Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Detroit Cowboys

Detroit’s defense, which has struggled and is a huge reason the Lions have lost five of their last six, will face another huge test in the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Lions (3-5-1) are coming off a 20-13 loss at Chicago while the Cowboys (5-4) lost to the Vikings 28-24 on Sunday night.

Detroit will be without quarterback Matthew Stafford (back/hip) who will miss his second straight start. Jeff Driskel will step in once again. 

The Lions have been in close games — they’ve lost their last two by one touchdown — but have had trouble scoring or holding onto a lead in the second half.

“I would say for our guys – maybe with the exception of one week this year – even though we fought through every single game, I would say each game is coming down to maybe one or two plays here or there,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “I think our guys are continually trying to battle through that and trying to find ways to come out on the plus side of it, so are we as coaches.’’

Five things to watch in the Lions-Cowboys matchup:

1. The Lions’ defense must play better overall. Coordinator Paul Pasqualoni is bullish on the group and sees positive signs despite the losses. “I don’t know if there is anything missing, but I just keep talking about playing with consistency and winning them. So, we have to focus on what we need to do to win games and just being as consistent as we can be every snap because these games – the margin of error, as you guys know is not very, very big,’’ Pasqualoni said. “That’s the National Football League, so just focusing and concentrating on what we have to do to win games.”

2/ must find a way to pressure quarterback Dak Prescott who has completed 68.3 percent of his passes.  “You know I would say, one of the things is – watching him from last year when we played him early, to this year – I think he’s doing a great job at the line of scrimmage. He’s changing plays, he’s audibling, he’s making adjustments based on what he sees from the defense. I would say his post-snap read of coverage is a lot better,’’ Patricia said. “He’s doing a really good job of kind of deciphering some of the different looks that he’s getting and really taking advantage of the skill players that he has out there with the speed and some of the one-on-one matchups that are being created out there because of the run game, and some of the different things that defenses have to do.” 

3. Stopping the run has also been an issue for the Lions defense — they’ve allowed 129.7 yards per game. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott can be dangerous.  “Well, I think that he has great balance. I think his pads, he’s always moving forward. He (is) very, very hard to keep him from going forward, he does a great job with that,’’ Pasqualoni said. “He runs hard, he has really, really good vision and he has good instincts. He has all of those critical factors that running backs need to have. A lot of it is vision and balance and a feel for it, and he does a great job of making his cuts, staying square and moving downfield.”

4. Driskel did fine in his start at Chicago. Considering his lack of experience (five previous starts with the Bengals) he moved the offense as well as could be expected, but he is no Stafford. The Lions need to put plenty of points on the board against the Cowboys, because it’s a given that Dallas should barrel through the Lions’ defense. 

5. Injuries have decimated the running back group. Ty Johnson could provide a huge boost if he can return after suffering a concussion last week in Chicago. He was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. 

PREDICTION: Cowboys 31, Lions 17

Lions rule out Matthew Stafford for Sunday vs. Dallas Cowboys

It’s official. Matthew Stafford will miss his second straight game on Sunday.

The Lions quarterback snapped a string of 136 straight starts when he couldn’t go last week at Chicago due to hip/back issues. He has been on the practice field all week but just standing around, not working.

Coach Matt Patricia said there is no scenario where Stafford would play Sunday when the Lions host the Dallas Cowboys at 1 p.m. at Ford Field.
Jeff Driskel will get his second straight start.

The doctors have a medical plan in place to get Stafford back on the field.

“I’m not going to go into the details of that. But there are different things that our doctors are doing, and everybody is doing to hit those markers when we get to them. He’s doing great,’’ Patricia said on Friday. “He’s fine, normal, grinding away, studying, getting ready to go, helping everybody around him and preparing, which is great. It just keeps everything consistent for us. He’s the same old just getting ready to go play a game.”

All week Driskel has been taking first-team snaps which should benefit him on Sunday. 

I think with repetitions a lot of players start to settle down, and I think what happens is their vision changes. That’s probably one of the biggest things for guys no matter what position you play. Once you just become comfortable in the positions or in the situations that you’re playing, and you start to feel around you a little bit what’s normal and what’s not and how to move and when it’s maybe an opportunity where you have to get out of trouble or when you’re OK,’’ Patricia said. “When that starts to happen usually players talk about their vision opening up on the field. You start to see a lot more, you start to be able to get your eyes in certain places, and that allows you to maybe play a little bit faster, a little bit quicker and be able to see things. 

Driskel said on Wednesday he prepares like he’s going to play every week.

In the loss to the Bears he was 27 of 46 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Lions (3-5-1) have lost five of their last six while the Cowboys (5-4) are coming off a loss to the Vikings.

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.)

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.’’