Five things to watch as Lions play at Chicago Bears

ALLEN PARK — If the Lions are going to turn around the season, a win at Chicago might be a good place to start.

The Lions (3-4-1), who have lost four of their last five, have lost two of their last three at Soldier Field. After a 3-1 start the Bears have lost four straight.

Without question, the offense is the Lions’ strength with Matthew Stafford having one of his best seasons. The Bears’ defense has faltered without injured defensive tackle Akiem Hicks the last four games. Still it’s much better than the offense led by Mitchell Trubisky who has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions and was still called a “great player” by Matt Patricia.

Five things to know about the matchup:

1. The Lions’ struggles can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the defense. Whether it’s scheme or mixed tackles or lack of pressure by the line, it’s not working. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said it’s not fair to say it’s been inconsistent all year due to the talent they have faced. “Every week, everybody tries to get better every day. Everybody here tries to get better. So, every week’s a new week. We’re moving on to this one-week season,’’ Pasqualoni said. “I’ve always considered – whether it was in college or pro ball – every week was a one-week season. To be honest with you, I don’t look much past beyond that. I think it’s the best way to handle the game. We’re into this – we’re in our division, Chicago Bears, great tradition, excellent team. So, we’re getting ready to play them.

2. After Miles Killebrew suffered a concussion in practice Thursday, the LIons are down to three healthy safeties — Tavon Wilson, Will Harris and C.J. Moore. So the secondary, which has been struggling, will be further depleted. Patricia said they cross-train guys at different positions in case of a situation such as this. It’s possible cornerback Mike Ford could pitch in at safety. 

3. Detroit’s defense has been really inconsistent at stopping the run, allowing 138.5 rushing yards per game. Again, the defense has to step up. Bears running back David Montgomery has scored all of their rushing touchdowns (5) but is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. “They were running the ball a week ago, two weeks ago against the Chargers. I think they ran it 38 times for – I don’t know – 138 yards. They really did an impressive job there. (Tarik) Cohen is an excellent, excellent back in the backfield. They have excellent wide receivers. (Trey) Burton is an outstanding athlete at the tight end position. They’re explosive, they can make big plays. We’re going to focus on what we feel we need to do to stop them and have a consistent day defensively,’’ Pasqualoni said.

4. Put the offense in the best position to succeed. Chicago’s offense may be nothing to write home about, but the defense is among the 10 best in the NFL. The fourth-down play call from the end of the game last week is still a head-scratcher. “I want to call plays that score touchdowns, so it didn’t score a touchdown. But we were on the one-yard line, so we ended up going with goal line package which we practice all the time,’’ Bevell said. For the most part Bevell and Stafford seem to be on the same page in their first season working together.

5. Protect the Franchise, Mathew Stafford. He was on the injury report this week after a big hit last Sunday. It should be slightly easier to protect him with Hicks sidelined but the Bears’ defense is not a one-man band. “To be honest with you, this Bears defense is loaded. Their whole front, their linebackers, their backend – about as impressive as a group as you’ll find. It’s a huge challenge to block Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Their second-most sack leader is (Nick) Williams on the inside and Eddie Goldman is playing outstanding’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “They have people that have been able to pick up the slack. I think just from the front all the way working through to the back, they have linebackers that can run, they have corners that can cover. It’s a really, really great defense.”

PREDICTION:  Lions 27, Bears 21. (Tough game to pick but going with Lions’ offense over Bears’ defense.)

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At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions face Raiders

ALLEN PARK — It’s not really going to be too sentimental for the Detroit Lions to play their final game against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. 

It’s been eight years since the Lions’ last visit. On that day — Dec. 18, 2011 — Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:59 to beat the Raiders 28-27. 

Stafford and long snapper Don Muhlbach are the only holdovers from the 2011 Lions’ bunch.

Today at 4 p.m. the Lions (3-3-1) will face the Raiders (3-4).

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller will pose challenges for the Lions defense which is ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 420.4 yards per game.

