NFC North: Glover Quin

The NFL draft is less than 12 hours away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today concludes with safeties.

Other previews

Players Lost: Louis Delmas (signed with Miami)

Players Signed: Isa Abdul-Quddus (from New Orleans); James Ihedigbo (from Baltimore); Nate Ness.

Players on the roster: Glover Quin; Don Carey; DeJon Gomes; Ihedigbo; Abdul-Quddus; Ness.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Deone Bucannon, Washington State; Jaylen Watkins, Florida (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: Much like cornerback, safety is a definitive need for Detroit in this draft. The Lions tried to assist themselves at the position in free agency by signing Ihedigbo and Abdul-Quddus. The problem there is Abdul-Quddus is more of a four-unit special teams player and Ihedigbo appears to be more of a stop-gap option for the Lions than the safety of the future.

This is a position group Detroit needs to upgrade and it is a somewhat tough class to do it in unless the Lions make a move early. That’s part of the reason why I had the Lions taking Clinton-Dix in the first round of the NFL Nation mock draft earlier this week and why he could very well be the team’s choice Thursday night.

In letting go of Delmas, the team signified it wanted to find a more reliable playmaker than Delmas. Too often, Delmas would miss on plays and his injured knees were a concern. The Lions let him go and he signed with Miami, but it also all but guaranteed the team would look to safety early in the draft.

If Detroit is going to really go after winning now, it needs to improve its defensive backfield with a top pick or two. In doing so, it should also improve the front seven, which would then have that extra half-second they so often seemed to need last season to sack quarterbacks.

Depending how the board falls Thursday -- and really, other than a trade, that will dictate all of the Lions’ decisions -- Clinton-Dix could be taken by Detroit or left on the board for someone else. That’s part of the fun of the draft, truly no one can accurately predict what is going to happen.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Clinton-Dix in the first round if the board falls even as close to expected. I know Bill Polian disagreed with me on "SportsCenter" on Wednesday, but the Alabama safety does not feel like a stretch at No. 10 and would fill an immediate need. Drafting Clinton-Dix could also move Ihedigbo into a more flexible role. Of course, the Lions haven't drafted a safety in the first round since Bennie Blades in 1988.

If the Lions passed on Clinton-Dix in the first round, a player to watch in later rounds could be Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward in the second round; Minnesota’s Brock Vereen in the third or fourth round and Wisconsin’s Dez Southward in the fourth or fifth round.

Possible targets: Clinton-Dix; Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Bucannon; Ward; Craig Loston, LSU; Vereen; Southward; Dion Bailey, USC.
After weeks and weeks and weeks and months of speculation and determination and breaking down what could and should and might happen, the NFL draft will actually occur starting Thursday.

So this, finally, will be the last mailbag with 2014 pre-draft questions -- although I'm sure there will be a ton of them later on once Detroit has actually made its picks.

So let's get on to it, and remember that the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you do or do not ask. Email or Tweet with the hashtag #LionsMailbag to get those questions in.


Craig from Murietta, Calif. asks via email: If the lions draft a safety early in the draft, would there be any chance Glover Quin would move back to corner? I know corner was his original posistion out of college, but I'm not sure how well he played there.

  • He's staying at safety, Craig, unless a lot of injuries were to occur. Quin played well back there for Detroit and is the team's best defensive back of the present and the immediate future. The team won't mess around with moving him unless they absolutely had to. There would be a better chance that you'd see Don Carey, currently the third safety and potential nickel along with Bill Bentley, head back to corner and have either James Ihedigbo or the drafted safety as the No. 3 safety if someone went down. Quin's not headed anywhere.

    Kyle asks via email: Can you shed some light on why the Lions pick 10th in the first round but 13th in the second round? I hope they don't miss out on someone they really like because of this.

