NFC North: Detroit Lions

LONDON -- The Detroit Lions face the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium Sunday as part of the NFL’s International Series. How do the Lions come away with a win and a 6-2 first-half record? Here are four keys.

Johnson
1. Calvin Johnson: The star wide receiver practiced for the first time this week and said Thursday he could take his decision of whether or not to play all the way to Sunday. Unlike the past two weeks, though, this game might mean a bit more to him. As a huge international soccer fan, playing this game in Wembley Stadium would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Johnson. And doing it while facing his hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons? That might be too good for him to pass up. If he bases it solely on his health, however, he truly becomes a coin-flip decision. Detroit could use him back in the lineup because the offense has been somewhat stagnant due to his and other injuries to skill-position players.

2. Who plays tight end? The Lions have been down three tight ends for most of the week, and the two who have practiced -- Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson -- have been with the Lions’ 53-man roster for all of a week. Davis has never even played for Detroit before. If Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria all don’t play, that’s a big spot for a free agent off the street and a practice squad player. Depending on Johnson’s status, this could severely limit Matthew Stafford’s options.

3. Get to Matt Ryan: The veteran Atlanta quarterback has been good at avoiding pressure and sacks this season, even as his offensive line has crumbled around him due to injuries and ineffectiveness. But Ryan hasn’t faced this type of defensive front this season, and while Drew Brees had time on some plays last week, he was pressured enough to force bad decisions, including 10 incompletions and a turnover during the Lions’ rally late in the fourth quarter. If Detroit can do similar things to Ryan, this could be a big game for the Lions’ defensive line.

4. Defend Roddy White and Julio Jones: It’s unlikely the Lions will be able to take away both players, as they have combined for four 100-yard games this season (Jones with three, White with one). White and Jones represent one of the toughest receiving tandems the Lions have faced all season, and covering both while pressuring Ryan will be the key for defensive success. It would not be a surprising strategy to see the Lions not blitz much and have the front four try to create pass pressure and stop the run game, leaving seven players to drop into coverage. This might be a game where Detroit would want to allow more on the run in order to shut down the pass.
BAGSHOT, England – Nick Fairley doesn’t regret how he reached this point now that he’s playing the most consistent and best he has in his career. There are times, though, where he will let his mind percolate the possibilities of what might have been.

What could have happened if he had committed himself to being in shape sooner?

The fourth-year Detroit Lions defensive tackle knows why the question is asked, too. For the first three seasons of his career, Fairley was inconsistent and unable to stay on the field for long stretches, either because of being out of shape or injured.

His play yo-yoed between flashes of dominance and stretches of invisibility – a long way away from the dominant defensive lineman who helped Auburn win a national championship in 2010, becoming a first-round draft pick in 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley is in better shape and it's translated well to the field, as he's having his most consistent season.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Fairley said. “But I’m not trying to let it bother me. I’m just moving forward and I’ll put my best foot forward from here on out.”

In the past seven games, that foot has been a large reason why the Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. While Ndamukong Suh often demands double-teams from opposing offensive linemen, teams now have to be more wary of Fairley.

Even though Fairley’s numbers are down from the past two seasons statistically (14 tackles, one sack this season), he has become a far better and more consistent player for the Lions in 2014. He is the No. 9 defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus – ranked sixth in rushing the passer and ninth against the run.

He’s becoming what general manager Martin Mayhew hoped when he declined Fairley’s option for a fifth season during the offseason, making him a free agent following this year.

“He’s playing well,” Mayhew said. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job working with him, teaching him the right way to go. His linemates, or teammates, have high expectations for him.

“He’s obviously taking the lead on getting his weight down and getting in better condition and hired a chef and helped with that process. I think Nick gets a lot of credit for that. I think it’s great what he’s doing and I’m glad he’s doing that and I want him to keep doing it.”

Mayhew talks with Fairley often about a gamut of things, but said not about his contract. Even though Fairley is having a good season, Mayhew said he is not talking about future contracts with anyone, including Suh and Fairley.

Fairley is at least doing what Mayhew hoped he would, so it puts him in the conversation for a contract if both players want it.

And with Fairley, there might be room to improve, too, as this is the first time in his career he has been playing with consistency. And even though he thinks about it, it doesn’t bother him he didn’t get into better shape sooner because he believes he is at the beginning of a long career.