“Coach (Jon) Gruden is doing a great job with (Raiders General Manager) Mike Mayock putting a team together that has a good combination of young, very talented, explosive players combined with some veterans that are pretty savvy vets that are experienced guys in the NFL that I think are really bringing these young guys along at a high level,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

If the Lions (3-3-1), coming off a win over the Giants, hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, finding a way to beat the Oakland Raiders (3-4) who have lost two straight.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford needs to continue his stellar play. The Lions quarterback was fighting off a cold midweek, could barely talk above a whisper on Wednesday, but said he’d be fine by Sunday. Stafford has thrown 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts. Every game another guy steps up whether it’s Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson or Kenny Golladay.  Raiders coach Jon Gruden has the utmost respect for Stafford. “I think the big thing that Matt does a great job of is he protects the offense at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t get fooled often. If you blow a coverage, he shreds you. If he sees a blitz, he throws it to his hot receiver or he fixes it and changes the play,’’ Gruden said. “He’s sharp. His experience is very, very valuable to their success and, he plays with a really quick tempo. I mean he’s very fast mentally – forget about the arm talent, and all of the different plays and talented players they have – he’s just a very quick-minded player that doesn’t miss much.”

2. It would really help Stafford if the running game could do its part. It’s a tough challenge with Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve. That leaves Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic and Tra Carson (hamstring) who is questionable. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Raiders run defense has been solid.  “We’re going to need to be able to run the ball efficiently. They’re doing a great job up front. They’re not giving up explosive runs. They’re not giving up many yards,’’ Bevell said. “I think they’re one of the top in the league at doing that. So, I think that’s really where it starts for us, is to be able to find ways to run the football.”

3. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs could be a handful for the Lions’ rushing defense. Jacobs averages 5 yards per carry and has scored four rushing touchdowns. “Terrific player. Really, really powerful, breaks a lot of tackles. Makes a lot of yards you’d think he miss. A really stout, thick guy. They have a really, really nice core of running backs,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “Jalen Richards is really good out of the backfield, DeAndre Washington has got real speed. They present a lot of problems, they certainly do.” The Lions defense has allowed 130.7 rushing yards per game. 

4. The Lions’ secondary will be tested with quarterback Derek Carr who has completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. “He’s always been very accurate, and he’s always been able to get the ball out pretty quickly, but he just seems like he’s running the whole show. He seems very, very confident (and) very, very comfortable with it,’’ Pasqualoni said. “After a year in the system, he really looks on film to be very, very confident and playing very well.” Safety Tracy Walker (knee) is out so others will have to step up.

5. Finish the game like they did in 2011, if necessary. Last week in the 31-26 win over the Giants, the Lions scored what would be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Overall they’ve been outscored 70-44 in the fourth quarter of all seven games.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Raiders 27. (Just a hunch, that somehow the Lions will pull this out. Should be close — no blowout expected.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five thoughts from Lions QB Matthew Stafford on win over Giants

DETROIT — Matthew Stafford has kept his head up and continued to work through the rough start to the season for the Lions.

When they lose, the quarterback shoulders the blame.

When they are victorious — like Sunday’s 31-26 win over the Giants — he credits his teammates.

“He is just a competitive, competitive guy. He always wants to be the best, and he’s great. He works really hard, he’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s grinding it out every single day,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “He did a great job today, leading the offense and just staying consistent all the way through. He handles pressure really well. You just have to love the guys. You have to love how hard he works, how he battles, and you have to love how tough he is, and he’s smart.’’

Stafford completed 25 of 32 pass attempts for 342 yards. It was his third game of the last four that he threw at least three touchdown passes. He had one blip — an interception — that he is absolutely not happy about.

Five thoughts from Stafford on the win:

1. A flea-flicker play in the fourth quarter resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Kenny Golladay with an assist from J.D. McKissic who got the ball first. It’s more proof that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell looks outside of the box. “I like that’s he’s willing to try those things, put them in and if we execute them (in practice) and they look good, then he has confidence to go out there and just like any other play and call it during the game,’’ Stafford said. “Obviously we had a good spot on the field to call it and got a little bang for our buck and scored.’’

