NFL Nation: David Akers

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team, and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To view the entire series to date, click this link.

Free agent to be: David Akers

Position: Kicker

Age: 39

Years in the league: 16

What he made last season: $620,000 (cap value); $1,005,000 (cash value); $940,000 (base salary); $65,000 (signing bonus)

What he did last season: Akers had a tough 2013 season. His job was in jeopardy at one point during the second half of the season when the Lions brought in kickers for two straight days of tryouts. Akers made 19 of 24 field goals this season and at 79.2 percent had one of the worst conversion rates in the NFL. He also missed an extra point. He has played in 204 games in his career, making 354 of 436 field goals in the regular season and 38 of 44 field goals in the playoffs.

His potential market value: It depends. Akers will turn 40 during the final month of the 2014 season and had accuracy issues the past two seasons. After being a consistent 80-plus percent kicker throughout most of his career, he was under 80 percent the past two seasons. If he wants it, he’ll likely get a shot in a camp, but it wouldn’t be for more than the veteran minimum at this point.

Will he fit the Lions still: No chance. Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said during the NFL combine that Akers won’t be brought back for the 2014 season, and he shouldn’t be. The team signed two kickers to reserve/futures contracts – John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio – and the team will likely go with either one of them or a rookie or younger free agent. They need a kicker with power, too. Akers had too many people clamoring for Jason Hanson, the longtime Lions player who retired prior to last season, to return.

What happens: It would be surprising if Akers kicked in the NFL this season, although that could end up being on his own volition, too. He was working on a book during last year and became an ordained minister. If he does play, though, it won’t be for Detroit.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Detroit Lions head toward free agency in under three weeks and the team works on landing an extension for Ndamukong Suh, the team has decided it won't bring back a handful of other free agents.

Players not expected back include kicker David Akers, defensive end Israel Idonije, linebacker Rocky McIntosh, offensive lineman Dylan Gandy and safety/special-teams player John Wendling.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said every other free agent, including cornerback Rashean Mathis and backup quarterback Shaun Hill, could end up back with the Lions.

He also indicated the Lions have signed safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, whom the team claimed off waivers earlier this year and was scheduled to be a restricted free agent.

Abdul-Quddus signed a one-year deal worth $645,000 and could play a special-teams role for the Lions. Mayhew said when the former New Orleans Saint hit the waiver wire, special-teams coach John Bonamego campaigned to bring him in.

Bonamego had worked with him in New Orleans in 2011.

Abdul-Quddus' signing seems to fit the reason that the team would move on from Wendling, who was one of the Lions' better special teams players last season.
Over the past two weeks, we looked at critical plays in the 2013 Detroit Lions season, counting back from 10 all the way to today.

Not all of them were bad and certainly, with the way the Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish, were not all good. Some may be have just been fantastic plays.

As always when it comes to these sorts of lists, this is subjective and are plays, for good or bad, that stuck out to me when I made this list. Agree or disagree vehemently, let’s chat about it.

Past plays: No. 10 -- PI in Arizona; No. 9 -- Reggie Bush’s screen vs. Minnesota; No. 8 -- Calvin Johnson gets the drops; No. 7 -- Jeremy Ross’ snow-covered return; No. 6 -- Matthew Stafford’s pick-six; No. 5 -- Mike Nugent’s game-winning field goal; No. 4 -- The kneel to end regulation in Giants-Lions; No. 3 -- Stafford’s fake spike; No. 2 -- Justin Tucker’s field goal

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Don WrightCoach Jim Schwartz made a gutsy call on Nov. 17 at Pittsburgh that changed the Lions' season.
Today, we present what I believe to be the play that most shaped this Lions season.

When: Nov. 17, 2013

Where: Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Detroit Lions, 37-27.

What happened: It was, at best, a questionable call and a gutsy call. It was also a bizarre call and, considering both how it turned out combined with the logic behind it, a silly decision. The Lions led, 27-23, with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter on the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. Fourth down. Five yards to go. Logic says kick the field goal and take the 30-23 lead.

