NFC North: Detroit Lions

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – They had miscommunications that led to open receivers. Against a Hall of Fame quarterback, that was a crippling blow to the Detroit Lions' chances of beating the New England Patriots.

The Lions had the top-ranked scoring and overall defense entering Sunday’s game. New England and Tom Brady dissected what the Lions have been able to do and exploited Detroit like no team has this season.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Typically, no matter how much Detroit has struggled on offense or in special teams, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been able to point to his defense as a bright spot. Not Sunday, after 34 points allowed and a second straight game without a sack.

“They were able to move the ball, score touchdowns on us and we got a little settled down there for a while right after the half,” Caldwell said. “But they still were able to handle us pretty well.”

New England essentially abandoned the run until late in the game, rushing only six times in the first half and 20 times overall. They instead trusted their Hall of Fame quarterback, who completed 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

On those touchdowns, the Lions lost tight end New England tight end Tim Wright, who was incredibly wide open on both plays. Communication breakdowns, safety James Ihedigbo said, led to some of the issues.

“They run a fast-paced offense. They schemed us up pretty good,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We didn’t execute our defense.”

It has been an all-around stingy defense all season, ranked in the top 10 in essentially every major defensive category entering Sunday. And even after they were beaten handily for the first time this season, the Lions’ defense remained among the best in the league in all of those categories – including points allowed (17.3 per game) and run defense (70.73 yards a game and 3.15 yards per play).

“They just executed at a high level,” Ihedigbo said. “You have to give hats off to New England. They came out. They went up-tempo. They did what they did well and just, they executed.”
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted to make one more play, extend one more drive to try for another improbable comeback.

Stafford was pressured on fourth-and-10 from the New England Patriots' 25-yard line with 11:36 left. He kept looking downfield. With nothing available, Stafford scrambled. He headed toward the sideline and had enough room to get the first down.

Instead he slid, starting a yard short. Instead of extending the drive, his decision to slide ended it, giving the ball back to the Patriots again in a 34-9 loss Sunday.

It was another poorly performed play in a litany of them Sunday against New England, a day so bad that Detroit's perpetually level-headed coach Jim Caldwell couldn't even find a bright spot when he addressed the media after the game.

"This is one of the few times that we've kind of stood here in front of you and didn't have at least some bright spots to talk about," Caldwell said. "We didn't have many in this game."

On offense, that has been the problem for a series of games now -- almost every one this season. This -- against Miami, Arizona and New England -- was a stretch of games where Detroit could have established itself as a contender in the NFC.

What this game -- along with the lackluster offensive showing against Arizona -- showed is the Lions are still far from being one of the league's elite teams. Instead, they went 1-2 and have scored only field goals the past two games. They were picked apart on defense for the first time this season by a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady.

Touchdowns have also disappeared from Detroit. The Lions haven't scored a touchdown in eight quarters and counting. They haven't had a rushing touchdown in four games.

"It's one of those games, we just ... it's embarrassing," receiver Golden Tate said. "We've got to chalk it up and have a short-term memory. That's the most important thing, not to lose our swagger, not to lose our confidence.

"Just come out with a mission, come out on a mission to really take it out on our next opponent, which happens to be Chicago, who is also another good team regardless of what their schedule says."

Detroit could easily be a playoff team, even though Sunday's loss combined with Green Bay's win over Minnesota pushes the Lions a game behind the Packers in the NFC North. And for now, it throws Detroit into a murky wild-card mix with Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco -- essentially four teams fighting for two spots.

Reaching that goal starts with rehabilitating an offense that has not looked consistently sharp since the opening week of the season. While Detroit may have put up more yards and points than a week ago in Arizona, larger issues once again showed up.

Dropped passes, which had not been an issue this season, hurt the Lions. At least six of Stafford's passes were dropped -- three of which would have been touchdowns.

"Everybody has one of them games," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We just weren't executing, weren't playing Detroit Lion football, the football that we know we are capable of playing. Whenever there's dropped passes, there's just lack of focus on our part."

