NFC North: Detroit Lions

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).
DETROIT -- Earlier this month, Corey Fuller insisted he could do more. He was playing behind Calvin Johnson then, barely the target of any of Matthew Stafford’s attention and resigned to running the deep go routes and posts he had been assigned.

His job then was to pull a defender down the field so Stafford could find Golden Tate and others on shorter routes.

[+] EnlargeCorey Fuller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCorey Fuller's first career touchdown catch was a meaningful one for Detroit on Sunday.
Then Johnson’s high ankle sprain became more of an issue and Fuller was put into a much larger, more diverse role. The deeper routes he had to run turned into a fuller route tree, with slants and hitches and the full gamut of plays he learned.

He insisted, at some point, he would do more. That more came Sunday afternoon, with the Detroit Lions five yards from a come-from-behind win over the Saints.

Fuller, lined up on the right side, ran toward the back of the end zone. Initially, rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste hung with Fuller as Tate was doubled by the Saints. Then, Jean-Baptiste, playing the first defensive snaps of his career Sunday, let him go as Fuller rounded his route toward the middle of the end zone, tucked in the back.

“He’s 1A,” Stafford said. “Golden was in there, too, but they doubled Golden. He had done such a great job all game, they put a little double-team down there, a little bracket. Corey had to go outside, beat a corner and he was just trailing on the baseline, saw the double team on Golden and put a ball where I thought Corey could go up and get it and get both feet down.”

Stafford threw the ball as Fuller headed toward the middle of the field. He jumped up, extended his arms and caught the ball. Then he controlled his body enough to make sure both feet landed in bounds before he fell out of the end zone for the game-winning 5-yard touchdown.

“I know I don’t get called much,” Fuller said. “I’m just here to help any way I can. Matt threw a great ball, the line blocked perfectly and all I had to do was come down with it. I had to do the easy job.”

It was a job, though, that he had never had to do before.

It was the first touchdown of Fuller’s career and only his ninth career NFL catch. It was the second week in a row Fuller had five targets and his three catches tied a career high. His 44 yards were the second-best numbers of his career.

As he said, he knew he could do more. He just had to wait for it.

“He’s put in so much work in the past year to get where he’s at,” Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “He deserved that.

“He deserved every bit of that.”
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DETROIT -- On Saturday evenings, during the team’s final meeting of the night before a game on Sunday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell ends those sessions with the same message every time.

Above all else, win. No matter what.

It’s a simple message, really. But too often in the recent past for the Lions, it has been the opposite. This used to be a team that would give away fourth-quarter leads and hand victories to opponents. This was a team last season that held leads in the fourth quarter of almost every game in the second half of the season and found ways to lose time and time again.

This is part of why Caldwell is here, because of those collapses. So with four minutes left Sunday against the New Orleans Saints and the Lions needing two touchdowns to win and an offense struggling without Calvin Johnson, they needed Caldwell’s message to somehow resonate.

They needed a spark to resurrect an offense that was built to have many weapons to endure in the face of injuries, not to collapse when Johnson wasn’t in there.

“Just hard finding good rhythm,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “These defenses are putting together great game plans as well, so it’s tough to kind of get through that sometimes.”

The Lions are hoping the double-digit deficit turned 24-23 win over the Saints in the last 3 minutes, 52 seconds is the ignition for the rest of the season.

Facing third-and-14, Matthew Stafford threw the ball up to his hot receiver, Golden Tate. And 73 yards later -- 65 of them from Tate after the catch -- a Lions offense that gained 187 yards through three quarters had a touchdown, a belief and that offensive spark.

“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stafford said. “Just to catch it at a standstill, basically I just threw him a ball up. He was hot. He was calling for it. Wanted it.

“I gave him a chance on a ball and he came back, caught it and he did the rest. It was pretty impressive.”

The Lions' defense saw that and started pressuring Drew Brees even more on the chances it could get. On a third-and-9, the offensive spark turned into a defensive play. George Johnson pressured his man from the side and forced Brees off rhythm. His pass to Marques Colston ended up intercepted by Detroit safety Glover Quin.

