NFL Nation: Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It was halftime in London and the Detroit Lions had done little right in the first half against Atlanta. They practiced in England for a week and spent the first 30 minutes of Week 8 appearing jet-lagged.

Detroit’s first-year coach, Jim Caldwell, could have screamed or yelled in frustration or to motivate. Many coaches would. In years past, this would have happened. Not Caldwell. Not even close.

“You don’t understand, man,” offensive lineman Rodney Austin said. “I’ve never seen a coach down 21 at halftime that calm. He came in and was like, ‘Look, we didn’t play well and we know we didn’t play well. But what we have to do now is go out there and play well. So let’s go do it.’

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJim Caldwell's calm demeanor won over the Detroit Lions locker room. The Lions are 10-4 and would clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago on Sunday.
“That was his message. I was just standing there in shock, like he didn’t raise his voice. I don’t think as he spoke, his blood pressure didn’t go up. I don’t even think he started sweating hard.”

Lions players knew Caldwell wasn’t a screamer, one of the multitude of reasons Detroit hired him to replace the fiery Jim Schwartz. The monotone calmness Caldwell provided that day – and pretty much every day – was noticed. It had already been a theme during Caldwell’s first season. The Lions continually looked to the sidelines during come-from-behind wins to see the same level of emotion every time.

The Lions are 10-4 and headed toward a playoff berth. Caldwell might be the biggest reason why. This has been the antithesis of a typical Lions season. Instead of folding late in a season, they are thriving. Detroit is 3-3 in games in which it trailed by 14 or more points, including against Atlanta on Oct. 26 in London. The rest of the NFL is 11-128 in that situation.

“He’s our flight attendant,” receiver Jeremy Ross said. “When there’s a lot of turbulence on the plane, you look to the flight attendant to see whether you should panic or not. If the flight attendants are calm and they are not worrying when the plane is going all over the place, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ve been here before. They know it’s going to be OK.’

“If they are freaking out, then you’re freaking out, like, ‘Dang, is there something I don’t know?’ So him, when you look at him, he’s calm. He’s reserved. At halftime if we’re down, he’s not like, ‘Ahh, we gotta go.’ He’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s get better and let’s make plays and it’s simple.’"

Caldwell’s influence shows most in those moments, including four game-winning fourth-quarter drives. Detroit’s players look to their inspirational quotation encyclopedia of a head coach to give them on-field stability.

It’s been that way since his hiring.

“He’s got everybody’s ear in the room, you know,” guard Rob Sims said. “That takes a special person to get everybody in the room and maybe lose a couple guys opposed to having a couple guys and losing the whole room, if you know what I mean.

“That’s pretty much what it is. He’s able to grab your attention by his content and how authentic he is.”

Rashean Mathis, 34, is one of the oldest players on the Lions. He’s been through several head coaches between Jacksonville and Detroit. He often says he’s been in the league long enough that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. Then he met with Caldwell for 30 minutes in Caldwell’s office on Mathis’ first day in Detroit after re-signing.

The conversation veered from football to family. By the end, it felt like a father-son conversation instead of a boss-employee one. The pivotal moment came when Mathis said Caldwell told him the game was about the players and he was here to help him succeed. A head coach never told Mathis that before.

“That’s like your boss coming to you and saying, ‘You’re what drives my business,’" Mathis said. “Not too many bosses or people in authority are going to come tell their employees that, that you are what makes my business work, even if it’s known. So that was a comment that sold me.

“I’ve heard some assistants say it: 'We wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you.' But coming from a head coach and he’s conveyed it to the team, he’s conveyed it in front of the coaches, it means a lot. It means a lot. Those little things matter.”

This season, Caldwell’s little things have meant a whole lot in turning a perennial loser into a possible playoff team.

QB snapshot: Matthew Stafford

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
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A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15:

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Stafford
After two weeks in which he played like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Stafford and the rest of the Lions' offense returned closer to reality against Minnesota on Sunday. Gone was the 75 percent completion rate and 300-yard day, replaced by a 60.7 percent, 153-yard passing day.