  • Kyle, because the Lions finished with the same record as other teams, their pick moves around by round. They nabbed the No. 10 pick because their strength of schedule was the worst among 7-9 teams. Due to that, the Lions would then get the worst pick of 7-9 teams in the second round, so on and so forth along the way. No conspiracy theory here, that's just how it works.
  • James Ihedigbo isn't the flashiest player and he might not have been the best safety available when free agency began, but the Detroit Lions focused early on him.

    And it would appear they did so with familiarity in mind.

    When coaches take new jobs, there seems to be a comfort in bringing in players they already know and who they believe can fit their system. That makes a lot of sense, especially in the case of Detroit, where both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are running NFL schemes on their own for the first time.

    In Austin's case, he coached Ihedigbo the past two seasons in Baltimore, so he knows what the safety can and can't do. Perhaps they view him as a strong pairing with Glover Quin, whom the team signed last offseason and may have been a better free-agent acquisition for Detroit than the more-heralded Reggie Bush.

    The Lions made a smart pairing at safety when they signed Ihedigbo. Quin was the 10th-best coverage safety in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus -- one spot ahead of his now-former teammate, Louis Delmas. Neither, though, ranked in the top 50 against the run.

    Ihedigbo, meanwhile, was second among safeties against the run last season according to PFF, so the team might have put together a stronger complementary pair than what they had a season ago.

    But signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t deter Detroit from going after a safety potentially early in May’s NFL draft. This signing, in some ways, feels like a stop-gap -- a chance to win immediately with an established, experienced player who will know what Austin expects.

    But Ihedigbo will turn 31 in December, and while he hasn’t been a starter for a lot of seasons, the body often begins to slow down from the elite levels needed after 30. So the Lions would be wise to search for Ihedigbo's eventual replacement almost as soon as he steps foot inside the Allen Park, Mich., facilities as a Lions player for the first time.

    This could mean investigating safeties early -- the team has already brought in former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a visit and went to check out Louisville's Calvin Pryor at his pro day -- and possibly taking one with the intention of that player learning for a season before starting.

    Usually, that doesn’t happen with the No. 10 pick in the draft. But Detroit is filling its win-now needs during free agency, so it might be able to afford taking depth for the future -- whether it's in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver or at defensive tackle.

    This, of course, is what good teams in the NFL do and something the Lions haven’t had the luxury or ability to do in years past. Signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t keep them from looking to do that, especially at a position where the team has needed help for years.
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- James Ihedigbo left the Detroit Lions facility Thursday without a contract, but told reporters he would like to sign with the team soon.

    "That's the plan in hand," Ihedigbo told the Detroit News as he was leaving the building Thursday.

    The Detroit Free Press is reporting part of the issue for Ihedigbo is his representation.

    Ihedigbo, who would come into Detroit as a strong candidate to start at safety opposite Glover Quin, had 99 tackles and three interceptions last season. He is the first safety the Lions have targeted for a visit in free agency, although they have expressed interest in former Miami safety Chris Clemons and were reportedly interested in T.J. Ward, who signed with Denver.

    Ihedigbo played the past two seasons in Baltimore under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

    The Lions are searching for a replacement for Louis Delmas, whom the team released in February. Delmas then signed with Miami earlier this week.
    His knees were always going to be a problem.

    At age 26, with a cap number of $6.5 million on a team that desperately needed to recover some room to get under the 2014 salary cap, safety Louis Delmas was going to be a target for either a major pay cut or what happened Thursday, which was a full release from the Detroit Lions.

    Unlike Nate Burleson, who was also released Thursday as a cap cut, Delmas was done in by his injury history. While Delmas, who like Burleson was a loud presence in the huddle and in pregame, played all 16 games this season, he could barely practice during the week.

    [+] EnlargeLouis Delmas
    Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLouis Delmas leaves big shoes to fill in Detroit's defense as far as leadership is concerned.
    And there were little guarantee his knees would be able to hold up in the long term, even as he took care of them well during the 2013 season. Considering Detroit’s struggles in the secondary throughout last season and Delmas’ sometimes erratic and wild play, it wasn’t worth it to the team to keep him on the payroll at the price he was going to cost Detroit.

