Detroit Lions: With Jamal Agnew out, Nevin Lawson could see time at nickel

Lawson details differences in responsibilities

ALLEN PARK >> Jamal Agnew won’t be replaced by just one of his teammates, it will take a village.

The Detroit Lions nickel back, who is a return specialist and occasionally pitches in on offense, was placed on injured reserve on Monday for a knee injury sustained in the win over the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 7.

“He’s obviously a very valuable player to our team. Really can do a great job of turning field position, does a great job when he’s out there at gunner, plays defense. So, a pretty multiple, versatile player for us,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “But that’s the nature of the game. We have guys that are going to have to step up and fill those roles whether it’s one person or multiple guys. We’ll just try to put the best guy out there that we can.”

Patricia would not say if Agnew will return this season. It could be too soon to know.

“That’s the good thing about that kind of designation is we have options. If we get to that point where we can expedite him or use him, then we’ll try to do that. But it’s just a matter of time right now,’’ Patricia said.

He also wouldn’t clarify if Agnew will have surgery, saying he is still being evaluated.

After the injury, Nevin Lawson moved from corner to nickel to fill in for Agnew. So it’s possible that Lawson could fill in on Sunday when the Lions play the Dolphins in Miami. Don’t be surprised if Ameer Abdullah gets the nod on returns.

Lawson is good with playing nickel and said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to position.

“I just want to be on the field so I can be out there competing and playing,’’ Lawson said on Monday. “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you are, you still going to have a chance to make plays..’’

Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni love their players to be versatile.

“It’s two different roles, on the outside it’s really an island, you’re really by yourself,’’ Lawson said. “When you’re playing the nickel you have to constantly communicate with the safeties and the linebackers. It’s definitely different just knowing what to do and make sure you know what to do and you, the linebackers and safeties are on the same page.’’

With this new Patricia-style defense it occasionally looks like a corner has moved into nickel, but Lawson said things aren’t always how they look. A corner could move inside covering a certain receiver and that doesn’t necessarily make him a nickel.

“It’s different when a guy is playing inside mostly the whole game, that’s when he’s truly a nickel,’’ Lawson said.

He also specified that tackling is more important when playing inside.

“It’s important playing corner, but it’s definitely more important playing slot because you’re asked to add to the run game so you have to be able to come up and make tackles as well, not just tackles you have to make good open-field tackles,’’ Lawson explained.

 

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Detroit Lions wide receiver trio takes a certain pride in run blocking

Tate, Golladay, Jones contribute to improved run game

ALLEN PARK — Robert Prince, the Detroit Lions wide receivers coach, knows his group is loaded with talent.

The skillsets of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay complement each other and they all have developed good communication with quarterback Matthew Stafford. The trio accounts for nine of the Lions 10 passing touchdowns in the first five games.

Prince wants receivers who are well-rounded.

Proof? Tate set a key block on Sunday during LeGarrette Blount’s second touchdown in the 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s a game plan thing. It depends on what they are going to do. I feel like Coach Prince, our position coach, prepares us moreso for the run blocking than he does the passes at times,’’ Tate said on Monday.

He wasn’t kidding.

“It’s so important and he knows we all can run routes, he knows we all can catch, he knows we all can block as well, but when a receiver goes in and makes a key block to help a big first down or touchdown I think he gets more excited about that, showing that to the other coaches and Bob Quinn in front of the offensive linemen and running backs, than us going out and catching a touchdown. That’s what we’re supposed to do I guess,’’ Tate said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Improving the run game was a huge focus entering this season. Credit rookie Kerryon Johnson and the veteran Blount with providing a one-two punch that has the Lions averaging 4.3 yards per carry (tied for 13th in the NFL) and 97.2 rushing yards per game (21st in NFL).

Credit the wide receivers with pitching in on run blocks.

“The way defenses are playing now days, when you have a run game they bring those safeties in the box and they read the run pretty danged well. Sometimes they have an extra guy and you need the receiver to go in through certain linemen or just find a way to get on them,’’ Tate said. “A lot of times that is the block that springs a 7- or 10-yard run or even break a 50-yarder or a run at the goal line. It’s very important especially in this offense. It’s something I know that Bob Quinn looks for in a receiver — a guy who can catch the ball but also can do the dirty work.’’

Funny he used the words “dirty work” — the exact words coach Matt Patricia used to describe Tate’s efforts to help block the run.