2. Every Sunday a different wide receiver steps up. This game it was Kenny Golladay with a pair of touchdown catches among his 6 receptions for 123 yards. Danny Amendola had eight catches on eight targets for 95 yards. Marvin Jones Jr., had just four receptions for 22 yards after he scored four touchdowns a week ago. “I’m just trying to get the ball to the guy who’s open, to where the coverage tells me to throw it,’’ Stafford said. “I’m trying to read every play appropriately and trust in our guys are going to win. They’re winning a bunch right now and making great plays for me. That’s just what i’m trying to do, I don’t go into a game thinking i’m going to feed this guy or feed that guy.’’ 

3. Amendola, in his first season with the Lions, has fit right in. He’s Stafford’s kind of player. “He’s doing a great job, I still think he and I can continue to build and be better but he’s doing a really nice job on the inside part of the field,’’ Stafford said. “… He’s just doing everything for us. You guys know what he is, he goes out there, works his tail off, gets open when he’s supposed to get open, makes great catches, blocks in the run game, he’s a guy who does everything right. ‘’

4. Wide receiver Marvin Hall had just one catch but it was for 49 yards and a touchdown. He doesn’t get the ball often but makes big-time yardage when he does. “He’s done a great job, he’s an explosive player. I think I  should’ve thrown it to him one more time, he got behind some guys on another ball I didn’t find him on, he’s done a great job,’’ Stafford said. “He’s smart guy, he’s in the right spot, does the right things, when I’ve given him chances he’s come through. That was a huge play today, third-and-15. Any time you convert that it’s great, to score a 50-yard touchdown on it it’s even better.’’

5. Stafford’s interception came on the Lions’ opening possession on a first-and-10 play from the Giants’ 40-yard line. The ball was intended for Marvin Jones Jr., but Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins made the play.  “I got totally in-between on how I wanted to throw the ball — whether I wanted to rip it over 21’s head (Jabrill Peppers) or I wanted to throw it in the back of the end zone and let Marv go get it,’’ Stafford said. “And somewhere in-between was not a good place. Poor decision/throw, just a bad play. I was beating myself up pretty good about that one.’’

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face N.Y. Giants at Ford Field

After three straight losses, the Lions face a must-win situation when they face the New York Giants on Sunday at Ford Field.

Must-win in October? Absolutely.

The Lions (2-3-1)  are in the NFC North basement, with two straight division losses. Also they hit the road for the next two weeks — at Oakland on Nov. 3 and at Chicago on Nov. 10.

The Giants (2-5) have won just as many games as the Lions. Think about that.

“We have a big challenge in front of us. I think this is a really good Giants team and I think they’re building confidence as the season goes, and certainly they create a lot of problems on both sides of the ball,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Offensively, they have some skill players that are just so dangerous, starting obviously with the running back (Saquon) Barkley and the tight end position (Evan) Engram – when you watch him more and more, his speed is really a major issue – especially, down there with a size matchup and stuff. Defensively, the packages that they mix and the pressures, and things like that they are bringing down in the red (zone) area are really hard …’’

Five things to watch:

1. Detroit’s defensive line must play better, get some pressure on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Damon “Snacks” Harrison took the blame for the poor play of the defense this week, but it is not just him. Communication and technique are issues that certainly can be fixed, the question is how quickly can this defense turn around. It is ranked 31st overall (allowing 428.7 yards per game.) Patricia is a defensive specialist which makes this all the more surprising. Mike Daniels (foot) remains out, but Da’Shawn Hand is expected to play his first game this season.

2. The Lions secondary will be forced to make adjustments with Darius Slay (hamstring) sidelined and the trade of starting safety Quandre Diggs. Look for Tavon Wilson, along with rookie Will Harris and, possibly C.J. Moore, to see more snaps. Diggs was a leader on and off the field, so his presence will be missed all-around. Patricia mentioned that Miles Killebrew, who mostly plays special teams, could get involved in the defense. They must contain Golden Tate, former Lions’ wide receiver. You can bet Tate will be looking to have a great game. Patricia noted this week that he’s one of the toughest guys in the NFL to tackle. 

