NFC South: Detroit Lions

One of the places Detroit needs to make the most improvement is in its secondary, and on Monday the Lions decided to add another man to their roster.

The team claimed defensive back Isa Abdul-Quddus off waivers from New Orleans, where he was released on Jan. 7 after being set to become a restricted free agent following the season.

Abdul-Quddus was primarily a special teams player for New Orleans but made four starts at free safety in his three years with the Saints. He made the team after going undrafted in 2011 out of Fordham.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder played in 42 games for New Orleans and had 74 tackles, nine passes defended and two interceptions.

Detroit has one safety as an unrestricted free agent, John Wendling. It returns five other safeties under contract from last season: Glover Quin, Louis Delmas, Don Carey, DeJon Gomes and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

Owusu-Ansah is an exclusive rights free agent. Carey signed an extension in December. Quin and Delmas were the starters last season, but Delmas is due to make $6,500,000 against the salary cap next season.

Live blog: Buccaneers at Lions

November, 24, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' visit to the Detroit Lions. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
DeAndre Levy and Vincent JacksonUSA Today SportsDeAndre Levy and the Lions will need to keep Vincent Jackson in check on Sunday.
Tampa Bay started its season terribly before finding some answers the past two weeks. Detroit started its season strong but is suddenly vulnerable and has some questions.

Only the Lions are in the playoff picture heading into the last six weeks of the season. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers can play spoiler and give a damaging blow to the Lions' playoff hopes.

The Buccaneers will try to do that with a rejuvenated defense that caught the eye of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“They are an extremely talented defense,” Stafford said. “Probably the most talented defense we've played all year.” NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Pat Yasinskas (Buccaneers) break down Sunday's matchup.

Rothstein: What has happened over the past couple of weeks to turn this Tampa team around?

Yasinskas: The short answer is that the Bucs suddenly have gotten much better at finishing games, a huge problem early in the season. But it goes much deeper than that. Coach Greg Schiano has a reputation for being stubborn and inflexible. But he's changed in recent weeks. His mood has been lighter on the practice field and when he's met with the media. More importantly, he's adjusted some things on the field. He's stopped stunting so much on the defensive line, and that's created more straight-ahead rushes for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Schiano has used cornerback Darrelle Revis in more man-to-man coverage after playing him in a lot of zone early in the season. The Bucs also have been running the ball much better, and that's a tribute to the offensive line.

Speaking of McCoy, he and Ndamukong Suh came out in the same draft, and early on, it looked like Suh clearly was the better player. But McCoy has been outstanding of late. What kind of a year is Suh having?

Rothstein: Suh's actual statistics are fairly pedestrian and wouldn't really stand out to anyone if they were just watching Detroit from afar. But he has faced a lot of double-teams throughout the season and has been somewhat consistent throughout the year. He played his best in the two games against Chicago -- four quarterback hurries in Week 10, two sacks in Week 4 -- but he and the rest of the Detroit defensive line almost inexplicably struggled to reach Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this past Sunday.

Detroit has not blitzed much this season, putting a lot of pressure on the front four, starting with Suh.

That'll lead into my next question -- how has Mike Glennon been progressing this season, and how does he move when he is pushed in the pocket a little bit?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise. He was thrown into the lineup when Josh Freeman was benched, and he struggled at first. But Glennon has steadily improved and has been very good in recent weeks. He had only three incompletions in Sunday's victory over Atlanta. He's shown poise and leadership. Glennon's strength is his big arm, and the Bucs are trying to develop more of a deep passing game. They showed signs that's catching on when Vincent Jackson caught two long passes against the Falcons.

I first saw Glennon when I was covering the filming of "Gruden's QB Camp" this past spring. Watching Glennon's college tape, I thought he didn't have the mobility to succeed in the NFL. As it turns out, I was wrong. Glennon is not a running threat, but he's not a statue, either. He's been extending some plays by scrambling.

Speaking of deep passing games, the matchup I can't wait to see is Calvin Johnson against Revis. I saw the Lions-Steelers game, and it seemed like Johnson disappeared in the second half. What was all that about? Revis and Johnson went head-to-head in a 2010 game, and Johnson caught just one pass for 13 yards. Do you see Revis, with a little bit of help, being help to keep Johnson quiet?

