Five things to watch as Lions play at Chicago Bears

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

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

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

Five things to know about the matchup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

Five reasons the Lions lost to the Vikings

Stafford sacked career-high 10 times

In a crucial NFC North game, the Lions were no match for the Vikings who won 24-6 in Minnesota on Sunday.

It was a particularly ugly game for Detroit because, once again, they were ineffective in all three phases. Right off the bat, Sam Martin slipped and fell on the opening kickoff. It was an omen for another wretched loss.

The Vikings are now 5-3-1 and the Lions fall to 3-5.

It was their first game without leading wide receiver Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday. The Vikings defense typically would have to account for Tate on every play. Now they don’t. Think about it. Yes, Theo Riddick can line up in the slot and catch the ball, but he is no Tate who was usually Stafford’s best option especially on third down. This is what would happen to most NFL teams if they all of a sudden lost their top wide receiver.

Hey, this loss was not all because Tate is gone, but that is a part of it.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The offensive line had no answer for the Vikings’ bull rush.

The Lions defense had another bad day at the office even though coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist and he has some decent talent on the roster. They did hold the Vikings to 283 yards and 24 points and Darius Slay came up with a big interception. But it wasn’t enough.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Vikings defense came out fired up and the Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers. If he made adjustments, they were not apparent. The Lions had their lowest offensive output (in yards) for a game this season with just 209 and their lowest points with 9. The lowest had been 264 in the win over the Packers in Week 5.

2. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times, a career high for him and a Vikings’ franchise record. Ouch. The offensive line was responsible for not providing protection on most of the sacks, although Stafford could have thrown it away a few times. One time he was ground so far into the turf, the Lions had to call a timeout to dig pellets (from the field turf) out of Stafford’s left eye. Entering the game, he had just been sacked 13 times in the first 7 games. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 199 yards for a rating of 83.0. It was the first game this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

3. The Lions also couldn’t get the run game established, finishing with 66 rushing yards. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 6.2 yards per carry, rushed 12 times for 37 yards (3.1 yards per carry).

4. Teez Tabor. Enough said.

5. Coaching. It just looked like the Lions weren’t prepared for the Vikings. It wasn’t just Patricia or Cooter or defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni — it was all of them. Patricia is kind of new to the NFC North and it showed. Watching, it was hard to imagine the Lions had won their last two games there at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wait, that was when they had Golden Tate and a mostly different coaching staff.

ALSO: Interestingly enough, the Lions had a big edge in time of possession: 36:45 to 23:15. … Vikings wide receiver had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the opening eight games but was held to four catches for 22 yards. …. The Lions play at the Chicago Bears (5-3) next Sunday. The Bears smacked Buffalo, 41-9 on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Lions face 49ers

Both teams want to avoid 0-2 start

After Monday night’s 48-17 loss, the Detroit Lions have much to prove today at the San Francisco 49ers.

They can quiet the rumors that the team doesn’t buy into new coach Matt Patricia. The defense can show that Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni have drawn up a scheme that complements the players’ talents.

They can prove this team is ready to take a step up from a 9-7 record last season. They can show that they can compete for a playoff spot.

(Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. on FOX)

The Lions’ short turn-around from playing on Monday night is no excuse. This is the NFL, this is what they do.

In the past 10 seasons only 10 NFL teams  made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Here’s the thing, though. San Francisco is 0-1 too — although they looked more competitive in the 24-16 loss at the Vikings.

It all sets up for a Week 2 game with plenty on the line for both teams.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford should have a better game. The four interceptions were not all on him, but he made some bad decisions in the first game of this tenth season. He is better than that. Of course when he delivers a ball to a receiver, they cannot drop it. Golden Tate alone had two drops. He knows he can do better.

2. The offensive line last week didn’t allow Stafford to be sacked. However, the quarterback faced much pressure. With T.J. Lang (foot) out at right guard we could see Kenny Wiggins start in his place. He is experienced after starting all 16 games last season for the Chargers. The line — all five of them — have to play better than last week not just in protecting Stafford but opening up holes for the running backs.

3. That run game that has been talked about since the final snap of the 2017 season, needs to get in gear early. Let’s see more of rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount. Last week Ameer Abdullah was inactive (coach’s decision) and would expect the same at San Francisco. The Lions only had 39 yards rushing in Monday night’s loss to the Jets. They had to get away from the run in the second half because they fell so far behind. In the first half they managed just 18 rushing yards. It’s befuddling, that’s for sure. If it’s not corrected, their chances of beating the 49ers are diminished.