It was the second time this season Detroit has won a game with fewer than 200 yards passing from Stafford -- both against the Vikings.

"Sometimes it's not going to be pretty," Stafford said. "We've lost pretty ones. It's nice to win an ugly one. It's a part of being a good football team, is finding ways to win when you don't play your best in any of the phases. But we rallied together in the second half and made enough plays to win."

There's a bunch of good news for Stafford, though. He didn't have a turnover for the third straight game. His season completion percentage of 61.5, if it holds, would be the second-highest of his career. And he's on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season.

Stafford also now gets to face Chicago -- the team he completed 75.6 percent of his passes against for 390 yards on Thanksgiving. The Bears have continued to struggle since then, and are allowing a completion rate of 75 percent or better in seven of their 14 games this season.

In nine career games against Chicago, Stafford has completed 62.4 percent of his passes (214-of-343) for 2,313 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He is 4-5 against the Bears in games in which he was credited with the win or loss.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said “it doesn’t look good” for right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who left Sunday’s 16-14 win over Minnesota with a left knee injury.

Caldwell said the Lions still were running some more tests before making a final diagnosis.

Waddle
Waddle was hit by Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen, who rushed from the opposite side of Waddle. He ended up being blocked into Waddle’s left knee, causing it to buckle awkwardly in the third quarter.

Based on the film, Waddle did not see Griffen run into him. He immediately crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain and reaching for trainers when they came to him. He was then carted off the field.

"It looked bad," right guard Larry Warford said. "I don't want to say anything about it, but yeah, I usually don't hear L.A. scream. I don't think I've ever heard him scream before."

If Waddle is out for any amount of time, the Lions probably will turn to undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas, who has played both left and right tackle this season.
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DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions have seen this scenario happen so often this season. The offense starts woefully slow and can’t move the ball. An opponent takes an early lead.

Then the Lions' defense -- one of the best units in the NFL -- makes a play. Whether it's a sack, an interception or forcing a three-and-out, the defense changes the flow of the game in favor of Detroit.

Sunday's big plays featured Glover Quin and Darius Slay intercepting Teddy Bridgewater on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. The takeaways put the Lions in good field position, leading to 10 points that shifted the momentum of the game.

This is the truth about these Lions: They will be as good as their defense allows them to be. Right now, that’s pretty darn good.

“They are up there with one of the best defenses that I’ve played against in my time, in my career,” Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Their front four is as talented as anyone. They get after the quarterback, but DeAndre Levy is playing at a really high level in the middle. Both of the safeties are playing at a really high level.

“When you have it from front to back, you look at all the great defenses, the Seattles, the San Francisco 49ers, that’s how they are built and the Detroit defense is just like that.”

It has harassed quarterbacks over and over again, using a front four led by Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah to force sacks and tough decisions. Consider: In the three drives in which the Lions sacked Bridgewater, they allowed no points. And the defensive front forces opponents to scheme differently when they face the Lions because of Suh and Ansah, something Rudolph acknowledged Sunday.

Detroit stops the run better than anyone in the NFL, too. The 76 yards Minnesota gained was above the Lions’ season average, but in the second half, they allowed only 12 yards on eight designed runs.

This leads to another critical point with Detroit's defense: How it reacts. The Lions allowed 14 points in the first 20 minutes of the game. Then they didn’t allow Minnesota to score again. It's a similar plot to games earlier this season, when the Lions' defense has improved as the game went on. This comes from adjustments the players and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are making.

“You’re going to have spots where you give up a couple plays, but in life itself it’s all about how you react and we react better than probably any other defense in the league,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “That’s the biggest key. ... Meaning the negative plays that you give up, how do you bounce back from that? When you give up a touchdown, how do you bounce back from that? We respond well. We respond very well. It’s just the makeup of the team.”

It has been all year. It’s been key for Detroit’s offense, too. Unlike in previous seasons, when the Lions didn’t have a defense that could be expected to eventually shut down an opponent, this year Detroit's offense knows the defense can.