    He is an exciting player who can make big hits, but those hits had cost the Lions at times this season, both in terms of personal foul penalties and, in one instance, injuries when he had a head-to-head collision with cornerback Bill Bentley that gave him a concussion.

    Delmas was often praised as being more consistent this season than he had been in prior years. His chemistry with Glover Quin, who was brought in as a free agent last season, was a big part of that. And even his new coaches, Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin, had positive things to say about Delmas.

    But it wasn't enough to retain his services for 2014 at the salary he was going to make. If the team doesn’t target a safety early in free agency and Delmas is still around, the team could reach out to him to return, but one would have to surmise the team will at least investigate other options first.

    How the team handles the safety position could be intriguing. This could be a sign the team has more confidence in Don Carey, who played a lot of nickel last season and signed a three-year extension before the season ended, to become a full-time starter opposite Quin.

    It also could signal the team wanting to sign another free agent at safety. Among the potential options are Bernard Pollard and Jairus Byrd.

    There is also the NFL draft, and while it would still be surprising to see the Lions take a safety early in the draft, if Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is around at No. 10, he could be worth taking a hard look at. Calvin Pryor from Louisville and Deone Bucannon from Washington could both fit as second-day selections if they are there.

    Much like Burleson on the offensive side, Detroit will lose fire from the defensive huddle without Delmas. The Lions will also lose two of their bigger characters in the locker room, both of whom knew how to keep the mood light for teammates no matter what was going on.

    That can’t be understated -- and it will be one area where Detroit will have to find new leadership, for sure, in 2014.

    Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

    Final Power Ranking: 21
    Preseason Power Ranking: 24

    Biggest surprise: The offensive line was supposed to be one of the biggest question marks for the Lions this season with three new starters and a center who was supposed to be on the tail end of his career. Instead, the group ended up being one of the top units in the NFL. Larry Warford, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, looks to be an anchor at right guard for the next decade. Center Dominic Raiola had arguably his best season and the Lions discovered another rookie, undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle, as a consistent starter at right tackle. Four of the five -- all but Raiola -- are under contract for next season. Raiola has expressed a desire to return if possible.

    Biggest disappointment: At one point, Detroit was 6-3 and looked to be in control of the NFC North and a playoff berth. Then everything unraveled. The Lions lost five of their next six to fall out of playoff contention. In each of those losses, Detroit had three or more turnovers. Matthew Stafford, who appeared in the first half of the season to be moving closer to becoming an elite quarterback, regressed. Reggie Bush, brought in as a high-profile free agent in the offseason, had issues with fumbles. Calvin Johnson had the most drops in a season in his career. Almost everything imploded on the Lions, who will watch the playoffs from home again this year.

    Biggest need: In the draft, the Lions need to look at a speedy wide receiver on the outside to complement Johnson along with finding a young, shutdown cornerback early on to play alongside Darius Slay, last season’s second-round draft pick. Depending on whether tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Raiola return, those are two other positions to look at, and the Lions could also use depth at linebacker. Perhaps the biggest need of all is a guru to work with Stafford to help fix his mechanical issues and decision making. Whether that person is brought on staff as a dedicated quarterback coach or an outside influence like Steve Clarkson or George Whitfield Jr., Stafford could use some specialized refresher courses at least.

    Team MVP: Johnson was the team's best player, and he showed his value when he was out, as the Detroit offense couldn’t move the ball well in games he missed. But the most valuable Lions player this season was linebacker DeAndre Levy. He had career highs in tackles, solo tackles and interceptions this season. But to me, the image of him hobbling out of the locker room after the Lions’ 23-20 loss to the Giants in Week 16, after he legitimately gave every piece of himself to his team only to lose, showed his value. Levy doesn’t say much, but he was the top player on the Lions' defense and consistently made plays for Detroit all season long.

