Finishing is issue for Detroit Lions who have led in all 12 games but won just 3

ALLEN PARK — In a few weeks when the Lions obituary is written for this season, not finishing games will be one of the causes of an early exit from playoff hopes.

The Lions (3-8-1) have led in all 12 games but won only three of them.

It gets worse. They have led or been tied in the fourth quarter five times, losing four of them.

Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni is optimistic about improvement.

“We’re a play or two away from being in position to hold those leads that we’ve had. We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve held a lead in a lot of games – probably all of them, maybe,’’ Pasqualoni said. “We just have to make another play. We’re a couple of plays away. I think it’s important that we’re playing well against the run, which gives you a chance to at least have an idea they’re going to through the ball, so you’re not always kind of in between what they are doing. I think the guys are playing really hard. I’m really pleased with how hard we play. I think we play really, really hard and I think we have a lot of guys that are going in and out of the game.’’

He thinks some of the young guys have responded “pretty well.”

“We just have to take care of some little things and get a little bit better and just make a few more plays. It’s a game of inches, you know I’ve always said that this game is a game of inches and I really believe it is a game of inches,’’ Pasqualoni said.

It’s on defense for not making stops and offense for not getting the big play when it most matters. The Lions have been outscored 105-70 in the fourth quarter.

If it continues on Sunday at the Vikings, put another one in the loss column. 

In their first meeting — a Vikings’ 42-30 win on Oct. 20 — the Lions held an early 14-7 lead, tied at the half and then were outscored 21-9 in the second half.

Lions’ awful defense not all Patricia’s fault, but it’s up to him to fix it

This defense worse than the 0-16 team in 2008

ALLEN PARK — The Lions’ defense is bad, it’s ranked 30th in the NFL giving up 412.8 yards per game. In Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, the defense gave up 509 total yards. No other team amassed more yards on Sunday.

It might not be the Lions’ worst defense ever, but if not it comes close.

In 2008, you remember the season the Lions went 0-16, Detroit’s defense allowed 404.4 yards per game. It was the worst in the NFL but still allowed less yards than this season’s bunch.

So what now?

The Lions (3-6-1) play at the woeful Washington Redskins (1-9) on Sunday. The Redskins ended their streak of 16 straight quarters without a touchdown when they scored a pair late in a 34-17 loss to the Jets on Sunday. The Lions are 2.5-point favorites.

With a championship, playoffs and likely a winning season out of the realm of possibility, coach Matt Patricia on Monday said: “We’re playing for this game, that’s what we do and that’s really honestly that’s how the week is for us. It’s one-game seasons, that’s what they are, that’s how the NFL works.’’

While Lions’ penalties were an issue Sunday (11, costing 89 yards) and are most every game day, the defense is the reason the Lions lost to Dallas, 35-27.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said he had time to go through his progressions two or three times. It was crazy. It seemed like he had all day because he did. No wonder he passed for 444 yards — the most against the Lions this season. Often his receivers were wide open. Four of them had single catches of 21 yards or more (21, 23, 41,49). That’s a little crazy too.

So Patricia was asked if there will be changes on defensive play-calling immediately after the game. He danced around a straight answer.

He was asked again on Monday and remained vague. It’s uncertain if he or coordinator Paul Pasqualoni are making the calls during the game. 

This was Patricia’s reply on Monday: “I think for us as a staff, and how we’re doing things on defense, I think we need to continually improve it. I definitely feel that that has been my message to those guys throughout the entire season, so that we can help the players more. I try to do as much as I can and will continually try to do that, but I think the coaches are working really hard to try to get it right from that aspect of it. We obviously have to do more, and we will. Sometimes I look at it and think I have to teach it differently too. I always try to evaluate, ‘OK, what can I say differently here? How can I explain it different? How can I term it different that we’ll at least maybe understand it and maybe be able to play a little bit better from that aspect of it?’’’

When pressed on an answer about play calling he said his role on game days changes game by game. 

“So, some games it’s been more, some games it’s been less, and that’s been consistent throughout the season. That’s true,’’ Patricia said.

Whether it’s Patricia or Pasqualoni making the calls, improvement must be made.

This mess of a defense is not all on coaching, but that is definitely a part of it. Patricia went 6-10 last season and now is 3-6-1. Is the team still listening to him? “I think there’s nothing that would give me an indication that they’re not,’’ Patricia said. 

Not so long ago — actually in 2014 under coach Jim Caldwell in his first season — the Lions finished the season with the second-best defense in the NFL, allowing 300.9 yards per game. It was Ndamukong Suh’s last season in Detroit.

It’s been downhill since.

Last season, the defense ranked 10th (335 yards per game) after it made a turnaround during the season (after the acquisition of Damon “Snacks” Harrison) and toughened up.

This season’s new low is not all because of Patricia’s defensive philosophy, but it’s up to him to right a sinking ship. 

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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

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.)

