NFL Nation: Ryan Broyles

Over the phone earlier this week, Nate Burleson sounded genuinely excited. Unlike last season, when he had to continue to rehabilitate the broken right leg he suffered in October 2012, he was healthy. He was fresh.

And right after the Super Bowl ended, he had the pangs to start training for this season. He knew then it wasn’t a lock that he would return to Detroit. He wanted to come back, had ingrained himself in the community that has become almost a second home to him.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsNate Burleson was slated to have a cap number of $7.5 million for the 2014 season.
But as we spoke Tuesday afternoon, there was at least a little bit of doubt that he would actually get to do what he had campaigned for toward the end of the season and beyond, which was to have the team restructure his deal so that he could stay with the Lions and finish his career with the club. His $7.5 million cap number for 2014 was a massive one, even if the team decided to work with him on a restructure.

And as of Tuesday, he had not heard from the Lions about his status, which likely was not a good sign in retrospect, even though it was a similar situation a year ago. But with a new coaching staff, that was probably a sign that his time in Detroit would end.

Now, after the team's decision to release him on Thursday, that won’t happen and he’ll join a deep free-agent pool of receivers looking to find work on March 11. It is an unfortunate ending for him with Detroit, though, almost more because of what he meant to the Lions off the field.

Burleson was the player you could count on to show up at charity functions. He was, from a media perspective, one of the most readily available players on a team full of guys who were often gracious with their time. And you could ask Burleson anything about any topic -- even Thursday, the day of his release, he was quoted on about Michael Sam -- and he would give a thoughtful, intelligent answer.

He also meant a lot to his teammates. He was the player a lot of young guys on the roster, regardless of position, could go to for advice and guidance. He often stressed to younger players the value of saving their money and investing and finding other outlets to do business, as he did with his Lionblood clothing line.

Burleson had taken on the roles of mentor, locker-room leader and on-field leader. He complemented Calvin Johnson well. As quiet and unassuming as Johnson is, Burleson was the guy who could be loud and get the team focused and energized. He and safety Louis Delmas often were the ones leading the pregame huddle and giving speeches.

On the field, when Burleson was healthy, he was a reliable target for quarterback Matthew Stafford. This past season, he had a 73.6 percent reception rate, second-best among qualifying receivers in the NFL and by far the highest among receivers on the Lions. He was also a good underneath option for Detroit to counterbalance the deep threat of Johnson.

It will be interesting to see how the Lions plan to replace Burleson from a production and leadership standpoint. Only two experienced slot receivers are likely to be on the roster: Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross, assuming he is extended a exclusive-rights free-agent offer. Broyles is coming off the third straight year in which surgery ended his season. Ross is a dynamic returner who can grow into the receiver role, but he doesn’t have much experience there. So the returning options have major questions attached to them.

This could be a large indication that the team is going to revamp the receiving corps to complement Johnson. It also almost guarantees that the Lions are going to be heavily targeting receivers in May’s draft, perhaps looking for a slot receiver as well as an outside receiver.

It could mean the team is planning to target a different, perhaps younger, slot receiver in free agency. Jacoby Jones, who played under Lions coach Jim Caldwell in Baltimore, is a free agent and could be an option.

The free-agent pool of receiving targets is deep, and this could have been another reason for Burleson's release. If the Lions thought they could find a younger, perhaps cheaper, option in a deep free-agent and draft class for wide receivers, they had to make this move.

That’s a tough call to make, but one Detroit clearly made.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Practice ended Thursday, and while most of the Detroit Lions players went through a hallway to the locker room, the wide receivers assembled in the indoor practice facility.

There, receivers took turns catching passes after having what appeared to be a screen blocking their vision at first. The screen would then be pulled down by an assistant and the ball would already be on its way.

The receiver, obviously, would have to catch it. Considering some of Detroit's issues there this season, this is an important drill to be working on.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/David RichardReggie Bush is averaging nearly 10 yards per catch on his 45 receptions, but his eight dropped passes are part of an ongoing issue for the Lions.
Detroit’s drop numbers are interesting. The Lions have more drops, 37, than any other team in the league. But they also have the second-most passing attempts in the NFL, with 500.