Johnson said the Lions knew at some point Brees was going to have to hold the ball a split-second longer to make a play. It led to the pressure and the pick.

And Caldwell’s message of believing took hold even more: Above all else, win.

With 3:10 left and 14 yards and an extra point between a loss and an improbable victory, the Lions ran four times, passed twice and received one pass interference call. Then, five yards from the end zone on third down with 1:48 left, Stafford saw Tate bracketed by the Saints and Corey Fuller breaking toward the middle of the end zone.

Fuller started in Johnson’s place Sunday, and in the biggest spot of his career Fuller made a play reminiscent of his mentor. He leaped, controlled his body and got both of his feet down. It was the definition of a role player with a massive play.

“It was a toe-touch,” Pettigrew said. “That’s real Calvinish. I’m not taking anything away from him, but that was pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

That is an offensive spark completed for a team in desperate need of one -- for one day and for the rest of the season.

“Games in this league are crazy,” Caldwell said. “You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out.”

Down 13 with under four minutes left and no Calvin Johnson -- no, no one could have seen this coming at all. Except maybe Caldwell with his message: Above all else, win.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 24-23 win over the New Orleans Saints.
  • Corey Fuller had never been in that spot before. He scored his first career NFL touchdown, and after, he became very popular. When asked if his phone was “blowing up,” Fuller deadpanned: “Yes. I feel it in my pocket.”
  • Bush
    Bush
    Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he did not bench running back Reggie Bush, after he played only a handful of snaps in the second half in favor of Joique Bell. Caldwell said Bush was still struggling with the ankle injury that kept him out of last Sunday’s game at Minnesota, so he stuck with Bell. After the game, Bush declined to speak with the media.
  • Calvin Johnson was seen leaving the Detroit locker room after the Lions’ win, but he wouldn’t give any indication whether he’d play next week against Atlanta. When asked by a reporter if he thought he’d play, he said, “maybe” as he was walking away.
DETROIT -- Calvin Johnson is getting at least one more game to rest his right high-ankle sprain.

Johnson
The Detroit Lions wide receiver is inactive Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the second straight game he will not play and the first time he will miss two consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.

Johnson didn’t practice at all for the second straight week but was upgraded from doubtful last week against the Vikings to questionable this week against New Orleans on the official injury designations.

He was on the field during warmups but did not run routes.

Corey Fuller, Jeremy Ross and Brandon Pettigrew should see the majority of the work in Johnson’s place, depending on the formation.

Lions inactives: Johnson; TE Eric Ebron; TE Joseph Fauria; OT Garrett Reynolds; DE Larry Webster; RB Theo Riddick; QB Kellen Moore.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Like everyone else a few days before the 2006 NFL draft, Reggie Bush thought he would be moving to Texas. As the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the electric running back figured he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Then Houston stunned everyone and the night before the draft hinted that Mario Williams, not Bush, would be the No. 1 overall selection.

"I was preparing to go to Houston, and we found out the same way everybody else found out, on SportsCenter,” Bush said. "That was that. That was my first real introduction to the business side of football.

"I got an introduction really quick."

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush started his NFL journey with New Orleans and will play against the Saints for the first time on Sunday as a Detroit Lion.
It was that same night, on the eve of the draft, that Sean Payton called his quarterback, Drew Brees, and told him "I think we are going to get this guy."

Bush’s presence gave the New Orleans Saints a dynamic offensive weapon to add to a backfield that included starter Deuce McAllister at the time. It helped open up the New Orleans offense, and they couldn’t really believe their luck.

Bush fell right into their plans, giving them a game-breaking running back who could catch passes out of the backfield.

"Pure excitement," Brees said. "I think mainly because nobody thought that was even an option."

On Sunday, Bush will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Miami prior to the 2011 season for safety Jonathan Amaya and a swap of sixth-round picks.

The marriage between Bush and the Saints lasted five seasons and one Super Bowl before the team drafted another former Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, all but signaling Bush’s departure from New Orleans.