    All-NFC North: Detroit Lions

    January, 2, 2014
    Jan 2
    AM ET
    NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    Despite their collapse in the second half of the season, the Lions were well-represented on the All-NFC North team, placing four players on the offense and six on its defense.

    This, though, might speak to the overall rough nature of the NFC North, where injuries took a lot of stars on other teams away. Every player I felt that should have made it for the Lions did, other than maybe punter Sam Martin.

    But even for some of those who did make it from the Lions, it was more a case of limited pickings in the division than anything else. That has to be why Matthew Stafford was named as the division’s quarterback -- due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, along with the dysfunction at quarterback in Minnesota.

    The other surprise to make it was Louis Delmas, but there was a lack of safeties in the division and Delmas was the only player other than Glover Quin to receive a vote, so he made the team.

    Otherwise, status quo for the Lions, who expectedly had Calvin Johnson, Dominic Raiola and Larry Warford join Stafford on the offense. And they had Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Willie Young join Quin and Delmas on the defense.

    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There isn’t a particular moment, it seems, where Jim Schwartz definitively lost his job with the Detroit Lions. At least it doesn’t feel like that.

    Instead, over the past two months of this season, as the Lions collapsed yet again under his watch with so many of the same mistakes happening in perpetuity, there were multiple moments that seemed to doom Schwartz in Detroit.

    There was the interception party that appeared to take over Detroit’s offense the second half of the season. There were key penalties -- both phantom and legitimate -- that extended opposing drives in third-down situations.

    And there were coaching and management mistakes, be it the fake field goal in Pittsburgh that the Lions never really appeared to recover from, all the way to the poorly-used timeouts in Sunday's season finale against Minnesota.

    So it wasn’t one thing, besides the obvious wins and losses, that went wrong for Schwartz in Detroit this season. It was a combination of everything.

    On a day when change was everywhere around the Detroit Lions facility, where some players were cleaning out their lockers for possibly the last time, there was some retrospect of what went wrong.

    What was that one thing they could change that might have saved Schwartz from being fired? The one thing that could have kept the Lions on the path to the playoffs that they seemed to inhabit for the first two months of the season?

    “Getting more turnovers,” linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “If we had gotten more turnovers like we were earlier in the year, things could have changed, you know?”

    That is one area where the Lions could have been better that went somewhat unnoticed. During Detroit’s 6-3 start, the Lions forced 14 turnovers. During their 1-6 finish, they forced eight, two of them in the meaningless finale against Minnesota.

    But more players, even now, 24 hours removed from the end of their season, were still somewhat baffled as they packed up their belongings into garbage bags to head home or on vacation and into an unknown future with a new coaching staff looming.

    “I really can’t. It’s 6-3 and in a good spot. And for some reason, for whatever it was, we couldn’t find ways to get wins down the stretch,” safety Glover Quin said. “We come, had a big win against Green Bay on Thanksgiving and we couldn’t find a way to get two more wins.”

    They couldn’t. The Lions didn’t win in December, losing games by throwing the ball away on offense, getting gashed in the snow on defense and watching their playoff hopes expire on not one, but two game-winning field goals two weeks in a row.

    And for the past two months or so, the Lions all talked about being one play short, one drive short. One everything short. It was a theme with this season -- with the later part of Schwartz’s tenure, really.

    It appeared Monday, after Schwartz was fired, that general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were no longer happy with that mentality. No longer happy with close but nothing to show for it but a bunch of losses.

    So one of the things they are going to look for in a new coach is a new belief, a new approach. A new type of character in their next coach.

    “It is a mentality,” Mayhew said. “It has to be a belief that no matter what’s happening, you have an opportunity to win. You can’t put yourself in a situation where you get a fatalistic attitude or you get the belief that you can’t get over the hump, so to speak.

    “I think that’s something that will need to be addressed in terms of the coach of our football team.”