NFL admits 1 bad call against Lions; Matt Patricia mum on penalties in MNF loss

Coach says they must control what they can control

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, admitted that the second illegal hands to the face penalty on Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers should not have been called. It factored into the 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

Both penalties were called on Flowers in the fourth quarter. Vincent stood behind the officials for calling the first one.

“There was one that was clear, that we support,” Vincent told reporters, referring to a prior penalty. “But there was another that when you look at it and you review the play, it’s not something that you want to see called in that particular pass rush. One you can support, but the other one, when you review it and you have seen some slow-mos, the foul wasn’t there.”

Vincent was speaking at NFL’s fall league meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

The flag on that second all against Flowers came on third-and-4 and ended up extending the game-winning drive.

Vincent did not address the personal foul called on the Lions’ Tracy Walker who was clearly going for the ball, but in the process had a helmet-to-helmet hit on the receiver.

He also did not speak to the non-call on a pass interference on Marvin Jones Jr. when Packers cornerback Will Redmond draped his arm across Jones’ chest before the ball arrived.

Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would not speak to specifics from Monday night. But he had a short answer when asked how pass interference is being called this season: “It’s not.”

As expected, Lions coach Matt Patricia did not want to discuss the officiating.

The coach said he had been in meetings all day Tuesday and had not talked to anyone from the NFL yet or heard about Vincent’s comments.

“For me obviously there were some calls in the game that everyone’s focused on right now. I’m focused on the ones we have to do right out on the field through execution and coaching and playing,’’ Patricia said in a conference call on Tuesday. “If you go through a game and you’re relying on the officials to tell you if you’ve won I don’t really think you’re going to turn out in a favorable manner more times than not.’’

He repeatedly said they have to control what they can control to give themselves a chance to win.

“The things we can control are definitely a lot of the plays out there that we know we can do a better job,’’ Patricia said.

While he’s been sequestered planning for Sunday’s home game against the Vikings, the Lions fans are in an uproar over the state of the NFL officiating and the way it always seems to work against the Lions.

“I love our fan base and I love their passion, I love all of it. I appreciate it more than you know,’’ Patricia said. “I just want the fans to know we’re going to work to get things right, do things the right way. We’re tough, we’re built tough, we’re blue collar – just like this city, just like this state. We’ll continue to be tough and in the end toughness is going to prevail. And we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that happens.’’

“I think the game is going the way of player safety and we understand that. We’ve just got to be careful, there’s a fine line. Just be careful in regards to what we’re doing,’’ defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said on a conference call on Tuesday. 

After each game, NFL teams submit questionable calls to the NFL for clarification. Patricia would not say if that number after last night is more or less than usual. 

He did explain what keeps him going.

“Football is an emotional game, that’s why we love it so much,’’ Patricia said.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

After three weeks, the undefeated Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are one of the best stories in the NFL.

Mahomes, 2018’s NFL MVP, picked up where he left off in January. Expectations are high in Kansas City (trust me, I have family there), actually they are sky-high.

While the Detroit Lions are also undefeated (2-0-1) and in first place in the NFC North, many still just don’t know what to make of this bunch that finished last season 6-10.

On paper, all looks good for the Lions, but because of their blemished history (I’m being nice) they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. That will be earned when they win consistently.

Can they beat the 3-0 Chiefs? Absolutely. It’s the NFL where anything can happen. In most games it’s a handful of plays that are the difference between winning and losing. It would be one of the biggest wins in recent Lions’ history.

Will they beat the Chiefs? Kansas City is a 6.5-point favorite. The Lions would need to play a nearly perfect game.

This could be a big statement game even if coach Matt Patricia says he doesn’t look at it that way.

“Every week is important. There’s nothing more to that. Just our biggest game is this game because it’s our next game. We’ll always just kind of try to keep it that perspective so that – we just want to go out and perform well. That’s the bottom line,’’ Patricia said. “Everybody is good in the NFL. Each team presents different challenges, each team has different strengths and weakness, and the challenge is to try to rise to the occasion of handling all of it every single week and whatever presents itself. That’s really it. It’s September, still early. We’re just trying to get better.”

Five things to watch against the Chiefs:

1. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is dangerous wherever his on the field. When Patricia is asked whether he would prefer Mahomes in or out of the pocket, he said: “Probably neither. I think right now what you’re seeing on tape is you’re seeing him extremely efficient – on the sideline is probably where I’d like to see him the most. He’s just really good, he’s a really good young player. This guy is – every single play it is extremely dangerous. He can get that thing down field. He does a great job too with just controlling – there is an element to this offense that is definitely a ball control passing game, going back to kind of the West Coast system which Andy (Reid) has obviously, his background, but he’s incorporated a lot of the vertical stretch too and then mixed in the spread offense that you see a lot in college. He’s kind of adapted all that for his guys. He does great with the controlled passing game, just kind of taking those yardages that you’ll give him and then being real patient and all of a sudden he’s going to launch one down field.’’In other words, the Lions’ defense will have its hands full.