That lack of focus crushed drives Sunday -- or at least kept the Lions from finishing them with touchdowns. The lack of offensive cohesion sums up where the Lions are right now as their true identity slowly comes into focus: a good defense with an offense still struggling to find itself with five games left.

"We were scoring three," center Dominic Raiola said. "They were scoring seven. Can't do it. We got to score six, you know."

Whether Detroit starts to score with more consistency the remainder of the season will be the difference between the Lions being a playoff team or watching at home again in January.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots.
  • During the week, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not consider taking play-calling duties away from first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. After another game without a touchdown -- the first time the team has gone two straight games without an offensive touchdown since 2000 -- Caldwell said they would be looking at things to change in the offense, although nothing drastic. When asked if he would consider taking play-calling duties away from Lombardi, Caldwell offered a one-word answer: "No."
  • Reiff
    Reiff
    The Lions lost another offensive lineman for the majority of the game Sunday after left tackle Riley Reiff injured his left knee on the game's first play. Reiff, who was walking in the locker room after the game, said to ask the coaches about his knee, and Caldwell had no update on the severity of his injury. Caldwell said he felt rookie Cornelius Lucas "held his own" replacing Reiff, but Lucas gave up at least one sack.
  • Lions safety Glover Quin lined up in the slot more often than normal as Detroit used its three-safety nickel package with Quin, James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Detroit did that to try to keep New England from finding mismatches all day. "That was the thinking behind that," Quin said. "To try to hold up [passes] and the run game."

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:20
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

What it means: This was always going to be a struggle and perhaps the Lions' toughest game of the season. However, there should be legitimate concern with Detroit's offense right now. The Lions have gone two straight games without a touchdown and despite shrinking the play-calling sheet in order to help find offensive rhythm and consistency, the Lions gained 335 yards -- right around their 332.3 yard per game average -- but once again appeared largely inconsistent.

More on this below, but perhaps a bigger concern was the return of the drops for the Lions -- an issue in 2013 but so far not a problem this season. Detroit had at least six drops against the Patriots, including three potential touchdowns.

Defensively, the Lions weren't much better. While the Patriots abandoned the run early, Tom Brady was able to carve through Detroit's defense, completing 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also not sacked -- the second straight game the Lions have been unable to sack an opposing quarterback.

Stock watch: Rising – Golden Tate. He went over 1,000 yards for the season and once again had a strong game with four catches for 97 yards a week after the Lions only threw two passes to him. He also was one of the few Detroit receivers to not drop a pass -- an accomplishment on a day where the Lions dropped three potential touchdown receptions. Falling – Pass-catchers. Eric Ebron dropped Matthew Stafford's best throw of the day -- a touch pass in stride that hit Ebron in the hands before he dropped it. There were also drops in the end zone by Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross. Calvin Johnson had a couple of drops as well. But those three dropped touchdowns made a massive difference in the game.

Back to second: With Green Bay knocking off Minnesota, 24-21, the Lions are officially out of first place in the NFC North. The Packers are 8-3 and the Lions are 7-4. This puts Detroit in a crowded wild-card race with Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. This is realistically three teams for two spots -- one of the Eagles or Cowboys will win the NFC East -- and something that is going to be watched the rest of the season.

Game ball: Once again, Tate was one of the few bright spots on the Lions and the only one offensively for the team. He gave the Lions more than a third of their total offense Sunday -- 97 yards receiving, 13 yards rushing -- and is the only player on Detroit able to show any offensive creativity right now. He's been the only consistent thing on the Lions' inconsistent offense this season.

What's next: The Lions head home for a short week before facing division rival Chicago on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving game.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Reggie Bush said Monday he felt he would return to the Detroit Lions' lineup against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

That won’t be happening.

Bush is inactive for the Lions against the Patriots, the fourth time he will have missed a game this season due to his lingering ankle injury. He had practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on a limited basis.

With Bush out, expect Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to both see increased work similar to last week when Bush sat against Arizona. Bell had 85 yards rushing against the Cardinals, the most of any back for the Lions in a game this season.

