Five things to watch as Lions limp into contest against Tampa Bay

ALLEN PARK — Ndamukong Suh returns to Ford Field on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Detroit Lions.

It’s kind of an interesting angle to a game between two lower-echelon NFL teams. The Lions (3-9-1) have lost six straight while Tampa Bay (6-7) has won its last three.

Suh, who left the Lions after the 2014 season, isn’t the biggest threat on the Bucs’ defensive line. That honor goes to Shaq Barrett who has 15 sacks this season compared to 1.5 for Suh. It doesn’t mean Suh is ineffective — his work doesn’t always show up in the stat line but he’s a presence that can’t be overlooked.

“He’s one of the dominant players in the NFL, and I look forward to playing against him,’’ Lions quarterback David Blough said. “I know a lot of the guys (know) he was here and a great player while he was here, and we’ll have our hands full, but we trust our guys, too. So it’ll be a good opportunity for us to block him up and try to throw the ball.”

Five other things to watch:

1. Don’t sleep on the Bucs who started the season 3-7. They’ve won three straight (over Falcons, Jaguars, Colts). “We’ve started to win some close games that we lost earlier in the year because I don’t know if we thought we could actually win them,’’ Bucs coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call. “I think they’re learning how to win.”

2. Quarterback Jameis Winston may be turnover prone with 23 interceptions, but he’s passed for 29 touchdowns this season. “So we have to make sure that we get (touchdowns) stopped first and then just capitalize on those opportunities if we get any of them from that standpoint,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Certainly, we always work on the fundamentals with that stuff, whether it’s the ball out on the ground, how do we recover it? Are there bodies around? Is it an open space? When the ball is up in the air, high-pointing the ball, how we’re going to catch it, kind of some of those different details of the fundamentals of trying to turn the ball over. Certainly, our first and foremost job will be trying to prevent those big plays that they are hitting downfield.” 

3.  The Bucs own the third-best offense in the NFL, averaging 392.8 yards per game. With Tampa’s Mike Evans likely out, the Lions catch a break but Chris Godwin is the leading receiver with 1,212 yards and nine touchdowns. Tampa averages 298.2 passing yards per game, second in the NFL. Bucs’ running backs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones could give the Lions’ defense headaches. Between the two of them, the have 11 rushing touchdowns so far. “They’re explosive, and we know that. We trust our guys to put us in a good position on offense, and the offense will be ready to do our part too,’’ Blough said. “I feel like we let our defense down last week. We’ll be ready to go that’s for sure.”

4. David Blough should be feeling more comfortable in his third start. “I think it’s something you get in a routine of. I was Matthew’s (Stafford) and then Jeff’s (Driskel) backup, you know, you prepare the same way every week, so that’s kind of what I try to take in,’’ Blough said. “I try to do the things Matthew did and Jeff did. You just have to lead, be yourself, be genuine, and the guys follow. It’s been great to have their support and them lifting me up and trusting me. I’m learning along the way.”

5. Another game without Stafford, but he’s not the only key player out with injuries. Linebacker Jarrad Davis, guard Joe Dahl, right tackle Rick Wagner and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson are out. Da’Shawn Hand and Marv Jones Jr. were placed on injured reserve this week. The Lions have been beat up physically. It’s time for the younger guys to show what they have.

PREDICTION: Bucs 31, Lions 17 (The Lions’ players need a win to help morale, just not sure they’ll find a way to get it done.)

Lions lose sixth straight, a look at five reasons why it happened

Minnesota Vikings win 20-7

In the first dozen games, at least the Lions had a chance. They only won three of them, but they held leads in all 12.

As former Lions coach Wayne Fontes would say, “At least we’ve got that going for us.”

Well, not so much on Sunday in the 20-7 loss to the Vikings at Minnesota.

A pre-game photo showed owner Martha Ford Firestone on the sidelines prior to the game with a grim look on her face and her arms folded. Her body language screamed displeasure. Can’t imagine what she was thinking when the clock ran out and the dust settled.