Not for Jim Schwartz. Schwartz instead chose to fake the field goal, sending punter Sam Martin -- who had never attempted a fake in his life -- running over to the right side. He was hit short of the first down and fumbled. Pittsburgh then drove 97 yards and scored what would be the game-winning touchdown.

But, as Schwartz said, "don't say I'm scared." That call clearly showed that.

What they said about it: Schwartz: “It had to do with trying to make the plays to win the game. We didn’t make it. But look, you could say whatever you want,” Schwartz said. “Y’all say whatever you want about me, OK. Don’t say I’m scared. Cause we ain’t, OK? This team is going to be aggressive. We’re going to play our very best. We didn’t play well enough to win this game, OK. But it’s not because we’re passive or anything.”

Martin: “I got hit by a 350-pound man. I don't think I had the first down, but regardless, that guy made a great play. You have to give him credit. When you looked at initially, it was a big hole.”

Center Dominic Raiola: “I don’t know how much momentum we’re going to lose from this. Going back home with Tampa coming into town, everything’s right in front of us. You know, we’re not, we don’t need a State of the Union. It’s just a loss. We lost, you know. They got us. Just bounce back like we do after every loss."

Kicker David Akers: "It comes down to a mentality. 'Are you going to play it safe or are you going to be aggressive and go after it?'"

How the Lions’ season was impacted: Usually, I’m not a believer in one play or one decision completely derailing a season, but walking down to the media scrum after the loss, I distinctly remember turning to another reporter and openly wondering if that decision shifted the karma of the entire Lions' season. Yes, Detroit's players praised the aggressiveness of Schwartz with the call, but it just simply wasn’t logical. In every game Detroit lost after the Pittsburgh game, the Lions lost a fourth-quarter lead. Turnovers started to pile up by the bunches. Detroit still might have lost the game had Schwartz kicked the field goal. The Lions’ season still might have collapsed. But there was a crack in the stability there. It was a meltdown where the offense, defense and special teams did nothing from the moment the fake was called. Whether the players, coaches or anyone else realized it that afternoon, the fake field goal changed the mood of the season.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 21
Preseason Power Ranking: 24

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

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

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

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

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 29, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' season-ending 14-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: The end. The end of a lot of things. The certain end of the Lions' season, a collapse from holding their own destiny in the NFC North two weeks ago to flying home for the season before New Year's.

The possible end of the Detroit coaching career of Jim Schwartz, who likely will learn whether he'll be fired or retained by Monday, the typical day of firing of coaches in the NFL. Also the possible end of some NFL careers, from kicker David Akers to the uncertain nature of the future for Rashean Mathis, Dominic Raiola and Nate Burleson.

This, of course, came in the most predictable way possible. Detroit took a lead in the fourth quarter and, as the Lions have done in the five losses before this one, watched it disappear by the time the game was over. This week it came because of a 50-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels that led to a Vikings touchdown that took a 13-10 Detroit lead and turned it into a 14-13 Minnesota lead.

Stock watch: Rising -- Kevin Ogletree. Starting in place of Calvin Johnson, the free-agent-to-be had five catches for 75 yards and was open on two other occasions. He was the only Lions receiver to show any ability to get open Sunday. Rising -- Lions' draft pick. Depending on what else happens Sunday, the Lions could end up with a top-10 pick. Falling -- Everything else. Few Lions played well Sunday, and for the most part, it was a fairly uninspired effort from a team that said it would try to stay focused throughout the week.

Bush hits 1,000: Reggie Bush needed 26 yards entering the game, and it took three-and-a-half quarters, but he finally eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. He did it with a 7-yard run up the middle in the fourth quarter. A couple of weeks ago, when it looked like Bush would surpass 1,000 yards then, I asked him about the benchmark number, and he said it wasn't necessarily a big deal to him. That's understandable, considering in a 16-game season, a running back needs to average only 62.5 yards a game to get there. But he is the first Lions running back since 2004 to get to 1,000 yards. Actually impressive was what Bush and Joique Bell were able to do. They became the first running back tandem in NFL history to each rush for 500 yards and have 500 yards receiving in a season. Combined, they were effective for Detroit for most of the season.