Payton said this week that he called Bush before the trade happened. Bush called the decision to pursue a trade and leave New Orleans "a mutual decision" and soon enough Bush was on to Miami and then, eventually, Detroit.

"It was nothing that was unexpected," Bush said. "I don’t have any bitterness toward the team or anybody. It’s part of the business side, the business side of our sport.

"Sometimes it can be ugly, but at the end of the day we all sign on the dotted line and we understand how it works."

Not only will Sunday be the first time Bush faces the team that drafted him, it’ll likely be the first time he talks with Payton since the trade. Bush said Friday the two have exchanged messages through other people but have not spoken directly – but that he plans on talking to him at some point Sunday.

In Bush’s five seasons in New Orleans, he played in 60 games, ran for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 294 passes for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the four seasons since he left the Saints, he has played in 50 games, rushed for 4,475 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 152 passes for 1,236 yards and six touchdowns.

He also had the first two 1,000-yard rushing seasons of his career after he left the Saints -- including last season with the Lions.

"He's someone that obviously was an important player for us," Payton said. "Whenever you're able to win a championship, and we were able to with that team in 2009, at that point it validates every selection, every trade, and every signing that brought you to that moment."

Bush, though, tried to downplay facing his former team Sunday -- even if he and another former Saints player, Isa Abdul-Quddus, are two of the team’s captains this week. And Bush acknowledged that it is probably no coincidence he was named a captain this week against New Orleans.

His head coach is pretty savvy like that, but Bush wants to treat it like a typical game -- but acknowledged if the game were in New Orleans instead of Detroit, the approach would be a bit different.

"I’m not going to try and make it more than that, because we still have a job to do and I don’t want to get caught trying to do too much," Bush said. "I think learning from experience in the past, when I’ve tried to do too much, it never really works out the way you want it to and you end up making a few mistakes.

"So for me, I’m going to go into the game with the same mindset I do every game."

All that will change is the opponent on the other side will look very familiar.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There’s a familiarity to this for Brandon Pettigrew, a spot he has been in once before but one that in 2014 has kind of gone away.

There was once a time where Pettigrew was the main tight end target for the Detroit Lions. It’s how he spent most of the first five seasons of his career, as an oft-targeted place of security for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

But the past season-and-a-half, his role has changed. He saw fewer targets last season. This season, he was almost turned into a strictly blocking tight end, staying in over and over again as Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron ran routes.

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Then Fauria hurt his ankle. And Ebron tweaked his hamstring. And all of a sudden, Pettigrew is looking like the No. 1 tight end target again as the Lions could be without both of those tight ends and wide receiver Calvin Johnson on Sunday against New Orleans.

“I might be running a little bit more,” Pettigrew said. “Maybe not much. Maybe a little bit.”

There might be more than a chance of it. If those three don’t play, Pettigrew becomes Stafford’s tallest, biggest target once again, a throwback to the days of 2010 and 2011, when Pettigrew was targeted 222 times and caught 154 passes for 1,499 yards and nine touchdowns.

Since those days, his targets, receptions and yards have dropped each season. This season, he has been targeted seven times, catching five passes for 40 yards.

With the injuries the Lions have, they could lean on Pettigrew once again.

“Yeah, and I think he’s more than capable,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think if that does indeed happen he would relish the opportunity to show what he can do in that area as well. He’s big and has some speed and he is a hard worker and performing extremely well for us.

“It would add a little bit more to his plate.”

It wouldn’t be much more than he handled in the past, though. While the Lions might promote Jordan Thompson from the practice squad and Caldwell said if that does happen, he would play the Fauria/Ebron-type role, it is Pettigrew who has the experience and the familiarity with Stafford.

And it is Pettigrew who has made plays before.

“It’s not something I haven’t done before,” Pettigrew said. “It’s not something I’m not ready or prepared for. I’m definitely prepared.”

 
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On his conference call with the Detroit media Wednesday, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton clicked off “eight asterisks” on the paper in front of him.