Not sure that wholesale changes in the staff would be the cure-all especially at this point with just three games left in the season.

But if Mrs. Ford was thinking about the immediate futures of coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, certainly Sunday’s performance (or lack of it) could help shape her decision.

The Lions lost their sixth straight, fell to 3-9-1 and are now 0-5 in NFC North contests.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. David Blough looked more like a rookie quarterback in this game than he did during his first start on Thanksgiving in the loss to the Bears. He was 24-40 for 205 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Look, this loss is not all on him but he made a few mistakes that were costly. Late in the first half, instead of throwing the ball away on third-and-2 from Minnesota’s 15, he was sacked for a loss of 12 yards. That pushed the field goal attempt to 45 yards instead of 33. Matt Prater kicked it wide right. No word on when or if Matthew Stafford will return this season. 

2. The defense could have been worse, but Kirk Cousins was 12 of 12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on play-action in the first half. This has been an issue with Detroit’s defense all season. Cousins completed 80 percent of his passes (24-30) for 242 yards and one touchdown.The Vikings finished with 354 total yards while the Lions had 231. On a positive note, the Lions’ defense held the Vikings to just 3 second-half points. 

3. Blough was sacked five times, three of them by Danielle Hunter. The fault lies in three places – the offensive line, tight ends (particularly Jesse James on one of the Hunter sacks) and Blough for holding the ball too long. It was a good day for the sack-happy Vikings’ defense. Trey Flowers had Detroit’s only sack. 

4. Coaching. Matt Patricia will take some of the blame, he always does. This team didn’t look prepared to start the game. That’s on coaching. The Lions looked a little better in the second half on both sides of the ball, but obviously it was not enough.

5. The Lions are dealing with injuries. Matthew Stafford’s absence is key, but the defense is hurting (literally) too. A’Shawn Robinson did not play, Jarrad Davis was among those injured during the game. Still, it’s that time of year in the NFL. Injuries are an issue for most NFL teams – dealing with them separates the losers from the winners.

BONUS: Lions now hold the fifth pick in the NFL draft.

NEXT UP: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Lions notes: Door remains open for Matthew Stafford to return this season

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford has missed four straight games and coach Matt Patricia said on Monday that he is still week to week with his back injury. 

Even though the Lions have played their way out of the playoffs, that doesn’t mean the Stafford won’t be back. 

Out of respect for Matthew and his competitiveness and what he means to this team and what he brings every single week, we’re just going to kind of take it week-by-week and see what happens from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said.

Stafford loves the game of football, he says it often and it’s genuine. He works hard year-round for a chance to play the games. He told the media weeks ago he realizes every time he takes the field he risks injury. Doesn’t matter, it’s the game he loves. 

Even though he is not able to participate in practice or in games, Stafford remains a factor in helping prepare the young quarterbacks, Jeff Driskel (who has been placed on injured reserve) and David Blough (who started his first game on Thanksgiving).

“I think he’s done a great job go all the way back to when we first started in the spring and him being here with the offseason stuff he had going on, he was really committed to the team,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Monday. “Now that he’s had this injury and it’s pushed him back again — he’s been here all the time, he’s been in the quarterback room going through the same preparation as if he was playing then helping those younger guys. If you ask Jeff and Dave they’ll tell you how helpful he’s been, he’s in their ear on the sideline, he’s looking through the pictures with them giving them extra coaching points, he’s doing a good job staying engaged.’’

The Lions will likely respect his wishes and let him play again this season but only if he is cleared by the medical staff. At least for now, they’ve left that door open.

Stafford had been playing extremely well even if the team was not making the most of it and winning. In eight games he has thrown for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns with just five interceptions. 

FLOWERS SACKS: Trey Flowers has been red-hot with five sacks in the Lions’ last five games (all losses). He’s got six for the season, just 1.5 shy of his career high (7.5) last season with the Patriots. Flowers doesn’t necessarily grade himself by statistics. “I’m very critical of myself and as far as, first of all, if we don’t get the win really nothing else matters. So if I don’t do enough for us to win, then I didn’t do enough to win,’’ Flowers said.

