Lions running back Zach Zenner makes most of his 12 carries in win at Cardinals

Scored first touchdown in 14 monthes

Zach Zenner snapped his 14-month scoreless streak when he ran in from 1 yard out for a touchdown in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the Cardinals at Arizona. His last touchdown had been on Oct. 5, 2017, in a loss to Carolina.

It’s not that the Detroit Lions running back gets many opportunities. Typically he does not. In the other four games he’s played on offense this season he’s had a combined four carries. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Zenner’s dozen carries on Sunday were the most for him since the 2016 season when he had three games with 12 or more touches. In the final two regular season games that year he had a combined 32 carries and three touchdowns. In the playoff loss at Seattle he had 11 touches.

Seven of his 12 carries at Arizona came in a four-minute, fourth-quarter drive where the Lions were trying to eat up the clock. Zenner was responsible for 42 of the 75 yards on that drive and the touchdown that put the game out of touch for the Cardinals.

“I think Zach, again, he’s one of those guys that does a phenomenal job of just preparing and being ready to go, whatever the situation is. He goes out and plays a lot of special teams for us and he does a lot of different things that can help us win or can help us win in special teams and also on the offensive side of the ball,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on his Monday conference call. “So, certainly he had an opportunity to go out and have a couple plays, which he did really well.’’

Zenner also plays on special teams where he was in on 71 percent of the special teams snaps on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

An undrafted free agent signed in 2015, he was let go with an injury settlement in early September this year. When he wasn’t working on getting his back healthy, he was studying for his medical school entrance exam and hoping for a phone call. When his back was healed and he was ready to go, the Lions brought him back.

Good thing, since Kerryon Johnson has missed the last three games due to a knee injury. Zenner is not LeGarrette Blount or Theo Riddick, but he can be effective when he gets a chance. Funny how that goes.

Advertisements

Five reasons Detroit Lions beat Arizona Cardinals, 17-3

Detroit’s effective run game was key

Yikes. It was not pretty, but the Detroit Lions snapped their two-game losing streak with a 17-3 win at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Detroit’s defense was key, holding Arizona to a field goal.

When the Cardinals came within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Lions ran downfield, eating up clock and finishing with a Zach Zenner touchdown run.

Neither offense could get much going. The Lions finished with 218 total yards while it was 279 for the Cardinals.

The Lions are now 5-8 in Matt Patricia’s first season, while the Cardinals drop to 3-10.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. The injury-riddled defense was solid, holding the Cardinals to just a field goal and rattling rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. Larry Fitzgerald was held to five catches (77 yards) while running back David Johnson had just 15 carries for 49 yards. The Cardinals managed just 73 yards of offense in the first half. Detroit linebacker Jarrad Davis was a standout with a sack, two tackles for loss, one pass defense, one quarterback hit and eight tackles.

2. Cornerback Darius Slay’s interception and return for touchdown in the third quarter, gave the Lions a 10-0 cushion. It was Slay’s first career pick-six and his third interception this season. He also broke up a potential touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. It was one of his three pass defenses.

3. Matthew Stafford (15-23, 101 yards) played just well enough to win, but it was the effective running game that was key. The Lions had 122 rushing yards — led by Zach Zenner with 54 yards and LeGarrette Blount with 33 yards. Stafford’s aching back limited him in practice last week. It didn’t affect his arm strength — he threw deep downfield, but couldn’t connect on one longer than 17 yards.

4. It must say something that the Lions could win despite an incredible number of injures, most forcing players from the game. That includes Ziggy Ansah (shoulder), Da’Shawn Hand knee), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), Charles Washington (hamstring), Marcus Cooper (back), Rick Wagner (concussion), Nick Bellore, Luke Willson and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Next man up, indeed.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. It was a win. It was kind of ugly (really dreadful in the first half) but the Lions hung in there so there’s something that should be said for it.

NEXT UP: Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9), at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 16.

Detroit Lions lose to L.A. Rams: Five things to know about loss

Defense solid but not quite good enough

DETROIT — It was a game not new to the Lions. They held on against a tough opponent, kept it close until the fourth quarter and then couldn’t get across the finish line.

Sunday’s 30-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams dropped the Lions to 4-8 with losses in five of their last six games.

