Five things to watch as Lions face Packers in crucial NFC North match-up

A loss would drop Detroit to 1-4

ALLEN PARK — It is huge. The Lions face the Green Bay Packers in their first NFC North game this season on Sunday at Ford Field.

“Division games they count two, so obviously we’re not in the spot where we want to be right now but getting a big division win against GB is huge. We get a win in our column, we’re able to give them a loss in their column. That’s huge,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

Detroit owns a lousy 1-3 record while the Packers stand at 2-1-1 despite the gimpy knee of quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was injured in the opener. This will be Green Bay’s third divisional game — they tied with the Minnesota Vikings and beat the Chicago Bears.

If Detroit drops to 1-4, the season isn’t over but even making it to 8-8 would be challenging. And remember this is a team that finished 9-7 last season which resulted in the firing of Jim Caldwell. General manager Bob Quinn said at the time he thought they were better than 9-7 so he hired Matt Patricia.

And here we are.

Five things to watch as the Lions face the Packers:

1. Even on one leg, Aaron Rodgers has been effective throwing seven touchdowns against just one interception. His top three wide receivers have been on the injury list this week — Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are questionable while Randall Cobb has been ruled out. “(Rodgers) will be moving around very fast. He’s an extremely athletic player even if you go back to the Washington game where you can say he wasn’t moving as well but he still scrambled and ran for first downs on third down and no one could catch him,’’ Patricia said. “So, this guy is very dangerous when he’s out in space. This guy can make and create a lot of plays not only with his arm, but with his legs.’’ Rodgers is 13-3 against the Lions and, of course, threw the Hail Mary game-winning touchdown pass in 2015 that took the air out of Ford Field.

2. The Lions have not been able to stop the run. Period. They rank 32nd in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game. There really is no excuse. Safety Glover Quin this week said they’ve had too many missed tackles, among other issues. He said more film work and concentrating on this in practice is the way to improve. Packers running backs Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones were watching film too. “They do a really good job of creating space and separation in the defensive front and a little bit of a zone and stretch run team. Those guys are very explosive backs that do a good job of getting into the secondary very quickly,’’ Patricia said. “And the guys up front do a real good job blocking and obviously the backs are taking advantage of that and finding space. But, definitely a big part of their offense is their ability to run the ball, which obviously opens up the rest of it for them in the passing game.’’

3. Matthew Stafford needs five passing touchdowns to become the all-time leader in that category against the Packers. Five in one game would be a ton, but it shows that he has had success moving the offense against the Packers, if not beating them. Currently Johnny Unitas is tops with 34 touchdowns and Fran Tarkenton is second with 33. Stafford has been on solid ground after the opener when he threw four interceptions. For the first time in his career, Stafford will be facing the Packers with a defensive coordinator not named Dom Capers. Mike Pettine has taken over the Packers’ defense. “I wouldn’t say it was easier (with Capers), but I was more familiar with what they were all about. Obviously, (they have) a new defensive coordinator this year so I have quite a bit of learning to do on these guys,’’ Stafford said. “Do I know a few of their players maybe better than some non-divisional opponents? Yes, but they have plenty of new guys around, too, to get to know and to learn.”

4. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson was limited to nine carries last week in the loss at Dallas. There’s clamoring from the Lions’ faithful that he needs to get more touches, but the Lions’ coaches will continue with their plan for the rookie. “Every game’s a little different. You don’t know situationally what’s going to happen with each game from a reps perspective, from a situational perspective, from a match-up perspective,’’ Patricia said. “So, the ultimate goal is just to win the game. That’s the goal each week. That’s what we put all our thought into, all our work into and that’s the emphasis for us.”

5. Injuries will affect both teams. The Lions have ruled out Ziggy Ansah, T.J. Lang and Michael Roberts while the list of questionable players is long. Defensive back Quandre Diggs has been practicing with a cast on his broken left hand so would not be a surprise if he plays. The Packers have ruled out Randall Cobb, but have a half-dozen listed as questionable. Tight end Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers were taken off the injury report.

Prediction: Packers 27, Lions 24

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Don’t count out Lions Quandre Diggs against the Packers

Glover Quin has played with a broken hand with success

ALLEN PARK — Don’t count out Quandre Diggs for Sunday just yet.

The Detroit Lions nickel cornerback/strong safety broke his left hand in Sunday’s loss at Dallas.

Diggs had limited participation in Wednesday’s practice which is a good sign that he could be available on Sunday. He was wearing what appeared to be a cast on his left hand.

Diggs has been an integral part of the new Matt Patricia-style defense. He’s started all four games, playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps in Weeks 2 and 3, and 97 percent in the opener.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions (1-3) host the Green Bay Packers (2-1-1) on Sunday at Ford Field. Defending quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a monumental task so having the whole complement of the Lions’ secondary on the field is huge.

