NFC North: Rob Sims

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions are heading to Minnesota Sunday to face their NFC North rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Here are four things to look for.

1. Kicking: Matt Prater's debut with the Lions won't come in the friendly confines of a dome, like it would have at home or if he had been playing the Vikings in any other season prior to this. Instead, it comes outside in TCF Bank Stadium, a venue where gauging the wind can be tricky due to its shape -- it doesn't fully wrap around -- and generally fickle Minnesota weather. While he's going to have a longer leash than Nate Freese and Alex Henery due to his prior work and because the Lions are on kicker No. 3, it will be a more difficult debut than he could have had otherwise.

2. The receiver rotation: If Calvin Johnson doesn't play -- he's doubtful and it would be a surprise if he dressed -- the Lions are going to play without their best receiver for the first time since the season finale last season ... at Minnesota. The since-cut Kevin Ogletree played the role of Johnson in that game. This time around, look for Corey Fuller, Eric Ebron and Jeremy Ross to get a lot of the reps that would typically go to Johnson. Both Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi said who replaces him on a particular play will depend on formation. It could break down as simply as this: Fuller on deep routes, Ross and/or Ryan Broyles on the short and intermediate stuff and Ebron when the Lions need a matchup problem on the field. It could be a big opportunity for at least one of these guys.

3. Pressuring Bridgewater: The thing that stood out the most this week in talking to Lions defenders about facing Teddy Bridgewater has been the respect they have for his poise for a rookie. While some of that might be player-speak to talk an opponent up, there seems to be genuine respect for what Bridgewater has shown in a short time. Detroit has faced mobile quarterbacks before, but Cam Newton seemed to still be recuperating from injury in Week 2 and Geno Smith was terrible in Week 4. This will be the toughest mobile quarterback test for Detroit to date because of Newton's injury, so how they account for him should be pretty interesting. The Lions have been good on quarterback contain so far this season, but Bridgewater has a better arm than Smith and is more accurate, so he'll be a tougher play even though he's a rookie.

4. Offensive protection: This goes beyond pass protection and to the run as well, where the Lions have struggled over the first five weeks. With Reggie Bush questionable and Johnson doubtful, this could be a game in which Detroit's run game needs to be at its best and the only way it can do that is if the protection up front is more like its 2013 self. That is especially true on the interior, where Rob Sims has struggled the past two weeks. If -- and right now, this is a big one -- the Lions can protect Matthew Stafford well and set up good blocks, it could be a big day for the Lions' offense even without Johnson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Prater
K Matt Prater: The Lions are on to kicker No. 3 and they might have found their best one yet. In signing the former Broncos kicker, they are bringing in the most accurate kicker in Denver history and a guy who theoretically should solve Detroit’s major kicking woes. At this point, if Prater can’t get the job done, then the Lions have to consider that something else in their entire field goal operation might be off instead of Nate Freese, Alex Henery and now Prater.

RB George Winn: The suburban Detroit native made his NFL debut Sunday and had 11 carries for 48 yards. Even more impressive was the way he ran. He picked up right where he finished the preseason, running hard and going right through defenders no matter who was in front of him. While he’ll still be behind Reggie Bush and Joique Bell on the depth chart, he might have made a case for inclusion on the roster even when they are both healthy.

DC Teryl Austin: No matter who gets hurt, no matter who the Lions play, the first-year defensive coordinator has been able to find a scheme that has flustered opponents. He commands the No. 1 defense in the NFL and the No. 1 defense against quarterbacks, holding them to a 33.8 QBR. Those numbers are worth noting considering he has had three players end up out for the season in six weeks.

FALLING:

Broyles
WR Ryan Broyles: He is getting more playing time and has been active, but for whatever reason, the Lions coaching staff seems hesitant to use the third-year receiver from Oklahoma. He has only two targets this season and caught one of those for 21 yards. More concerning is that in the two games he has been active, he has only run four routes -- and only one against Buffalo last week. Considering all the Lions personnel issues, the fact he isn’t being used more is curious.

LG Rob Sims: The veteran had a rough game Sunday against Buffalo. He and Riley Reiff were often beaten by stunts and other twists by the Buffalo defensive line. He had a minus-4.4 rating by Pro Football Focus and didn’t do either phase of blocking well: He had a minus-3.3 in pass blocking and a minus-1.3 in run blocking. PFF also credited him with two of the sacks allowed on Matthew Stafford. Not a good showing -- and he’ll admit it.

