they can’t dwell on what could have been, they have to prepare for Sunday. They are not throwing in the tall. They have the same goal — to win the NFC North.

Player reaction to the trade:

— Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr.: “Obviously he’s a great friend, a great teammates, a great player here and, you know, it’s the NFL, he’s somewhere else and this is a week we have to prepare for a tough opponent, can’t really harp on it. He’s a great friend. We just have to do what we do, go out there everyday in practice, get on the details as much as we can and get out there and make plays for the team. We have TJ Jones and (Brandon) Powell obviously they’re going to get a little bit of playing time. Everybody has to stay the course, whatever is called. We’ll work hard during the week like we have been and it’s the next man up. I’m sure we’re going to do good. TJ has had some great minutes for us over the years, obviously he’s like our Swiss Army knife, he knows all the plays we just go out there and keep doing what we’re doing.’’

— Safety Glover Quin: “You play this game long enough you see all types of crazy stuff, you see things happen each and every day, it’s a part of the business. As players you learn to go out and play because at the end of the day that’s what you have to go out and do. Obviously Golden was great for us, great in the locker room, in the community, on the team, fun teammate, made a lot of big plays for us. But they made a move and, at the end of the day, like I always say I’m just a player, my job is to go out there and play so that’s what I try to focus on. I wish Golden good luck and I’m pretty sure he’s going to go out there and be Golden. That’s who he is. We can’t let that stop us from going out there and trying to achieve our ultimate goal which is win football games.’’

— Wide receiver TJ Jones: We hate to see him go, we love him. I’ve been with him for four and a half years, we definitely built up a rapport and friendship on and off the field just like a lot of the other guys have. We hate to see him go, wish him nothing but the best. But the reality of it is we had to come in and attack the new plan today. … I think we’re all going to step up. I think there’s a lot of responsibility to be spread out among everyone on the offense, it’s up to us to handle it I guess. Take your responsibility, your part, whatever your role and do it to the best of your ability. I learned a lot (from Tate), coming in as a rookie and he was in his fifth year in the NFL and having four or five years together — there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t asking him something whether it was on the field, off the field, recovery or day-to-day life of becoming a pro.’’

— Left tackle Taylor Decker: “It’s sad to see him go personally, he was a friend, obviously a great player, great teammate, great for this community. We’re going to wish him the best of luck moving forward we have a big divisional opponent so we can’t dwell on that. Wish him the best of luck and obviously not happy to see him go. He was absolutely a very good player for us but we have plenty of good players in this locker room.’’

Five things to watch as Lions host Seahawks; plus prediction

Both teams at 3-3 heading into match-up at Ford Field

ALLEN PARK — To have a chance to win the NFC North, the Lions have to win at home.

So far they’re 2-1 at Ford Field with impressive wins over the Patriots and Packers and an  embarrassing loss to the Jets.

Sunday’s game at Ford Field against the Seattle Seahawks isn’t a must-win but almost halfway through the season it’s time to get on the right side of the .500 mark.

The Seahawks (3-3) have won three of their last four just like the Lions (3-3). Tee up another tough one for the home team. Seattle is coming off its bye week so should be rested and ready to go.

“I think Seattle has a little bit of jump on us this week and got going early. I know coach (Pete) Carroll is going to have his group ready to go,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “We just have to be ready to go from the start. We can’t let whatever happened last week affect us this week. We have to move on and get ready to go and just expect their best right away. They are a fast-starting aggressive team, we know that just in general so we’re going to have to be ready to go as soon as that thing kicks off. But we know that they’re energy, the competitiveness that Seattle brings, they’re going to do a great job of trying to get on top early and keep the throttle going all the way through the game.”

The Seahawks have outscored opponents 28-21 in the first quarters of their six games while the Lions have a 45-13 scoring edge in the first quarter.

Here are five things to watch:

1. No room for complacency on the Lions run game. Feed the ball to Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. Don’t shy away. Keep pounding. Got that Jim Bob Cooter? I think he does, actually. Cooter has looked like an offensive genius since Johnson has found his groove.

2. Matthew Stafford has been playing out of his mind. In the last five games he’s thrown 11 touchdowns and one interception and finished each game with a rating of more than 100 (158.3 is perfect). He has the respect of the Carroll, the Seahawks and everyone else. “He’s a terrific player, I have great respect for him. He’s one of the great ones in the game. He’s got all the background, all of the experience, he’s thrown a million passes in unbelievable situations late in the game, two minutes, you name it, big third down guy, big red zone guy,’’ Carroll said on a conference call this week. “He’s a great player and he’s one of the classic quarterbacks in this league and has been for a long time.” The Seahawks’ passing defense is ranked third in the NFL allowing just 206.0 passing yards per game and they have nine interceptions, tied for sixth in the NFL

3. Will have to wait and see whether NT Damon “Snacks” Harrison will make his Lions’ debut. Patricia wouldn’t say either way prior to Friday’s practice. The nose tackle, acquired for the Giants, practiced with the team on Thursday and Friday. Stafford, who has played against him, said he’s not only good for stopping the run, but he’s also sneaky good in the pass game too. The defense has improved at stopping the run, but Harrison’s addition could be huge.