Those would be the direct ties between the Saints and the Detroit Lions, including Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and running backs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Jed Collins and all the way to position coaches.

Will that help either team Sunday? Tough to say, but Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Saints reporter Mike Triplett will tell you all you need to know for this week’s matchup.

Rothstein: Let's start with Drew Brees. Without Lombardi, he has his lowest passer rating and QBR in a few seasons. Is Lombardi part of the reason for that, or is it something else with the veteran quarterback?

Triplett: Brees’ performance has been under the microscope around here, as you might imagine with the Saints off to a 2-3 start. Especially since he just had his worst performance of the season before the bye with three interceptions against Tampa Bay (two of them trying to force the ball while being hit). But even on that “bad” day, Brees threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns and led the team back from an 11-point deficit to win 37-31 in overtime.

Overall, I still think Brees has been really sharp. He was leading all full-time starters in completion percentage through four weeks. He’s just been “taking what the defense gives him” and settling for shorter throws to tight end Jimmy Graham, rookie receiver Brandin Cooks and the running backs. If Graham can’t play with a shoulder injury, the Saints will have to rediscover their downfield passing game.

As for Lombardi, it’s hard to say Brees misses him since he still has Payton and longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. around. But I do think Lombardi is really sharp and I was glad to see him get his shot there. What has he brought to the offense -- and how will he adjust if Calvin Johnson can’t play?

Rothstein: It's been interesting because the offense has been quite mediocre this season after years of being one of the best units in the league under Scott Linehan. Part of that goes to protection, as Matthew Stafford has been pummeled (21 sacks and counting through six games). But the run game has stalled and Stafford still appears to be gaining comfort in the offense. The offense has been the big question around here, but only this week has Lombardi's play calling really come into question. Head coach Jim Caldwell was asked about it and supported Lombardi.

The play calling hasn't really been the issue. It has been the protection and Stafford. I thought he adjusted well with Johnson either hobbled or out. Golden Tate has been dynamic in this offense, taking those short and intermediate routes and busting them for big gains. He's sixth in the league in yards (495) and fourth in yards after catch with 257 -- and the highest-rated receiver on the team. He, not Johnson, has been the player to really move the ball for Detroit so far this season.

If Johnson doesn't play, screen passes will once again play a role, as will getting the ball to Tate in space. But, unlike last week against Minnesota, the Lions are going to have to put up points to win this game. That goes into my next question. The Saints haven't seemed to generate much pass rush. Is that because of injuries in the secondary or overall skill?

Triplett: The Saints' missing pass rush has probably been the biggest surprise this season. They have real bona fide talent up front that just hasn't been producing the way it did last year (Pro Bowl end Cameron Jordan, outside linebacker Junior Galette and end Akiem Hicks). Maybe offenses have been game-planning especially for them (quicker throws, double teams, etc.) But the Saints know they have to simply produce better, and this is the strength of their defense that they're really going to count on to turn their season around. It sounds as if the Lions might provide them an opportunity to get something started, but, if Detroit's been watching film, it'll know those quick throws to Tate and the screen game could be effective against a Saints secondary that hasn't tackled well in the open field.

How big of a weapon has Bush been in that regard? This will be the first time the Saints have faced him since they traded him in 2011.

Rothstein: Bush has been useful for the Lions, but I'd argue he was more effective last season, when he was a 1,000-yard rusher, than he has been this year. Part of that has to do with a fairly anemic Detroit run game, but he also has his lowest yards per reception since 2011 (7.1). Bush is still an effective player and has not lost much of his speed, but Linehan used him differently than Lombardi has. If Detroit is able to fix its run issues, he should still be extremely effective, and he has been helpful for the Lions, but he hasn't been as much of a game-changer this season as he was last season.

The Lions have talked a lot about Brees' ability to avoid sacks. How does he manage to do that?

Triplett: Normally I would say it’s because Brees dissects the field so well and makes smart, quick decisions. But, as I said, that wasn’t the case with two of his interceptions in the last game when taking the sack would have been the smarter choice.