Bush initially hurt the ankle in Week 5 against Buffalo and missed the next week against Minnesota. He aggravated the injury against New Orleans in Week 7 and sat out the next week against Atlanta. Then he played against Miami in Week 10 and injured it again, forcing him to sit against Arizona and now New England.

By missing his fourth game, Bush is assured of playing only 12 games this season at maximum. It will be his fewest games played since 2010, when he appeared in eight games for New Orleans. This season, Bush has 53 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown, along with 26 catches for 169 yards.

Lions inactives: RB Reggie Bush, RG Larry Warford, DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, TE Kellen Davis.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running backs haven't hit holes efficiently. Sometimes, the blocking just isn't there for them. And yet other times, their decisions have been rough.

There are many, many reasons to explain why the Detroit Lions' running game has been extremely inefficient this season. Here's another -- and one that might change Sunday when they face New England: The Lions haven't had their three top backs -- Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick -- all healthy for an entire game at the same time since the third week of the season against Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's performance against the Cardinals -- 14 carries for 85 yards -- gives hope that Detroit's running game may be about to turn a corner.
Yes, Detroit's run game was in bad shape even before that, but the Lions posted their second-highest yards per carry number of the season in Week 2 against Carolina (3.9 yards), had their highest rushing total in Week 3 against Green Bay (115 yards) and put together their only multi-touchdown rushing game of the season in Week 1 against the New York Giants (2).

Since then, Bell, Bush and Riddick have each missed all or parts of games due to injury. The Lions haven't rushed for a touchdown since Week 7 against New Orleans. They rushed for 98 yards Sunday against Arizona -- the first time the Lions have come close to 100 yards since Week 6 against Minnesota.

Against the Cardinals, Bell looked like the decisive runner the Lions have needed this season and his 85 yards were the most by any one Detroit running back in a game this season.

“The overall numbers weren't huge, but I think our running game looked a lot better this last week and that's obviously encouraging,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “And so, if we can keep getting those big plays and getting a little bit more consistency, that's going to help us.”

The big plays and the consistency have been the biggest issues for Detroit this season with the offense as a whole and the running game. Bell has 14 runs of 10-plus yards this season with four of them coming Sunday against Arizona. Bush has two of those plays -- but none since Week 4, the last week he was fully healthy for an entire game.

George Winn, who is the team's fourth back and only used in case of injury has two 10-plus yard runs, both against the Bills when Bell was out. Riddick, who is more of a receiver out of the backfield, has yet to have a run of 10 or more yards this season.

Of the four, Bell has been the back that has been the most consistent and the closest to being able to have a big running game -- especially since Bush and Riddick are used in a receiving role as well. The way Bell ran Sunday, though, gives Detroit some confidence it might have found something with its rushing.

With Bell handling the majority of the work, the Lions posted a season-high 5.2 yards per rush, the first time this year they have eclipsed Jim Caldwell's desire of four yards per rush in a game.

“You have a guy that's capable, who can break tackles and sometimes, that has to be done,” Caldwell said. “We attribute it to the fact that he practiced extremely well for a number of weeks and you could see it coming that he's going to have a big game.

“I think his big games are yet to come. When I think you look at the running game, our average is up where we want them, they're above it and we want to continue that. We want to run it even better.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One major college football head coaching job is open at Florida. Another, at Michigan, could be open in a few weeks depending what happens with Brady Hoke.

And in Allen Park, Michigan, there is a guy who would fit in as a potential candidate for both.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDetroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent one season as defensive coordinator at Florida, in Urban Meyer's final season as head coach in 2010.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – who was a secondary coach with the Wolverines from 1999-2002 and was defensive coordinator with the Gators in 2010 – runs the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

So it made sense Thursday that he was asked about the job that's open at Florida.

“I’m thinking about this game right here. I haven’t even thought about it,” Austin said. “I hate it for all the guys who are down there; there’s a whole bunch of families that people who lost their jobs.”

The 49-year-old Austin would not say whether or not he wants to be a head coach down the road as he tries to focus on Detroit’s game Sunday against New England.

With the way the Lions are playing, though, there’s a possibility both Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be brought up as potential NFL or college head coach candidates as soon as this offseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, once himself in a position to move from a coordinator to a head coach, said he would support his coaches in pursuit for other jobs as long as it doesn’t affect the jobs they currently have.