Lions running game: For whatever reason, it isn’t working right now. Some of it has to do with injuries -- both Bush and Bell along with Theo Riddick have all been banged up already this season -- but the yardage just isn’t there. The Lions are 28th in the league in rushing yards per game and, more damning, 30th in the NFL in yards per rush at 3.14. Considering Jim Caldwell has a stated goal of four yards per carry, the Lions are failing heavily in that area right now.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 17-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
  • Bush
    Bush
    Reggie Bush appeared to be walking around the locker room fairly well after Sunday’s game even though couldn't finish the game thanks to an ankle injury. He told the Detroit Free Press that he wouldn’t comment on whether his ankle injury was long-term, but by appearances, he was moving on it better than Calvin Johnson was moving on his ankle after last week’s game against the Jets.
  • Not surprisingly after a demoralizing loss, the Lions' locker room was mostly empty by the time the media entered after Jim Caldwell’s postgame news conference.
  • At least one Lions player saw former Detroit coach Jim Schwartz being carried off the field by the Bills, but Detroit left guard Rob Sims didn’t care too much. “We lost the game. It didn’t matter if they carried him off on a throne,” Sims said. “We still lost the game. It doesn’t matter." Sims said he told Schwartz “good job” after the game.
DETROIT -- An examination of what the Lions must do after their win over the Giants:

The numbers were at least a little bit staggering for the Detroit Lions at first. One half into their season, and half of their offense became essentially ineffective.

Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, the team’s two-headed running back, touched the ball 11 times. They gained a total of 12 yards -- 10 of them coming on one run from Bell. While the Lions were able to pass the ball easily, they couldn’t get either of their running backs going.

Bell
Yes, Detroit finished with 76 yards on 30 carries, but other than one elongated drive in the second half, neither Bush nor Bell looked particularly productive. Considering what is to come for the Lions, this is an area that needs improvement, as the opponents become tougher starting Sunday against Carolina.

“I really felt like New York was playing well up front,” left guard Rob Sims said. “They were stuffing us, and it was always an extra safety. They were really loading our box up. We just kept after it, and when we needed to run, we ran it.”

Detroit was particularly good rushing in a pass-first offense last season under Scott Linehan, with both Bush and Bell getting 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Bush rushed for more than 1,000 yards, the first time that happened with the Lions in a decade.

On Monday night, though, the run game looked bad until Detroit had a lead at the end of the game and went run heavy both in play-call and to grind clock. That this is one of the Lions’ biggest issues at this point -- and it was still at least mildly successful -- is a good sign for Detroit after the first week of the season.

But as good as Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson looked Monday night, Detroit knows it needs running back production similar to last season for there to be continued success for the Lions this season.

Lions Camp Report: Day 10

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • With receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron -- two of Detroit's biggest offensive pieces both physically and in terms of usage -- not practicing Thursday, there were more opportunities for others to try and stand out during practice. Joseph Fauria, who has been used with the first team often during the first two weeks of camp, saw a significant uptick in reps and appeared to fare fairly well. Fauria is going to make the team, but he needs to prove in this camp he has taken a step from last season, where he was primarily used in the red zone. If Ebron doesn't play Saturday, he'll have a large opportunity to do so before likely giving way to Jordan Thompson and Andrew Maxwell later in the game. Johnson, meanwhile, had an excused absence. With Johnson not at practice, Kris Durham appeared to receive more first-team reps than normal.
  • Speaking of Maxwell, the essentially unknown tight end had the play of practice in a rep with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford fired the ball to Maxwell and it hit off of him. Then, it bounced off of safety Glover Quin and somehow right back into the hands of Maxwell, who made the catch and kept on running. It looked like one of those plays you'd see on an NFL Films highlight reel for years if it happened in a game instead of a preseason practice.
  • DeJon Gomes is making a strong push to win the fourth safety spot behind starters Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo and third safety/special teams leader Don Carey. Gomes has consistently backed up Ihedigbo, including when the starter briefly left practice after being kicked in the leg. Gomes has also shown up a lot on the first-team special teams units, which is critical for any depth player trying to make a roster.
  • As part of the veterans-getting-rest plan mentioned multiple times earlier in the week, rookie offensive lineman Travis Swanson has received a lot of time with the first-team offense, either at left guard spelling Rob Sims or at center, replacing Dominic Raiola. While there is no indication Sims or Raiola have anything to worry about when it comes to their jobs, this sort of experience can only provide value to Swanson both this season and down the road, when he eventually becomes a starter. Don't be surprised to see a lot of him Saturday night, perhaps in multiple positions.
  • The Ford family made another appearance at practice Thursday afternoon. While this is my first training camp covering the Lions, veteran reporter Dave Birkett noted the family has been out at camp more often than in the past few seasons. Of course, the team sort of changed ownership in the offseason after the death of William Clay Ford Sr. His wife, Martha, now is the owner of the team and she was at practice.
  • Darren Keyton missed another practice Thursday, as did Ezekiel Ansah, who continued doing side work. Also missing practice -- and not being in attendance at all -- was linebacker Cory Greenwood. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday night that Greenwood has an excused absence. Both Ansah and receiver TJ Jones remain on the active PUP list.
  • The Lions have their final practice before the preseason opener at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Allen Park. It is not open to the public.
DETROIT -- When the Detroit Lions head into some of their team periods each day, the construction of the offensive line looks a little bit different than it will when the team kicks off the season in September.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been adamant about finding his veterans some rest, whether it is sitting Calvin Johnson for a practice Saturday or on a line that played together last season, giving center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims some rest.