Where it evens out -- and where Detroit’s drop struggles become more evident throughout the season -- is in drop percentage. The Lions are tied with the Rams for the league’s worst drop rate at 7.6 percent of Matthew Stafford's passes.

And it hasn’t gotten better for the Lions in the second half of the season. Detroit has 14 drops in the past four games at a drop rate of nine percent, both numbers that are worst in the NFL.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan explained away the drops as a function of Detroit’s passing offense.

“We throw the ball a lot, so some teams don’t throw the ball as much, so they aren’t going to have as many when it comes to the amount of throws,” Linehan said. “I think guys really worked hard at catching it. I thought the last game they caught it really well.

“Great catches that weren’t routine. I don’t think that’s necessarily indicative of us versus anybody else.”

Except Detroit was credited with four drops in that game according to ESPN Stats and Information -- one each to Kris Durham, Joique Bell, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson.

The drops, though, haven’t been quarantined to one game or one player. Ten of the 14 Lions players who have caught passes this season have also dropped at least one pass.

The four Detroit players who haven’t been credited with a drop by ESPN Stats and Information are tight ends Joseph Fauria and Dorin Dickerson, and wide receivers Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards, who is now on the practice squad.

The most guilty Lion of dropping passes? Running back Reggie Bush, who has eight drops this season and is dropping passes at a rate of 12.3 percent -- second-highest in the NFL among qualifying players behind Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell (13.3 percent).

Combine Bush’s drops with his fumble issues -- he’s been big on working on ball security this week -- and bad hands would be a potential concern for the Lions’ starting running back.

Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, though, is not concerned. He noted Bush’s drops earlier in the season as a reason for his high percentage.

“That’ll get your numbers up,” Schwartz said. “He also made an over-the-shoulder catch last week, too.”

This isn’t to say Bush isn’t a talented player -- he is a gifted runner and receiver -- but he has also dropped passes on screens and in the flat that could have been large gains if he held on to the ball.

After Bush is Johnson with seven drops (5.3 percent), Durham with four (5.8 percent), Bell with four (8.9 percent) and Pettigrew with four (7.0 percent). Beyond them are players who are either no longer on the Lions, on injured reserve or have limited roles.

Tight end Tony Scheffler, who was cut in October, had three drops. Ryan Broyles, who is now on injured reserve, has two along with Nate Burleson, who missed seven games, and Jeremy Ross, who has played in six games and been targeted nine times.

Running back Theo Riddick, who plays sparingly, has one drop.

Of all the players listed, Johnson’s drops might be the most understandable. His seven drops are one off a career-worst set last season, but he has been targeted 131 times, more than any other receiver in the league.

Despite the drops from his pass-catchers, Stafford is having a good season. He has still completed 59.2 percent of his passes (296 of 500), thrown for 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,825 yards.

But as the weather gets colder and situations become more intense for the Lions as they make a playoff push and a potential appearance in the postseason, how Detroit’s pass-catchers handle what Stafford throws at them will be paramount for any future Lions success.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles is out of surgery and in recovery, according to his wife, Mary Beth Broyles.

Broyles tore his Achilles avoiding a catching a punt against Dallas on Sunday. It is the third straight season Broyles has had a season end with surgery. He tore his left ACL his senior season at Oklahoma and his right ACL his rookie year with the Lions.

"His ability to become what we hoped he would really has nothing to do with his development as much as it is his health," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "Even with the time he has missed, he has found ways to come in and contribute.

"He just hasn't been 100 percent his first two years and now he's going through the same thing again. His experience in going through it, I'm sure, will help. It's a tough thing to go through for any player, much less three years in a row."

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Nate Burleson would have rather been playing, of course, having never become the result of a ton of pizza-related jokes over the past month of the season.

He would have rather been catching passes than saving pizzas, but hey, DiGiorno offered a decent consolation prize.

Burleson is close to coming back to the field for Detroit -- every week he seems more and more optimistic about a faster return -- and he’ll be able to do so knowing he can eat all of his pizza at home if he craves it.