It allows the offense time to settle down, figure things out and make adjustments if it starts slow, knowing it has a strong defense that will keep a game from becoming out of control early.

The turnovers, as they did Sunday, help, too.

“Defense has been huge for us,” guard Rob Sims said. “We were stalling early, a couple penalties here and there and just not hitting our stride. It’s like that sometimes, but when you have a defense that plays like that, we can fight back and make our adjustments and it’s nice.”

It’s more than nice. It’s why Detroit is closing in on a playoff berth for only the second time since 2000.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 16-14 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Prater
    Longtime Lions center Dominic Raiola said the possibility of this being his final game in Ford Field did not cross his mind -- similar to what he told me Friday. Raiola’s contract is up at the end of this season. “I still believe I got more,” Raiola said. “That’ll take care of itself. The week-to-week grind is what I’m worried about right now.”
  • Raiola saw billionaire Warren Buffett on the sidelines before the game, and while the longtime Lions center has Nebraska ties, he said he didn’t go over to the personal friend of Ndamukong Suh to say hello. Raiola said “that’s pretty big-time. I was impressed.” Rashean Mathis joked that he might have to ask Suh for Buffett’s number as well.
  • Kicker Matt Prater said he didn't think about his longest field goal record when he saw Blair Walsh lining up for a 68-yard field goal to try to win the game. “I don’t think about that because records are meant to be broken and I hope to get a chance to break it,” Prater said. “And bring that record to Detroit.” Prater, who made three field goals Sunday, holds the record right now with a 64-yard field goal.
  • Devin Taylor continued his somewhat surprising apparel decisions. He left the Detroit locker room Sunday wearing an ugly Christmas sweater with half of a stuffed animal sticking out of the front of it and the other half of the stuffed animal sticking out the back with Taylor in between.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
7:17
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Detroit again returned to its ways of the first half of the season -- sputtering on offense and needing its defense to come up with the plays that would end up earning a victory. Two interceptions in the first half -- one by Glover Quin and one by Darius Slay -- set up 10 points for the Lions and were some of the best offense the team had all day.

In a game the Lions had to win to keep their NFC North hopes alive and to keep their wild-card chances in good shape, the Detroit defense again came through, just as it has all season long. The Lions' defense was even more stout in the second half, when it didn’t allow a point and snuffed out two late Minnesota drives. If the Lions are going to make the playoffs and have any chance to make a run in them, it will be behind Detroit’s defense.

Stock watch: Rising -- Quin. The safety had an interception for the third straight game Sunday, this one a pass Teddy Bridgewater essentially threw right to him. His 56-yard return was even more impressive for the Lions, as it set up Detroit’s first touchdown and gave the Lions their first sign of life all day.

Rising -- DeAndre Levy. Another strong week for him with 11 tackles. He also snuffed out a potential Minnesota first down when he expertly spied Bridgewater on a third down to keep him from being able to turn upfield. It led to a Bridgewater incompletion.

Falling -- Lions' offense. Detroit’s offense took a dip Sunday after consecutive good weeks. Matthew Stafford was a bit less accurate (17-of-28 for 153 yards), and the Lions struggled to do much on offense in the first half. They gained 89 yards in the first half and didn’t gain a first down until the second quarter. Detroit gained only 233 yards of offense all game, more than 100 yards fewer than the Vikings.

Matt Prater comes through: Detroit had a kicking problem through the first five games of the season. That’s settled down now, as the signing of Prater before the first Minnesota game in Week 6 was a good one. Prater made all three of his field goal attempts and was a big reason the Lions were in the game.

Game ball: Jason Jones. The defensive end came up with maybe the biggest play of the game for Detroit. He blocked a Blair Walsh field goal to get the Lions the ball back and keep it a one-point deficit. It led to a rare sustained Detroit drive Sunday and a Prater field goal. Jones had four tackles and a sack of Bridgewater -- one of four by the Lions on Sunday.