“I can’t call how it would be,” Fairley said. “But I think I would be up there in the top [among defensive tackles], you know what I’m saying, be recognized a lot more.”

One of his biggest supporters – from the time he was struggling until now – has been the guy he lines up next to play after play, Suh.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be a dominant force in this league for many years to come,” Suh said. “I don’t expect anything less from him.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He has the talent to be better than me and he’s just got to continue to work and take care of business like he’s been.”
BAGSHOT, England – While his teammates were hanging around playing video games or heading down into London on Tuesday to see of the city, Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah had something more special in mind.

For the first time in six years, he went to see his sister.

Elizabeth Giddings is a stay-at-home mom in North London, watching her two children. She knew her younger brother was headed to England with the Lions, but she figured she wouldn’t see him until later this week or this weekend.

Ansah
Ansah changed that. He hopped in a cab and told the driver to take him to her address. Then he knocked on her door. She opened it.

“She just like fell on the floor,” Ansah said. “Like overwhelmed.”

That’s what happens when family that lives a world away surprises one another. Giddings and Ansah are two of five siblings, and while Ansah saw the rest of them on a trip back to Accra, Ghana, in March, he had not seen his sister seven years older than him.

They stay in touch by email, Facebook and Skype, but have not been in the same room together for more than half a decade. Ansah said they haven’t seen each other because he works in the United States – and before that went to college there at BYU – and she has lived overseas and not in Ghana. So when he showed up, they spent around five or six hours together and Giddings made her brother a traditional African meal featuring chicken and rice.

He also spent time with her two children, including a 10-month old he had never met. Another of Giddings' sons wore the Spiderman costume Ansah bought him for Halloween the entire time.

“He was excited about it,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who had not spoken with Ansah specifically about the trip.

As an added bonus, Ansah also got to see his mother, Elizabeth, because she has been in London staying with his sister.

Ansah said his sister is planning to attend the game against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

So while Ansah had to come to England for work like the rest of his teammates, he was able to also have a long-awaited family reunion before most of the football work got started. While it has been disappointing to not see her more often, he understands why.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Ansah said. “I just have to live with it.

“But I’m happy I was able to see her.”
BAGSHOT, England -- The Detroit Lions’ banged-up skill position players continue to take turns sitting out practice.

 While Calvin Johnson practiced for the second straight day Thursday -- the first time he’s practiced on back-to-back days since before Week 3 against Green Bay -- the Lions were still without their top three tight ends and a top running back on Thursday.

Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Eric Ebron and Reggie Bush all sat out the portion of practice open to the media at Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa on Thursday. The three tight ends did not practice Wednesday, either, while Bush’s absence Thursday is somewhat of a surprise.

Bush had said both Tuesday and Wednesday he is not 100 percent, but plans to play Sunday in Wembley Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons.

If Bush does not play Sunday against Atlanta, it would mean more carries and touches for Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. Riddick sat out last Sunday’s game against New Orleans with a hamstring injury.

Right now, the healthy Lions’ tight ends are Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson. Both were signed within the last week, although Thompson was promoted from the practice squad.

In good news for the Lions, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returned to practice after missing Wednesday so he would appear on track to play against the Falcons.
BAGSHOT, England – The Detroit Lions found out about this trip around a year ago, and when they did, they began to plan. In the interim, the Lions changed coaching staffs, but most of that didn’t matter when it came to the off-field logistics.

It started with a lot of advance scouting and preparations. Lions team president Tom Lewand estimated there were three trips taken to England to scope out facilities in helping the team choose their hotel. The Falcons had the first choice and chose The Grove in Hertfordshire, England; Detroit picked the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa. Then it took time to understand all the potential issues they might face.

While that was happening, they were also doing research into how different teams went about this trip before them, from where they stayed to when they traveled and more.

It’s why Detroit traveled Monday night instead of making the trip later in the week, as other teams playing in London have done. Being in the same spot for so long – and in facilities they deemed top-notch – has given this week a similar feel to a training camp, yet a few thousand miles away.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to think of everything. The team collected the passports of players last week and checked on passport statuses of players they brought in for tryouts, so there was no chance of a player forgetting theirs or not having one. Caldwell spoke with sleep specialists and members of the military about the best way to fight off jet lag from the five-time-zone difference the Lions faced when they arrived Tuesday. He specifically spoke with military members because they travel often with quick turnarounds.