Glover Quin said a safety can play with a broken hand. He has done it.

Quin said in his second season (2010), playing for Houston Texans, he broke his hand in a game against the Jets. In the next game he had three interceptions in a win over the Tennessee Titans. (A check of NFL stats proved his claim. By the way, they were his only three interceptions that season.)

“There are definitely some challenges (playing with a cast), especially as a defensive back. You use your hands a lot,’’ Quin said on Wednesday. “You can deal with the pain, you can make it.’’

Of course not all broken hands are equal. If Diggs fracture is more serious he could be forced to the sidelines.

In the first four games Diggs, who signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension last month, has 16 tackles, four pass defenses and an interception in the first four games.

Five things to watch as Lions face the Dallas Cowboys; plus prediction

Dallas tough defense a threat for Lions

Momentum is a funny thing in the NFL. Its existence is questionable, but when a team is on a roll it certainly seems to be the reason.

The Lions, coming off a huge win against the New England Patriots, could certainly use another win at Dallas on Sunday to get back to even for the season. The Cowboys are not all of that. They’re also 1-2, having lost at Carolina (2-1) and at Seattle (1-2).

The Cowboys have won six of the last seven meetings against the Lions, but both of these teams are different. (Kickoff is 1 p.m. on FOX.)

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. The Lions tandem of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount must continue to grind out yards on the ground. They had their best game in the win over New England but the work is just starting. “I feel like myself and our running back room had the bar of expectation (set) high,’’ Johnson said. “We all know we’re talented guys, we all know what we can do, we all believe in this offense and this offensive line especially we’ve all felt it was something we can do and will continue to do it.”

2. The Lions’ run defense which tightened up a bit in the win over the Patriots, has to continue to improve. The Cowboys average 132.7 rushing yards per game which is seventh best in the NFL. The big issue is stopping running back Ezekiel Elliott who averages 5.7 yards per carry and is tied for the NFL lead in rushing with 274 yards. (He’s tied with San Francisco’s Matt Brieda who ran all over the Lions averaging 12.5 yards per carry with 138 yards on 11 carries.) “He’s got good size, good speed, good power. He’s patient,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “When he sees it, he hits it. He’s a tough tackle. He has all the attributes you want in a running back.”

3. The offensive line wasn’t perfect on Sunday but they were as good as they’ve been for a long time, giving Matthew Stafford time and opening up lanes for the run game. He’ll need time against a Cowboys’ defense that has held opponents to 6.58 yards per attempt through the air. Also, Dallas’ defensive line has recorded a sack on 10.3 percent of opponent passing attempts but haven’t intercepted an opposing quarterback. On the other side, Stafford has been sacked just three times in three games — the least amount for a starting quarterback so far this season. “Is that the deal? I didn’t even know that. That’s great,’’ Stafford said. “Our guys up front are fighting like crazy. I’m trying to do everything I can to get the ball out when guys get edges on our guys or whatever it is. I think that’s a good thing for our offense as long as I’m protecting the football and I’m not making a bad decision if I’m under duress.’’ He’s thrown four touchdown passes and just one interception in the last two games after getting off to a rocky start with four picks in the opening loss to the Jets.

4. Detroit will be without defensive end Ziggy Ansah who can’t seem to stay healthy. Still the defense has to keep the pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott who is not off to a great start this season with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. The Lions will be without tight end Michael Roberts (knee) for the second straight game. Roberts scored the only touchdown by a tight end when he pulled one in against the Jets. “I think tight ends in the League may not get enough respect for the impact they do have as blockers. A lot of run games out there, you’re going to have five offensive linemen out there just about every run game,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “You’re going to have at least a sixth guy that’s tight end and then from there, you add the different variations that everybody has. So, when we have tight ends that are successfully blocking and are part of a successful scheme doing their job, communicating well with whoever they’re connected to, could be a tackle, they could be somewhere in the backfield or whatever we have those guys doing, it does make a difference. It does lead to offensive success.”

Prediction: Lions 24, Cowboys 14.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host New England Patriots; also prediction

New England defense without 3 sstarters

After what can best be described as a disappointing start to the season, the Lions face their toughest opponent so far when they host the New England Patriots tonight at Ford Field.

“Did they win the Super Bowl last year?” asked Glover Quin, possibly trying to downplay the Patriots’ elite status. Well, of course they didn’t win it, but they were in it.

New England is off to a 1-1 start and the offense needs some work but they have Tom Brady (five touchdowns, 1 interception). The Patriots’ defense, which has allowed 25.5 points per game, will be missing defensive lineman Trey Flowers, along with safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Eric Rowe. All three started last week and have been ruled out for this game due to injury.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is off to an inglorious start with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s been off on connecting with receivers on the long ball. Just not a good look so far.