What’s next: The Lions hit the road for their final two games of the regular season, at Chicago next Sunday and then at Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
DETROIT -- For the first time since the end of September and beginning of October, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush will play in back-to-back games.

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Bush is active for the Lions on Sunday against Minnesota despite being listed as questionable on the team's official injury report Friday.

He played in the first five games of this season before injuring his ankle against Buffalo. He then sat against Minnesota, played sparingly against New Orleans, sat against Atlanta, played sparingly against Miami and then sat the next three games before returning last week against Tampa Bay.

The Lions will also have linebacker Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) active as well as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (illness). Suh was warming up Sunday with a winter hat on his head as a bug affected the Lions' team.

Lions' inactives: QB Kellen Moore, OT Garrett Reynolds, OG Rodney Austin, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Caraun Reid, DT Nick Fairley.
Ndamukong Suh missed the first practice of his career Thursday. He was limited Friday. But the illness he apparently has is starting to get better, as the defensive tackle is listed as probable for Detroit on Sunday against Minnesota.

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Prior to Friday’s practice, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell couldn’t completely rule out Suh missing Sunday’s game.

"I don’t have an indication that it will happen," Caldwell said. "But it’s not out of the question."

The illness is going around Detroit’s locker room. Linebacker Josh Bynes is probable after dealing with the illness, and safety James Ihedigbo appears to have caught it as well. Ihedigbo missed practice Friday with an illness and is also probable.

Two Lions, running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) are listed as questionable. The only player ruled out is defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

In better news for Detroit, right tackle LaAdrian Waddle returned to fully practicing Friday after being limited earlier in the week with a concussion. He is also listed as probable.
When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Ford Field, Detroit TV: Fox

The most recent time the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings played, Calvin Johnson was on the bench, Teddy Bridgewater had one of the worst games of his rookie season, and the Lions' defense continued to be dominant.

Now Johnson is back, Bridgewater is improved, and the Lions defense has remained one of the best in the NFL. So what happens Sunday in Detroit's regular-season home finale? Lions NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein and Vikings NFL Nation reporter Ben Goessling break down what you might see.

Rothstein: The Lions saw possibly the worst of Bridgewater in Week 6. It seems he has grown since then. Where have the biggest changes come for him in the past two months?

Goessling: You're right -- that game probably was Bridgewater at his worst, but he's really made a marked improvement since then, especially in the past few weeks. The biggest change I've seen is in his accuracy, particularly downfield. He was really struggling with his deep throws earlier this season -- we saw him overthrowing quite a few of them -- but the coaches worked with him to keep from dropping the ball during his delivery, which was causing him to throw higher-arcing passes that got away from his receivers. He's getting more confident in his progressions, and he's getting better at avoiding pressure -- in short, he just looks a lot less like a rookie. It's helped that Charles Johnson has emerged as a go-to option for him, whereas Cordarrelle Patterson has fallen short, but Bridgewater deserves plenty of credit for his progress.

The Lions, though, will get a shot at him when the Vikings' offensive line is in a state of disrepair. They've cranked the pressure back up in the past couple weeks after Arizona and New England kept them from getting to the quarterback. Is there anything the Vikings can take from the Cardinals and Patriots, in terms of protecting Bridgewater against the Lions' pass rush?

Rothstein: Not really. Detroit played one of the best at getting rid of the ball quickly in New England's Tom Brady, and Arizona was a strange game. But the Lions have been excelling at flustering quarterbacks the past two weeks, and considering how badly Ezekiel Ansah dominated Matt Kalil in Minneapolis, it might be another long day for Bridgewater. Teams have tried to take Detroit's pass rush and run defense away by using a lot of screens and quick passes to receivers on the outside, but the Lions have gotten good at adapting to that, too. Consider this: Ansah had nine quarterback hurries on Jay Cutler. Then the Lions hit Josh McCown 14 times Sunday. Bridgewater has more speed and agility than both of them, and if I were Norv Turner, I'd try rolling Bridgewater out and putting him on the run as much as possible to force Detroit to give chase. That might be the best strategy.