What's next: The NFL draft is a few short months away -- taking place from May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Patterson approaching return record

December, 26, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If he's able to return one kickoff for just four yards on Sunday, Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson will break the Minnesota Vikings' record for kickoff return yards in a single season. Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer didn't know about it until his son mentioned it to him this week. But Patterson's paying attention to it.

"Oh, yeah," Priefer said. "He's already mentioned it to me several times."

Patterson is closing out one of the great seasons by a kick returner in NFL history, averaging 33.6 yards a return and bringing two kicks back for touchdowns. He is the only player with two kickoff return TDs this season, and Patterson's average is the second-highest single-season mark since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, trailing only Jim Duncan of the Baltimore Colts in 1970.

And one return on Sunday would put him past Buster Rhymes' 1985 mark of 1,345 yards in a season (though, it should be noted, Patterson does not yet have a rapper named after him).

"I know about it. If I worry about that this week they probably won't kick me the ball and it'll make me mad," Patterson said. "I try not to worry about it. ... Don't even pay no attention."

Opponents haven't kicked to Patterson in two of the Vikings' past four games, and it's worth noting that he hasn't returned more than two kicks in an indoor game since Oct. 27, when he set an NFL record with his 109-yard return against the Green Bay Packers. Priefer suspected the windy conditions in Cincinnati last Sunday were preventing the Bengals from kicking the ball out of the end zone against Patterson, but the Lions won't have to deal with that problem on Sunday at the Metrodome.

"This weekend, Detroit’s going to try and kick touchbacks," Priefer said. "Both their kickers -- they have two -- [David] Akers, he’s been kicking all touchbacks the past two games and Sam Martin has done a great job, being the rookie punter they have. Either kicker that kicks off, I expect them to kick it as high and far as they can."

The Vikings will likely have to manage teams trying to kick around Patterson for as long as he's their return man, but the rookie said he's simplified the return process just by listening to Priefer. The Vikings had him in position to return several short kicks last week, as well, and they'll be ready if the Lions try that again on Sunday. But with wind out of the equation, it seems unlikely Detroit would do anything other than try to boot the ball out of the end zone.

"Seems like he knows everything back there," Patterson said of Priefer. "He knows when a team's going to kick it to me. He knows what to do and if they don't kick it to you don't let it stress you out. Just go out and play your game and do what you know how to do."

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 14

December, 9, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 19-17 win over Seattle:

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Kassim Osgood
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezKassim Osgood's blocked punt led to a field goal.
Gore comes through: In the previous three games, the San Francisco 49ers’ ground game struggled. Sunday, though, it helped fuel the win over the Seahawks. Starter Frank Gore had a 51-yard run on the 49ers’ final drive to set up the game-winning field goal. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers had 137 rushing yards before contact. It was a season worst for the Seattle defense.

Osgood factor: San Francisco's special teams are much improved. That has helped the 49ers all season, and Sunday was no different. Special teams ace Kassim Osgood had a blocked punt in the first quarter, which led to a field goal. Had Osgood not blocked the punt, the 49ers may not have won this tight game. Osgood has been making plays all season, but this one was his biggest.

Dawson is on fire: Speaking of outstanding special teams play, kicker Phil Dawson continues to be one of the 49ers’ most vital players. He had four field goals Sunday, including the game winner with 26 seconds remaining in the game. Dawson has made 20 straight field goal attempts. He has been a major upgrade over David Akers.