He played the his first four NFL seasons for the Patriots who were 50-14 in the regular season in that stretch. So playing for the Lions (3-8-1) is quite a change.

“It has been frustrating to come in work hard, work hard on the game plan, a lot of guys are working hard in the locker room and to come up short on the weekends is definitely frustrating,’’ Flowers said. “That’s part of this game, you’ve got to find ways to out-execute and out-compete.’’

SEASON OVER: Tight end T.J. Hockenson was placed on injured reserve due to the ankle injury he suffered late in the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bears. Hockenson, the Lions’ first-round pick, ended the season with 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. His first game, the season opener, was his best. That day he had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Patricia said it’s not known if Hockenson will need surgery on his ankle.

ADJUSTMENTS: With high-tech notebooks on the sidelines during games, adjustments are made continuously, but halftime adjustments are still key at least to some coaches. ESPN’s Dianna Rossini tweeted about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s adjustments in Pittsburgh’s win over the Browns.

She wrote: “Spoke to Steeler players about Mike Tomlin. Players on defense pointed to the adjustments made at half. They said he ‘straight up went high school football coach and drew up how they were going to defend Cleveland’ since they Browns showing a different look. ‘He saved the game.’’’

When Patricia was asked about making adjustments on Monday, he said, “I think the in-game adjustments are something that’s critical for us. I think there are games where those have been done at a high level and probably some games that we go back and we look at and say, ‘Of course we should have done this or maybe made this change.’’’

The Lions have led in all 12 of their games at some point, but have only held on for three wins.

 

Lions backup David Blough will start against Bears on Thanksgiving

ALLEN PARK — Lions backup quarterback Jeff Driskel seemed optimistic on Tuesday that he would start against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. However, his hamstring will keep him out of the starting role.

David Blough, a rookie who has never played in an NFL regular season game, will get the start for the Lions at Ford Field.

Blough, who played at Purdue, was signed as an undrafted free agent last June by the Cleveland Browns and then was traded to Detroit. Driskel is expected to serve as the backup. Matthew Stafford (back) will miss his fourth straight game.

Thanksgiving spirits might not be so bright since the Lions (3-7-1) have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. They’ll face the Chicago Bears (5-6) for the second straight year 

Ready or not, they’ll be the only NFL game on national TV at 12:30 p.m.

For us, we’re going to obviously try and go out and play as hard as we can. We know how important this game is, we know how important it is to our organization, our ownership and obviously the fans,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “It’s a great privilege to be in this game. For us, we understand that, we’re very blessed to be here, I think Thanksgiving is a great time, a great week to reflect.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Certainly don’t know what to expect from Blough, although seems likely the run game will need to carry the offense. 

2. Running back Bo Scarbrough has been the highlight of the past two weeks. From the practice squad two weeks ago he has had games of 55 and 98 rushing yards. Although now defenses know to prepare for him. “It’s kind of why you just hesitate to have too many conversations about those guys and not help opponents figure out who they are ahead of time. You try to let the opponents figure it out on their own. Certainly, I think you watch Bo run and some of the things that he did last week, he’s running really hard,’’ Patricia said. The big back (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) has five more games to prove himself. He could be the answer to the question of who will back up Kerryon Johnson next season. 

3. Lions linebacker Devon Kennard thinks the defense is showing signs of improvement in recent weeks (despite four straight losses), especially against the run. But overall the defense has been ineffective and is a big reason the Lions have lost seven of the last eight. If they are close to turning it around, Thanksgiving would be a good start especially with Blough starting at quarterback.

4. Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky leads the NFL’s 29th best offense averaging just 269.3 yards per game. The quarterback has thrown just 10 touchdown passes in 10 games and three of them were in the first matchup with the Lions — one each to Ben Braunecker, Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel. He was sacked five times by the Lions in that game — perhaps a little more of that type of pressure could be applied.