    That will be up to the next coach. Because this coach, no matter what he did, what he said or how much he pushed or didn’t push players during the week and in games, these Lions under Schwartz just couldn’t finish things off.

    And even after Schwartz was gone and had addressed the team for the last time, they still took some of the blame for what went wrong.

    “Jim wasn’t on the field. We were on the field after Thanksgiving, we were 7-5. We were on the field, not Jim,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It was the guys on the field that didn’t make enough plays.

    “We didn’t make enough plays on the field and it cost him his job.”
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- One final time, Jim Schwartz got up in front of his team right around noon on Monday and spoke to the players he would no longer coach.

    Not this season. Not ever again as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. The players went into the meeting unsure of what was going on, of whether or not Schwartz would remain with Detroit for a sixth season or if this was it after plummeting to 7-9 from 6-3 and falling out of the playoffs.

    “Kind of just took the air out of everybody,” defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “Of course we heard and it was lingering in the air, but the realization just kind of hit everybody in shock.

    “It’s not like we have a bad team. Just, it’s tough. It’s tough for all of us. He’s the reason why a lot of players are here, including me.”

    Almost the entirety of the Lions locker room was brought in under Schwartz’s time as coach as the team had less than a handful of leftover players from the 2008 team that went 0-16 under Rod Marinelli.

    And the players, even after Schwartz was fired, continued to hold themselves culpable for what happened to the Lions over the second half of the season, saying it was as much their fault as the coaching staff's.

    And as Schwartz said his goodbyes, saying he was proud to coach the Lions, he became emotional.

    “He got a little choked up, which is fitting,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “He’s emotionally tied to this organization and he has been very passionate about this team and the guys he brought in and the things we’ve accomplished.

    “So it was tough to deal with, I’m pretty sure, for him.”

    For the players, too. Burleson said the announcement “kind of caught everybody off guard” and that they were anticipating saying goodbye for the season, not potentially forever.

    Even as players walked into the Lions practice facility on Monday morning, they said they still didn’t know the fate of their head coach. So when they eventually found out what was happening, the disappointment was obvious.

    “It’s tough, we put a lot of hard work into this,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Players, coaches, everybody. For five years, he’s been here and done a great job.

    “From where we were in 2008 to where we are now is a big difference.”

    But it wasn’t enough of a difference for Schwartz to continue to coach the Lions. And now, as the Lions search for a new coach, the players are left to wonder how it all unraveled for them to reach this point and where things are going to be headed for the future.

    “Oh man. It was, it was a very heartfelt message he gave us,” safety Glover Quin said. “Sad news. Never want to see something like this happen and obviously we didn’t do enough to prevent it.

    “So, now we just, I don’t know, wait around and see what happens.”
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The plays look fairly similar, but the innovation in Chip Kelly’s offense with Philadelphia comes not necessarily through what those plays are designed to do, but through two other things.

    The difference is the pacing and tempo, the speed at which the Eagles run their plays compared to most of the other teams in the NFL.

    This is where Kelly is hoping to have that advantage in Philadelphia, why his Eagles are 7-5 and in a tight NFC East race with Dallas. It’s not the plays, see, it’s everything that happens once the ball is actually snapped.

    [+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
    Harry How/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh and the Lions' defensive line is preparing to play at a faster pace against the Philadelphia Eagles' up-tempo attack.
    “We don’t do anything different than anybody else in the NFL,” Kelly said. “Everybody else runs open sets with three receivers on one side and one on the other, and one back sets. That’s kind of what everybody else in the league is doing, and what everybody at every level is doing.

    “It’s nothing revolutionary.”

    No, it isn’t, although not every team in the NFL runs sets and packages like Philadelphia and Kelly.

    But the Lions, who will see the Eagles on Sunday, understand the main difference in all of it. It is that speed and how Philadelphia will try to spread out the Lions.