Message sent: Niners guard Alex Boone said 49ers players told Seattle players after the game that they will see them in Seattle in the postseason. It could happen. If so, the 49ers will be confident based on this performance. Yes, the 49ers have been beaten by a combined score of 71-16 in the past two games in Seattle, but Sunday’s win shows San Francisco can still play with the Seahawks.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- David Akers stepped on to the stage and began to speak, just as he had time and time before, and will likely do time and time again. Known as a football player to most, this stage, this avenue, is the work for the rest of his life.

Akers is a devout Christian and has spoken about his faith before. Now, he has some more backing behind it -- the Detroit Lions' kicker said he recently became a licensed minister.

[+] EnlargeDavid Akers
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiLions kicker David Akers, who recently became a licensed minister, plans on writing a book to help people through their ups-and-downs.
“There’s different levels,” Akers said. “Mine’s kind of more you can marry and bury. It’s the first level, but I do so much speaking that it becomes where, ‘OK, this is where it is.’

“If I wanted to be more in a church or, say, run a church, you need more for that. It’s like getting your bachelor’s in divinity.”

This process started for Akers three or four years ago, back when he was still kicking for the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he will face Sunday in his second work trip back to the place he played for a decade.

He had already been speaking about his faith to conferences and conventions. So he decided to get officially credentialed with online courses through the Assemblies of God, a church based in Missouri.

It took a while, but Akers is now an official minister able to back up his beliefs with actual credentialing now.

See, Akers has lived and seen a lot. And his beliefs, while absolute, have been tested.

He dealt with having to leave Philadelphia, his home for a decade and the South Jersey area his family still lives in, to go to San Francisco for two seasons and now Detroit his season.

He dealt with losing almost $4 million in a Ponzi scheme with Triton Financial -- a case study his long-snapper, Don Muhlbach, told him he actually studied during the offseason at Wharton Business School.

He dealt with his daughter, Halley, having a scare with cancer two years ago.

Through it all, Akers leaned on his faith. His belief in a higher power and purpose that has carried him through his life.

“I had some people in the past two years say, ‘Man, you’ve gone through a lot of crazy stuff,'" Akers said. “There’s health, professional, relational, moving all across and in the financial aspect. Lost over 4 million dollars and all kind of crazy things happen, how do you deal with all that adversity?

“I can tell you where my faith lies and what happened.”

There’s also what he saw.

When he was in San Francisco, he met pastor Francis Chan, a minister who will sometimes take to the streets of the city to preach what he believes. When Akers met him, he decided he needed to go along with him.

To learn what he knew. To see what he saw.

“It’s called City Impact,” Akers said. “That blew my mind, doing street ministry in the Tenderlion District of San Francisco.

“Where you’re walking by people with full-blown AIDS and preaching the gospel to them a little bit. So, that aspect.”

Seeing that was only part of his overall experience with his faith, part of his training as a new minister. Akers believed through all of his personal tribulations and what he saw during his classes. It is what he preaches now, what he has worked on writing about. Because Akers already knows what’s next, especially as a 38-year-old who knows his professional football career -- a career that helped give him his voice -- is winding down.

His combination of football, life experience and ministry led him to want to tell his story through the prism of his faith. His belief is that his story could help others on their paths or to assist them through their own struggles.

So, he’s planning on writing a book.

“What we’re going to do is just kind of the different areas in life that you can kind of go through,” Akers said. “And how you can build off of it, and how one kind of leads into another.

“I’m really excited about it.”

It’s a book to help people through their ups-and-downs, through their own lives through the prism of what he has seen, what he has lived. If all goes well, he is hoping it could be out by next year.

“We’re moving pretty good,” Akers said. “I’ve got the whole outline on it, got the main chapter that we’re going to use for the proposal. We’ve got the overview, got the literary agent that’s ready and push it, sell it, we went to four of them.

“The concept seems to be pretty cool. People have kind of brainstormed with me and kind of heard it. It’s going to be a football, life, faith book.”

One that will have plenty of real life attached to it.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- David Akers understood. He missed an easy 31-yard field goal. His percentage is one of the lowest in the league.