DiGiorno offered him free pizza for a year along with some cutlery. Maybe if he’s lucky, he could become a spokesman and turn it into an ad campaign, which is something he’s tried to jokingly pitch since the accident that led to the injury in September.

It’ll help, though, that he’ll be able to show some on-field production to go with it.

Burleson’s potential return comes at a good time for Detroit. The Lions have once again lost slot receiver Ryan Broyles for the season as the former Oklahoma standout ruptured his Achilles tendon while trying to avoid fielding a punt Sunday against Dallas.

And while the Lions don’t want to see any player hurt, let alone someone who was a second-round draft pick for them less than two seasons ago, having a veteran like Burleson able to step in almost immediately should actually help the Detroit offense.
Burleson, not Calvin Johnson, was leading Detroit in receptions when he crashed his car saving the pizza box. Burleson was coming off his first 100-yard game in a long time. And he had, at an age when most receivers slow down, showed to be a productive foil to Johnson as a No. 2 receiver.

Now, he is close to returning with a bunch of pizza and as a potential playmaker for Detroit.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit is headed to London and really, this always seemed like it would make sense. As the league tries to build its presence overseas -- including three games next season -- why wouldn’t the NFL try to put a team with a bunch of marketable players in one of those games.

Detroit has the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson. It has a former No. 1 overall draft pick at quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and one of the game's most polarizing players in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Plus, when Detroit’s offense is playing well, it is one of the more exciting to watch in the league. Also consider the opponent, Atlanta. While the Falcons are struggling this season, they have been a playoff team the past few years. So the NFL is putting a matchup between two explosive offenses in England at a date and time to be determined.

Perhaps the most important thing for Detroit is it doesn’t lose a home game in this deal, either. Atlanta is the home team, so the Lions now have a 2014 schedule with eight home games, seven road games and a trip overseas. That isn’t a bad deal at all.

"We are excited for the opportunity to play on an international stage against a quality NFC opponent," Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand said in a statement. "It will be a different challenge for our football team; one that we fully embrace.

"The global platform also presents a unique and special opportunity for our fans and business partners to join us in sharing the many positive stories about the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the Lions."

While I’m not too sure about all of that, there should be an excitement there. This is a chance for a lot of players to briefly see a different part of the world. Some of them have never been to London, or to Europe.

Last month, I asked a couple of Lions players whether they would play for a London-based franchise. While that didn’t really get them excited, the prospect of playing one game over there was intriguing.

"I’ve never been to London," receiver Ryan Broyles said. "It would probably be kind of cool, I wouldn’t mind playing over there for a weekend."

Now he could get a chance and earn a paycheck doing it.
Matthew Stafford had looked, kind of, for Calvin Johnson the play before. He was rushed. He threw the ball away and backed his team up with a rare intentional grounding call.

Plus, Detroit's right tackle, Corey Hilliard, injured his knee on the play. Down by seven points and backed up to a third-and-18 with 12 minutes, 10 seconds to go in the game, he stepped into the shotgun.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDetroit's Calvin Johnson jumps up to catch a 50-yard touchdown pass in what some players are calling the "best catch" ever.
Later, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz would say what came next was “schemed up.” Except not all of it could have been. No chance at all. Because no one schemes throwing to a receiver in triple coverage, even if it is Johnson.

And no one can realistically expect Johnson to come down with that catch. Yet he did.

Stafford lined up in shotgun, a running back directly to his left. Receiver Kris Durham was wide left and Ryan Broyles wide right. Johnson was in the slot and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was just off the line to the right side.

Then the ball was snapped.

“Rolled out right and they did a great job of playing deep to short (Sunday) with Calvin on the field,” Stafford said. “Held it as long as I could.”

Stafford rolled and actually had time to let Johnson streak down the field. Left tackle Riley Reiff, who had re-entered the game on that play after injuring his right hamstring earlier Sunday, had a good single block on Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson.

Center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims initially held their block as well, giving Stafford time to scan. But Raiola eventually lost his guy, sending Stafford running forward looking downfield.