2. Matthew Stafford (hip) was listed on Friday’s injury report as questionable. Took everyone by surprise but he is expected to start. He’s off to a solid start this season with six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 62.6 completion percentage. He’s gotten some help with four receivers who have each had more than 100 yards in a game. But perhaps the key is that he has not been sacked in two straight games which is the first time that’s happened since the first two games of the 2011 season. “I mean obviously the guys up front are doing a great job. I think (Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell) is doing a great job of moving me around, getting the ball out quick, then I get a chance to hold the ball. It’s a little bit of everything, keeping the defense guessing. It’s a team effort when you have no sacks,’’ Stafford said. “You’re not going to have a perfect pocket every time. Guys are going to do some outstanding things, whether it’s a chip or a running back picking up a blitzer. I’m trying to get the ball out in a timely fashion, our guys are doing a great job of getting open. It all kind of plays together.”

3. Last week Tracy Walker and the secondary held Eagles tight end Zach Ertz to 4 catches for 64 yards — with only one of those receptions in the second half. On this week’s agenda is tight end Travis Kelce. “Tracy did a good job last week. He really did. He played well. Technique – fundamentally he played well. Every week in this league is a new week and there’s no way of predicting exactly how things will go,’’ defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. He also wouldn’t be specific if Walker will draw the coverage on Kelce. Patricia said there’s a bunch of good tight ends in the NFL and the Lions will face several of them. 

4. The Lions run game is still a work in progress, averaging about 99 yards per game. Kerryon Johnson is carrying the load but his per carry average is just 2.6 yards (48 carries, 116 yards). “We’ve actually had some really nice blocked plays. What I really feel like is that we’re just one guy away. I feel like there has been a lot of instances where we’ve had 10 out of 11 doing the thing that we need them to do, so if we can just get that one last little piece fit in there, then it’s going to start going,’’ Bevell said. “We’ve had a really good opportunity to just consistently work on it, and I think we’re improving each and every week. I like the direction that it’s headed. I think you can even see it last week. There were some decent sized gains to be had out there, but we still have to clean up some of the little details.”

5. Not a done deal, but cornerback Darius Slay could get the nod on Sunday after injuring his hamstring at Philadelphia. The Pro Bowl cornerback been limited at practice and is officially questionable this week but appears to be moving well. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (chest) is also questionable. After sitting Wednesday and Thursday he was limited in practice on Friday. Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (elbow) also questionable. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels is out 

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Chiefs 24 (This was a tough pick. Ultimately believe home-field advantage could tilt it Detroit’s way.)

 

 

Detroit Lions coordinator Paul Pasqualoni: Defense more comfortable, but Cardinals will provide challenges

ALLEN PARK — What a difference a year can make. When the Lions open the season at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Detroit’s defense has a built-in advantage due to experience.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni enters his second year with the group that has added a few new pieces since last season.

“I think we’re much more comfortable, all of the players who’ve returned, fortunately we’ve got quite a few guys who returned. I think we’re much more familiar with the system is, fitting pieces, trying to get the right guys on the bus and getting them in the right seat, so to speak,’’ Pasqualoni said on Monday. “I think that’s a process, that’s a work that you keep trying to get better at.’’

He does admit that the defense has a disadvantage because so many players have been injured.

“From a defensive standpoint we need to play together, we’ve had so many injuries and nicks and bumps we haven’t really had an opportunity to put the whole unit together and get them out there for an extended period of time,’’ Pasqualoni said. “That will be a work in progress this week and the first weeks of the season.’’

Early in the season, it’s difficult to know what to expect from any NFL team because they just don’t show much in preseason games. That will be amplified against the Cardinals who have a new coach in Kliff Kingsbury, a first-time NFL head coach, and in rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

Pasqualoni expects a wide-open, spread offense, run mostly out of the shotgun, with 3-5 receivers on the field each snap. Oh, and no-huddle too. 

“It stretches you this way (holds his arms out wide) horizontally, and they stretch you vertically based on the speed of what they have in Kyler Murray’s ability to throw the ball, he can throw the ball deep,’’ Pasqualoni said.

Plus they have Arizona running back David Johnson to keep under control.

“You put too many resources into the pass and the run hurts you, you put too many resources into the run and the pass hurts you,” Pasqualoni said. “That’s the whole idea of this, this offense is really an explosive deal when you’ve got real speed at the wide receiver position, they’ve got a Hall of Fame receiver in Larry Fitzgerald who is going to really present issues in this offense too. It presents a lot of problems.”

The Lions’ defense took a while to get going last season. They lost 48-17 in their opener at home to the New York Jets.

But once they got going and added James “Snacks” Harrison on the defensive line, they improved steadily.

Now they’ve added veterans Mike Daniels and Tre Flowers to the defensive line along with a few other key pieces.

If middle linebacker Jarrad Davis doesn’t play (he’s not expected to be ready), rookie Jahlani Tavai could be running the defense. Pasqualoni wouldn’t say much about Tavai because he doesn’t want to put more pressure on him.  But if the second-round pick starts, that says the coaching staff believes in him.

The defense is a work in progress. It’s flexibility will definitely be tested in the opening week.