So the two-day tryout of other kickers, a tryout that ended with Akers remaining as the kicker for the Detroit Lions, didn’t bother him. He’s been around long enough to see all of it.

“That’s part of the business, man,” Akers said. “Been on the other side as well.”

Akers has made 15 of 20 field goals this season, including 3 of 6 field goals from 40-49 yards. His 75 percent field goal rate is tied for 28th in the NFL, only ahead of Washington’s Kai Forbath, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski and Houston’s Randy Bullock among full-time kickers.

His 50 percent ratio from 40-49 yards is tied with Forbath and Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas for worst in the league.

So Akers didn’t take Detroit’s decision to bring in a cavalcade of kickers for tryouts as a warning or a message that his job is in jeopardy. It is just part of the business.

“After 17 years of trying to play in this game, I don’t take anything as a kick in the pants,” Akers said. “It’s kind of an 'It is what it is.' You deal with it and it’s out of your control, and there’s no excuse.

“You’ve got to make a 31-yard field goal. So, you know, management doing their job and I’m trying to do my job.”

Akers will keep his job for now -- and just in time for him to return to Philadelphia on Sunday. Akers still has a home in the area, and the 38 year old spent the first 10 years of his career with the Eagles.

This won’t be his first trip back. He returned in 2011 with San Francisco and made his lone field goal attempt in that game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- On the same day he called the kicking game "a work in progress" and brought in even more kickers to take a look at, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz didn't give David Akers a direct vote of confidence Tuesday.

Instead, he said he had confidence in the entire team, and listed Akers with reserve quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Kellen Moore, neither of whom would play a significant snap unless starter Matthew Stafford were injured.

"I'm confident in all 53 guys on our roster," Schwartz said. "That's why they are here, and all 53, if the opportunity went for them to go in a game, whether it's Akers, whether it's Shaun Hill, whether it's Kellen Moore, they are here because we have confidence they can go in and get the job done for us.

"I mean, they don't always, that's just life in the NFL when it comes to trying to be consistent and those things. But that wouldn't affect our judgement putting anybody out there to do their job on Sunday."

This is a minor change from Thursday, when Schwartz gave Akers a vote of confidence following Detroit's 40-10 win over Green Bay.

Over the past two days, the Lions have brought in a multitude of kickers, but Schwartz said the Lions did not sign any of them. He also said Akers, who missed a short field-goal try against Green Bay, is not injured. Akers has made 15 of 20 field-goal attempts this season. So brining in kickers, Schwartz said, is just part of what Detroit has been doing to evaluate players throughout the season.

Referring to Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, Schwartz said, "I think Martin's always been firm in saying that there's no finish line when it comes to your roster. And we have got to be ready for anything that comes up. What's gone on here in the last few days is no different than that."

Despite what Schwartz said, this is clearly looking around in case the team loses enough confidence in Akers and wants to make a switch. This is all happening the same week that Akers will return to Philadelphia, where he has played the majority of his career.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 13

November, 29, 2013
Four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 40-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Defensive line domination: It was the type of performance Detroit had been waiting all season for. The Lions had built this defensive line, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as their anchors, figuring this type of game would be what they would see with regularity.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn and Ndamukong Suh
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsNdamukong Suh and the Lions sacked Matt Flynn seven times on Thursday.
It hasn't been, though. Detroit saw increased protections from opponents all season long, something that has prevented the Lions from getting to quarterbacks. Not on Thursday, when the entirety of the defensive line showed up. Perhaps most impressive was Ziggy Ansah, the rookie defensive end who sacked Matt Flynn twice. He routinely beat his man and caused havoc for the Packers.

Turnovers still a problem: Detroit's win was good. The Lions' defense was suffocating. But Detroit put a lot of pressure on its defense in the first half. The Lions had three turnovers on their first four drives, including one in Green Bay's red zone and one that turned into a fumble-six for the Packers. Against almost any other team in the league on Thursday, that could have been disastrous for Detroit. It is the third straight game the Lions have lost the turnover margin and fourth time in the past five games.