Around the same time, Johnson -- who had been running just inside the numbers on the right side of the field -- cut inside to the post at the 30-yard line. Cincinnati safety George Iloka looked to pick Johnson up at this point in what appeared to be zone coverage. Iloka, though, could never get in front of Johnson, trailing him from the back the entire way.

Meanwhile, Stafford was running forward with Michael Johnson trailing him and closing fast.

“Matt had to buy a little time in the pocket and, you know, we saw that guy bearing down on him and didn’t know if he was going to be able to get that ball off,” Schwartz said.

He did, releasing the ball at the Detroit 48-yard line toward the end zone. What happened next was the surprising part.

Johnson found some room in the end zone, but was blanketed by Iloka behind him, linebacker Vontaze Burfict just to the left of him and a closing safety, Reggie Nelson, running toward the play and lining up to either intercept the ball or knock it down.

Nelson jumped with one foot instead of two and appeared to almost tip the ball, but Johnson appeared to reach up over him to grab it. He declined to talk with reporters after Sunday’s game.

“Oh man,” said Durham, who was close enough on the play to be the first Lions player to reach Johnson after he caught it. “That was in triple coverage. You’ve just got to say ‘Wow.’

“He’s probably the only person I’ve ever seen that could be able to make that play.”

Stafford didn’t see much of it. Michael Johnson hit him milliseconds after he threw the ball. Stafford’s head was initially down, but he looked up after a few seconds.

“Didn’t see a whole lot of it,” Stafford said. “Saw the very end of it with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”

It was one big catch in a day of many large catches for Johnson, who finished with nine for 155 yards and two touchdowns. None, though, as spectacular as his 50-yard grab in triple coverage -- a catch Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green called “unbelievable” and “the best I have ever seen.”

“He was also Megatron yesterday,” Schwartz said Monday, answering a question about Johnson’s health. “He wasn’t Calvin yesterday. He was Megatron yesterday.

“And he did everything he could to get us in position to win that game.”
They had tried this play -- either variations of it or the exact design -- before this season. A cutting screen to running back Reggie Bush either out of the slot or in the backfield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush took off toward the middle of the field.

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

That’s it?

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

Not quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, it was a very similar play that led to yet another Detroit touchdown this season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- At least the Detroit Lions will legitimately have a week this time to prepare if Calvin Johnson is unable to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

The Lions said all the right things after Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, that they had contingency plans if Johnson could not play and they practiced without him. But Johnson was close to playing and against a divisional rival, on the road, a team would hope they would have their best player.

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsRyan Broyles has been making a case for more balls to be thrown his way all season, and he might get his chance Sunday.
Especially if the player really wants to be out there, too. That was maybe the most difficult part of last Sunday for Johnson -- the watching while his team struggled without him.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Johnson said. “Especially a division opponent, up there at Green Bay, like to play there. Just because of the history behind it, it’s a great environment to play in.

“It’s tough to sit out any game, but it’s for the better.”

This week, though, Detroit seems to have a contingency plan if Johnson cannot play.

One guy is new receiver Kevin Ogletree, a player picked up last week on waivers who impressed coaches in his short, very limited appearance against the Packers on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the team gave Ogletree 10 things and that he “handled that well.”

The other potential contingency plan might also be one the Lions had all along. His name is Ryan Broyles and for the past few weeks he has wanted more snaps, more targets, basically more chances.

Yet he was on a different plan than what his coaches may have wanted for him.

“We hadn’t been planning on him playing really in the month of September,” Linehan said. “He’s done a nice job of stepping in and playing a little earlier than expected because of happened with Nate (Burleson).”

Linehan said the initial comeback plan for Broyles was similar to the one they had a season ago for him, when he didn’t see his real action until the sixth game of the season, and now the Lions are in Week 6.

In the preseason, Linehan said he saw Broyles was ready. It then became an issue of sticking with the plan or not. Yet Broyles’ snaps have fluctuated in games he has been active for this season. He played 17 snaps in his debut against Washington, 41 snaps in a win against Chicago and then just 27 snaps against Green Bay last Sunday.