Rothstein: It depends on what Tampa tries to do defensively. When teams have tried covering Johnson with single coverage, he's destroyed opponents. It happened a good amount against Dallas and early against Pittsburgh. It goes to the situation most teams have had to face this season -- do you double-team Johnson and give a lighter box to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, or do you play single high to focus on Bell and Bush and put Johnson in lighter coverage?

That said, Revis is one of the best corners in the league -- something Stafford acknowledged Tuesday -- and it should be an intriguing matchup Sunday. Johnson likes going against the top corners in the league and has had some success this season in those matchups, notably against Arizona's Patrick Peterson (six catches, 116 yards, two touchdowns) and Dallas' Brandon Carr (14 catches, 329 yards).

One of the other ways teams have had success against Detroit is to pressure Stafford, which hasn't been easy this season. It goes back to that first question with McCoy, but is he the key to any pressure Tampa might get?

Yasinskas: McCoy is the central piece of the defensive line, and everything feeds off him. But he's not alone in the pass rush. End Adrian Clayborn has some pass-rush skills, and the Bucs have started lining up outside linebacker Dekoda Watson as a rush end. But the Bucs also like to use their linebackers as blitzers, and Lavonte David (five sacks) is a very good pass-rusher. But it all goes back to McCoy. The Bucs rely on him to push the quarterback off the spot, and the other players can clean up.

You mentioned Bush. At least from a distance, it seemed like he got himself in the doghouse by fumbling against Pittsburgh. Is Bush in good graces with the coaching staff, or will we see less of him Sunday?

Rothstein: Doghouse? No. But he needs to work on protecting the ball better and hanging on to it, period. He's struggled with drops all season and lost fumbles two of the past three weeks. He's too big a weapon for Detroit to move away from him -- especially at home -- but if he continues on this trend, Bell might steal some of his snaps.

Superlatives for the Falcons

December, 23, 2012
DETROIT -- With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Falcons’ media relations department, let’s take a by-the-numbers look back at how Atlanta defeated Detroit, 31-18, Saturday night at Ford Field.
  • The Falcons won for the fourth time on prime-time television this season. Since 2008, the Falcons are 8-4 in prime-time games.
  • Coach Mike Smith posted his 56th career win. Smith’s record is 56-23. That’s the second-best record in five seasons in NFL history. Former San Francisco coach George Seifert is No. 1 at 62-18.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards with four touchdowns and a 142.6 passer rating. That’s the exact same passer rating Ryan posted in last week’s win against the New York Giants.
  • The Falcons are 32-1 when Ryan has a passer rating of 100 or better. His passer rating is 100.2 for the season and he has a chance to become only the second quarterback in franchise history to post a passer rating of at least 100 for a season. Chris Chandler had a 100.9 passer rating in the 1998 season -- the only time the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
  • The four touchdowns matched Ryan’s career high and he now is tied for the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (31) with Steve Bartkowski.
  • Ryan was especially good on play-action passes. He completed all seven of his attempts for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Only three of Ryan’s passes (excluding throwaways) were incomplete due to an overthrow or underthrow. Ryan leads the NFL with only 13.4 percent of his passes falling off target.
  • Receiver Roddy White joined Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Reggie Wayne as the only players in NFL history to record six straight seasons with 80 catches and 1,000 yards.
  • White finished with eight catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the 35th 100-yard game of his career, and White tied his franchise record for 100-yard games in a season (seven).
  • With one game remaining, White is 81 yards shy of breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a season (1,389) that he set in 2010.
  • Detroit’s Matthew Stafford didn’t have a passing touchdown. That marked the fifth time in the last six games the Falcons have not allowed a touchdown pass.
  • The defense had three takeaways and the Falcons produced points each time. Atlanta now has 96 points off 29 takeaways this season.

Why not Matt Ryan for MVP?

December, 23, 2012
Matt RyanAP Photo/Rick OsentoskiMatt Ryan again demonstrated his value to the Falcons with another sparkling performance.
DETROIT -- Quite unintentionally, the Atlanta Falcons made the strongest case yet for Matt Ryan's most valuable player award candidacy Saturday night.

Ryan did his part by completing 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-18 victory against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

But this isn’t a story about numbers. It’s a story about how Ryan is the dominant force for the first NFL team to win 13 games this season.

That was obvious from the start as the Falcons put the game in Ryan’s hands early, and Atlanta seemed on the way to a blowout. It became even more obvious in the fourth quarter when the Falcons put the game back in Ryan’s hands and made sure they clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“They’re not talking about him, but he’s my MVP," Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “Who’s playing better than him? In my mind, nobody. I’d definitely vote for him."