“It depends on the situation,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been in a similar situation myself early on in my career. I’m supportive of whatever we have to do in order to get a guy into position to do well if that’s his heart’s desire. But we don’t let it interfere with what we’re doing.

“Our job is to win games and that’s what we’re doing. They understand that and the guys we have, have great focus in that regard. If you’re good and you plan well, you’re going to have teams and people that have interest in people on your staff. That’s the way it should be.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh was asked about his future again Wednesday -- this time by members of the Detroit media.

He said, though, that he doesn't look very far in the future.

"I just kind of look at things and enjoy the moments that I have right now and kind of go from there," Suh said.

Suh
Suh is in the final season of his rookie contract and is eligible for free agency in March, should he not re-sign with the Lions before then.

So as for that immediate future -- that would be facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday. Suh is looking forward to facing Brady, who is one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league to sack. He's only been brought down more than 30 times in a season twice -- 32 times in 2011 and 40 times last season.

So far this season, he's only been sacked 14 times for 75 yards.

"I think, in my opinion, times in the past there's ways to get after him," Suh said. "He's an exceptional quarterback. It's not necessarily easy, but no quarterback likes to be hit.

"That's one of our goals, to get after it, put a lot of pressure on him, try to speed things up, try to get back there and get in his face and do different things of that nature."

The Lions are coming off their first game of the season of not recording at least one sack.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING

Ebron
TE Eric Ebron: The rookie caught all four passes thrown his way and appeared more comfortable in the offense during his return from a hamstring injury. He’s still a growth project for the Lions – as most rookie tight ends are – but Sunday was a good step forward for him. The way Detroit broke down snaps, too, showed Ebron might have usurped Joseph Fauria as the primary pass-catching tight end. That should mean more snaps and looks in the stretch run of the season.

RB Joique Bell: This will be discussed below as well, but Bell finally appears to have rediscovered the power running game he had last season. Sunday against Arizona was his best effort of the year – 85 yards rushing – but it was the way he ran that was as important as his yardage. He was decisive, difficult to bring down and looked fast. The Lions are better when he is getting the carries.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: He didn’t have any sacks Sunday against Arizona – nobody on Detroit’s defense did – but he hit Drew Stanton twice, made three tackles and was a general nuisance for the Cardinals. It is sometimes difficult to tell the impact of a defensive lineman in a game, but he has continued to play well and is a good complement to Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line even with Nick Fairley’s injury at tackle.

FALLING

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi: His game plan against Arizona was ineffective and predictable – from the long-developing short yardage runs on third down to what Detroit would do with two tight ends on the line of scrimmage in the game. His inability to have Golden Tate involved in the offense after the first quarter was also difficult to explain, as he entered the game in the top five in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards.

Bush
Bush
RB Reggie Bush: When he comes back from his long-lingering ankle injury, it’s possible he’s going to see a shift in roles. Bell has run extremely hard the past two weeks and has given Detroit a semblance of a running game that had been nonexistent for the majority of the season. Bell should be the option right now, with Bush and Theo Riddick acting as receivers, change-of-pace backs and backs used in two-back formations. This should turn into Bell’s job.

Lions’ NFC North chances: Detroit is tied with Green Bay atop the division this week and still has to go to Lambeau Field in Week 17. There are players on the Lions who were not alive when Detroit last won in the state of Wisconsin, so this is an issue. History aside, Green Bay has been decimating opponents in the past month, including a destruction of another potential playoff team, Philadelphia, in Green Bay. While the playoffs still look good for Detroit, unseating the Packers in the NFC North does not.
TROY, Mich. -- Golden Tate has seen this happen before when he was in Seattle.

The team was winning games -- that was most important -- but the offense was still trying to discover itself as players adjusted to new coaches and new pieces within the offense.