For his part, Broyles said he is “100 percent to get on the field and play well,” and that he feels “capable of going out there and making plays.”

This week, whether or not Johnson plays, expect to see more of Broyles.

“I think he’s ready for a full load now,” Linehan said. “As far as just what you want to do as far as a plan for a guy, bringing a guy back from what he had to come back from a year ago.

“He’s right on track so we’re real happy he’s been able to get this time and progress. Certainly if somebody else isn’t available, his availability is going to be leaned on a little bit more.”

Even if Johnson plays, Broyles could see more action if tight end Tony Scheffler sits. Scheffler suffered his third concussion in four seasons on Sunday and has not practiced Wednesday or Thursday.

The Lions would potentially look to use more three wide receiver sets in that instance -- opening up more snaps for Broyles -- or inserting rookie tight end Joseph Fauria into Scheffler’s role.

No matter what, though, it would appear Detroit has a plan this week if Johnson can’t play. The Lions, obviously, would rather have Johnson healthy and ready.

“It certainly helps to have him out there,” Linehan said. “That’s the understatement of the day.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The production, clearly, was not what Detroit wanted out of its wide receivers.

Nine total catches. Less than 100 total yards. Sure, quarterback Matthew Stafford looked more toward his tight ends and running backs during the Lions’ 22-9 loss at Green Bay on Sunday, but the wide receivers missed many opportunities without their star, Calvin Johnson.

“We came in with the same mentality, week in, week out, it doesn’t really matter, but we need to go make some plays,” receiver Kris Durham said. “Because he’s obviously one of the best receivers in the game.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Ryan Broyles
AP Photo/Joe Robbins"There's more than just getting open," receiver Ryan Broyles said. "It's a timing thing"
“He definitely takes a lot of pressure off our offense, our running game, everything else, so we just have to step up and execute.”

In all, Detroit’s receivers saw 18 targets against Green Bay, four less than the running backs and tight ends. Durham saw the most of any Lion with eight, but only caught three passes for 30 yards and a late touchdown.

Patrick Edwards was targeted five times, but only caught two passes -- each for 8 yards. Kevin Ogletree saw three targets, catching two for 20 yards in his first game -- a game Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said the playbook was limited for him considering he had only been with the team for a few days.

Then there’s Ryan Broyles, who caught both passes thrown to him for 27 yards. But he only played in 40 percent of Detroit’s snaps, 27 of 67, and didn’t see a lot of overall action.

Broyles said he still rehabs every day, but it is more precautionary as he is trying to “attack the small little muscles you don’t usually work on” in an effort to maintain strength in his knees.

He said he feels good and, much like he said before his season debut, that he feels “capable of going out there and making plays.”

He has only played in three games, but Broyles hasn’t dropped a pass this season. The question is if Broyles -- and the rest of the receivers not named Johnson -- are getting open enough and able to create enough separation from opposing defensive backs.

“There’s more than just getting open,” Broyles said. “It’s a timing thing. It’s where the ball is going, that type of deal.”

Missing Johnson -- and his availability for Sunday against Cleveland won’t be known until later this week -- can throw off all of that. It changes how a team can scheme for the Lions. As it was, Green Bay did not double cover Detroit’s receivers, something that likely would have happened with Johnson in the game.

It also means even more precision is needed out of Stafford.

“It’s my job to try and throw the ball as accurately as I possibly can and on time,” Stafford said. “And I’ll continue to do that, no matter who is out there.”

Detroit, obviously, would prefer if Johnson were the main recipient of a lot of Stafford’s throws, but he needs to be healthy to do that.

If he is, the Lions’ offense can return to normal, at least with their full complement of receivers. With Johnson over the first four games, Stafford was completing 64.1 percent of his passes (100 of 156), had only been sacked three times and was getting rid of the ball faster than any regular starting quarterback in the league.

Without Johnson, against Green Bay, he didn’t and Detroit suffered. Stafford, though, has faith in his receivers -- Johnson or no Johnson. And Cleveland will look different than Green Bay and the Packers look different than Chicago and so forth and so on.