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson are getting all the attention when it comes to MVP talk. But maybe Weatherspoon has a point.

Why not Ryan for MVP?

For the moment, he’s the best player on the only team to win 13 games this season, and isn't it all about winning? He tied Steve Bartkowski’s franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (31) and he’s at or on his way to career highs in every statistical category.

But, again, this isn’t about numbers. It’s about how valuable Ryan is to the Falcons, who, once and for all, need to realize they aren’t the same old Falcons. And coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter need to realize they should stop even attempting to be anything close to the same old Falcons.

Let’s be honest. Running back Michael Turner has had a wonderful run with Atlanta, but his days as the backbone of the offense are long gone. The Falcons are a pass-first team now, and Smith and Koetter need to lose the stubborn streak that’s prompting them to force a running game that just isn’t there anymore.

They almost learned that the hard way against the Lions.

After Ryan played a nearly flawless first half (15 of 16 for 184 yards and three touchdowns) and led Atlanta to a 21-6 halftime lead, the Falcons took the ball out of Ryan’s hands in the third quarter.

They got conservative and tried to force feed Turner at the start of the third quarter. That got them nowhere, and it almost got them into deep trouble. The Lions followed a three-and-out by Atlanta with a touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter, a Detroit field goal cut the lead to 21-16 and all the momentum seemed to shift to the Lions at a time when Calvin Johnson was chasing (and, eventually, breaking) Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season.

But that’s when the Falcons put the game back into Ryan’s hands and he made his case for MVP. On a drive that featured only two runs by Turner, Ryan led the Falcons on an 11-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by a touchdown pass to backup tight end Michael Palmer.

“Matt made some big time throws on that drive," Smith said. “That’s what he’s been doing all season."

The people who vote for MVP should look long and hard at that drive, and so should Smith and Koetter. Ryan is the reason the Falcons are 13-2.

“There’s a lot of politics that come along with being MVP and things like that," said Atlanta receiver Roddy White, who caught Ryan’s first two touchdown passes and finished with eight catches for 153 yards. “But the guy has been here five years and he’s won a lot of games. Come on. He’s won 13 already this year and put us into this position going into the playoffs. And his numbers are up there with everybody else’s. I don’t see anybody else out there that’s better than him."

Neither do I. But White’s got a point about the politics. Brady and Manning have won Super Bowls. Ryan hasn’t even won a playoff game. The reality is Brady or Manning or Peterson, who’s putting up huge rushing numbers, probably will win the MVP this season, no matter what Ryan does.

But there’s a way Ryan can get more heavily involved in the conversation in the future. There also is a way for Smith to stop everyone from talking about what he and Ryan have yet to do.

That would be to go out and win a playoff game.

“This is a different team from last year or two or three years ago," White said. “Our players are more mature. I think we’re ready to go."

They’ll be ready and they’ll be a different team in the postseason only if Smith and Koetter grasp the fact that they’re not going to get anywhere with the running game. They need to grasp the fact that this team can only go a long way if it’s riding Ryan’s arm.

The Falcons can win in the playoffs, maybe even the Super Bowl, if they just let Ryan go out and play like an MVP.

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 31, Lions 18

December, 22, 2012

DETROIT -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 31-18 victory against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night at Ford Field:

What it means: The Falcons improved to 13-2 and clinched the home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. I know what you’re thinking -- the Falcons went 13-3 and had the home-field advantage two seasons ago and they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the Georgia Dome. It’s a valid point. But would you prefer the Falcons didn’t have the home-field advantage?

Almost perfect: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan flirted with the NFL record book in the first half. He completed his first 12 passes. Throw in the fact that Ryan completed his final 10 passes in a victory against the New York Giants and he completed 22 consecutive passes. His 13th attempt of the game fell incomplete, leaving him just shy of Donovan McNabb’s NFL record (24 straight completions).

What I liked: Ryan’s performance overall. At least in my book, he has put himself back in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award.

What I didn’t like: The way the Falcons insist on continuing to try to establish Michael Turner and the running game. Look, it just isn’t working. Either make Jacquizz Rodgers the feature back or just scrap the run totally and put everything in Ryan’s hands. The Falcons had a 21-6 halftime lead, but they were stubborn about Turner and the running game early in the second half and that gave the Lions a chance to get back into the game.