4. Detroit’s defense got off to a terrific start with Quandre Diggs intercepting Sam Darnold on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage. It was pretty much downhill from there with the defense giving up five touchdowns, 169 rushing yards and 48 total points. It doesn’t get easier. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense has plenty of weapons with Jimmy Garoppolo connecting on passes of 36 yards or more to three different receivers last week. Shanahan said he watched Patriots’ film from the Super Bowl to acquaint himself with Patricia’s defensive scheme. The line must get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to force him to throw interceptions. Last week he threw three, which is uncharacteristic for him. In six games last season he was picked off just five times. The Vikings made him uncomfortable (he was sacked three times) and it worked.

5. Special teams must get its act together after a lousy start against the Jets. They gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and Matt Prater missed two field goals (56 and 44 yards). Sam Martin’s punts averaged a healthy 50.7 yards but those were returned for a total of 137 yards. Special teams can be overlooked, but this unit needs to step up.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions open against the N.Y. Jets

All eyes are on Matt Patricia

ALLEN PARK >> Every move that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia have made since January has led up to tonight.

The Lions are 6.5-point favorites against the visiting N.Y. Jets. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m.

The pressure is on Quinn who fired Jim Caldwell after last year’s 9-7 season. He said at the time the team was better than their record.

All eyes are on Patricia in his first stint as a head coach at any level. If 9-7 wasn’t good enough for another year for Caldwell, certainly more is expected of Patricia.

“I think external expectations, they are what they are. I can’t control them, there are probably a lot of people outside this building that have no idea what goes on inside the building from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said. “So, we’re just always going to try to take it day-by-day, we’re going to take it game-by-game. That’s the only thing that matters to us. I think to put numbers on what 16 games are going to look like is just unrealistic for anybody. So, we’re going to try to make sure that we do the best job we can with this game.”

A win against the Jets would be a good start for the Lions who play at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and return home to the New England Patriots in Week 3.

Five things to watch in the opener versus the Jets:

1. Watch the running backs — either three or four of them will be active. Patricia refused to elaborate on the number in his Saturday morning press conference. He also wouldn’t say if Ameer Abdullah, who is listed as the kick returner on the depth chart, will indeed have that responsibility. Quinn has said during the offseason that three running backs will be active. Theo Riddick? Check. LeGarrette Blount? Check. Abdullah? Probably. So what about Kerryon Johnson? He will be active. Count on it. We’ll know 90 minutes before the 7:10 game time. “We’re going to try to do what we can that particular week to best fit what the game plan is, to go out and execute at a high level,’’ Patricia said on Saturday. “It might be more running backs, it might be more wide receivers, could be an extra lineman. We might have a situation where we need to go in a different personnel group from that standpoint. So, I wouldn’t always just lock in a number from that look.

2. One game doesn’t mean everything, but it could give us a better indication of what to expect from defensive end Ziggy Ansah this season. He seems healthy and is coming off a season where he had 12.5 sacks with six of them occurring in the last two games. It seemed like an off year for Ansah. The pass rush is critical to an improved defense and Ansah should lead the way.

3. Patricia, in his first game as head coach, will leave play calling to his coordinators Jim Bob Cooter and Paul Pasqualoni. Obviously he’ll chip in when he feels a need. Many Lions fans criticized Jim Caldwell for not displaying emotion on the sideline and yet finished with a 36-28 record. Patricia has been more vocal on the practice field, we’ll see how he is on game day.

4. Matthew Stafford enters his 10th season and 113th consecutive start. No doubt he has a handle on the offense which has been tweaked but not overhauled since last season. If the reworked offensive line and the run game are effective, Stafford will look good not perfect. Don’t jump off the ledge if he throws an interception. That happens, especially if the Lions fall behind. He’ll do his part but will everyone else?

5. The new-look defense will feature multiple looks and packages. This has been a focus of Patricia and Pasqualoni. First, watch for pressure up front and contain on the edges. Jarrad Davis will play a key role and needs to step up from his rookie season. Patricia seems to love Quandre Diggs, who was signed to a three-year extension this week. He’s listed on the depth chart as the starting strong safety, but could also play nickel. Glover Quin and Darius Slay are expected to pick up where they left off. Nevin Lawson had a rough preseason game, but he’s a better corner than that. Or is he?

Prediction: Lions 30, Jets 21. Opening at home will be key for the Lions. This is a game they should win. The Jets, coming off a 5-11 season, feature a rookie starting quarterback in Sam Darnold.

(The game will air on ESPN with Beth Mowins on play by play, Brian Griese as analyst and Laura Rutledge on the sidelines.)