“We’re playing a different scheme,” Stafford said. “A different player. Every week is a different challenge.

“That’s what makes those guys so good, that they can adapt and make plays seeing all kinds of different looks every week.”

Some weeks, though, end up better than others.
DETROIT -- Reggie Bush's big 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of Sunday’s 40-32 win over the Chicago Bears almost didn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Reggie Bush is special,” Wright told reporters after the game. “He has speed. He can shake you. He can do everything.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The season of streaks continues Sunday. The Chicago Bears have won nine of their past 10 games against the Detroit Lions, and 13 of their past 16.

In other words, there is another long streak going on. Not as long as the 0-for-forever one the Lions stopped last week against Washington, or the decades-long road losing streak at Green Bay that Detroit will face next week, but a streak nonetheless.

The good news for Detroit is it is mostly healthy other than injuries to wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Jason Jones. Reggie Bush is expected to return, and the Lions have options to replace Burleson, be it with receivers (Ryan Broyles), tight ends (Joseph Fauria and Tony Scheffler) or Bush.

That’s just one of the four big keys for Detroit on Sunday against Chicago -- with an early hold of first place in the NFC North at stake.

Pressure Jay Cutler early: Cutler has been magnificent against Detroit in the nine games he has played the Lions. He’s completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,822 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. He’s also only lost to the Lions twice since joining the league. Detroit has done a good job hitting Cutler in previous games -- he’s been sacked 26 times by the Lions in his career -- but this season’s version of the Detroit defense appears to be better at using the pressure to force chaos for opponents. Cutler hasn’t thrown an interception against Detroit since 2010, when Aaron Berry intercepted him. It will be imperative for the Lions to make him toss at least one Sunday.

Use Joique Bell and Bush simultaneously: Detroit is searching for a way to replace Burleson, and one potentially easy way is to take the unique skills of Bush and split him both out wide, in the slot and in the backfield. Turn him into a Swiss Army Reggie -- more so than before -- and create mismatches that way. He immediately becomes a strong No. 2 receiver, and would take pressure off the returning Broyles. Plus, it gives the Lions a way to get Bell, who each week looks better and better as a runner, more opportunities in a game.

Get Calvin Johnson going fast: Johnson said Thursday “it’s easy to have a dislike (of the Bears). It’s not hard at all.” For Johnson, that makes some sort of sense. Chicago has done a good job on him historically, allowing the league’s best receiver to have games of 100-plus yards only twice. Much of that has to do with cornerback Charles Tillman, who seems to have a knack for being able to play well against Johnson. In 11 games against Chicago, Johnson has caught 53 passes for 801 yards -- an average of 72.8 yards a game. Detroit has done a good job of targeting him most years against the Bears, throwing him the ball more than 20 times a game in four of his six seasons.

Punt well: Yes, this seems somewhat small in the scheme of things, but Devin Hester is one of the few returners in the game who can completely shift things in one play. He’s been a dynamic returner for years, and has the ability to turn a poorly placed punt into either great field position for the Bears or perhaps even a score. A lot of pressure is on rookie punter Sam Martin to make sure the hang time and direction on his punts are precise Sunday.

Players not sold on London franchise

September, 25, 2013
For the first time in NFL history, the NFL will stage two regular-season games in London during the same year. The first of those matchups is Sunday, when the Steelers play the Vikings.

It's widely speculated that the NFL would like to place a franchise in London, but what do players think about playing full-time on the other side of the Atlantic? Our NFL Nation reporters sampled opinions among several teams with media availability Tuesday:

[+] EnlargeNFL London
AP Photo/Matt DunhamThe Steelers and Vikings are playing this week in London, but what if the city had a team full-time?
Eagles center Jason Kelce:

“I think it would be awesome. The biggest thing the league has been trying to do is globalize, to spread to other countries. NFL Europe didn’t really work out too well. So I don’t know what the marketing people are getting back about whether it would be successful.

“But that’s the one thing football doesn’t have, that global area. It’s one of the things that’s cool about soccer and the World Cup. You have that country camaraderie behind it, whereas America, it’s kind of our own deal right now. Anything that’s spreading the NFL to other countries, I think it’s a great idea.