In the past four games, Detroit has turned the ball over 17 times. The Lions have forced only four turnovers during the same stretch. The turnover issues over the past four games have sent the Lions' turnover margin plummeting as they now have eight more turnovers than they have forced.

“We really need to fix the turnover issue,” receiver Kris Durham said. “That's for sure. We really need to fix that up.”

The Lions haven't had a positive turnover margin since Week 6 against Cleveland, when the Lions were plus-1 in turnovers.

About those playoff chances: They are very much alive for the Lions right now. While it is more likely still going to be division title or bust for Detroit, a divisional title is a decent proposition now. The Lions all but eliminated the Packers on Thursday, being two games up in the win column with four games to play. At least until Sunday, the Lions have a game-and-a-half lead on Chicago (because of the season sweep) as well.

Kicking issues: David Akers missed a field goal. Sam Martin had two kicks sail out of bounds in a dome. Luckily for the Lions, those miscues didn't hurt Detroit much, but in a closer game they could have been critical. They were especially rare gaffes for Martin, who said after the game “something wasn't right.” He was trying to place the ball in the corner to prevent any returns and ended up pulling it. Just not a strong day for the Lions' kickers.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 28, 2013

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 40-10 win against the Green Bay Packers.

What it means: After two losses in which the Lions gave up fourth-quarter leads and a week during which their future seemed tenuous, Detroit played its best, most complete game of the season Thursday against Green Bay. The offense put up 38 points. The defense didn't let Green Bay do anything at all, holding the Packers to 126 total yards and completely pummeling Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn.

It was simply a game the Lions had to have for multiple reasons. First, the win stopped a two-game losing streak. Second, the win essentially eliminated Green Bay from the NFC North race, giving Detroit a two-game lead on the Packers in the win column. It also puts pressure on Chicago on Sunday to keep pace with Detroit. That's huge for the Lions' playoff hopes. Oh, and it is the first Thanksgiving win for the Lions since 2003.

Stock Watch: Rising: Jeremy Ross. The Lions' returner for the second straight game, Ross also saw some offensive action against his old team. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first half and established himself as Detroit's returner. His best return of the day didn’t even count, as it was called back by a penalty. Darius Slay. In his first start since Week 2, the Lions cornerback did a good job against the Packers. Falling: David Akers. The kicker missed a chip shot at the end of the first half.

Dominant defense: Josh Sitton called Detroit’s defense dirtbags and scumbags on Tuesday. On Thursday, the Lions' defensive line put together their most dominating performance in a long time. The Lions' line had 16 tackles, seven quarterback hits, five sacks, two fumble recoveries and one defining statement that they have the ability to change an entire game.

Rushing attack: Before the season, Detroit had Joique Bell and brought in Reggie Bush. Together, the two time-shared their way to 211 rushing yards and two touchdowns on Thursday. Despite his fumble in the first quarter, Bush had a particularly good day, carrying the ball 20 times for 117 yards. Bell had 19 carries for 94 yards.

What’s next: The Lions enter the final month of the season by heading to Philadelphia next Sunday for a game with the Eagles, followed by two home games.
Jim Schwartz AP Photo/Don WrightLions coach Jim Schwartz has no regrets about the play calling in Sunday's loss to the Steelers.
PITTSBURGH -- It was a call that speaks to the mantra of a team: safe or aggressive. Take the points, or go for it all?

In Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Detroit Lions wanted it all. Early in the fourth quarter, they faced a fourth-and-5 on the Steelers' 10-yard line. The field goal was the safe play, the smart play.

Detroit lined up for the field goal, but instead of giving David Akers the chance to convert the chip shot and give them a 30-23 lead, the Lions called for the fake, and punter Sam Martin fumbled the ball while fighting for the first down.

