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

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Packers

The Detroit Lions in their first game under interim head coach Darrell Bevell pulled off a huge win last Sunday. Bevell brought a change of attitude and it worked against the Bears.

It just gets tougher when the Lions (5-7) face the division rival Green Bay Packers (9-3) at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Bevell has to keep the team focused despite the changes and uncertainty of the future.

“I always worry about us over-trying and trying to get outside of what we’re doing to make a play. That’s why the focus is really on – it’s always about us. It’s about how we play,’’ Bevell said. “The football field has not changed dimensions. The football hasn’t changed dimensions. The game that they’ve been playing since they were 8 years old hasn’t changed at all. It’s just go out there and play, play fast, play free. I think that can be a really freeing experience where you get out of your own head, you just go play a game that you love to play, and you play it at a high level and not worry about those types of things.”

In Week 2 at Lambeau Field, the Packers beat the Lions, 42-21.

Five things to watch:

  1. The Lions’ defense had trouble stopping the Bears in the first half last week. They were able to tighten up in the second half and made a key play (Romeo Okwara’s strip sack) in the waning minutes. The difference?
    When we came out at halftime, there was no panic. Went in there and had a great conversation, showed the things we didn’t do well, didn’t tackle very well in the first half, didn’t really schematically get beat, just guys out of position,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “So came out of the tunnel at halftime, didn’t blink, and I think that obviously showed up in the second half. Moved some things around, some pieces, made some adjustments, again nothing major, but I think the credit goes to the players coming out of halftime, nobody’s head was down.’’

2. Stopping Aaron Rodgers will present much more of a challenge. Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes against just four interceptions this season. The Packers’ offense scores more points per game (31.6) than any other NFL team and ranks second in yards per game (396.6). “Well just playing Aaron Rodgers makes you adjust to everything. He’s just playing at such a high level right now. He does an outstanding job of understanding, diagnosing what you’re presenting him, and then he gets the ball out as quick as anybody,’’ Bevell said. “So he’s a hard guy to get to, so you have to change things up, you have to try to mix it up for him, to make it as hard as you can on him. But like I said, he’s about as good as they come at diagnosing all that.”

3. Matthew Stafford threw for 402 yards against the Bears including three touchdown passes. Five of his receivers caught passes of at least 20 yards. “As I said, we have those (big plays) built in, we’re trying to look for them. But we did talk about just aggressively, how much we wanted to take them. I think it was a perfect storm that we were finally able to get as many as we got,’’ Bevell said. “Matthew (Stafford), I thought he was – like I said earlier – I thought he was really settled in. I thought he did a great job inside the pocket with some tough rushes at times, but his eyes continued to stay downfield. And then, he just took them and gave his guys opportunities to make plays. I think that a couple of them, particularly the one to (Quintez) Cephus on the right side for the touchdown, I mean he gave him an opportunity, and he took the shot. We’re continuing to work on that and hopefully it stays in that direction.”

4. With D’Andre Swift out last week, Adrian Peterson rushed for 57 of the Lions total 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Swift is officially questionable to return, recovering from an “illness.” He really could provide a boost. Wide receive Kenny Golladay is out for the sixth straight game with a hip injury. 

5. Bevell has preached that the players keep playing hard no matter what the scoreboard reads. It worked in his first game. “That’s the thing that we’re trying to instill, is to do exactly that, is to make sure that you don’t measure the game,’’ Bevell said. “You can come out and the team can have – you’ve seen it before — you get great momentum with an opening kickoff for a touchdown, and you lose 35-7. Or you get up 21-0 at half, and you lose 28-21. It doesn’t really matter how you start, although you want to start well. But it does matter how you finish, whether that you can break it down to a play, you can break it down to a quarter, to a half, and all the way until the end of the game. So that’s what I’m trying to instill in these guys, ‘Don’t measure it.’ It helps you from avoiding the emotions that you can get caught up in in the game.’’

Prediction: Packers 38, Lions 30

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Texans

The Lions look to snap a three-game losing streak on Thanksgiving Day when they face the Houston Texans at Ford Field.

The Lions (4-6) are coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in recent years (and that says a lot), after they were shut out 20-0 on Sunday at Carolina.

It’s quite the opposite for the Texans (3-7) who beat the Patriots 27-20 on Sunday.

Coach Matt Patricia’s job could be on the line after this game. While he said he saw some positives on the film from Carolina, he could not sugarcoat it.

“Obviously, the negative was there, and it was glaring and that’s what we’re trying to get fixed,’’ said Patricia who has uttered basically the same thing every week.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford was pressured all day long and sacked five times by the Panthers. It won’t get any easier facing J.J. Watt who has four sacks and eight quarterback hits in the first 10 games. “I would say the thing about this guy that is amazing is how competitive he is all the way through the game,’’ Patricia said. “It doesn’t matter the situation, this guy always has that mentality that he’s going to make a play to win, and a lot of times, he does. You see games where defenses have had him wrapped up in the backfield and it’s a sack and the game is over, and he gets out, he gets his eyes downfield, he makes an amazing throw and threads the needle.’’

2. The offensive could get a boost with the likely return of running back D’Andre Swift who was out on Sunday with a concussion. He practiced on limited basis on Tuesday and is questionable for the game. He could provide a big plus. If he’s not ready, Kerryon Johnson should get a better look. Give him a start and a chance to prove himself. Adrian Peterson may be a future Hall of Famer, but he hasn’t had the production needed for this offense in recent games.

3. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola didn’t play on Sunday and will be sidelined again on Thursday. One thing is for certain, whoever is on the receiving end of a Stafford pass needs to catch the ball and hold on. Drops were one of many issues at Carolina.

4. The defense faces another top quarterback in Deshaun Watson who has thrown 20 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. “I would say the thing about this guy that is amazing is how competitive he is all the way through the game. It doesn’t matter the situation, this guy always has that mentality that he’s going to make a play to win, and a lot of times, he does. You see games where defenses have had him wrapped up in the backfield and it’s a sack and the game is over, and he gets out, he gets his eyes downfield, he makes an amazing throw and threads the needle,’’ Patricia said. 

5. Coaching has to improve, players need to be better prepared even on a short week. On Sunday, TV analyst Chris Spielman suggested on a Panthers’ third-down and long play they would go to Curtis Samuel like they usually do. Bingo. And the pass was complete because the Lions weren’t prepared. It wasn’t a lucky guess by Spielman, it was because he had done his homework. Funny how that works.

Prediction: Texans 28, Lions 17