Johnson
Sims
Raiola took a rare day off this week and Sims has consistently sat out part of practice. The veteran, who is coming off a knee injury last season and is in a contract year, said he doesn’t mind not participating in everything because he sees the long-term benefit.

"Just to keep me fresh, give me a chance to recuperate and stuff like that," Sims said. "Make sure I’m ready for the season, you know. Nothing to be alarmed about or anything like that. Just giving me some time at this point in my career."

That could include preseason games. Caldwell would not say Wednesday night how much he plans on playing veterans, including Johnson, in the preseason opener against Cleveland on Saturday night, but that he would be "prudent" in his decision-making.

Considering how he is handling veterans thus far in camp -- especially ones coming off injuries like Johnson and Sims -- it would seem likely they would not see too much action in a meaningless game.

"I plan on playing," Sims said. "I don’t know how many reps they are going to give me, but I plan on doing everything and I’m just excited to get back out there with the guys full-go."

One of the byproducts of sitting Sims has been giving the coaching staff and front office chances to evaluate younger players with the first team. Specifically at left guard, Detroit has rotated in Rodney Austin and rookies Travis Swanson and Alex Bullard with the first unit from time to time during team drills.

Swanson has also worked as center as the Lions drafted him to eventually replace Raiola. Austin is in his third season and is fighting for a job as a backup interior lineman and also trying to prove himself as a potential replacement for Sims.

Bullard is somewhat of a surprise as an undrafted rookie, but he is a player who can play all five spots on the offensive line and could be an ideal practice squad candidate because of it.

"We’ve got a good blueprint that we put in place and they did a really good job in following it," Sims said. "Rodney’s come a long way in the three years he’s been here, and it just bodes well not only for this year with the offensive line, but down the line in the future.

"I’ve always said at the end of the day, I wanted to leave something impressionable here, so I think that’s what we’re doing."

Lions Camp Report: Day 8

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the more interesting things to come out of camp on Tuesday was watching Lions running back Reggie Bush running routes with the receivers and tight ends during part of the individual period instead of working with the running backs. This shouldn’t be too stunning, though, considering how Bush has been used in the past and how the Lions could use him this season. Bush ran 51 routes out of the slot last season and 37 routes while lined up out wide. Expect more of that this season if the Saints’ offense is any indication. Last season, Darren Sproles ran 93 routes out of the slot and 27 lined up out wide. If Bush is thrown into that role -- and it would be likely he would be -- then it would not be surprising to see him used in the slot fairly often. It also adds up because one of the things stressed by this coaching staff from running backs is running precise routes.
  • It was another good day for the Lions kickers. Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese appeared to make all of their field goal attempts Tuesday, although it was somewhat difficult to tell without officials signaling in the end zone. Wednesday could be an interesting test for both of them since it will be their first time kicking inside Ford Field, where they will also be Saturday night for the preseason opener against Cleveland.
  • Ezekiel Ansah worked some more Tuesday as he continues to slowly move closer to being removed from the active PUP list and actually being able to practice with his teammates. He did individual work on the side for another practice, and Lions coach Jim Caldwell indicated “he’s progressing well.”