You know what they said afterward about needing to improve as a team moving forward. It’s been said in eight post-game press conferences this season.

“Give the Rams credit. That’s a really good team over there. They’re very explosive, very dynamic, and I think we tried to be in it all the way through it,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Obviously, we didn’t get it done in the end.”

Five things to know about the loss:

1. The defense actually played pretty well through most of the game. Defensive back Quandre Diggs had a solid game with an interception, two pass defenses and six tackles. He wasn’t alone. Damon Harrison and Eli Harold each sacked quarterback Jared Goff. And, at least in the first half, running back Todd Gurley was kept in control. Although he finished with 23 carries for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

2. Matthew Stafford kept the offense moving until late in the game. He was 20 of 33 for 245 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the end zone trying to make a play with 11 seconds left in the game. But when he was sacked by Aaron Donald in the fourth quarter, he couldn’t hold onto the ball, fumbled it and the Rams were able to recover at Detroit’s 24-yard line. Three plays later Gurley scampered in for a touchdown to put the Rams up 23-13 with 6:53 left. It was a killer play.

3. Fans were booing loudly when on a third-and-19 in the third quarter, Theo Riddick ran a draw play. It seems to happen quite often that the coaches are so conservative on third-down plays. The Lions settled for a field goal on that drive after Riddick picked up 8 yards. On a third-and-13 in the fourth quarter, Stafford passed short right to Bruce Ellington for 5 yards. It’s not just in this game, either. This is a theme with the coaching calls on third down.

4. Tight end Levine Toilolo stepped up with four catches for 90 yards. He caught one for 22 yards on a first-and-20 in the third quarter on a drive that led to a Matt Prater field goal. Then on the Lions’ next possession he caught one deep down the middle for 39 yards, getting Detroit to the Rams’ 23-yard line. Three plays later left tackle Taylor Decker caught a touchdown pass.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh seemed to be quite fired up for this game, his first return to Ford Field since he signed as a free agent in 2015 and left town. Suh finished with six tackles (his season high is nine) and no sacks. He was whistled twice for personal fouls. With 1:41 left in the game and the Rams leading 30-16, Suh was penalized for roughing the passer. Inexcusable. Stafford was asked if his former teammate had anything to say to him: “Nope.” Then he was asked if he said anything to Suh. “Nope.” End of story.

NEXT UP: Lions at Arizona Cardinals (3-9) at 4:25 p.m. on Dec. 9. The Cardinals upset the Packers at Green Bay, 20-17, on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host the Los Angeles Rams

Ndamukong Suh makes first return visit to Ford Field

A young coach, a balanced offense with a solid quarterback and a defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. The combination has spelled success for the Los Angeles Rams and why wouldn’t it? Any NFL team would like to have some or most of those components.

That includes the Detroit Lions (4-7) who will host the Rams (10-1) on Sunday.

“They’re a very balanced offense and I think something we talk about all the time, that when you can be balanced on offense, it’s very difficult to defend and they’ve done a great job of that all year,’’ coach Matt Patricia said.

The Lions will have their hands full in all three phases.

“One of the things that’s really important with this team is just understanding how good they are on special teams and how good they are defensively. I think John Fassel does a phenomenal job on special teams. It’s one of the most dominant units in the league,’’ Patricia said. “They’re very consistent and they really make big plays.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Somehow, some way the Lions must get their run game going even without running back Kerryon Johnson who will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. LeGarrette Blount was the workhorse in the Thanksgiving loss to the Bears with 19 carries for 88 yards. “I think for our guys, we’re always on the program of whoever’s out there playing, we’re expecting everybody to do their best and go out and perform at a high level. We’ll do the same this weekend,’’ Patricia said.

2. Can’t overlook the Lions’ passing game either. Marvin Jones is out for the season, leaving Kenny Golladay, Bruce Ellington, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick  and the tight ends to pitch in. Matthew Stafford needs a better game, but he also needs his receivers to get open and run the right routes. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the shortcomings on offense are all on him. “It’s a team game. We have 11 guys out there. We all have to execute and be on the same page. A lot of that stuff’s on me. You guys at home don’t always know exactly what’s going on on the field. I’m accountable for everything that happens on this offense. Bad things that happen, things that don’t happen right, whether it’s a decision or being in a different spot, or some sort of decision somebody out there on the field is making that maybe isn’t even seen on the TV copy of the game. That stuff’s all on me,’’ Cooter said this week.