“Might be different for guys with families. But how much different is it from going from California to New York or New York to London? It’s still a pretty good trip either way you’re looking at it.”

Eagles linebacker Trent Cole:

“All your family is back in the United States. Who would do that? You wouldn’t have a good team because I don’t think too many people would want to do that. Play in London, away from your whole world and your family?

“They’re going to have to go get some rugby players. That would be cool. Get some rugby players, have them get some equipment on, drug-test all of them.”

(Read full post)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joseph Fauria wakes up every morning angry. All he needs to do is type his name into Wikipedia.

There is the reminder the Detroit Lions tight end will never be able to erase, no matter how many years he plays in the NFL or how many touchdowns he scores and celebratory dances he performs. There, once as a link and once in black type, is that message.

Undrafted in the 2013 NFL draft.

“You look at my Wikipedia page, it’s there,” Fauria said. “It’s a stamp. Might as well put it on my freakin’ forehead. It is there for the rest of my life and it bothers me every day.”

Soon after the draft ended, his uncle, former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, sent him a message. He told his nephew how many undrafted free agents make NFL rosters, and what the youngster needed to do and focus on to make the team. That challenge became an easy mantra for Joseph Fauria.

Use the anger you have from being passed over by every team in the league to show you absolutely belong. It is how Fauria ended up in Detroit, how he ended up making a roster and, with the injury to wide receiver Nate Burleson, how his role in the Lions’ offense could increase dramatically over the next two months.

Not that he hasn’t found a role already.

[+] EnlargeJoseph Fauria
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsNot being selected in the 2013 draft has lit a fire under Lions tight end Joseph Fauria.
Fauria has two touchdowns in his first three games and might be the most popular No. 3 tight end in the league. Both of his touchdown dances brought him added exposure, and his “Bye, Bye, Bye” dance from Sunday’s victory over the Washington Redskins caught the attention of ‘N Sync member Joey Fatone, who tweeted at him Monday complimenting his moves.

This is all part of how Fauria conducts himself -- using a perceived slight to push him while also being able to show off his own fun side.

“That’s Joseph’s personality,” Christian Fauria said. “He’s a clown, OK, but he’s hard-working, serious about his craft, but he’s a clown. He has tons of personality.

“My thing is if that’s who you are, then you have to be that. Don’t try and be something you’re not. If you want to dance, dance. If people want to give you a hard time, who cares? Own it. People will respect you for being you instead of somebody that you’re not.”

Thus far, Joseph Fauria has done that.

He has become a large -- 6-foot-7 -- red-zone target for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. He has slowly picked up the nuances of blocking -- something he didn’t really learn a ton about at UCLA -- and is still finding his way as an NFL player.

“He obviously provides something a little bit different once we get down in the red zone with his size, his pure size,” tight end Tony Scheffler said. “Most of the time it’s a mismatch, and he’s done well with his role so far and I’m happy for him.”

That role could grow. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Tuesday the Lions have multiple options when it comes to replacing Burleson, out with a broken arm. The obvious one is sliding in one of the receivers -- Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham or, when he’s healthy, Patrick Edwards.

Broyles showed Sunday that some of his game has returned, when he caught three passes for 34 yards in his first game back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Being hit again for the first time even provided some relief.

“It was good doing that,” Broyles said. “You get experience from going out there and playing a live game. Mentally I’m ready to go. Just need to continue to grind it out in practice and continue to get better.”

The Lions' other option could be looking to Fauria or Scheffler to become even bigger passing weapons. Considering where Fauria was a month ago -- trying just to become an NFL player -- his ascent has been dramatic.

“I know what I’m capable of. I know that when my name gets passed on by 32 teams in April that I know what I can do and how I can answer back,” Fauria said. “Work toward a certain goal. I know I’m capable.

“I know when that ball was thrown it was coming into my hands no matter what. No one else is going to catch it besides me. It’s the kind of approach I do every game. Every ball that is in the air and every catch I have.”

He’s still learning, too. He and Christian both know he’s still a rookie -- and how much more there is for him to pick up on.