In general, though, Brees has always been good about stepping up into the pocket (either the cause or the effect of the Saints investing heavily in Pro Bowl guards over the years). And he does make smart, quick decisions. His favorite receiver is always the “open man” instead of getting locked into targets. And even though he throws for 5,000-plus yards every season, he also has set the NFL record for completion percentage twice. This is still a West Coast-style offense at its heart.

It sounds as if he won’t have it easy against this Lions defense, though. I was pretty stunned to see the numbers so far this year. Where did this performance come from?

Rothstein: It starts with the front four, which has three first-round picks up front, led by Ndamukong Suh. The havoc it can provide allows the secondary and linebackers to play a bit freer. The Lions have an emerging star who is strong in coverage in DeAndre Levy at linebacker. The secondary has been the surprise, but coordinator Teryl Austin has done a great job playing each guy to his own strengths, including multiple nickel packages. He has really refined these guys into an impressive group.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions tight end Joseph Fauria is out of his boot -- and has been for a couple of weeks. He’s walking around in regular shoes now and even made an appearance during the media portion of Lions practice Wednesday, one of the few times he has been there since injuring his ankle last month.

As for when he'll return to the field, Fauria was still coy with that.

Fauria
Fauria
“My goal every week is to come back that week,” Fauria said. “If I tell my body I’m not coming back until Week 13, I’m going to come back then. If I tell my body soon, I’m a proponent that if my head says so, my leg is going to feel the same way, too.

“I’m very optimistic. If I’m not coming back this week, I’ll be coming back as soon as possible.”

Considering Fauria has not really run yet -- he’s done a lot of movement on the team’s AlterG anti-gravity treadmill -- this week seems unlikely. But he appears to be getting a lot closer.

And while he wouldn’t say playing in London Oct. 26 is a target date, it might be a possibility if he is able to run this week.

“I’m making strides,” Fauria said. “I’m making progress, and that’s all I care about is making progress.”

He is one of a litany of Lions offensive playmakers who have some sort of injury. On Wednesday, receivers Calvin Johnson (ankle) and Jeremy Ross (ankle) didn’t practice. Neither did running back Theo Riddick (hamstring). Running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring) were limited. All of those injuries, along with Fauria, significantly limit the Lions’ offensive options.

The one thing Fauria doesn’t want to do is put himself in a position where he could reinjure the ankle by coming back too fast. So he’s taking his time to recover, even as the Lions’ offensive playmakers appear to be dropping by the week.

So he is trying to balance all of that.

“You can always set yourself back,” Fauria said. “I experienced that a little bit in college, but not at this level and I think the coaches are looking after me and want me to be responsible.”

Fauria was injured in an off-field incident last month, blaming his ankle injury on chasing his dog while trying to keep it from urinating in his apartment.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said earlier Wednesday that he is trying to get everything right with his ankle, it was not surprising he ended up being one of a litany of players not at practice Wednesday.

Some of the players he was joined by, though, were a bit surprising.

Ansah
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (toe) did not practice. Neither did running back Theo Riddick (hamstring), tight end Joseph Fauria (ankle), linebacker Travis Lewis (quad) or receiver/returner Jeremy Ross (undisclosed). Ansah, Riddick and Ross were surprises.

In better news for Detroit, Reggie Bush returned to practice after missing Sunday's game with an ankle injury so he looks on pace to play against his former team, New Orleans.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy also returned to practice for the first time since core muscle surgery in August. He is eligible to return to the Lions after their bye week. Receiver TJ Jones, who is on the PUP list, was not practicing Wednesday. This is the first day Jones is eligible to return from his shoulder surgery and nerve issue in his arm.

 

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

Protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford has been an issue all season for the Lions, but with 21 sacks over six games -- an average of 3.5 sacks a game -- the Lions' offensive line has to keep its quarterback from being brought down by the New Orleans Saints. The last three games have been particularly bad, with 14 sacks allowed against the Jets, Bills and Vikings.