“He’s usually closer to the formation being in his normal alignment so he kind of has to dig some of those guys out and get in there pretty quick, which he does a good job of,’’ Patricia said.

The wide receivers take a certain pride in this phase of their work.

“It’s not difficult, but you have to be in the right mind frame, if you’re not you’re not going to block effectively, especially when you’re blocking somebody 250 or 200-and-whatever (pounds). You have to be in the right mind frame, you have to do your job,’’ Jones said. “We have the receivers to do it. I don’t think it’s been that hard, we just have to do it.’’

Lions Matt Patricia says Ziggy Ansah doing his best to get back on the field

Defensive end has missed 4 straight games

ALLEN PARK — It would be in Ziggy Ansah’s best interest to play since he’ll hit the open market after this season. The message from Lions coach Matt Patricia on Monday was that when Ansah is physically ready he will play.

Since signing the $17 million franchise tag before training camp, Ansah has played 19 snaps. The Detroit Lions Pro-Bowl defensive end injured his shoulder in the first half of the opening loss to the N.Y. Jets and hasn’t played since.

Patricia doesn’t like to talk about injuries and seems frustrated that he still has to field questions about the oft-injured Ansah.

Patricia’s first response to an Ansah question on Monday: “Next question. Let’s talk about something real important here.”

Then he clarified his thoughts.

The guy’s trying every single day to get back out there. So, that’s what it is. Don’t make it anything more than that. That guy’s a competitive guy, wants to play football, he’s trying to do the best he can to help this team,’’ Patricia said.  “He’s day-by-day. We’re taking it day-by-day and we’re trying to get him ready to go. As soon as he can go, he’ll help us.”

He did practice last week on a limited basis, but was inactive for Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

Ansah missed part of training camp because he injured his hamstring during his conditioning tests. He was also recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Ansah played in 14 games last season and 13 in 2013.

The Lions have a bye this Sunday so it gives Ansah and the other injured players an extra week to heal before they play at the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 21.

Five reasons the Lions beat the Packers

Stafford: A total team win

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense was good but not spectacular, the defense shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for a half and special teams had a good day.

It was the perfect equation for the Lions’ 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford called it a “total team win.’’ It is exactly what this team strives for every week but it doesn’t always happen.

The Lions now own a 2-3 record, (1-0 in the NFC North) heading into their bye week.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Oddly enough Detroit has beaten two of the best quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Rodgers) and fallen short against lesser teams.

“I think I’ve said it for forever and you guys hate hearing it. You have to prove it every week,’’ Stafford said. “And we’ve been close in a couple other games too, and just haven’t gotten it done at the end of the game. So, proud of our guys for getting it done at the end of the game.’’

In other words, it’s the NFL.

The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 lead at the half. Yet everyone knew the game was just getting interesting.

Five reasons the Lions hung on to win:

1. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four straight field goals and a point-after attempt. The first three misses were from 38, 41 and 42 yards — chip shots. The fourth was from 56 yards. He finally made a 41-yarder when it was so late it didn’t matter. Had he been on his game, the Packers could have won. “So, this one unfortunately was really bad and going to have to really look at this one, and you know this one hurts a bunch.  I left a lot of points on the field for this team and I’m disappointed in my performance,” Crosby said. “And, this is, I look back, I’m thinking in my childhood, you know high school, this is definitely a lot worse.  I’m bummed about that.”

2. The Lions secondary was a patched-up group thanks to injuries and yet effective. Tavon  Wilson was inactive, Darius Slay was injured in the second half but able to return and Jamal Agnew was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw for 141 yards in the first half but wasn’t able to get the Packers on the board. In the second quarter he threw a 30-yard bomb to Davante Adams to get to Detroit’s 9-yard line but Detroit’s defense held and Crosby missed the field goal. Rodgers scored touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half. But then a huge stop came on third-and-15 from Detroit’s 38, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed.

3. Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. It appears the Matt Patricia defense is starting to click. Rodgers can make defenses look weak but Detroit found a way to pressure him. He finished with 442 passing yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Rodgers was taken off the injury list this week, but he was missing two of his best receivers in Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. Also the Packers rushed for just 98 yards against the Lions’ rushing defense which is the worst in the NFL. “Defense is hard. It’s always hard every single week going against great quarterbacks, schemes, coaches. They do a phenomenal job and we’re just trying to dial it in,’’ Patricia said. “I think the biggest thing for us is some continuity. Maybe a little bit of continuity here the last couple games, which is good. That helps the communication from that aspect of it.’’