“Everything that we talk about, it’s on [the players’] iPads, so they have the information right there readily available to them,” Caldwell said. “And then we also had a sleep specialist that came in and talked to them about what they should do, what they should do on the trip, what these first three days are like, things of that nature to try to make certain that you’re in the best possible shape you can be in, from a rest standpoint.”

Caldwell said that while he did not talk to the team about the Ebola virus because they were flying on a private charter, his medical personnel were aware of it because “obviously, it’s a national issue right now, so it’s not something that you just kind of turn your back on.”

So everything was covered.

The Lions made sure the typical conveniences of their Allen Park, Michigan, facility were also evident – including having a pingpong table and video game systems with FIFA Soccer available. These two things are staples in the team’s player’s lounge in America.

Whitehead
“A few guys brought their systems,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “So even if they didn’t have that accessible to us, we were still going to play some games. But it’s really helped a lot.”

To aid this, the Lions did what many businesses do in shipping things from Europe or Asia to North America. They put some of their equipment and supplies on a ship months ago and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean.

“A lot was office equipment,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said. “We’ve got to set up an office here. Network equipment we had to send over, servers and that kind of thing. And some of the things like athletic tape, supplies.

“It was really supply-based, that we knew didn’t have expiration dates and had longtime items we could plan through. So a lot of it was both office and football equipment-based.”

That includes, somewhat surprisingly, paper. The typical 8-by-11 sheets the Lions use are not the most commonly-used size in England, according to Lewand.

Raiola
With the office set up and the Lions turning conference and banquet rooms into different meeting rooms around the Pennyhill Park complex, it in some ways feels like home, even though it clearly isn’t.

“I could stay here all week,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I haven’t even been to the spa yet. It looks sweet, though.”

The spa was one of the bigger benefits to staying at their hotel, which is also the training ground for the English national rugby team. So the facility has all the benefits for elite athletes, which has helped in their preparation.

“They have hot tubs over there, cold tubs, obviously massages, saunas and steam rooms,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said. “All those different things. I try to spend quite a bit of time over there.”

Mathis
Players also marveled at the size of the rooms and cornerback Rashean Mathis said he’d consider vacationing at the hotel another time.

Often, hotel rooms in big cities such as London and New York are small. The Lions have spacious facilities -- and Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley have two-floor rooms to themselves. Raiola said he has a huge tub and heated floors in his bathroom.

It feels more like an apartment than a random hotel room in the middle of a city.

But it is not actually home.

“It’s not Union Lake,” Raiola said. “But it’s all right. It’ll do.”
BAGSHOT, England -- Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola was asked about the royals on Wednesday afternoon and in the land of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, it can be a confusing question for an American.

“I looked it up this morning, just to see who won,” Raiola said.

Wait, what? Raiola thought reporters were talking about the Kansas City Royals, the team that lost Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. Instead, though, Raiola was being asked if he was following much of the drama around the royal family, which make headlines in Great Britain regularly.

“Hell no,” Raiola said. “I don’t know what’s going on. Our cab driver was talking about Prince Harry and how crazy, I guess the Queen was in town because the flag was out last night. [The cab driver said] like this flag is out which means the Queen is staying there.”

In England, though, following the royal family is as much of a gawking sport as celebrity-watching is in the United States and some Lions spent their first day in the country as tourists.

Some Lions traveled into central London, even if their hotel is about 75 minutes away from the city in Bagshot, England. Punter Sam Martin and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron all sent pictures in front of Big Ben to their Instagram followers.

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A photo posted by Eric Ebron (@ericebron) on


Running back Reggie Bush went into the city, by driver, for a late dinner with his wife, Lilit, at Nobu. Tahir Whitehead's anniversary is tomorrow, so he is planning on heading into London to have dinner with his wife then.

But for many Lions who have not been overseas before -- Bush is well-traveled, as is Ndamukong Suh, who recounted prior trips to London as among his most fun vacations -- this is a completely different experience.