Speaking of defense, Jim Caldwell praised Mike Zimmer's ability to disguise defenses -- something Detroit has done well this season. How do the Vikings end up doing that, and does Sharrif Floyd's injury change that?

Goessling: The Vikings' ability to disguise defenses comes largely from their double-A gap blitz package, which we'll see plenty of Sunday. From that look in the Vikings' nickel defense, Zimmer can send both linebackers up the middle and drop one or both into coverage, but no matter what he does, offensive lines have to account for the possibility they'll see heavy pressure up the middle. The Vikings will occasionally blitz Harrison Smith off the edge in conjunction with a linebacker and will send slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn after the quarterback, too. The fact that they've got two defensive ends who have linebacker experience and can drop into coverage (Everson Griffen and Brian Robison) just adds to their options. The Vikings would love to have Floyd healthy -- he's had a nice second season, particularly as a pass-rusher -- but they've got enough personnel flexibility to be unpredictable even if he doesn't play Sunday.

None of this works, though, if the Vikings can't cover Johnson. They didn't see him in October, but it seems he's back to his old self now. If he's at split end, Xavier Rhodes will match up well with him, but if he's moving around, the Lions will get some mismatches. How do you expect they'll use him?

Rothstein: They've moved him around a bunch this season, which had been offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's plan all along. With the caveat that the Lions have played two poor defenses over the past two weeks, this is what Detroit had hoped its offense would look like when it brought in Lombardi, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron this offseason. Johnson makes everything else in the offense happen, though, because of the attention teams still pay to him. They'll continue to use him on intermediate and deep routes from varying areas of the field in order to find good pockets for him to run into. With Tate in the offense, they don't use him as often in catch-and-run situations on shorter routes, but he is still the team's main breakout threat. That he's had 12 or more air yards per target in four of the past five games is evidence of that.

Going back to the offense, we discussed Bridgewater earlier, but even without Adrian Peterson, Minnesota has a decent-to-good rushing offense. What's been the key there, and who is the running back of the future for the Vikings?

Goessling: Well, it hasn't been very good since Jerick McKinnon got hurt. Matt Asiata is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season, and he needed 33 carries to gain a total of 106 yards the past two weeks. He doesn't have the speed or the ability to make people miss once he gets through the line, and at this point, the Vikings' offensive line is in such a state of disrepair that I'm not sure the run game is going to rebound, short of Peterson walking through that door, so to speak. The Vikings' best two run-blocking linemen, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, are both out for the year, and though John Sullivan has had a good season, the Vikings just haven't been able to get the consistent push they need to run the ball without more people healthy. I don't see that changing Sunday against the Lions.

This is obviously a game the Lions need in a heated NFC playoff race. Do you see this team being able to secure a playoff berth? How far can they go if they get in?

Rothstein: Yes, I do. This team has a much different feel than last season's Lions team, which fell apart at the end of the season. Jim Caldwell has the attention and trust of his players, and it shows every week. They understand more than ever that they can't look too far ahead, and they haven't. But they also know they are in a good position right now. As far as how far they can go? It depends. This is a team that can probably beat most teams at Ford Field. On the road against a good team? I'm not convinced. If they ended up at Dallas or the NFC South winner, they can win. Otherwise, the road game is where Detroit's journey ends.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – This all started way before the season, back when James Ihedigbo decided to become a Detroit Lions safety during free agency. He couldn’t have necessarily expected then what has happened since.

But when he met fellow safety Glover Quin, the two clicked immediately. They spent the offseason working out together in Houston, hoping the time spent in Texas in the spring would translate to success in Detroit in the fall.

And it has.

Quin and Ihedigbo might be the best safety tandem in the NFL and could be the best pairing of safeties not many people outside of Detroit know much about.

[+] EnlargeJames Ihedigbo and Glover Quin
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJames Ihedigbo congratulates Glover Quin after an interception against the Saints on Oct. 19. The Lions tandem has become one of the best in the NFL.
The evidence?