4. Even though they had a 24-0 lead at the half, the Lions’ offense remained aggressive in the second half. That was the plan. Stafford said he and Jim Bob Cooter talked throughout about remaining aggressive. Stafford finished 14 of 26 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.9 rating. The offense can play to its strengths when playing with a lead. “This is the way you want to play the game, out in front and to not have to come back. I just think that we had a great week of practice and it showed in the game,’’ Stafford said. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay had the gaudy numbers with four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

5. Once again, the run game helped balance the offense. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed as a short-yardage back and he got the job done on Sunday. He ran for a yard to convert a third-and-1 and then rammed through for a one-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. He had a dozen carries for 22 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson’s first scamper was for 16 yards and he finished with a dozen carries for 70 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Johnson injured his ankle early in the fourth after a 24-yard run that led to Stafford’s 5-yard pass to Kenny Golladay for a touchdown to vie the Lions a 31-14 lead. His ankle was taped up but he didn’t get back into the game.

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

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.

Lions prepare for Green Bay Packers, gimpy-yet-effective Aaron Rodgers

It’s first NFC North contest for Detroit

ALLEN PARK — When the Detroit Lions beat the Packers twice in 2017, it was worth noticing. While there was no asterisk, there was no Aaron Rodgers on the field either.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback owns a 13-3 career record against the Lions. One of the most vivid memories of seeing Rodgers at Ford Field was his 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to beat the Lions on Dec. 3, 2015.

Rodgers, his gimpy knee and the Packers (2-1-1) will play the Lions (1-3) In a NFC North divisional contest at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Lions coach Matt Patricia has nothing but praise for Rodgers, who ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating (103.6).

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“A guy who does a great job of studying the game, and you keep mixing different looks at him but he does a good job of really identifying what it is and attacking the defenses,’’ Patricia said of Rodgers on Wednesday.

Rodgers injured his knee in the opener, a win over the Chicago Bears. On a conference call on Wednesday, Rodgers said he was not practicing but hoped to go on Thursday. He hasn’t missed a start this season and, in fact, after he was carted off with that injury he returned to the game.

“I didn’t necessarily feel great last week. I went through practice on Thursday and Saturday, but I felt really good on game day. I’m not regressing but I’m not taking huge leaps week-to-week. It’s just kind of small,’’ Rodgers said on a Wednesday conference call. “When the adrenaline kicks in on game day, I’ve felt a little better the last couple games.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he thinks he’s played well since the injury.

“I think each week, it’s like anything, you get a little more comfortable playing and calling the game and doing the things that you need to focus on,’’ McCarthy said.

Even with Rodgers at less than 100 percent, the Packers have scored seven of their nine touchdowns in the air with one rushing and one on a return.

McCarthy said the run-pass balance is a game-to-game decision. He didn’t say if the Packers would take to the ground more often against the Lions’ rushing defense which is ranked dead last in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game.

“(Rodgers) is  super competitive — never really wants to stay from anything, I just think it’s part of his nature. So, that’s the challenge that you have sometimes as the play caller because you have to be smart, I think that’s understood,’’ McCarthy said. “If anything, if there has been a time during these last couple games where I may have been conservative it was — I think it’s natural to go down that road sometimes. He’s getting better each and every week, and that’s what’s most important for him.”

Rodgers expects the best from himself and his offense. He didn’t feel he got it last week in the 22-0 win over Buffalo even though the Packers finished with 423 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on their first three drives.

“I think the most important thing is — he’s super competitive. I think we all feel the same way when it comes to games and when you go out there and see you see opportunities and sometimes emotion pushes forward,’’ McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel great about our offensive performance when I walked off the field Sunday myself, too.’’

Rodgers will be the top quarterback the Lions’ revamped Patricia-style defense has faced. The quarterback can see the differences in Detroit from watching film.

“Following (Patricia) in New England I always enjoyed watching them. We played against them one time back in 2014 and him and Bill (Belichick) just always put together a fantastic plan. They’re great at adjustments. They try to take away what you do best and make you go to your third and fourth options to try and beat them and they adjust on the fly very quickly,’’ Rodgers said. “So, it’s a different looking defense from that standpoint and I’m sure they’re going to continue to expand their scheme as the season goes on and those guys get more comfortable in the scheme.”