Milestone time: Ryan now has 31 touchdown passes on the season. That ties him with Steve Bartkowski for the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season.

More milestone time: Detroit's Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season. It came with the Falcons in command of the game. Strangely, though, the Falcons also were the defense that Drew Brees broke the record for passing yards in a season against last year.

What’s next: The Falcons wrap up their regular season next Sunday, hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Georgia Dome. Coach Mike Smith has to make a decision on if he's going to rest his starters.

Halftime thoughts on Falcons-Lions

December, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- I think I’ve just witnessed the most efficient half ever by an NFL quarterback.

Matt Ryan was one throw away from being flawless. He completed 15 of 16 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns as the Atlanta Falcons cruised to a 21-6 halftime lead against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Ryan has had a little help from his defense setting him up with good field position with two fumble recoveries. Ryan has hit Roddy White with two touchdown passes and Julio Jones with another.

The Falcons are clearly in control of this one. If it stays that way in the second half, the Falcons will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

I’ll be back with Rapid Reaction as soon as the game ends

William Moore out for Atlanta Falcons

December, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury.

The Falcons just announced Moore will be inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Detroit Lions. Chris Hope is expected to start in Moore’s place at strong safety.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback Dominique Davis, guard Phillipkeith Manley, tight end Chase Coffman, receiver Tim Toone, guard Harland Gunn and defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Countdown Live: Falcons-Lions

December, 22, 2012
Join our NFL experts for Saturday night football between the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there

Live from Ford Field

December, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- I’m here in the press box high above Ford Field.

There are only a handful of Atlanta Falcons out on the field loosening up. Two other buses were waiting for more players and coaches when I left the team hotel.

I’ll be back with inactives (and the status of injured safety William Moore) roughly 90 minutes before kickoff.

And here’s another invitation to join us in the Countdown Live chat we’ll be conducting throughout the game.

Waiting for Saturday night

December, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- I’m counting down the hours to Saturday night’s game and so are the Atlanta Falcons.

By pure coincidence, I’m staying at the same hotel as the Falcons. I was just downstairs and had a brief chat with quarterback Matt Ryan as he headed to the team lunch. I also ran into general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and we had an informal chat about football and other things.

My plan is to head over to Ford Field about three hours before game time. I’ll get you the inactives about 90 minutes before kickoff. I’m also scheduled to help preview the game on ESPN Radio at about 7:30 p.m. ET.

Please feel free to join us for the Countdown Live chat that will go on throughout the game. Countdown Live will pop up as a separate post on this blog prior to the game.

Unsung heroes of the Atlanta Falcons

December, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- When the Atlanta Falcons play the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, all they have to do to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs is win.

The Falcons have been doing plenty of winning. They’re 12-2 and we’ve heard lots about quarterback Matt Ryan and his star-studded receiving cast of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. And we’ve heard plenty about a defense that’s led by veteran defensive end John Abraham and emerging star Sean Weatherspoon.

But they’re not the only reasons the Falcons are doing well. Let’s take a look at five lesser-known reasons why the Falcons are sitting pretty.

Stephen Nicholas: Weatherspoon has been the star at linebacker, and he’s the heart and soul of the defense. But Nicholas is having by far the best season of his career. The Falcons always thought Nicholas had good skills but believed he didn’t always take full advantage of them. That’s all changed this season as Nicholas has been coming through with big plays and playing consistently well.

Sam Baker: The left tackle was a lightning rod for criticism through much of the first four years of his career. Fans were ready to run Baker out of town after he lost his starting job last season. But the Falcons believed that injuries had been holding Baker back. They told him to spend the offseason getting healthy, and they stood by him. That’s paid off in a big way, as Baker has done a solid job of protecting Ryan’s blind side, which has allowed the quarterback to have much more success throwing deep.

Kroy Biermann: This guy never will be a superstar, but you at least know what you’re getting with Biermann. He’s a high-energy guy. The Falcons were unhappy with high-priced Ray Edwards and cut him near the middle of the season. If Biermann wasn’t around, the Falcons would have had to stick with Edwards, and they probably wouldn’t be in the shape they’re in right now.