So he isn’t concerned that 11 games into a season, including an entire offseason for offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to scheme up what he wants, that the offense still looks like it's under heavy construction.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports"We're still trying to figure out the type of team, of offense that we want to be," Lions WR Golden Tate said.
“We’re still doing a lot of growing,” Tate said after an event at the Microsoft Store in Troy, Michigan. “We’re still trying to figure out the type of team, of offense that we want to be. We’re learning and the good news is we still have a long ways to go but we’re still sitting 7-3 with a really bright future.

“I think we can stay healthy and stay motivated and keep grinding, it’s all going to work out. We’re still learning and figuring things out.”

That has been evident this season, as the Lions have had inconsistent offensive movement throughout the year -- something that has been masked by the team’s record and place at the top of the NFC North along with Green Bay.

It is that record, though, that is all that matters to Tate and the Lions. Not how pretty or prolific the offense has been to get there. After all, Tate has seen this before with an eventual Super Bowl champion.

“In Seattle, it took us a while to really start clicking,” Tate said. “All our records say otherwise, but it doesn’t matter how you win, it’s just as long as you win and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“This is the first year we’ve had this head coach along with some the new additions on the offense and the defense. We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not playing bad football, still.”

Tate was largely taken away from the Lions on Sunday against Arizona. On Tuesday, he echoed his coach, Jim Caldwell, and his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, in saying Arizona didn’t do anything different against Detroit.

Instead, the progression of the reads, which so often had found Tate this season, just weren’t there. That’s Tate's reasoning for why he only got two targets Sunday in a 14-6 loss to the Cardinals.

Arizona’s defense -- which might have the deepest, most talented secondary the Lions have seen this year -- along with a slow start offensively also played a role.

“It’s something that, that’s a collective effort -- coaching, the players, the quarterback, the blockers, the running backs, it’s all a collective effort,” Tate said. “So I’m going to go out and just work that much harder this week to get the trust of the OC and my coach and the quarterback and see if I can help this team a little more.

“I just want to be impactful week in and week out and put this team in position to win.”

Tate has been a large reason the Lions have won this season.

With Calvin Johnson out, Tate has already set career highs in receptions (68) and yards (950). Even with a slow week against Arizona, he’s still third in the NFL in receptions, sixth in yards and potentially in line for his first Pro Bowl berth.
A month ago, the Detroit Lions were trying to aim to be one of the top defenses in recent NFL history.

That pace has fallen off a little bit in several areas, but the Lions still have a lot to like with their top-ranked defense. As we did a month ago, here’s a look at where Detroit's defense stands in some categories, with some historical perspective.

Week 6 numbers in parentheses.

QBR

The number: 36.7 -- No. 2 in the NFL (23.5, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions have faced some of the league's better quarterbacks, including Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. This week, the Lions face Tom Brady, so this number could grow.

Historical comparison: The Dolphins and Lions are the only teams under 40 in defensive QBR, but that isn’t a major statistical breakthrough. Six teams were under a 40 QBR last season. Of those teams, though, only the Bills had a record below .500.


Yards per game

The number: 290.3 -- No. 1 in the NFL (270.7, No. 1)

What it means: It isn’t surprising there has been an uptick in yardage gained on the Lions, who are continuing to deal with injuries. But they are still the only team in the NFL allowing less than 300 yards per game.

Historical comparison: After six weeks, there were comparisons to the 2009 Jets defense. Right now, the Lions’ yardage is a bit less impressive. The Seahawks, at 273.6, were better last season. If this holds for Detroit, they would be the first team to lead the NFL in yards per game at 290 or worse since at least 2001. Typically, at least one NFL team hovers around 270 yards per game allowed.


Yards per play

The number: 4.82 -- No. 3 in the NFL (4.49, No. 1)

What it means: The uptick follows with the increase in yards per game and facing better offenses, which continues this week against New England. That Miami and Denver have both passed Detroit is an interesting marker to watch. The almost 0.4 yards per play doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up.

Historical comparison: It is below average among top defenses. Last season, Seattle was at 4.42 yards per play, for instance.


Rushing yards per game

The number: 68.8 -- No. 1 in the NFL (73.5, No. 2)

What it means: The Lions have been devastating against opposing backs and are the only team in the league holding teams under 70 yards rushing per game. They are one of two, along with Denver, at less than 75 yards a game.