3. Stop running back Todd Gurley, the NFL’s second most prolific back. The Lions run defense has been one of the few units that has improved this season, holding teams to a total of 148 rushing yards combined over the last three games. (See blog below.)

4. Pressure quarterback Jared Goff (26 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) who has been sacked 24 times. He’s got a flotilla of solid receivers in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. “They’re a very explosive team. They do a great job with the scheme. Coach (Sean) McVay does an outstanding job of controlling the game on the offensive side of the ball with tempo. They use different tempos, they probably have about three or four different tempos that they can use offensively to dictate the game. So, we just have to do a good job of being really sound fundamentally and making sure that we’re doing a good job with our reads and our eye control.

5. Ndamukong Suh will return for his first game at Ford Field since he signed as a free agent with Miami in 2015. He and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are a powerful inside force that could present problems for the Lions’ offensive line and Stafford.

PREDICTION: Rams 35, Lions 17

 

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.”

Five reasons the Detroit Lions wasted a perfect chance to defeat Chicago Bears

Another Thanksgiving Day game to forget

DETROIT — It was the perfect time to get a win over the NFC North leading Chicago Bears who were without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and coming off a shorter week than the Lions.

Perfect.

Except the Lions did not get the job done. They lost 23-16 and fell to 4-7 in Matt Patricia’s first season. That matches the total number of losses from 2017.

No one has the answer on how to get the season back on track. They all take blame and say they have to work harder but they now have lost four of their last five games.

“Obviously, not the way we wanted that thing to end. It’s a good team over there, Chicago. They’ve done a good job all year. Played us tough all the way to the end and made some plays when they needed to at the end, which were critical for their football team, and we didn’t,’’ Patricia said. “So, we have to get back at it and go back to work. So, we have a lot to do, a lot to improve on, and things that we’re continually trying to get better at. There’s not a lot of time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.’’

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Matthew Stafford had a lousy day. He’s missing Marvin Jones Jr.,  and Kerryon Johnson who both have knee injuries; and Golden Tate who was shipped to the Eagles. It is not all on the quarterback. Some of it rests squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford’s teammates who have to be in the right position. Stafford was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter. The second one was on a pass intended for tight end Mike Roberts. “I was thinking Mike was going to be in a different spot, but you know, that’s cutting the ball loose and hoping sometimes that you’re on the same page,’’ Stafford said. “And obviously it didn’t work out in our favor tonight.” When pressed he said Roberts was not supposed to be deeper. “He’s not supposed to be anything, it’s a feel thing,’’ Stafford said.

2. Cooter called a conservative game of quick routes. He didn’t open it up until later in the third quarter. With a quarterback like Stafford, it didn’t seem to make much sense. Although Stafford was sacked six times in the loss to the Bears on Nov. 11 and didn’t want a repeat of that. :They played a lot of two high safeties, some off corner. You know, these guys are good, good defense. To get guys down the field you got to hold the ball and holding the ball against these guys is not a good recipe for success,’’ Stafford said. “So we tried to get the ball out as quickly as we could.”

3. Quarterback Chase Daniel was starting just his third career game, yet he played just fine going 27 of 37 for 230 yards, and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times but had enough composure to get the job done when needed. His touchdown passes to Taquan MIzzell and Tarik Cohen were right on the money. Never a doubt.

4. The Lions got the ball back with six minutes left and down 23-16. Stafford leads a hurry-up offense as well as anyone. But there was nothing hurry-up about the slow pace of the drive that ended with the Lions at the Bears’ 11 and Stafford being intercepted by Kyle Fuller in the end zone. “”So, it wasn’t a situation where I felt like we had to score quick and try to get the ball back. It’s an explosive offense, they have great players, too. So, definitely a strategy there, as far as — we felt like we were doing things well to move the ball and not be in a panic situation, just go down and try to score,’’ Patricia said. “Use all the clock if we have to, and if we needed extra clock, use extra clock. So, that’s really about it.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Ziggy Ansah got the start and looked like his old self with a sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles. He wasn’t the only solid player on defense. Glover Quin got a rare sack and DeShawn Shead forced a fumble that was recovered by Jarrad Davis in the second quarter. Detroit’s defense held the Bears to 38 rushing yards, well below their average of 122.9 rushing yards per game. “We didn’t do enough. Their defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t. They’re defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t, so we didn’t do enough,’’ Quin said. All three units have to play well for these Lions to win. They need to play complementary football and it didn’t happen on Thursday.