5. Patricia and the players have talked a good game this week. They say they’re focused solely on the Bears and they take the season one game at a time. There’s been a lot of talk in Detroit from fans who are beyond frustrated at the lack of wins. Some of them want Patricia and/or GM Bob Quinn fired. Fans didn’t seem to expect that the Lions, who were 9-7 in 2017, would fall so low in an effort to rebuild. On Thursday at Ford Field, the team has to show the focus they discuss and they need to do it in all four quarters.

PREDICTION: Bears 23, Lions 10. Not sure the Lions can pull it together.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Five things to know about Lions brutal 19-16 loss to Redskins

It looked gloomy for the Detroit Lions, when the lowly Redskins took a 13-3 lead in the first half. It had been an ugly road start for the Lions on Sunday.

It got worse.

Detroit took its first lead, 16-13, early in the fourth quarter. The Redskins kicked a field goal to tie it. Then with 54 seconds remaining, Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel threw an interception, the Redskins marched 53 yards downfield and Dustin Hopkins kicked a 39-yard field goal to grab the 19-16 win.

It was a sloppy game for the Lions who have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. Their last win was on Oct. 27 when they beat the Giants. Seems like a long time ago.

It doesn’t get easier. They host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving and then play at the Vikings on Dec. 8.

Driskel, in his third start for the injured Matthew Stafford, has shown growth and his athleticism running the ball helped too. His inexperience, though, was a factor in his three interceptions.

Detroit’s defense deserves plenty of blame. 

Five things to know about the loss:

1. The loss is yet another gut punch in a horrid season. A win would have helped with the Lions’ confidence and spirits especially with a quick turn-around to play on Thanksgiving. The Redskins had only won once, their rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins was starting just his third game. Detroit’s injuries don’t count. Every team has to deal with them. The Redskins are 2-9, pretty much a laughingstock. There is no reason the Lions should have lost and yet they did.

2. Once again the Lions’ defense faded late. The Redskins’ offense struggled until their final two drives. The defense, which has struggled big-time this season, did not allow a touchdown and held the Redskins to 230 total yards. Washington’s only score came on a 91-yard touchdown return by Steven Sims. Jr. But when it counted late in the game, the Redskins were able to pick up precious yards and the win.

3. Don’t put this loss all on Driskel’s shoulders. The late interception was brutal, but the Lions should have been all over this Washington team from the get-go. Driskel was sacked six times, but the young quarterback showed moxie and finished 20 of 33 for 207 yards with three interceptions. Also he carried the ball nine times for 63 yards. No clue if Stafford will be ready to play on Thursday.

4. Running back Bo Scarbrough came up just 2 yards short of 100, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He was held to 24 yards in the first half and lost a fumble, but came out hot to start the second half. He’s been quite a find for the Lions. Looking for a bright spot on this team? Look at Bo.

5. Matt Patricia has preached about limiting penalties. The Lions weren’t called for a single penalty in the first half, but finished with six for 65 yards. All the other miscues were costly too. Not only Driskel’s three interceptions, but Scarbrough’s lost fumble, Matt Prater missed a 39-yard field goal, special teams allowed a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The list is long, too long.

NEXT UP: The Lions (3-7-1) will host the Bears (5-6) on Thanksgiving. The Bears defeated the Giants, 19-14, on Sunday. In Chicago two weeks ago, the Lions lost to the Bears, 20-13. The Lions are 2-3 at Ford Field.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Washington Redskins

ALLEN PARK — It’s one of those games, the Detroit Lions should absolutely win. But this is the NFL and nothing is a certainty, especially when it involves the Lions’ struggling defense.

The Lions (3-6-1) face the lowly Redskins (1-9) at Washington, D.C., on Sunday. 

Quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) has been ruled out, giving Jeff Driskel his third straight start.

In preparation, Lions coach Matt Patricia said he looks more at the film than the record of the opponent.