“The impression from other people that I’ve been talking to who actually spent more time down there (Tuesday), they really enjoyed it, did a lot of sightseeing and did some shopping,” Bush said. “I think the big thing was taking the train down into London, a lot of guys did that yesterday.

“So they really enjoyed that part of it. I think everybody has been enjoying it so far.”
BAGSHOT, England -- It has been almost half the season already, but Reggie Bush insists the Detroit Lions are still learning.

When trying to understand why a running game featuring two backs who were considered among the best tandems in the NFL a year ago have been moving in neutral, he looked at the new scheme the Lions are putting in and the time it is taking to learn it.

Bell
Bush
Bush
The learning process and struggles with a running game that could take more of a hit if right tackle LaAdrian Waddle misses time with his concussion, is a bit of an enigma. It won’t help, either, that the Lions’ top three tight ends all didn’t practice Wednesday due to injury.

“It’s getting into a rhythm, into a flow with this new offensive system,” Bush said. “We’re still kind of learning and I’m not at all worried. I wouldn’t want to run behind any other offensive line, just going back to what we did last year, we have the guys here.

“We have what it takes to get it done and it’s just a matter of getting into a rhythm. We’ve had some injuries, too, and that’s obviously hurt us a little bit. We’re getting there. Nobody is worried, it’s not a time to panic, but it is a time for a sense of urgency.”

It may not be a worry, but it should be a viable concern.

A season ago, the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher in Bush, had Joique Bell with over 500 yards rushing and had numbers in the middle of the pack, mostly because both Bush and Bell were used as receiving threats as well.

Both were averaging at least 3.9 yards a rush (Bush 4.5, Bell 3.9) and were talked about as one of the top tandems in the NFL.

This season, though, they have plummeted. Neither Bush (3.5) nor Bell (3.3) have come close to Jim Caldwell’s goal of four yards a carry. And as a rushing offense, they have been unable to move the ball. Detroit is ranked No. 31 in the NFL in rushing yards a game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12).

The Lions are also tied for 28th in first downs rushing, with 31, although of the four teams they are tied or ahead of, three have winning records, including Denver.

“The scheme is good,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It’s a matter of one person breaking down here or one person breaking down here. Especially in the run game, all six have to go. We just have to be in sync. No one can go rogue. No one can go off schedule.

“We have to be on schedule all the time for it to go.”

The running issues are more than just the offensive line, though. With the new offensive scheme brought in by Joe Lombardi, some of the blocks have changed from what they were a season ago in both the run game and the screen game -- both of which involve the running backs heavily.

Raiola wouldn’t say exactly what has changed in the way they block this year, only that there are differences.

And Caldwell isn’t blaming one area of the offense when it comes to the Lions’ run struggles. He’s looking at the whole operation of it.

“We just haven’t been as consistent as we’d like,” Caldwell said. “We haven’t blocked consistently well enough. We haven’t run it consistently well enough with the ball in our hands. There’s a number of different things.

“The blocking includes not only linemen, not only tight ends, the lead back or whomever it might be, but then also on the flanks as well, the receiving corps. So all of it, we’re constantly in an evaluation mode with trying to find out what suits us best in terms of what we do best. That’s been the struggle, so we just have to stay after it.”
LONDON -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Johnson
WR Calvin Johnson: It is still unclear if the star receiver is going to play Sunday against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium, but he is clearly making progress on his injured ankle. He said he is feeling good and that he did a little bit of field work last week, which is a step up for him. He also told the NFL Network he has been running more than before, another good sign of his eventual return. It’ll likely be a decision between the coaches, doctors and Johnson as to whether he plays Sunday or waits until after the team’s bye, but it does sound like he is closer to full strength than a week ago.

LB Josh Bynes: He signed with the Lions when Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers and has slowly moved his way into some snaps with the Detroit defense. He has played in 30 total snaps the past two weeks spelling Tahir Whitehead. But the Lions clearly have some trust in him as he was in the game on the second-to-last series against New Orleans, when Glover Quin picked off Drew Brees to set up the game-winning score.