Historical comparison: If the number holds, they’ll have the best run defense since 2010, when the Steelers held opponents to 62.75 yards per game. The Lions would be one of three teams since 2001 (the 2006 Vikings were the third team) to hold opponents under 70 yards rushing a game.


Yards per rush

The number: 3.03 -- No. 1 in the NFL (3.27, No. 4)

What it means: It goes with the yards per game, but teams have become mostly one-dimensional against the Lions, which helps the overall defense and defensive numbers. The Lions, right now, are 0.28 yards better per carry than any other team in the league.

Historical comparison: This would be the best number since those 2010 Steelers at 3.02 yards per carry. The 2006 Vikings set the benchmark at 2.83 yards allowed per carry and the 2007 Ravens allowed 2.84 yards a carry.


Passing yards per game

The number: 221.5 -- No. 5 in the NFL (197.17, No. 1)

What it means: With teams unable to run on Detroit, they’ve resorted to passing. Detroit also ran into a couple of prolific passing teams against New Orleans and Atlanta. More of the same this week against the Patriots.

Historical comparison: Not much here.


Sacks per attempt

The number: 7.4 percent -- No. 10 in the NFL (9.7, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are still pressuring quarterbacks but have seen more experienced -- and more mobile -- quarterbacks of late. That’s helped knock those numbers down a bit. Don’t be surprised to see this number be higher by the season’s end.

Historical comparison: Again, none necessary.


First downs per game

The number: 18.6 -- No. 4 in the NFL (16.8, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are good here, as they are one of six teams allowing less than 19 first downs a game. But the number doesn’t mean a ton considering the Jets, Redskins and Vikings join them in that company and are all below .500.

Historical comparison: Average among top defensive units.


Points allowed per game

The number: 15.6 -- No. 1 in the NFL (13.7, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are the only team holding opponents under 17 points a game. That’s the major reason Detroit is 7-3 and should be in any game it plays the rest of the season. Of teams in the top five in points allowed per game, the Lions (point margin of plus-3.2) are the only team under plus-6 points per game.

Historical comparison: The numbers are a little higher than other top defenses of recent past, but by only a point or so, so they're in line there.

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

This could easily be another treatise about the woes of the Lions' offense and how the team has little to no shot against the New England Patriots on Sunday if it doesn't find some remedy to its inability to run or pass with any consistency. And all of that would be true.

But let's focus on one area here. Matthew Stafford has long been a quarterback who is often at his best -- and sometimes, his worst -- when he ends up having to react to plays instead of making his reads, having time in the pocket and then throwing. When he's put on the run, under pressure, Stafford makes the big plays, and it's often when he takes his bigger chances downfield.

That's one area where Stafford has done less this season. In 2013, Stafford threw the ball downfield 15 yards or more an average of 8.6 times a game. This season, he's down to 6.9 times a game. In 2014, Stafford has taken 10 or more deep shots in a game only once -- against Atlanta. Last season, he did so six times. Stafford is on pace for his fewest deep throws since his abbreviated 2010 season. And he's completing only 37.7 percent of these passes, his lowest percentage since 2010.

It always appeared Stafford was more comfortable in these situations, though. And with receivers such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, those chances should be more plentiful, not less.

This week, it might also be where the Patriots could be vulnerable. Over the past two weeks, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck completed 14 of 31 passes on deep throws. While that might not seem like a big percentage, taking some of these chances early could open up the New England defense for some underneath work later in the game and put Stafford back into his comfort zone. It would also lend a level of unpredictability to what has turned into a very conservative Lions offense.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Reggie Bush sat out his third game of the season Sunday against Arizona. He's not planning on missing a fourth due to injury.

The Detroit Lions' running back said Monday he expects to play against the New England Patriots as he continues to heal from an ankle injury suffered in Week 5 against Buffalo and aggravated often over the past six weeks.

Bush
Bush
"It's very frustrating because it's been one of those injuries that's been kind of lingering," Bush said. "I've been trying to do my best to just get as healthy as I can and be as smart as I can about it. Obviously, I don't plan on getting injured when I go back in the game.