Based on Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings, only two teams – Cleveland (Donte Whitner/Tashaun Gipson) and New England (Devin McCourty/Patrick Chung) – have a duo of players ranked higher than Quin (fifth) and Ihedigbo (13th).

While PFF is an admittedly subjective rating, they are the two starting safeties on the best run defense in the league, the best QBR defense in the league and the second-best overall defense in the NFL. Quin is tied for second in the league in interceptions with five. Ihedigbo is tied for fifth, with four. Both have more than 55 tackles.

Despite their play and Detroit’s defensive success, neither Quin nor Ihedigbo is in the top 10 in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. While this might seem like a small metric by which to measure, it clearly irked Quin enough to go off earlier this week about wanting to change how the Pro Bowl voting works.

Ihedigbo listened in, nodding in agreement a good portion of the time.

This is just another way the two Lions safeties have worked and communicated so well together this season. They understand each other extremely well. They are similar in mind and in style. Even their wives have become close friends.

So the success is not a surprise to them.

“I don’t know if 'surprised' is the word because you never know, but we put a lot of work into it,” Iheidgbo said. “So if it was something where we didn’t work at it and it just happened, then you could say we were surprised, but we put the work into it.

“It’s not even just us, it’s our whole secondary. Me and Glover communicate, but [Rashean Mathis], [Darius] Slay, we spend so much time doing it that it’s a product of our work ethic. So it doesn’t come as a surprise.”

This has been what both players envisioned from Ihedigbo’s signing – even if it took a while for them to get on the field at the same time. Quin missed part of Detroit’s spring workouts. Ihedigbo missed parts of training camp and then the first three weeks of the season.

But while Ihedigbo watched Quin, he also saw that everything they worked out would fit in nicely.

“I’d watch him during practice and just the things he did,” Ihedigbo said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, this can be a really good thing.’"

It’s maybe been better than good. Detroit’s front four get a lot of attention and praise. So does linebacker DeAndre Levy. But the Lions probably don’t have as strong a defense if Quin and Ihedigbo don’t work as well together as they do.

“When you have a good front and you have a good secondary, as I’ve seen, the safeties will shine along with other people,” Mathis said. “You have a good front and the safeties, if they are good at their jobs, then the quarterback is on a clock. He doesn’t have all the world to just sit back there and relax.

“That’s when it gets tough on the back end and the safeties. Our front is one of the best in the league if not the best so it all ties in hand in hand.”

Now, more people just have to notice.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh has been one of the most durable Detroit Lions since he arrived in Michigan in 2010.

On Thursday, though, Suh missed a rare practice -- believed to be his first missed regular-season practice not due to suspension -- because of illness.

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Suh, Josh Bynes (illness) and Nick Fairley (knee) were the only Lions not practicing Thursday.

The better news for Detroit is right tackle LaAdrian Waddle was out there after being limited Wednesday with an unknown head injury. Lions coach Jim Caldwell, during his media availability Thursday, would not say whether Waddle was being evaluated for a concussion.

Running back Reggie Bush (ankle) also returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. Caldwell would not say whether sitting Bush on Wednesday was a precaution for Bush, who has dealt with ankle injuries for most of the season.

"There’s some times that we make adjustments accordingly when we have to," Caldwell said. "I’m not necessarily saying that is one of those situations in that case, but we do adjust and compensate for guys, particularly once they’ve been in the league for a little while. You have to look out for them."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions' Glover Quin is rated fifth among safeties in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He's tied for second in the NFL with interceptions among defensive backs, with five.

His safety-mate, James Ihedigbo, is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions among defensive backs, with four. Yet neither one is in the Top 10 in Pro Bowl balloting by fans at either position.