    “They spread you out, obviously,” safety Glover Quin said. “So when you’re spread out, you have to do a good job in space. You got to do a good job in tackling. You’ve got to do a good job covering 1-on-1’s, things like that.

    “It’s going to be a bunch of space, and they are going to spread you out and they have a bunch of options on every play, and so everybody is going to be on top of their game.”

    To prep for Philadelphia, Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he went back and watched some film of Oregon along with tape of the Eagles. Kelly, though, said his offense is different now than what he did in college.

    There are elements, sure, but his offense is more of a combination of what he ran at Oregon and New Hampshire, along with some of what Pat Shurmur did in Cleveland. There are both elements of college and NFL offenses in the Philadelphia offense, much of which causes them to look a little different.

    And one thing Detroit is going to be paying attention to is what happens when the Eagles fake handing the ball off to running back LeSean McCoy.

    “The primary thing is they fake the run and throw what we call a bubble screen to (DeSean Jackson), who is sitting right behind the offensive tackle,” Cunningham said. “So he’s doing a lot of things like that. [The] issue for the defensive coaches is the work, the preparation work for the game and to let your players know to stay patient, let’s do what we do and let’s get the ball back for the offense. That’s the approach I think teams need to take.”

    Prepping for Philadelphia is two-fold. First is McCoy. The Eagles' lead back already has 1,088 yards and five touchdowns this season, but has only rushed for more than 100 yards in a game once in the second half of the season -- a 155-yard game against Green Bay in Week 10. In 12 games this season, Philadelphia has run the ball more than it has passed it seven times, passed more four times, and had perfect balance between run and pass once -- last week against Arizona.

    Having McCoy able to run the ball has opened things up for quarterback Nick Foles, who has 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season. Foles has been the key for a more balanced attack in Philadelphia during its four-game winning streak.

    “Our whole offense is based on what the defense can give us,” Kelly said. “I’ll throw it a thousand times a game, I’ll run it a thousand times a game. Depends on what the situation is.”

    Considering Detroit’s run defense this season, perhaps expect more pass. The Lions have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Over the past month, they have not allowed a team to average more than two yards a carry.

    Scoring on the ground? Forget it. Detroit hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since September.

    Much of that has to do with Detroit’s front four, the group that could be most affected by the pace Philadelphia plays with. So the mantra this week for the Lions has been simple, even as they deal with the Eagles' offense.

    Three-and-outs would mean a less tired Detroit defense.

    “The quicker they run the plays, the quicker we can get them off the field,” Quin said. “The quicker they run, the quicker we get them off the field and get the ball to our offense.”

    Matthews fined for unpenalized hit

    December, 6, 2013
    PM ET
    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Not only was Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams fined $26,250 for shoving an official in the Thanksgiving loss at the Detroit Lions, but outside linebacker Clay Matthews also was docked $15,750 for his hit on a defenseless player.

    Matthews’ hit came on a pass play to running back Joique Bell with 8:57 left in the third quarter. Matthews appeared to lower his helmet when he hit Bell and broke up the pass. He was not penalized on the play.

    It was Matthews’ third fine of the season, but he had one of those cut in half and another wiped out all together.

    Three Lions players were fined, according to an NFL spokesman. They were: receiver Kris Durham ($7,850 for grabbing Williams’ helmet by the earhole), safety Glover Quin ($7,850 for a late hit against receiver Jordy Nelson) and linebacker DeAndre Levy ($15,750 for unnecessary roughness, hitting tight end Ryan Taylor).
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions huddle up and even then, so close to the end zone, it isn’t explicitly verbalized. But the knowledge is there.

    When they are within 10 yards of the end zone, the Lions feel they should score touchdowns. Pretty much every team feels that way. But this season, no team has been more efficient in scoring touchdowns from that distance than Detroit.

    Detroit is the best in the NFL at scoring touchdowns when in goal-to-go situations. The Lions are also best in the NFL at preventing touchdowns when opponents are in the same situation.