4. Detroit’s defense has to make Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson uncomfortable which is tough because he’s still dangerous when he gets outside the pocket. “Russell Wilson is still Russell Wilson, moves around a lot, makes a lot of plays for them. They are getting back to what they like to do is run the ball, run the ball, control the game up front and then take some shots off the run game,’’ Lions safety Glover Quin said. Wilson has thrown 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

5. Keep an eye on Seattle running backs Chris Carson (4.5 yards per carry) and Mike Davis (4.6 yards per carry).  The Seahawks average 127.8 rushing yards per game. “Coach ( Brian (Schottenheimer) and I went against each other for a long time when he was at the Jets and I know he likes that downhill kind of pound-it run game,’’ Patricia said. “And I think he just has two backs that he feels are big, physical guys that will be hard to tackle for 60 minutes. And I think they’re in a situation where they’re handing the ball off 30-plus times here recently in order to control the game and I think that’s what they want to do. I think that’s what he likes is just having those bigger backs that—it takes a toll. When you have those big guys, you may stop them for a yard or two early but those one or two-yard runs turn into five or six and then all of sudden it’s a 10 to 12 to 20-yard run and that’s the biggest problem with guys like that. And I think they’ve just settled into a system that fits them really well.”

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Seahawks 21

Five things to watch as the Lions play at the Miami Dolphins; plus prediction

Dolphins are 3-0 at home

Much has been made about today’s weather forecast in Miami which is expected to reach 87 hot and humid degrees.

The visitors bench at Hard Rock Stadium gets the sun unlike the home team.

“We’re not going down there to play against the weather, we’re going to play the Dolphins we have to make sure we’re ready to go,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

The Lions (2-3) are winless on the road while the Dolphins (4-2) are 3-0 at Hard Rock Stadium.

If the Lions are going to get back on track this season and somehow improve on last season’s 9-7 record, today is the time to get started.

“We just have to play good football. I think that’s our mindset, is do everything we can, prepare as hard as we can to play good football on Sunday and that’s what it boils down to,’’ Matthew Stafford said. “The games that we’ve won we’ve played well, the games that we haven’t we did not play well. So, it’s on us to go out there, have that sense of urgency and play well.”

Here are five things to watch:

1. The defense must stop Frank Gore (in his 14th season) who averages 4.9 yards per carry as the Dolphins top running back. “Frank has done an unbelievable job of taking care of his body and just executing at a high level for a long time. I know him really well,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s a competitive guy, he’s a tough guy. He really loves the game of football. And he has an edge about him that has just been able to kind of carry him all the way through his career.’’ The Lions’ rushing defense tightened up a bit in the win against the Packers, but must continue that trend on Sunday.

2. Rattle quarterback Brock Osweiler who was announced as the starting quarterback on Wednesday with Ryan Tannehill injured. While many of the yards were after the catch, Osweiler passed for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 31-28 win over the Bears last week. “He’s got a big arm, he can throw the ball, their offense they like to throw the ball deep, they’ve got fast guys he can definitely do that,’’ Quin said. The Lions will once again be playing without defensive end Ziggy Ansah who has been declared out with a shoulder injury.

3. The Lions third-down defense has excelled and needs to continue. “You’ve got to have a good scheme and you’ve got to be able to execute it. Like I said, for us it’s about understanding what teams are going to try to do against us, what different players like to do, figure a way to take that away on third downs,’’ Quin said. “… For us we have to be on the same page we have to be locked in and clued in to all the same things so we can execute at a high level.’’

4. Getting off to a fast start so important for both teams. In their win over the Packers on Oct. 7, the Lions took a 24-0 lead at the half. It didn’t guarantee a win but changed the way they played in the second half.

5. The Lions run game has to continue the upward trajectory. Theo Riddick (knee) is out. Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount do what they do but they also can catch the ball out of the backfield so they’ll likely get more snaps with Riddick’s absence.

PREDICTION: Dolphins 27, Lions 24.

After 5 games, Lions have identity crisis

They face Dolphins at Miami on Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> Five games into the season, the Lions have an identity crisis.

“It’s not about who I think we are, it’s about how we play that week,’’ safety Glover Quin said on Wednesday. “Do we play like the team that beat the Patriots because obviously we can do that. Or do we play like the team that lost to the Jets, obviously we can do that too. It’s not about who do I think we are, it’s about how do we go out and play each and every week.’’

OK, then. That brings up this week. Coming off the bye the Lions are 2-3 and play at Miami (4-2).

The Dolphins are 3-0 at home while the Lions are 0-2 on the road. Add in the factor that temps are expected to reach 87 on Sunday.

Also, the Lions are coming off their bye week so need to rev up and get back into the groove. That win against the Packers on Oct. 7 could have started a roll, but the brakes were put on due to the early bye week.

“It’s not really a concern. It’s something we have to go out and get back to playing football. We should be fresher, bodies should feel pretty good, we’ve had a week off,’’ Quin said.

The Lions veteran safety said it’s a good to be playing on the road because it’s easier to communicate defensively because the home crowd is quiet while their offense is on the field.

“You can hear — talk and communicate and make sure everybody is on the same page and we should be good,’’ Quin said.

Consistency is the key moving forward.

“If we get smacked, we’re probably the team that showed up against the Jets, if we dominate we’re the team that showed up against the Patriots and the Packers,’’ Quin said. “It’s about being consistent and not having that up and down — this week we were good, next week we were bad. We have to lock in and say we’re going to be good.’’

After five games with new head coach Matt Patricia, Quin seems fairly confident.

“The longer you play together, get to know each other better, it’s a new scheme for us, so we learn new things within the scheme, new things we can do, you get more comfortable,’’ Quin said. “When you first come out I mean everything is new you’re going into battle with a new head coach, new position coaches for the most part, everything is kind of new, sometimes it takes a feeling-out period, sometimes it don’t.’’

If the Lions are going to turn around the season, time is getting short.

Quin knows it is not too late because he has been through this before when he was in Houston in 2011.

“I think we started out 2-3 or something like that, 3-3, and we ended up winning seven games in a row and clinched at 10-3, the division,’’ Quin said. “It’s all about going out and playing at a high level and winning games, once you win you stack them and stack them and go on a run.’’

Sunday’s game against the Dolphins is certainly not a must-win, but it will help define this Lions team. Good or bad.