NEXT UP: The Lions (4-7) host the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Three key Lions sidelined with injuries

If the Lions’ hope to snap their three-game losing streak, they need to play practically perfect football against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Ford Field. It will be the first of three straight home games.

The Panthers (6-3) are coming off a Thursday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers so they’ve had extra time to prepare for the Lions who are 3-6.

The Lions (3-6) will be without three injured starters — wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tight end Michael Roberts.

It’s been a rough start under first year coach Matt Patricia, after the Lions finished 9-7 last season.

Still quarterback Matthew Stafford said the team hasn’t quit.

“I think we have a bunch of professionals, a bunch of guys that want to win. Nobody wants to go out there and work their tail off and not win,’’ Stafford said. “So, everybody’s out there trying to figure out a way to be better. Any way we can do it, we’re going to try.”

Five things to watch against the Panthers:

1. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games. Somehow, some way, they have to find a way to protect him while allowing him to be effective. “I think everybody’s doing everything they can to try and get us going. I think it’s a total team effort, everybody’s trying to play better at all positions, at all spots,’’ Stafford said. “I think our coaches are putting a ton of work in trying to be as good as they can be. So, it’s a total team effort. Offense is no different, we’re out there trying to find ways to make sure we score points. That’s the name of the game at the end of the day. Obviously, limiting sacks and turnovers and all that kind of stuff is going to help us do that, so any way we can do that kind of stuff is going to be beneficial for us.” The offensive line will be without right guard T.J. Lang for the rest of the season.

2. Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are on the same wavelength when it comes to the offense, but they’ve got to translate it from practice to Sundays. They work closely together. “He and I shoot texts throughout the week while I’m at my place and he’s here working. I know he’s up all hours of the night trying to figure out what’s going to be the best way for us to go out there and score a bunch of points, and I’m thinking about it constantly, too,’’ Stafford said. “So, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other all day at practice, trying to find ways to make ourselves score some more points. That’s the name of the game, which has been good.”

3. Detroit’s defense will have its hands full with quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the one-two offensive punch. Each has four rushing touchdowns while Newton has thrown 17 touchdown passes (against just five interceptions) and McCaffrey has caught four of those TDs. Also wide receiver Devin Funchess averages 12.2 yards per catch with 477 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions defense has particularly struggled in the run game giving up 176 rushing yards in the loss to Seattle and 128 to the Vikings. They found better success against the Bears last week holding them to 54 rushing yards, although Mitchell Trubisky passed for 355 yards.

4. Cornerback Darius Slay, who was out last week with a knee injury, is expected to be back in action which will provide a needed boost to the secondary. “He’s a tough player. (He’s) a guy that really, through the course of the season, I’ve had the pleasure to kind of work with and be around and kind of use some of his different talents and attributes in different ways through the course of the game,’’ Patricia said. “I think he gives us some multiplicity in the backend, which is great.”

5. Coaching, as always, is key. While Cooter and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni make the calls on game days, Patricia is heavily involved. The coaching staff has got nine games of working together, but they’re facing a huge challenge with the talent on the Panthers roster. The Lions are 2-2 at Ford Field.

EXTRA: Stafford was asked what makes veteran Panthers’ defensive end Julius Peppers so good.  “Have you seen the guy before? He’s 6-6, 295 pounds, whatever he is. Extremely athletic, a very smart player. He’s seen a lot of football, he’s a smart rusher,’’ Stafford said. The two have a history going back to 2011 when Peppers (who played for the Bears) tackled Stafford, injuring his shoulder and knocking him out of action for six weeks.

PREDICTION: Panthers 35, Lions 14