Quin
So Quin, when asked about the Pro Bowl balloting on Wednesday and changes he would make, he asked if there were television cameras, if they could be turned on. He wanted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hear his message. And here it is:

"How would I change the voting? First of all, in my opinion, why do the fans need two months to vote in my opinion? So I would say, I also feel like, something should be said about playing in the majority of the games. How can you have a Pro Bowl season if you only played in 10 games, right? So I wouldn't start the fan voting until after Week 13. Vote 13, 14, 15, season's over with but you've had 12 games. Everybody had their bye and played in 12 games by Week 13 so the fans had 12 games to see who is playing well, who has been on the field. You've got two weeks to fan vote and then you let the media and everybody else vote. Why do they need two months to sit there and vote 500,000 times. And they are probably just voting for Tashaun Gipson, which he had a great first half of the season but he's been hurt for the last four or five games. I think you move that back, you give fans time to say OK this guy has performed a certain way for 12 games and he's been out on the field, he's been trending the right way and you give them two weeks to get their votes in. If you can't your votes in in two weeks, what's the difference between having a million fan votes and 400,000 fan votes, you're still going to be a leader.

"Scouts in the NFL should create the ballot. I don't feel like everybody, like a Grammy nomination, it's an honor to be nominated for a Grammy. Whether you win or not, it's an honor to be nominated. It's a major thing. So if we're talking about the ballot, why is everybody on the ballot and they haven't had close to a Pro Bowl year. It should be an honor to be on the Pro Bowl ballot. So now the fans don't have to choose between 35 free safeties. It's only seven. These are the only guys who are having Pro Bowl years. Why you got everybody on the ballot that ain't even Pro Bowl-worthy?

"...It should be an honor. They want players to play hard in the Pro Bowl? It should be an honor to be on the ballot. Period. It should be an honor, like, 'Man, I'm on the Pro Bowl ballot.' You know what I mean. How do you have a guy on the Pro Bowl ballot who has 10 tackles and a pass breakup."

In the midst of his loud, forceful rant about the Pro Bowl, he drew a small crowd of players as well. Ihedigbo joked he sounded like he was preaching to a church.

And when Ihedigbo was asked if he agreed with what Quin was saying, he smiled and said, "100 percent."

The Lions only have five players in the top 10 of fan voting at the respective positions: Golden Tate is 10th among receivers with 188,526 votes; Ezekiel Ansah is seventh among defensive ends with 97,074 votes; Ndamukong Suh is third among defensive tackles with 189,102 votes; DeAndre Levy is ninth among outside linebackers with 108,417 votes and Isa Abdul-Quddus is 10th among special teamers with 36,510 votes.
A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 34-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14:

Stafford had the best back-to-back games of his career the past two weeks against Chicago and Tampa Bay.

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Stafford
Consider the numbers in identical 34-17 wins. He’s completed 75.9 percent of his passes. He’s thrown for 701 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He has a combined QBR of 84.0 and a passer rating of 123.4, and has thrown for 38 first downs.

Those numbers may not be sustainable, but the next two weeks look promising for Stafford, with a home game against Minnesota and then a road contest at Chicago, the same team he beat handily Thanksgiving Day.

“I feel good. I feel confident in what we’re doing and I think the guys in the locker room and on offense definitely feel confident in what our game plan is each week,” Stafford said. “We’re doing a great job of going out there and trying to execute. Guys are catching the ball, which is always great.

“The guys up front, I mean that’s a heck of a defensive line that we just played [against Tampa Bay] and they kept me clean most of the day. When they can do that, we have so much talent on the outside that we’re going to have good days.”

Over the past two weeks, Stafford has had better than good days. He’s had great days. If he is able to keep it up at even close to this pace, he might finally take the step the Lions have been waiting on the past couple of seasons.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When the Detroit Lions halted contract talks with Ndamukong Suh prior to the start of training camp this season, it became the latest in a line of risky chances in their attempt to retain the All-Pro defensive tackle.

Through 13 games this season, Suh has shown exactly why it is so dangerous for Detroit to let him reach free agency. He is too valuable to the Lions -- the most critical player on the league's second-ranked defense -- and they can't let him walk away to another team.