The Lions free-agent defensive signings: Detroit made three moves critical to its defense during the offseason -- bringing in defensive ends Darryl Tapp and George Johnson along with safety James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo was the team’s biggest defensive move and after missing three games due to a neck injury has become one of the Lions’ best defenders and a smart pairing with Glover Quin at safety. The more surprising play has come from Tapp and Johnson, both guys who were questions to make the roster at one point -- Tapp was cut and re-signed in August -- and have found roles in the Detroit defense. Tapp has been good against the run and Johnson leads the Lions defensive linemen in sacks (four) and is third among Detroit defensive linemen in tackles with 16.

FALLING:

Broyles
WR Ryan Broyles: Another week with the Lions decimated by injuries, another week where Broyles has little to no role in the offense. At this point, it looks like unless there is an in-game injury, Broyles just isn’t going to see the field much at all. He has one reception for 21 yards this season and has not run more than three routes in a game.

The Detroit running game: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick have all had injuries this season, but it still doesn’t explain why the Lions have been unable to run with any success. Detroit is 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12). Neither Bell (3.5 yards per carry) nor Bush (3.3 yards per carry) are even close to Jim Caldwell’s stated preference of four yards per rush and other than brief spurts in second halves, the Lions just haven’t been able to move the ball on the ground.

S Isa Abdul-Quddus: The starter at safety when Ihedigbo was out, Abdul-Quddus has primarily become a special-teams player at this point. His snaps have decreased every week since Ihedigbo’s return, from 19 against the Jets to 15 against Buffalo, one against Minnesota and none against his former team, the Saints. He still has a role on special teams, where he is part of their core, but it looks like he won’t be remaining as a player in a defensive package for Teryl Austin unless there is an injury.
BAGSHOT, England -- The Detroit Lions are on another continent, but they are still without star receiver Calvin Johnson at practice.

Johnson missed his seventh straight day of practice Wednesday, although he did stand off to the side watching the offense work out. He said Tuesday he is making some improvements in trying to return from his high ankle sprain to his right ankle.

Johnson
He was one of six Lions players not practicing for Detroit on Wednesday at the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, where the team is practicing and where England's national rugby team also works out.

All of the players who didn't practice for the Lions on Wednesday are of significance: right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and three tight ends -- Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron.

When it comes to Fauria and Ebron, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said they are making improvements. Fauria hasn't practiced or played since injuring his ankle before Week 4 against the Jets. Ebron has not practiced since tweaking his hamstring in practice last week.

"Practice would be one of those things where it goes day-to-day with those guys," Caldwell said. "Both of them are rapidly improving and I have to sort of wait and see what happens, what the doctors say where they are before we can utilitze them. So at this point it is kind of a day-to-day thing and see how it goes."

The Lions had Jordan Thompson, Kellen Davis and practice squad receiver Ifeyani Momah working out as tight ends Wednesday during the media portion of practice.
LONDON -- The Detroit Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL and after two weeks outside the top 10 of the ESPN.com Power Rankings, the Lions are back pushing for a spot among the elite in the league.

The Lions are up to No. 10 this week, the fifth-highest team in the NFC and the second-highest team in the NFC North behind Green Bay, a team on a tear since losing to the Lions in Week 3.

Detroit knows how close it is, though, to being even better than its 5-2 record. The Lions are still No. 1 in the NFL in two categories: defensive QBR (31.8) and total defense (290.3)

"We feel like right now we're in a good position," safety Glover Quin said. "Obviously, we feel like we could be undefeated. We've left some games out there, and we still haven't played a total, total game. So we always feel like no one can beat us if we don't beat ourselves and if we play our game, it's going to be hard for a team to beat us .

"With the weapons we have on offense, the guys we have on defense and our special teams, we feel like we have a complete team."

This is what the Lions are trying to continue in London on Sunday when they face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium.

Just a note -- due to travel to London and the scheduling of events here, my power rankings ballot returns next week.
GUILDFORD, Surrey, England – Calvin Johnson might slowly be making progress toward his return to the field.

While the Detroit Lions wide receiver wouldn’t say he is healthy and wouldn’t say he is going to play when the Lions face Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, he did say he has done “just a little bit” of work on the field -- a sign of progress on his injured right ankle.

“I’m still working, working to get on the field each and every week,” Johnson said at a Play60 event soon after the team arrived in Europe. “If I’m good enough to play, I’m going to play. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Johnson
Johnson has missed the past two games with the injury and has not been fully healthy since Week 3, when he injured the ankle against Green Bay. He practiced just on Fridays but played during Weeks 4 and 5 before aggravating the injury against Buffalo.