Stafford is on pace to be sacked 56 times this season (his career high is 36 times in 2011). According to Pro Football Focus, the left side of the Lions’ line might be the issue. Center Dominic Raiola has allowed four sacks while left tackle Riley Reiff and left guard Rob Sims have allowed two each.

The Lions have tried to help this by shortening Stafford’s time in the pocket and his time before the pass last week against Minnesota; they got it down to a season-best 2.11 seconds in the pocket and 2.14 seconds before the pass.

This is an area that is fixable over the next two weeks. New Orleans and Atlanta both have sacked quarterbacks on 3.5 percent of dropbacks or less, ranking among the bottom five teams in the league in that stat. And that's after three straight weeks of playing against teams in the top 11 in sack percentage per attempt. So the Lions’ schedule may offer the respite their pass protection needs.

The Lions need this to happen this week. While it has won with defense this season, Detroit also faces two of the top three offenses in the NFL the next two weeks. So it'll need to put up more points than it has so far.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Larry Warford says he has never caught a pass in his life. On any level of football, the Detroit Lions right guard has touched the ball when it was live once.

On defense. In seventh grade. When a fumble literally dropped into his hands.

Warford
So Sunday could have been a first for Warford when he was deemed an eligible receiver and ran a route with 8:59 left in the third quarter against the Vikings.

"I don't know what happened," Warford said. "But I didn't get the ball. I was so excited, too. I was like I was so open, like, Yeah. Awww."

What happened was the trick play was completely snuffed out by the Minnesota Vikings, resulting in a 4-yard sack of Matthew Stafford pushing the Lions out of the red zone and eventually ending up in a 44-yard missed field goal from Matt Prater.

But had the play worked on 1st-and-10, it might have been a highlight for a long, long time.

"I was excited about it," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "But we couldn't get it done."

Stafford had the Lions line up in an empty formation, with two receivers to his right and three players to his left, including the sixth offensive lineman, Travis Swanson, lined up in the middle of the trips receivers on the left.

Swanson was ineligible on the play, which is how Warford ended up being an eligible receiver after he flipped to right tackle for a play with LaAdrian Waddle inside at guard.

When the ball was snapped, Swanson threw his hands up and started backpedaling as a decoy. He wasn't eligible to do anything on the play, but the plan was to have him fake as if Stafford was throwing him a bubble screen, which he was not.

Actually, the Vikings defense seemed completely unconcerned with Swanson lined up out wide.

As that was happening, Warford ran down the middle of the field and past Minnesota linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who likely was supposed to cover him, leaving him open. But the Detroit offensive line struggled to contain the Minnesota rush, forcing Stafford to scramble immediately before getting sacked by Everson Griffen.

Had Stafford been able to make the throw, Warford had a plan.

"I would have caught it and I would have been on Top 10," Warford said. "I was just going to shake everybody's hand like a man and like I had been there before. That's what you're supposed to do, right?

"Wouldn't have any elaborate celebration. I would have just shaken everybody's hand like a man, you know. Thank you for your contribution and all that."

Instead, Warford must continue to live in the land of what-ifs. And what a depressing land that appears to be for the offensive lineman. Considering there is film of the unsuccessful play now, it might never happen again.

"When we called it, it was like, here we go, I'm about to be the hero," Warford said. "And I wasn't the hero. So it happens. I was happy that he called (it). Obviously he had faith in my catching abilities, but it didn't go down as planned.

"I'll never have that opportunity again."

Caldwell explained the purpose of the play and the package is to potentially have a mismatch or the Vikings defense lose track of players with Swanson out wide and Warford and Waddle in different spots on the line. Sometimes, it causes issues. Against Minnesota, "it did not give them a problem."

And while Caldwell was joking about it Monday after Detroit's 17-3 win, he did seem saddened no one could see whether or not Warford -- having never done this before -- had good hands. Since Caldwell insisted he did.

"Good, good," Caldwell said. "I'm sad you didn't get a chance to see it."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ryan Broyles appeared to complain about playing time Sunday after appearing in only two snaps for the Detroit Lions against Minnesota.