Everything that happens with the Lions' defense starts with the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Suh in the middle of the defensive line. The pressure the Lions put on opposing quarterbacks? It doesn’t happen without Suh consistently taking on double- and triple-teams. The Lions’ run defense, rated tops in the NFL? It starts with Suh drawing all that attention.

Suh, the No. 2 pick in 2010, is playing better than ever. It's why not securing him to a new deal was such a risk, although it's possible he may not have wanted to get a deal done then since free agency can be tantalizing.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions will tell you that Ndamukong Suh's value goes well beyond his 5.5 sacks this season.
As much as he was worth to Detroit before the season, he may end up being more valuable now.

“Suh was a force,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after Detroit beat Tampa Bay 34-17.

That quote could come from almost any Lions game this season. Suh has been a dominant presence on the interior of Detroit’s defense, playing 81 percent of the Lions' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus -- and if there’s one reason the Lions should pay him at the same level as J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy to ensure his presence in Detroit for the next four to six years, it is that.

If the Lions can’t re-sign Suh, at this point it is worth considering using the franchise tag, even if it costs the Lions over $26 million in 2015 to do so. To this Detroit defense, he is worth investing that type of cash.

Yes, either one of these options could cause some salary-cap issues for the Lions in the immediate future, but the likely escalation of the cap could make Suh more affordable given his relative worth to the Lions.

“He’s the player he is for a reason,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “Guys are keyed in on him, and I like playing behind him. Obviously. There’s been times this year where guys will stay on him a little bit longer on the blocks and I’m able to run through, and times they come up on me faster and he has a one-on-one block and he wins it.

“The whole front line, they’ve been doing it all year. He’s just on another level.”

Suh might not have overly dominant stats (5.5 sacks and 38 tackles), but his value comes in what he does for his teammates.

“When you have Suh, it makes it so hard on an offense,” defensive end George Johnson said. “A lot of teams plan for Suh. They want to stop him. They want to slow him down, but at the same time, you have four other good defenders out there on that defensive line who are going to get pressure.”

Due to Suh, when the Lions rush smartly -- and they have pretty much all season -- Johnson and fellow defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp receive favorable solo matchups.

This creates larger lanes for Levy and Tahir Whitehead to burst through. This helps with rushing passers -- the Lions had 14 quarterback hits Sunday.

This is something Johnson didn’t appreciate until he started playing with Suh this season.

“When somebody is so dominant like that and people just want to stop him, it makes it so much easier for us,” Johnson said. “It frees us up. It’s like once we start getting going, they start taking their focus off of Suh and stopping everybody else, but that’s when Suh gets going.”

On the field, Suh has been going all season, and that's why the Lions have to keep him from going once it is over.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh picked up a roughing the passer penalty Sunday when his forearm moved into the head/neck area of Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown, and on Monday Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he at least understood where the flag came from.

Caldwell
Caldwell
“The thing is, when you take a look at it, you can see where his initial contact was made,” Caldwell said. “And then from there, obviously, the hand kind of slid up a bit, or the forearm slid up and it’ll be for the league to make a determination on.

“He had two that were almost identical, one on one side of the field and one on the other and one that was not flagged, but the league was able to look at them.”

Caldwell said the Lions do submit a certain number of penalty plays to the league for review and to voice their opinions on what they think about penalties.

He said the Lions' penalties -- they have 96 this season -- are an area he would like Detroit to improve on. Caldwell’s metric for penalties incurred by his team in a game is three: One on offense; one on defense and one on special teams.

Anything more and he’d like to see it get cut down although he recognizes not every team coaches that way.

“Some people coach that way because there’s been a number of teams that have won the Lombardi Trophy leading the league in penalties or somewhere close, maybe not exactly leading but they were up there near the top and believe in that,” Caldwell said. “I don’t believe in it. So I just think you have to make certain you do it in every single area.

“We talked about being somewhere near the top five in terms of fewest penalties. We’re not there. We’re working to get there and when we’re not there, I’m not satisfied. OK, that’s our goal and our aim.”

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