“He has no idea how much better he can get if he puts the time in,” Christian Fauria said.

With a potentially increased role comes potentially more targets from Stafford. More targets could mean more catches -- and that could lead to more touchdowns, and then to more dancing in the end zone.

Not bad for a guy nobody thought had NFL chops.

“If I’m blessed enough to have my name called and be in the end zone again, I would love to show off my dance moves again,” Fauria said. “But I’m just going to keep grinding away, keep proving I belong on this team, belong out there in the end zone.”

This is going to hurt the Detroit Lions no matter how you look at it. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

There’s no other way to explain the impact of the broken arm Nate Burleson suffered early Tuesday morning in a one-car accident in the suburbs of Detroit. And the impact of this goes beyond his on-field production.

Burleson is a leader in the Detroit locker room. He has turned into one of the unofficial spokesmen for the team -- essentially a guy who is willing to talk for his teammates when it is needed almost every day of the season. When discussing injuries and the effect on a team, that often goes unnoticed.

But it will be a big blow.

The 32-year-old’s loss will also be felt on the field. He was leading the Lions with 19 receptions, and also had 239 yards receiving. He was coming off his most productive game in Detroit, catching six passes for 116 yards. He had proved to be a complementary third piece to stars Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, a player who could make some plays but understood his role.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonNate Burleson's injury is an unfortunate loss both on and off the field for the Lions.
And now all of that is sidelined.

Even at his age, Burleson was still productive in the offense and looked like he could perhaps play another season or two. This setback -- his second major injury in as many years -- could call his future into question as well.

His veteran presence leaves Detroit with mostly young receivers aside from their star, Johnson. Ryan Broyles, who is coming off an ACL tear last season and played in his first game of the year Sunday, will be leaned on even more now. This could be a concern considering Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has talked for weeks about wanting to work Broyles, who has sure hands but an injury history, back into the lineup.

The Lions will also need Patrick Edwards, who missed last week with an ankle injury, to get healthy as soon as possible. He adds a different dynamic to the offense with his speed, but between Broyles and Edwards, they have 28 career catches -- all coming in the past two seasons.

Other options for Detroit include bringing in a wide receiver they cut (Matt Willis performed well for the Lions in the preseason), looking to the full free-agent wire or perhaps considering more multiple-tight-end sets since all three of Detroit’s tight ends have the ability to play in the slot. They could also use Bush outside more often and use Joique Bell or Theo Riddick in the backfield as a second back.

It’ll be interesting to see how Detroit handles Burleson’s situation. By using its short-term injured reserve designation before the first game of the season on running back Montell Owens, the Lions either have to shelve the receiver for the entire year or keep him on the roster and go without another receiver or cut someone to make room for another pass-catcher. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle this in the next day or so.

On a personal level, this has to be especially tough for Burleson. He had been experiencing a career renaissance this season after losing most of last year to a broken leg. He was given the team’s Ed Block Courage Award earlier this month and was scheduled to be honored for the award next Tuesday.

Now he’ll show up at the dinner injured again.
Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush returned to practice Friday and is now listed as questionable to play Sunday against Washington after injuring his left knee against Arizona last week.

On Thursday, Bush was "optimistic" he would be available against the Redskins, but said it would be a group decision between the staff and Bush. He was limited in practice Friday.

If for some reason he cannot play, expect Joique Bell and rookie Theo Riddick to receive the majority of carries and targets out of the backfield.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who missed last week's game at Arizona with a shoulder injury but has been limited in practice all week, is also listed as questionable.

Wide receiver Pat Edwards, who injured his ankle against the Cardinals, is out. This likely means Ryan Broyles will probably be active for the first time this season. This week, Broyles said "I'm capable of playing."

Right tackle Jason Fox, who hasn't practiced all week with a groin injury, and safety Don Carey, are doubtful for Sunday.

Safety Louis Delmas (knee), left guard Rob Sims (knee), linebacker Ashlee Palmer (ankle) and defensive end Jason Jones (knee) -- all of whom are starters -- are all probable for Sunday.




Sunday, 2/2