    “They keep ramping up his activity,” Caldwell said. ‘He hasn’t had setbacks so we feel good about where he is.”

    He is one of three players who sat out practice Tuesday along with receiver TJ Jones, who is still on the active PUP list, and offensive tackle Michael Williams, who has missed five straight practices due to injury.
  • Alex Bullard was somewhat surprising Tuesday during practice. He worked with the first team during a red zone period at left guard, spelling Rob Sims. The Lions have appeared to be careful with the reps for both Sims and center Dominic Raiola throughout the early portion of camp. Raiola did not do much work Tuesday, either, being replaced by Travis Swanson. Caldwell said he will give veterans days off from time to time to give them some rest during a long training camp to ensure health during the season. That said, Bullard looked decent during his run with the top unit. He’s still a longshot to make the roster at this point, but he offers interesting position flexibility since he worked at all five offensive line positions during his time at Notre Dame and Tennessee.
  • Cornerback Jonte Green put together another good practice, especially in one-on-one drills, registering a pass breakup. Considering the questions at the bottom of the depth chart at cornerback, Green could be putting himself in position to secure a roster spot at some point.
  • The Lions practice again Wednesday night at Ford Field at 7:30 p.m. The practice is open to the public.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A year ago, things were a bit different with the Detroit Lions. The team was losing. People weren’t happy. The Lions looked like a team headed toward the bottom of the NFL.

“Last year it was kind of like position groups with their position groups,” left guard Rob Sims said. “That’s, any time you’re losing, that’s what it looks like. Stick to your guns, never pointing fingers, but maybe we didn’t associate with everybody like we should've.”

Now you look in the Detroit locker room today and players are, for the most part, happy. Position groups intermingle. The team appears to genuinely get along.

You have a wide receiver, Kevin Ogletree, rooming with a defensive back, Louis Delmas. You have players congregating at events outside of the Lions facility. There’s a different attitude around the team now, and if you think that doesn’t have something to do with their play -- and that the play doesn't have something to do with their attitude -- you’d be wrong.

There’s a chemistry within this Detroit team now, a comfort with one another that has helped on Sundays.

“The real change came in the offseason, when everyone got back here,” backup quarterback Shaun Hill said. “You could tell there was a different mentality around. The leaders were really stepping up and came in with a new focus.

“There’s a lot of things. One was just attention to detail in the offseason program and everybody came with the intentions of working hard and then, aside from that, there was kind of a high priority put on coming together and being a cohesive team, just coming together and being a better team.”

This new mentality began in April, when Detroit returned for its organized team activities and started to slowly prepare for this season. In those first few days, the returning Lions were able to sense that something was changing.

Some of it might have had to do with the changes in the on-field personnel -- Reggie Bush and others were brought in -- and some of it had to do with understanding what happened in 2012, from players who were distractions to chemistry that did not exist.

“Overall demeanor,” safety Don Carey said. “You could tell everyone still had that 4-12 season in the back of their head and we didn’t want that to happen again. So guys worked really hard this offseason, and you could see it from the first time they stepped on the field.”

Then there is the maturity. The free agents the Lions brought in were veterans of either multiple teams or multiple years in the league. Bush, Rashean Mathis and C.J. Mosley all are good presences in the locker room. And the players who were there before all grew up a bit, both in knowing their roles and in understanding what it takes to be a pro.

“There was a lot said about guys not being a distraction and getting into trouble,” Hill said. “And to this point, we’ve held up that end of it. I think that would fall into the maturity category.”

So when you look at the Lions, at 6-3 and leading the NFC North, understand that for all the talent on the outside, it starts inside their locker room, where there is a greater sense of comfort than there was 12 months ago.
It was not Detroit’s prettiest game on offense or defense Sunday, but the Lions are in first place in the NFC North after Week 10 following a 21-19 win over the Bears.

Not surprisingly, the Detroit defensive line and wide receiver Calvin Johnson were two of the main focal points of this week’s behind the numbers, taking a peek at some of the biggest reasons the Lions beat Chicago.

Some numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information. Follow Stats & Information on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo

3 -- Road wins this season for Detroit -- only the third time the Lions have done that in the past decade.