He hasn’t practiced or played since.

Johnson said he’s feeling good. As a soccer fan, he also likely would enjoy playing his version of football in Wembley Stadium if he is healthy enough.

“It’d be a great experience,” Johnson said. “Looking forward to it.”

One of the byproducts of Johnson’s injury has been Matthew Stafford gaining trust in other receivers beyond Golden Tate. That includes Corey Fuller, who caught the game-winner Sunday against New Orleans, and Jeremy Ross, who has been part of the passing plan each week.

In Johnson’s absence, Tate has turned into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Tate is third in the NFL in receptions (48), sixth in receiving yards (649) and first in yards after catch (344). He has been a big reason why Stafford has been able to trust receivers and why the Lions are 5-2.

“I think we’ve done that. Each of us has stepped up in our own way and once we get [Johnson] back, the chemistry is just going to grow between all of us, you know,” Tate said. “I think Matt trusts that he doesn’t have to go to 81 all the time and he can rely on those guys to make some plays and help them out and we’re just excited about that.

“He’s no question one of the best players in the league and we’re going to take off and we’re just going to continue to work hard.”

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

The Detroit Lions shored up some of their pass-blocking woes the past two weeks, but in order for them to beat the Atlanta Falcons and go on a run to the playoffs, the Lions have to find a way to restore their running game to a semblance of what they had last season.

Coach Jim Caldwell has a stated goal of having his team run for 4 yards per carry as a metric of success. Neither of his main backs, Reggie Bush or Joique Bell, has come close to that mark. Bush is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, Bell 3.3 yards per carry.

So the suggestion on how to fix this might be a little bizarre, but the Lions should move away from a split-carry approach and give more of the touches to Bell, who has 84 carries to Bush’s 49. That number is skewed, though, because Bush has been dealing with an ankle injury. But Bell has looked like the more explosive and decisive runner this season.

Bush still has the chance to be special, but the Lions should be using him in select spots where he can be a game-breaker and let Bell handle the brunt of the load. It’ll give Bell more of a chance to get to understand a defensive scheme and hunt for holes throughout the game.

“It gives me a lot better rhythm, but they kind of planned [a more run-heavy approach] from the beginning,” Bell said. “We knew we were going to be a little more run-heavy. As a running back, you kind of like that, being able to go out there and kind of put the team on your back.”

None of the Lions’ running backs has been able to do that consistently this season, so picking the younger player with fewer yards on his legs to handle the most carries could be the smarter option. Last season was Bell’s first with more than 200 touches. Bush has had more than 200 carries -- not counting receptions -- the past three seasons.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are supposed to be landing in England right about now, making the choice to head over the Atlantic Ocean early -- similar to their opponent this Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons -- instead of waiting until later in the week to do so.

Caldwell
Caldwell
The reason was not one out of nowhere. It was, as almost everything else in the NFL is, meticulously studied and strategized for.

“We looked at the teams that had gone over late, weighed that out with teams that got over early and got acclimated,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We looked at all the parameters.”

That came from first-hand experience from trips offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and secondary coach Alan Williams had taken to Europe along with the research of every team that had played a game there in the past.

The verdict -- go over, get settled and make it as much like a normal week of work as possible. So while trips to Big Ben and Parliament would be nice -- the team is staying on the outskirts of city the majority of the week before a weekend in Inner London -- they are trying to make this as businesslike as possible.

That includes not disrupting their typical work week with a mid-week jaunt across the ocean.

And when they looked at things, they looked at every possible metric.

“Every single thing,” Caldwell said. “Every place we’re going to stay, the hotels, you know how this league is, very rarely do you leave anything to chance. We know what the practice facility looks like. Our trainers have been over there already, not recently, but in the spring.

“…There are not too many things that happen in this league that all of a sudden you say, ‘Hey, guess what, we’re going to London.’"

No, everything about this trip has been meticulously planned from the outset and that is part of the plan as the league also takes a look at whether or not they’ll eventually try to place a team overseas.

Caldwell believes all of these games -- including playing an afternoon game in London this Sunday equating to a 9:30 a.m. game in the United States -- are test runs for that potential future.