3. The Giants’ rookie quarterback Daniel Jones could cause real problems. He’s young so he’ll make mistakes. His stat line of six touchdown passes against seven interceptions is hardly impressive. Still, he should be taken seriously. Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni on Jones: “He’s very, very athletic, he has a very strong arm, he can make all the throws. He can do some real damage – he can do some real damage scrambling and running out of the pocket. They are running the zone-read play. He did do that against Tampa and had one heck of a nice run in the red zone for a touchdown. He’s a really, really, really good player, and I think it’s just he’s a little bit young and trying to get used to playing quarterback in the pocket with the speed and the violence of the game in the NFL.”

4. Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense has been solid but will be challenged without running back Kerryon Johnson who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic will pick up the slack. Maybe fullback Nick Bawden could get more involved too. Johnson has almost half of the team’s rushing yards — 308 out of 619 — and both of the Lions’ rushing touchdowns. He also ranks sixth in receiving yards with 126. The Diggs trade took much of the spotlight off the bad news regarding the run game which has struggled at times with Johnson healthy. He’s a big loss and coordinator Darrell Bevell must come up with a way to compensate and in a hurry.

5. The fourth-quarter letdowns must end. The Lions have been outscored 38-16 in the fourth quarters of the last three games, all losses. 

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Giants 24 (No excuses, the Lions have to find a way to win this home game.)

Detroit Lions Matt Patricia looks to youth to replace safety Quandre Diggs

ALLEN PARK — Coach Matt Patricia said despite the trade of starting safety Quandre Diggs the Lions’ goals remain the same for the final 10 games of the season.

That starts Sunday against the N.Y. Giants at Ford Field.

Certainly, those decisions are very difficult. They’re not taken lightly. There are certainly things that we try to do to help the team get better in the long run for us, and certainly in a situation where we think moving forward hopefully, we have some players that can still help us, even if we do make a move like we did yesterday’’ Patricia said at his Wednesday press conference.

Diggs, a former sixth-round draft pick, was shipped to the Seattle Seahawks along with a seventh-round pick for a fifth-round pick in 2020.

The Lions’ goals have not changed, Patricia said they want to win every week.

“I think those guys in the back end have all been working really hard and developing, and some of those guys have had to really play in the last couple of weeks, and in some of those bigger games that we’ve had so far this year,’’ Patricia said on Wednesday. “Will Harris is someone that’s has to step into some roles, Tracy Walker plays more for us in some of those roles, Tavon Wilson who has been a good solid player for us for a long time. 

“C.J. Moore, you’ll see him, he’s been mixed out there actually in some of these games, too in some other aspects. We have some depth too, with guys that have played for us in the past – (Miles) Killebrew would be another one. With those guys, they’ll continually push to get better, and they understand that maybe they have to take on maybe a little bit more work load or job responsibility. They’re good with that challenge, they’ll accept that challenge and kind of go forward from there.”

So far this season Tracy Walker has started all six games; Tavon Wilson who had started three games and played in all six.

The trade shows the Lions have faith in rookie Will Harris, a third-round pick, who has played in every game.

Killebrew who plays almost exclusively on special teams has played sporadically on defense in his four seasons with the Lions.

Moore, a rookie, has played just five snaps on defense in the first six games, contributing mostly on special teams.

Being a young NFL safety has its challenges. This is where the coaches need to step up.

“I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge for us. Especially as we go through the season and we’re starting to see different looks or multiple looks from teams, and especially good quarterbacks and good offensive schemes, just the experience part of it,’’ Patricia said. “Those guys are going to have to catch up on that stuff really quickly. The good thing for us is Tracy (Walker) played in a lot of critical situations last year. He played in those maybe situations that you don’t have an opportunity during the game to talk about, they happen, and you have to react to them. His ability to be able to communicate with the less experienced guys that are on the field at that time, and certainly Tavon is someone that has great experience playing this game and can see some those situations happen pretty quick.’’

Diggs had played in 65 regular season games and was very much a student of football growing up watching his brother Quentin Jammer, who played for the San Diego chargers. 

Replacing Diggs in midstream will certainly have its challenges.