“The tape tells us a lot, that’s really what we have to focus on. Especially with a team like this, that we don’t really know very well from a stand point of we don’t play them a lot,’’ Patricia said. “We have to really dive into their personnel and figure out who they are, how they play, how it affects what they do. They have some experienced veterans that are on that team and that they’ve added to that team, and they have some young players that are really good, up and coming players. We really need to learn those guys as we go through the course of the week.”

Five things to watch:

1. Driskel has found some success in his first two starts and is getting more comfortable with each passing play. The offense was not the reason Detroit lost 35-27 to the Dallas Cowboys. Driskel is no Stafford, but he is proving to be a fine fill-in.

2. Detroit’s defense will face rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins who has had a rough start, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and five interceptions. Putting pressure on the rookie will be key, get him out of his comfort zone. This has not exactly been the strength of the defense in the first 10 games. They need to step it up. Haskins is still quite raw. “I think the game becomes faster for a player and they don’t have to think as much, it comes a little bit easier. That’s probably the thing that we’re emphasizing and we’re working through right now,’’ interim coach Bill Callahan said on a conference call this week.

3. Adrian Peterson, who is 34, is the Redskins leading rusher averaging 4.2 yards per carry. “I had the opportunity to experience playing against him years back when he was a young guy. I’m watching the film, and I don’t see it being a whole heck of a lot different,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “He’s powerful, he breaks tackles, he’s physical. He’s got great size, we all know that. So, I just think that you’ve got to be in good position to tackle him. Everybody’s got to understand that they’re in the point of attack because the ball could end up hitting any gap on any given play. He’s got great vision, he’s got great feet. He’s powerful. There’s not much different for me when I watch the film.”

4. The Redskins offense has been outscored 253-125 overall and 75-34 in the fourth quarter. The Lions have generally faded in the second half on both sides of the ball and have been outscored 92-64 in the fourth. Could be a snoozer if neither team jumps out and tries to take advantage of the other’s weakness.

5. Lions running back Bo Scarbrough, who made his NFL debut on Sunday, could get the start again. Scarbrough, who is low-key, had 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. “I thought he came in and really did a nice job of bringing a physical presence for us. He was really hitting the hole hard, he was running downhill, breaking tackles at the first level, breaking tackles at the second level,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I mean that’s kind of what we were looking for in the run game. I thought he kind of gave us a little bit of a spark, and you could see the tenacity that he brought to it and kind of the style that we would like to play.”

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Redskins 23 (This is a tough one. Lions should win, but not much confidence after loss to the Cowboys.)

Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford has no plans to shut down for the season

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford said shutting down for the season has not been discussed. 

“This is what I do. I understand your question, this is what I love to do, I love playing football,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday.

The Detroit Lions quarterback, who is dealing with a back injury (he offered no specifics) has missed two straight games. Stafford would not rule himself out for Sunday at the Washington Redskins, but he didn’t practice on Wednesday and it seems unlikely he will get the green light.

“I appreciate all the hard work that all the guys in this locker room and in this organization put into going out there and trying to win games on Sunday and I love being a part of it,’’ Stafford said. “It’s tough for me to sit there without the pads on and not be able to impact the game on the field like I’m used to doing. That’s driving me to get back out there when we all deem it’s the right time.’’

When he is healthy he will be back. No consideration will be given to his future health or the fact the Lions are 3-6-1.

“I think for me if I’m healthy enough to go play I’m going to go play. Every time I step out on a football field the next week, the next play, the next year’s health is in question because it’s a violent game, I understand that,’’ Stafford said.

He repeatedly said he’s doing everything to get back out there as soon as possible.

“It’s not just myself going through it, there’s a bunch of people looking into it, a bunch of people going in on the decision on when is the best time for me to come back,’’ said Stafford who was injured late in the loss at Chicago on Nov. 10.

In the first nine games, he had thrown for 2,499 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. 

“I was having a blast out there playing and it’s obviously just difficult to not be out there,’’ Stafford said.