“I’m sure that will be something that will certainly be entertained at some point in time with the popularity of our sport. The difficulties that you have to deal with, I think some of these games are a test run for that,” Caldwell said. “Give you a sense of what it would take and some of the issues that pop up. All the teams that been there before and all of us that are going, these kinds of things have to be dealt with and worked out and do I think it’s possible? Absolutely, I think it’s possible.

“But nevertheless, it takes a little bit of a reconnaissance mission and I think that we’re going to win a game but I think there’s things from an educational standpoint in terms of being able to function over there on a daily basis that we’ll certainly get a good idea.”

This week, the Lions are part of that recon mission themselves.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson hasn't played in two weeks and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell won't tip off whether that streak is going to extend to three.

Johnson
Johnson continues to recover from a high ankle sprain in his right ankle, suffered in Week 3 against Green Bay and then aggravated again in Week 5 against the Bills. Johnson hasn't played since and while he'll travel to England with the Lions this week to face the Atlanta Falcons, whether he plays will be up in the air.

Johnson told ESPN "maybe" following the Lions' win against New Orleans when asked if he would be playing Sunday against the Falcons.

Caldwell, though, said it'll either be a full Calvin Johnson or no Calvin Johnson when he makes his return. The Lions have an off week following the London trip before the second half of the season begins.

"It's not going to be a thing of degrees," Caldwell said. "When they say he's cleared, he's ready to go and he’s feeling great, when they doctors say, OK, that's when it's going to happen. It's not going to be a whole lot of in between."

Johnson has missed six straight practices, was doubtful in Week 6, questionable in Week 7 and did not play in either game.
The Detroit Lions were down their top wide receiver, two of their top three tight ends and still had a hobbled running back in Reggie Bush.

And yet receiver Ryan Broyles still rarely stepped on the field against the New Orleans Saints.

Broyles
The former second-round pick actually saw six snaps Sunday -- the most he’s had all season -- but four of those plays were runs. He was not targeted, was barely used and clearly has no role in this offense now, even with injuries all over the place to skill-position players.

Only one offensive player -- sixth lineman Travis Swanson -- played fewer offensive snaps than Broyles, and Swanson had five of them.

The Lions stuck with a three-receiver base set most of the game, too, with Golden Tate in on 63 of 70 plays, Jeremy Ross on 62 of 70 plays and Corey Fuller on 62 of 70 plays. Then came Broyles, who barely filled in.

He plays a different position, but tight end Jordan Thompson, who was called up Saturday by the Lions, had double the snaps of Broyles (12) and was even targeted once (an interception that bounced off his hands to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro).

Considering the Lions are in a constant rotation of players and formations to try to gain an advantage on an opponent, the lack of usage for Broyles is pretty jarring.

He fought to make the team during training camp and has expressed both understanding and frustration about his usage before -- on Twitter last week and to ESPN last month.

But as the injuries to other players pile up and Broyles continues to remain on the bench, it is becoming more and more clear there just might not be much of a role for him on the Lions.

Other snap count notes for the Lions from Sunday:
  • Joique Bell saw the majority of the snaps at running back -- 52 for him and 18 for Bush. Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game it was “absolutely not” a benching when Bush sat for most of the second half and that Bush was still dealing with his ankle injury.
  • Nick Fairley played a season-high 47 snaps and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus also credited him with four hurries of Drew Brees.
  • In parsing the numbers for defensive alignments, the Lions went to their traditional nickel with Danny Gorrer on 30 of 74 plays, the base 4-3 with Ashlee Palmer on 17 snaps, the big nickel with Cassius Vaughn on 15 snaps and a third nickel package with Don Carey on 12 snaps. Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played one snap last week and was the initial big nickel back, played only special teams for 23 plays.
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes continues to get some run spelling Tahir Whitehead, as Bynes played 15 of 74 snaps but did not record a statistic. He is a core special teams player, too, so he’s carving out a role on this defense.
  • Once again, only backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t play, but these position players saw less than 10 combined snaps between offense, defense and special teams: Cornelius Lucas (four, special teams); Jerome Couplin (eight, special teams); Caraun Reid (eight, defense); and Broyles (six, offense).

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