The secondary: Free safety Thomas DeCoud and strong safety William Moore were inconsistent the past few years, and there were questions about their ability to become solid starters. But the tandem has thrived under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. DeCoud and Moore have been coming up with interceptions -- six by DeCoud and four by Moore -- and they’ve been much more consistent as tacklers than they were in the past. The Falcons suffered a big loss at cornerback when Brent Grimes, who was carrying the franchise tag, went down with a season-ending injury. But Dunta Robinson has enjoyed his best season since joining the Falcons, veteran Asante Samuel has shown he still can play and nickelback Robert McClain has been the most pleasant surprise of the season.

The special teams: We’re not counting the return game, because that hasn’t been a factor. But punter/kickoff specialist Matt Bosher has emerged as a field-position force in his second season. Place-kicker Matt Bryant went through a brief slump near midseason, but he’s snapped out of it, and there aren’t many kickers around the league I’d rather have in a clutch situation.

NFC South chat Friday at 11 a.m.

December, 21, 2012
We’re going to call a slight audible on our weekly NFC South chat.

This Friday, we’ll start the chat at 11 a.m. ET. Here's the link to get you into the chat. We usually chat on Friday afternoons, but I’m going to be traveling to Detroit this Friday afternoon to get in place to cover the Saturday night game between the Falcons and Lions.

That game also will be a Countdown Live game, which means you can chat with KC Joyner, ESPN Stats & Information and me throughout the game.

Reflecting on Saints' victory

January, 8, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before we get to the playoff game between the Falcons and Giants, let’s take a look back at the highlights from New Orleans’ victory against Detroit on Saturday night.

Let’s start with some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • The Saints did a lot of short passing in the first half, but they opened it up in the second half. Drew Brees attempted five passes of 30 or more yards in the second half. He completed four of those for 178 yards and two touchdowns as the Saints scored on their first five drives of the second half. Brees’ lone incompletion came on a drop by Robert Meachem.
  • The Lions barely blitzed Brees and chose to keep their defenders in coverage. Detroit rushed four or fewer players on more than 90 percent of Brees’ drop backs. In those situations, Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
  • The Saints rushed for 167 yards, including a season-high 92 yards after contact. Pierre Thomas led the way with 43 yards after contact. In his final five games of the regular season, Thomas totaled 65 yards after contact. The regular-season, single-game high for the Saints was 38 yards after contact in Week 7 against the Colts.
  • The Saints sent five or more pass-rushers after Matthew Stafford on 55 percent of his drop backs. That’s the highest percentage of blitzes Stafford has faced in a game in his career. The Saints blitzed on 66 percent of Stafford’s drop backs in the first half.
  • Stafford actually had a better Total QBR than Brees. Stafford scored 91.1 and Brees came in at 84.9 percent. Brees’ score was knocked down quite a bit by his first-half fumble.
  • Obviously, I couldn’t attend the game in New Orleans. But colleague Ashley Fox was there. Here’s her column on the Saints.

Wrap-up: Saints 45, Lions 28

January, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 45-28 victory against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night.

What it means: It wasn’t quite as easy as the final score would suggest. The Lions led early and much of the game was competitive. The Saints were far from perfect and the offense turned the ball over twice in the first half. But this was still a solid win against a good team. That’s a lot better than what happened last year when the Saints got beat by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints had plenty of momentum carrying over from the regular season and they only built on that.

Unsung hero: Running back Pierre Thomas had a huge impact. Detroit’s defense deserves some blame for poor tackling, but Thomas deserves lots of credit. He broke a bunch of tackles as a runner and a pass receiver. Darren Sproles brought the flash, but Thomas was just as important in this victory.

What I liked: The way the Saints never blinked after they got down early. Drew Brees and Marques Colston each lost fumbles in the first half. But the Saints’ offense just kept churning out the yardage and quickly wore out Detroit’s defense. The Saints reacted like a confident, veteran team and that will accomplish a lot in the playoffs. The Saints were so good on offense that they didn’t have to punt a single time. I also liked the way coach Sean Payton adjusted his offense in the second half. The passing game was pretty much horizontal in the first half, but it got very vertical in the second half.

What I didn’t like: Calvin Johnson had over 200 receiving yards. There’s no real shame in that. The guy is the best receiver in the league and he can make just about any defense look bad. The troubling thing was that the Saints got very little pressure on Matthew Stafford. They’re going to have to find a pass rush if they want to keep winning in the postseason.

What’s next: As the No. 3 seed, the Saints will travel to San Francisco next weekend to play the second-seeded 49ers.