So what if a field goal would have turned the Lions' four-point lead into a seven-point lead? If Martin had converted the first down or scored, Detroit would have had another big win in a season’s worth of aggressive play calls by head coach Jim Schwartz.

But in Sunday's 37-27 loss to the Steelers, it didn't turn out that way. Martin said he “got hit by a 350-pound man.” He fumbled. Pittsburgh recovered. Drove down the field. Scored. Took the lead. Won the game.

Schwartz didn’t second-guess the decision. He had no regrets. He wanted to put the game away. Instead, he played a part in putting his own team away for the day.

“It had to do with trying to make the plays to win the game. We didn’t make it. But look, you could say whatever you want,” Schwartz said. “Y’all say whatever you want about me, OK.

“Don’t say I’m scared. Cause we ain’t, OK? This team is going to be aggressive. We’re going to play our very best. We didn’t play well enough to win this game, OK. But it’s not because we’re passive or anything.”

If there is a defining characteristic about Schwartz and the Lions in second halves of games this season, it's aggressive calls. Schwartz wants his team to make plays. He’s done it with a style that has mostly worked, including a fourth-down sneak against Washington in Week 3 that worked and led to a Lions victory.

It’s the same type of mindset that helped the Lions to a come-from-behind win two games ago against Dallas and last Sunday against Chicago. Being aggressive is part of the makeup of this team.

Detroit's players had no problem with the call -- at least the ones who knew about it. Quarterback Matthew Stafford thought the Lions had botched the field goal attempt instead of it being a planned fake.

Even Pittsburgh’s players said after the game they understood why Detroit made the call.

“It was drawn up extremely well,” Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. “But when you’ve got guys that hustle to the ball on your front line the way we do, that’s how you stop things like that.”

Pittsburgh did. It helped in its victory.

One thing was clear about the Lions and how they felt publicly about the call: Every Detroit player in the locker room didn’t take issue with the call and how aggressive it was.

“It comes down to a mentality," Akers said. " ‘Are you going to play it safe or are you going to be aggressive and go after it?’ "

The aggressiveness has worked in the past and the future is still there for Detroit, although the way the Lions imploded in the second half is a definite cause for concern. The fourth-down fake field goal was somewhat emblematic of it Sunday.

The fake field goal was just part of a complete outage by Detroit in the second half. After Stafford threw for 327 yards in the first half, he completed three passes for 35 yards in the second. After Calvin Johnson had six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, he was targeted only three times and caught no passes for no yards in the second. Reggie Bush had 54 total yards and lost a fumble.

The Detroit defense struggled to stop Pittsburgh all day. Ben Roethlisberger threw for four touchdowns and passed for 367 yards. After the fake field goal, the Lions gave up a 97-yard drive, and touchdowns on the last two possessions of the game.

So Detroit’s problems Sunday weren’t necessarily with an aggressive play call but everything else surrounding it.

“If you’re not on your P’s and Q’s and the next man is, you’re going to look embarrassed, and that’s what happened today,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We had some embarrassing plays that shouldn’t have happened but when it all comes back to it, it wasn’t just a man beating us. It was missed tackles. Technique sound. Things of that nature.

“Those things are fixable. That’s what playoff teams do.”

For now, Detroit is still a playoff team. The Lions, even after this loss, are still tied for the division lead with Chicago. It's a team, though, that struggled a lot Sunday.

“I don’t know how much momentum we’re going to lose from this,” center Dominic Raiola said. “Going back home with Tampa coming into town, everything’s right in front of us.

“You know, we’re not, we don’t need a State of the Union. It’s just a loss. We lost, you know. They got us. Just bounce back like we do after every loss.”

Midseason Report: Detroit Lions

November, 6, 2013

The Detroit Lions are in a good position after the first half of the season, having already won more games this season (five) than last (four) and have seen improved play from a lot of their units.

So, for the most part, the Lions had a fairly even grading process. If they don’t make the playoffs, though, they could end up with a harsher final 2013 evaluation.



Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24