"It's just one of those things that happened last time I was out there so hopefully not playing this past game will pay dividends for this week.”

The 29-year-old appeared to be healthy again coming off Detroit's off week to face the Dolphins. Then he was hit again in the first half in a spot that aggravated the injury again, once again knocking him out.

It was the second time the ankle had been aggravated in a game, as he also tweaked the ankle when he tried to return against New Orleans in Week 7. He then practiced one day in England prior to Week 8 before shutting it down and sitting out against the Falcons prior to the off week.

So it has been a lingering issue for Bush, who has 191 yards rushing on 53 carries and 169 receiving yards on 26 receptions this year.

"The last time, the last game, there's not much I can do. I don't care who you were. The way my ankle got bent, if I didn't have an ankle injury, I would have had one after that play, so it's just one of those deals.

"It's just unfortunate. All I can do is just kind of get myself back as close to 100 percent as possible to be able to play this weekend."

This is a game where Bush could be heavily utilized.

Bush has had success in the past against New England. In 2011 with Miami, Bush had 139 yards of offense, including 113 yards rushing, in a 27-24 loss to New England. It was the sixth-best rushing game of Bush's career.

In Bush's absence, the Lions have used Joique Bell and Theo Riddick as their primary rushers.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions don’t rank in the yop 10 in any major offensive statistical category. In a lot of them, they actually slide in at the lower third of the NFL.

Yet Lions coach Jim Caldwell appears to be fine with the way first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is calling plays.

“Certainly I’m satisfied with it,” Caldwell said. “Joe does a good job.”

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions mustered only 262 yards and two field goals against the Cardinals.
When asked what he wanted to see change with the plays that are called, he instead pointed to Joique Bell’s 14-carry, 85-yard performance Sunday -- the first time this season Bell has eclipsed the 75-yard rushing mark. It is also the first time Bell gained more than 5 yards a carry in a game.

But for once this year, the run game wasn’t an issue -- at least not Bell’s portion of it. It was a little bit of everything else that was the problem.

Consistent production has been a problem for Detroit’s offense all season. They haven’t gained more than 400 yards in a game since Week 1 against the New York Giants. They’ve gone over 350 yards of offense in half of their games this season.

That has alternated with games where the Lions struggle to move the ball. Even in their three straight come-from-behind wins to help them reach 7-2 prior to Sunday, there were offensive inefficiencies.

In two of those three games -- New Orleans and Atlanta -- the Lions gained more than 100 yards in the fourth quarter. So the drama of the late-game movement from Matthew Stafford and the offense might have temporarily masked offensive issues that are now wide open.

“Maybe a little bit,” left guard Rob Sims said. “I’m not sure. I know some things from playing in my left guard spot, I’ll tell you that. I know I played with these guys for five years and we figure out a way to get it done over the years.

“There’s nothing in me that says we’re not going to. Obviously there are some things that we missed. Obviously some things that we didn’t do right but we’ll go back and look at the film and see what we can do.”

What happened when Caldwell went back and looked at the film was essentially the same things he saw when he was coaching it live. Protection issues. Reads by Stafford. Predictability of play calls from Lombardi.

All of it rolls into one inefficient unit right now.

Detroit is 21st in yards per game (332.3), 25th in yards per play (5.13), 30th in rushing yards per game (79.8) and yards per run (3.24), 12th in passing yards a game (252.5) and 17th in net yards per attempt (6.81).

The Lions’ QBR of 56.9 is 19th in the NFL.

“There’s never been any one thing,” Caldwell said. “And that’s the thing with consistency. We haven’t been able to be really consistent across the board and consistent enough to play as well as well as we’re capable of.

“Now, when you put 21 points up in a half or 22 points in a half, that’s moving the ball pretty well so we’ve had our spurts. But we just haven’t been able to do that consistently across the board. That’s what we’re striving for. We’ve got time to do it.

“All of the things that we’ve got problems with, they’re correctable.”

How long it takes to make those corrections, though, could determine the amount of success Detroit has throughout the remainder of the season.

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