    [+] EnlargeReggie Bush
    Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush and the Lions' offense score touchdowns on 83.3 percent of their goal-to-go possessions.
    In understanding why the Lions are in position to make a run to their first divisional title in 20 years, this might be one of the most important and overlooked numbers.

    Yet when Lions offensive players were asked about their efficiency this week, most of them expressed surprise.

    “I know the defense is great but I didn’t know that about us,” wide receiver Kris Durham said. “I think it’s just the weapons that we have and the way that [Scott] Linehan puts us in position and obviously, it’s just a combination of everything.

    “Feel like the line is doing their job. Backs and receivers are doing their job. Matthew [Stafford]’s putting us in the right position and Linehan is calling good plays.”

    Inside the red zone, the Lions' offense has been good. When it becomes goal-to-go, no team in the league has been better. Detroit has scored touchdowns on 83.3 percent of its goal-to-go possessions, the only team in the NFL to top 80 percent.

    It is also over a 20 percent jump in efficiency from the Lions’ red zone efficiency, which stands at 61.7 percent. But getting so close, for Detroit, is part of why the Lions brought in some of the players they did.

    “We’re kind of a hurry-up, we’re going to keep you spread out and basically going to play a numbers game,” running back Reggie Bush said. “If you put too many in the box, we’re going to throw the ball. If you try to double Calvin [Johnson], then we’re going to try and run the ball.

    “And then we have Big Joe [Fauria], who is 6-foot-8, and Calvin on the other side. It’s kind of pick your poison.”

    While the Detroit offense has the multitude of options to score, the defensive explanation is a bit more succinct. It’s all about the run. And how the Lions defend it.

    The Lions are third in the league in red zone efficiency defense. But when it comes to goal-line defense, Detroit is the best team in the league, only allowing touchdowns 47.1 percent of the time.

    [+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
    AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions have the third-best rushing defense in the league, allowing 82.67 yards a game.
    “It’s crazy. I think we just practice so much, we situational practice so much with those situations and having the guys that are going to be around for a long time,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “That we trust and understand where they are going to be at and how their leverage is at and play within a defense.

    “Guys play into what is going on and we can understand that this person is going to be there and I’m going to be here and as long as we play assignment football so teams can’t drive on us and score on us.”

    Much of the reason for the defensive success comes from Detroit’s run defense. The Lions have the third-best rushing defense in the league, allowing 82.67 yards a game. But where the defense has been more impressive, and this ties into both the run defense and the goal-line defense, has been the lack of scoring from opponents on the ground.

    Detroit has given up five rushing touchdowns this season, but all came in the first four games. The Lions have gone eight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. They have gone four games keeping teams under two yards a carry.

    So it is all interrelated, but it starts there.

    “We kind of just do what we do and it’s hard to run on us,” safety Glover Quin said. “A lot of times when you get down there, you have to be able to run the ball. It’s hard to throw the ball because [there's] not a lot of space.

    “So if you can stop the run inside the 10s, you got a good chance of keeping them out of the end zone.”

    And this season, no team has been better at stopping that on defense and converting those chances on offense than the Lions.

    Goal-to-go efficiency ratings were culled from ESPN Stats & Information. Follow ESPN Stats & Information on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Some of the Detroit Lions' leaders brought their lunches to a casual meeting Monday, a short, players-only discussion.

    The topic: The Lions. And how to find the focus they had earlier in the season.

    After two straight defeats to sub-.500 teams, two straight fourth-quarter leads dissolving into losses, the Detroit leaders just wanted to have a calm conversation about what was going on and how they could lead their younger players over the final five games.

    “We just sat there and said, as leaders, what can we do to help these young guys,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “What can we do to make sure we have a fine focus on each and every game? What can we do during the week to make sure in the third and fourth quarters of these games, we capitalize instead of going backwards.”

    Part of that, Burleson said, is paying attention to demeanor and being “more of an example” to the younger players in the locker room. If that means not walking around and joking as much during the week of a game, so be it.