11 -- Quarterback hits on Chicago’s quarterbacks Sunday, all by the Lions defensive linemen.

4 -- Hits each by defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.

1 -- Target for receiver Kris Durham, his fewest targets this season. It did, however, result in a Lions touchdown.

17 -- Targets for Calvin Johnson according to the official game book on Sunday -- his most of the season.

63 -- Receiving touchdowns for Johnson, most in Detroit history.

567 -- Receiving yards for Johnson the past three games, third most in a three-game stretch in NFL history behind Charley Hennigan (612 yards for the Oilers in 1961) and Chad Johnson (573 for the Bengals in 2006).

8,740 -- Career yards in his first 100 games -- second-most in NFL history behind Lance Alworth (9,019).

47 -- Percentage of Lions’ receiving touchdowns Johnson has this season -- tied for third in the league with Chicago’s Brandon Marshall behind San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Oakland’s Denarius Moore.

5 -- Interceptions this season for linebacker DeAndre Levy, tied for the NFL lead.

10 -- Lions who played every offensive or defensive snap Sunday (Dominic Raiola, Rob Sims, Riley Reiff, Larry Warford and Matthew Stafford on offense and Stephen Tulloch, Glover Quin, Louis Delmas, Rashean Mathis and Levy on defense).
They had tried this play -- either variations of it or the exact design -- before this season. A cutting screen to running back Reggie Bush either out of the slot or in the backfield.

Against Green Bay a week ago, this play failed. On Sunday against Cleveland, when Bush caught the ball at almost full speed and ran 18 yards for a touchdown, it worked to perfection.

“It’s a hit-or-miss play,” Bush said. “It’s either going to be big or it’s not going to work at all. We’ve been on both sides.”

On Sunday, Detroit was on the big end of the play to finish off the first drive of the second half during the Lions’ 31-17 win over Cleveland.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/David RichardWith help from center Dominic Raiola, running back Reggie Bush scored a key third-quarter TD for the Lions on Sunday.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford approached the line of scrimmage on a second-and-7 on the Cleveland 18-yard line, already having used Bush on a run up the middle and a big 39-yard dash off the left block down the sideline earlier in the drive.

Now with an empty backfield, Stafford had three receivers on the right side of him, another receiver outside on the left and Bush in the slot. The ball was snapped and Bush started to look like he was going to drift off into the flat on the left side, taking advantage of Cleveland linebacker Craig Robertson playing about five yards off of him.

At halftime, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan saw the Lions had an advantageous matchup with Robertson on the speedy Bush and tried to leverage that into big plays, especially after not targeting Bush at all in the first half.

“He did a great job in the second half for us, made some big plays,” Stafford said. “We got him matched up with [Robertson] and he made him miss quite a few times.”

Bush’s quick bounce heading left took Robertson out of position almost immediately as he took a few steps toward the left sideline to cover Bush. This gave the three interior Detroit offensive linemen -- left guard Rob Sims, center Dominic Raiola and right guard Larry Warford -- time to get down the field and set up the pocket for the screen.

Bush took off toward the middle of the field.

“Design is the three inside guys getting him vertical and giving Reggie the ball and giving him some space to make plays,” Sims said. “That’s it.”

That’s it?

“That simple,” Sims said. “Not very complicated at all. It’s a very, very, very easy play. It is.”

Not quite.

Bush needed to sell Robertson on the fake cut. When he did, by the time Robertson recovered, Bush already had the ball and Sims was there to put a block on Robertson, springing the big gain and making sure the hit-or-miss play turned into a hit.

“I think they ran an all-out blitz or at least brought pressure on that,” Bush said. “It’s a disadvantage for that guy who is over top of me. For one, he doesn’t want to play me press man coverage because of my speed so he has to respect me and he has to be at least five yards off.

“That’s really all the cushion that we need to make that play work.”

From there, Bush had already beaten most of the defenders and had a two-man escort -- Raiola in front of him and Warford a yard or so to his right -- bringing him down field.

Raiola eventually tried to block safety T.J. Ward around the 5-yard line and actually missed the block, allowing Ward to make contact with Bush. By then, though, Bush was running at full speed and was not going to be brought down. Receiver Ryan Broyles, who was on the right side, also had a key very late small block to ensure Bush got into the end zone on free safety Tashaun Gipson, who made contact with Bush as he crossed the goal line.