And he did so on Twitter.

Broyles
On Monday, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he had not seen the tweets sent by Broyles, so he didn’t want to interpret what the third-year receiver meant by them. He said he knows Broyles uses tweets as motivation sometimes, and that perhaps it was the timing that was the issue.

However, if Broyles has an issue, Caldwell said he is willing to talk to Broyles about it. Caldwell said Broyles has not spoken with him about playing-time issues, but there is a chain of command from position coach to coordinator to Caldwell.

"I do think this is my responsibility to make sure guys know if they are feeling a little bit uncomfortable about where they are, where they line up, what their position is and play in terms of their role, they should talk to one of their assistant coaches, then to the coordinator and then to me," Caldwell said. "But my door is always open, we have an open-door policy, and I think you’ll find that not to be the norm with this particular group. But nevertheless, that’s as much our issue as it is his.

"We have to make certain he understands where he is, why he is where he is and cover that clearly, as brutally honest as we can be."

Broyles has barely been used this season after making the team in a tight receiver competition during training camp. He was inactive to start the season, but has appeared in the past three games. In those games, he’s played 12 snaps, run six routes, been targeted twice and caught one pass for 21 yards.

This even though the Lions were missing tight end Joseph Fauria with an injured ankle, one of their top two running backs the past two games, and were without Calvin Johnson on Sunday against the Vikings. Through all the injuries, Broyles has remained on the bench.

The Lions have mostly relied on Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross as their receivers behind Johnson and Golden Tate.

Broyles made the team after having a strong preseason to beat out Kris Durham, who was cut and then claimed on waivers by Tennessee. Broyles has had his past three seasons end because of injury -- two ACL injuries and an Achilles injury last season.
[+] EnlargeMatt Prater
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoMatt Prater, the Lions' newest kicker this season, went 1-of-3 on field goals Sunday at Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Another week, another round of questions and a vote of confidence from Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell about his kicker.

At least this time, he has years of statistical evidence to back up that confidence.

Caldwell and the Lions would rather not be answering kicking questions again after a 17-3 win against Minnesota on Sunday, but Detroit is bordering on historic failures when it comes to making field goals. Matt Prater -- the third kicker the Lions have had in six weeks -- went 1 of 3 on his field goals at gusty TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday leading to ugly stats and more issues.

"Wind like we had today had an issue," Caldwell said. "He kicked a 52-yarder, which was great, and we have all the confidence in the world in him. The guy's got a great track record and we feel good about him."

They can't, though, feel good about their kicking game. This is a unit that has missed 10 field goals this season, currently at 5 of 15 through six games. Last season, no team missed more than nine throughout 16 games.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions are also the first team since the Cleveland Browns in 1981 to miss 10 field goals in their first six games. Only three Lions players – center Dominic Raiola, cornerback Rashean Mathis and long snapper Don Muhlbach -- were alive when that happened.

Even more jarring: Ten Lions players were born in 1991 or later, meaning they could have been a decade away from being alive.

As for the Lions' latest kicking conundrum, Prater had not kicked since last season's Super Bowl and had spent the first five weeks of the 2014 unable to play due to suspension.

So he expected to be a little bit off -- but not as rough as he was Sunday, where he missed a 50-yarder wide left and clanged a 44-yarder off the left upright and out.

“Yeah, but not like that,” Prater said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I should have.”

The 44-yard miss dropped the Lions to 0-for-7 this season on field goals between 40 and 49 yards. Consider, entering Sunday, 20 teams were perfect this season from the same distance and every team made at least 50 percent of those kicks except Philadelphia, who had not attempted one from that yardage, and Detroit according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While it is unlikely the Lions shift away from Prater at this point -- he's too established and has too good a track record -- there is at least a little bit of reason for concern considering Detroit’s kicking history this season.

Plus, unlike some of the other misses by his predecessors Nate Freese and Alex Henery, the Lions still won Sunday.

“I’m supposed to make them, so I’m upset with my performance today,” Prater said. “But I’m glad we got the win.”

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