    The idea of the meeting was initially floated by running back Reggie Bush after the loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Burleson seconded it. Quarterback Matthew Stafford said Monday he didn’t feel a team meeting was necessary, but that things could be handled in smaller groups.

    That, apparently, is what happened. Team leaders -- two to three players from each position group, according to center Dominic Raiola -- met briefly over lunch to discuss matters of the team. Not a huge deal, Raiola said, but those players could then disseminate the message to the rest of the meeting rooms.

    “It was real casual, everybody had their lunch in there,” Raiola said. “It was cool. Last thing we need is people wondering what’s going to happen now or where do we need to go from here.

    “That’s where guys that’s been there before, that hit rough stretches of the season, that’s been to the postseason, that understand what we’re playing for now, that we lean on them. So it was good.”

    In his 13-year career with the Lions, Raiola has been to the playoffs once, in 2011. So he seeks advice from teammates who have made playoff runs before or have won division titles or a Super Bowl. Included in that group are Bush, Burleson and safety Glover Quin, formerly of the Houston Texans. Even though he is a veteran player, so much of playoff contention is new to Raiola.

    At the meeting there was an emphasis on urgency and focus -- indeed, it was the point of the discussion -- and understanding what is at stake for Detroit’s present and future.

    “It’s something that needs to be on our mind,” Bush said. “We have to understand that, hey, we just lost two games, but at the same time we’re still in a good position, we’re still in first place.

    “We’ve done, we’ve given ourselves a cushion, but right now it’s time to turn up the urgency. The urgency has to go up and we have to make sure we’re fighting tooth and nail, not just on game day but every day, every day in the week of practice to make sure we’re doing the right things so that we can put ourselves in good position on Sundays to win games.”
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Glover Quin (ankle) were both limited during the Detroit Lions practice on Tuesday, the team's only real practice of the week.

    Both, though, should be fine to play Thursday against Green Bay. Delmas said he wasn't concerned the short week would change his typical plan of rest for his knees and that he wanted to go out and practice Tuesday.

    Three Lions missed practice -- wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), cornerback Chris Houston (foot) and linebacker Travis Lewis. Lewis missed for a personal reason. Johnson said he wasn't concerned about the short week limiting him at all, either.
    DETROIT -- Some thoughts from the first half of the Detroit Lions-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, which the Bucs lead 17-14 at the half.

    Return of Burleson: Nate Burleson has said for a couple of weeks that he planned on coming back and trying to pick up right where he left off, which was a 116-yard game against Washington in Week 3. He’s well on his way to proving that right after a massive first half.

    Burleson was Detroit’s most-targeted receiver in the first half, catching five passes for 67 yards and his first touchdown of the season, one that resulted in a pizza delivery touchdown celebration. Burleson was targeted one more time than Calvin Johnson, who had six attempts.

    A little more pressure: Detroit has two first-half sacks, one from Ziggy Ansah, who is in his first game back after suffering an ankle injury against Dallas in October. The other came on a rare blitz from the Lions, where Glover Quin sacked Mike Glennon for a 13-yard loss.

    Otherwise, there hasn’t been much pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon, a continuation of the same issues the Lions have had throughout much of the season with their four-man rush. There has been limited rushing success today but nothing really strong.

    Cornerback conundrum: In part due to the issues with pressure on the defensive line, Detroit’s cornerbacks have struggled throughout the day. Rashean Mathis had an awful drive in the second quarter, being beat in coverage on a 47-yard pass to Vincent Jackson and then again on a touchdown pass from Glennon to Tiquan Underwood. The Lions have had cornerback issues for a good portion of the season as well and it showed again against Tampa Bay.

    Consider this -- Glennon finished the first half 9 of 11 for 132 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 147.0 quarterback rating. That’s just not good for Detroit’s defense.




    Thursday, 9/4
    Sunday, 9/7
    Monday, 9/8