“Full speed coming in,” Bush said. “Stafford threw a great pass. I had two blockers in front of me so I really didn’t have to do much.”

If the play looked familiar, it should. It was somewhat similar to Bush’s 77-yard screen for a touchdown against Minnesota. Bush and Sims said it was the same play, but there were different wrinkles.

Against the Vikings, Bush came out of the backfield instead of the slot and was also lined up on the right side instead of the left, so it was Warford with the key first block instead of Sims.

Otherwise, it was a very similar play that led to yet another Detroit touchdown this season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Detroit’s offensive line had been formidable this season, had blocked well for the run and the pass and had kept the Lions’ quarterback, Matthew Stafford, pretty clean.

Until Sunday, when Stafford was sacked more times in one game than he had been in the previous four combined.

Green Bay sacked Stafford five times Sunday. He had been sacked three times over the first four games of the season.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Matthew Stafford
AP Photo/Morry GashClay Matthews collects one of five Green Bay sacks on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“That is a good defensive front,” Stafford said. “They have guys, they drafted a lot of first-round guys, a lot of second-round guys up there to rush the passer. That’s their job. They were doing a good job in the back end so I had to hold the ball a little bit.

“I thought our offensive line played good, fought their (butt) off up front. But that’s a big defensive front up the middle. We struggled running the ball today.”

Part of the issue for the Detroit offensive line was perhaps a change in defensive coverage from Green Bay, which played with a safety down to go against the run more than any other team that faced the Lions this year.

Prior to Sunday, Stafford had not been sacked on more than 2.7 percent of his dropbacks in any game this season. On Sunday, he was sacked 11.1 percent of the time he dropped back.

“It’s disappointing,” center Dominic Raiola said. “We need to go back to work and fix it. It’s nobody’s fault. I mean, a sack is on everybody so we need to fix it up front.”

Four of Green Bay’s five sacks came from linebackers -- with Nick Perry getting two, Brad Jones getting one and Clay Matthews picking up one. On Matthews’ sack, he had a clean shot at Stafford untouched through the line.

With the way the Packers rushed, guard Rob Sims said every lineman had one-on-one assignments instead of potentially trying to double a rusher or work toward a side. Against the Packers, the Lions had no choice but to go single on every assignment and block as best they could.

“It was a tough game for all of us up there,” Sims said. “Any time you’ve got five one-on-ones, especially in the end when they know you’ve got to pass and they are coming after you, it’s just hard.

“Hard to do play-in, play-out.”
DETROIT -- Reggie Bush's big 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of Sunday’s 40-32 win over the Chicago Bears almost didn’t happen.

Bush fumbled the play before and the ball was recovered by Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, extending the Lions drive with 2:52 remaining in the first half.

The Lions went to the line on the next play, calling another handoff to Bush. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was in shotgun with Bush a step behind him and to his right. Center Dominic Raiola saw something in the Chicago defense that told him to make a call with his veteran left guard, Rob Sims.

“I saw a weak dog and I saw a nickel coming off the edge,” Raiola said. “We said all week we wanted to hit one right into the mouth of their blitz and that’s really what it was.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Reggie Bush
AP Photo/Jose JuarezA lot went into Reggie Bush's 37-yard touchdown, including his hurdling of Major Wright.
“It was a call we practiced all week and we hit it.”

Raiola told Sims to engage the defensive end, Julius Peppers. In doing so -- and getting a good push on Peppers out to the left, he almost made it appear as if he and left tackle Riley Reiff were doubling Peppers on the snap.

They weren’t, as Reiff’s man, linebacker James Anderson, blitzed far on his side. This opened up the first part of a massive hole for Bush, who by the time he reached the line of scrimmage had almost the entire width between the hashmarks to run through and make his initial cut.

In the pre-snap, Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins was initially lined up right over Raiola, but on the snap he slid over to engage right guard Larry Warford. Warford sealed Collins away from the hole.

This allowed Raiola a clean path to the second level, where he was able to block linebacker Lance Briggs.

“We were working on that,” Sims said. “We knew they were going to try and slant Julius and we just, Dom made a good call. Dom told me to go out to (Peppers) and I did and we caught them in it.

“That’s the thing with them, they are really good at moving and when you can catch them in it, you can make some hay. And Reggie don’t need much.”