Of course all eyes will be on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, his disciple and former defensive coordinator. They will be a part of the story on Sunday night even though they both try to dismiss the attention.

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford has to have a better game. They don’t win unless this offense gets turned around. Since he’s the quarterback he gets the blame or the credit. “I have to make sure I give those guys (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr.) chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them,’’ Stafford said.

2. The offensive line had a better Week 2. Left tackle Taylor Decker didn’t practice on Friday but it wasn’t an injury situation and he’s expected to play tonight. The line was without right guard T.J. Lang last week, but he practiced this week and should start.

3. Detroit’s secondary against Brady will be a tough matchup. It could be worse if cornerback Darius Slay (concussion) does not play. He participated in practice on Friday for the first time all week but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go. Slay gives the Lions’ defense the best chance of being able to stop Brady and his gang.

4. After missing last week, defensive end Ziggy Ansah is expected to play — he’s practiced this week. Ansah and the line have to put pressure on Brady, keep him in the pocket. They sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times, but he holds onto the ball longer so don’t give that stat too much value. Brady has been sacked four times in the first two games.

5. The Lions run game has slightly improved. They’re up to 4.3 yards per catch which is 1.1 yards better than last season. In the first two games, the Lions fell so far behind they had to resort to the pass to try to catch up. Kerryon Johnson (4.6 yards per carry) has just 13 touches in the first two weeks. If the Lions can stay in the game, he could get more of the load. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, has proven he’s still got gas in the tank.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Lions 24.

Lions Glover Quin on facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and getting ‘D’ in gear

Lions looking for first win

ALLEN PARK –  When he played in Houston, safety Glover Quin faced New England’s Tom Brady often.

So when the two line up at Ford Field on Sunday night, it won’t be a first.

The Lions (0-2) are looking for their first win this season while the Patriots (1-1) are coming off a loss at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Lions’ defense is adjusting to a new scheme under first-year coach Matt Patricia, formerly New England’s defensive coordinator. The relationship could add a little drama to the nationally televised game, although both coaches are down-playing it.

Three thoughts from Quin:

1. Quin, who is 32, said he is fine physically yet in the first two games, he looked just a bit off on his timing. He says it’s mental. The defense is learning a new scheme and has to adjust to react quickly. No time for thinking. “When they say games are won or lost by ‘this much’ it’s literally true. Having to think and then go, opposed to just going is the difference in making a pass break-up and making an interception, or making an interception and giving up a catch. Or, being one step closer and making a tackle or being one step farther and missing a tackle is literally just like that,’’ Quin said, snapping his fingers. That said, he knows the team has to get its act together quickly, it can’t be patient while getting used to new methods. “Hopefully Sunday we’re all on board ready to roll,’’ Quin said.

2. It’s not unusual for the Patriots and Tom Brady to take a few games into the season to get warmed up. “I’ve faced Tom Brady a few times. Throughout the years he’s always been a good tough competitor. It’s always fun playing against him. (He’s) very fiery,’’ Quin said. “When you’re playing him in New England it’s a lot funnier, it’s quiet so you can hear him when he’s going off on his O-linemen and his wide receivers telling them to move and stuff.

“But he’s made some amazing throws, some amazing plays and he’s a great quarterback. I got a ton of games where I played him from earlier in my career when I was in Houston in the AFC — playing him in the regular season, playing him in the playoffs. Since I’ve been here we’ve played once in the regular season and I think we played them twice in the preseason. Last year they jumped out on us like 20-something at halftime,’’ said Quin. It was the third game of the preseason (the dress rehearsal) and the Patriots, who started Brady, jumped out to a 24-0 lead and won 30-28. Quin’s only preseason interception in his 10-year career came courtesy of Brady in that game.

3. Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is third all-time in touchdown catches by a tight end (70) in the NFL, scored one touchdown in the opener and none in the loss at Jacksonville in Week 2. Gronkowski, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with an ankle injury, has nine receptions, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. He is always a handful. “We’ve got to all recognize where he’s at, we’ve got to all be tuned into what we’re doing,’’ Quin said. “He’s been with Tom (Brady) for a lot of years so they have a good rapport on the field. They play really well together. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s faster than people think — he runs kind of weird but he moves, he moves fast. He’s not real shifty, you don’t have to be when you’re that big. He has big strong hands, great hands, great body control, when you’re got a guy that big, I don’t know if you guys realize, when you go against a guy show’s 6-6, 260-however (268) big he is. Those guys are big, it’s like guarding Ziggy (Ansah). And he can catch, great ball skills. And Tom trusts him, when you trust a guy you have to go to him.’’