Bush had a wide open lane to run through. He ran almost right at the Raiola-Briggs block before cutting back to the right side and into the second and third levels of the defense.

It appeared as if defensive end Cornelius Washington was the man who was supposed to mark up Bush at the snap, but he was on the edge of the defense and looked like he hesitated on the snap out of the backfield and ended up chasing Bush from behind. He had a chance to tackle him, but missed.

Then Bush made another quick cut right and -- this is really what made the run -- jumped over a diving Major Wright. Had Wright kept his feet, he would have had a better shot at the Detroit running back.

Once Bush made that move, he had one more assist. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles put a good seal block on Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings to give Bush a deep crease in the secondary.

Jennings would end up almost catching up to Bush, but those few extra strides helped turn the play into a touchdown.

“A sweet run,” Stafford said. “It was a play that honestly we had been working on in practice all week knowing they were going to blitz us, which they always do.

“Instead of getting out of it, just running right into it. Dom made a great call up front, (Brandon) Pettigrew had a great block to seal off the back side and let Reggie do the rest.”

Letting Bush do the rest is becoming a common theme for the Lions these days. Detroit’s offensive line had done such a good job against Chicago on Sunday, the 37-yard touchdown was merely one of the big runs Bush was able to find.

The touchdown was the longest run of the day for Bush, who had four rushes of 14 yards or more and 139 yards overall.

“Reggie Bush is special,” Wright told reporters after the game. “He has speed. He can shake you. He can do everything.”

Rapid Reaction: Lions 40, Bears 32

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
4:17
PM ET
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 40-32 victory over the Chicago Bears.

What it means: It became a little tense at the end, but the Lions are in first place in the NFC North. For three quarters, the Lions looked extremely impressive. Their defense appeared dominant on Sunday, even as the offense struggled at points. The line clearly rattled Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, pressuring him consistently and forcing three interceptions. If you’re looking for a reason for Sunday’s victory, it starts there.

Detroit needed a game like this to follow up on beating the Washington Redskins last Sunday. Even though the Lions were 2-1, they had only one half of really strong football -- the second half of the season opener against Minnesota. In addition to the defense, Detroit running back Reggie Bush slashed through Chicago's defense, looking more like the player he was at USC.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh picked up the stats he had been lacking, sacking Cutler twice. Bush returned to normal, gaining 173 total yards and scoring a 37-yard touchdown. Safety Louis Delmas, who has long battled knee issues, picked off two passes and combined with Glover Quin to show how important good safety play is to this defense.

Suh dominance: He had been having his most consistent, productive season of his career but didn’t have the stats to back it up. That is no longer an issue. Chicago tried to double Suh almost every play to give rookie Kyle Long help, but it didn’t matter. Suh disrupted a bunch of Bears plays, sacked Cutler twice and, along with the rest of the defensive line, forced the Bears to bring extra protection.

Line mostly clean again: Detroit’s offensive line continues to block both the run and pass well. Matthew Stafford was sacked only once, and the holes that opened for Bush allowed him to get into the second and third levels of the Chicago defense with ease. Detroit’s line has been building toward this moment, improving every week. The interior of the line -- center Dominic Raiola and guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford -- were effective pushing Chicago off the line of scrimmage.

What’s next: Detroit now heads to a place it hasn’t won in more than two decades -- Green Bay -- with a chance to beat every team in the NFC North at least once this season.

Many Lions limited in practice

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
4:23
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The good news for the Detroit Lions: only one player, Nate Burleson, wasn't at practice.

The not so good news -- a number of players were limited in some way. Now, don't read too much into this because it could be a day of rest with a very minor injury or soreness, but the full list of names is daunting.

Today's limited players: Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (abdomen), safety Don Carey (hamstring), safety Louis Delmas (knee), wide receiver Patrick Edwards (ankle), right tackle Jason Fox (groin), right tackle Corey Hilliard (groin), cornerback Chris Houston (hand), wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), linebacker DeAndre Levy (abdomen), linebacker Ashlee Palmer (ankle), left guard Rob Sims (shoulder) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (knee).

In all, that means 12 players (10 starters) were limited in some way during practice. This isn't alarming, though, because they all were able to practice a little bit at least and all of them were moving around a bit during the media portion of practice Thursday.

Absent from that list is running back Reggie Bush, who practiced fully for the second straight day.

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