NFC North: Detroit Lions

BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running backs haven't hit holes efficiently. Sometimes, the blocking just isn't there for them. And yet other times, their decisions have been rough.

There are many, many reasons to explain why the Detroit Lions' running game has been extremely inefficient this season. Here's another -- and one that might change Sunday when they face New England: The Lions haven't had their three top backs -- Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick -- all healthy for an entire game at the same time since the third week of the season against Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's performance against the Cardinals -- 14 carries for 85 yards -- gives hope that Detroit's running game may be about to turn a corner.
Yes, Detroit's run game was in bad shape even before that, but the Lions posted their second-highest yards per carry number of the season in Week 2 against Carolina (3.9 yards), had their highest rushing total in Week 3 against Green Bay (115 yards) and put together their only multi-touchdown rushing game of the season in Week 1 against the New York Giants (2).

Since then, Bell, Bush and Riddick have each missed all or parts of games due to injury. The Lions haven't rushed for a touchdown since Week 7 against New Orleans. They rushed for 98 yards Sunday against Arizona -- the first time the Lions have come close to 100 yards since Week 6 against Minnesota.

Against the Cardinals, Bell looked like the decisive runner the Lions have needed this season and his 85 yards were the most by any one Detroit running back in a game this season.

“The overall numbers weren't huge, but I think our running game looked a lot better this last week and that's obviously encouraging,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “And so, if we can keep getting those big plays and getting a little bit more consistency, that's going to help us.”

The big plays and the consistency have been the biggest issues for Detroit this season with the offense as a whole and the running game. Bell has 14 runs of 10-plus yards this season with four of them coming Sunday against Arizona. Bush has two of those plays -- but none since Week 4, the last week he was fully healthy for an entire game.

George Winn, who is the team's fourth back and only used in case of injury has two 10-plus yard runs, both against the Bills when Bell was out. Riddick, who is more of a receiver out of the backfield, has yet to have a run of 10 or more yards this season.

Of the four, Bell has been the back that has been the most consistent and the closest to being able to have a big running game -- especially since Bush and Riddick are used in a receiving role as well. The way Bell ran Sunday, though, gives Detroit some confidence it might have found something with its rushing.

With Bell handling the majority of the work, the Lions posted a season-high 5.2 yards per rush, the first time this year they have eclipsed Jim Caldwell's desire of four yards per rush in a game.

“You have a guy that's capable, who can break tackles and sometimes, that has to be done,” Caldwell said. “We attribute it to the fact that he practiced extremely well for a number of weeks and you could see it coming that he's going to have a big game.

“I think his big games are yet to come. When I think you look at the running game, our average is up where we want them, they're above it and we want to continue that. We want to run it even better.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One major college football head coaching job is open at Florida. Another, at Michigan, could be open in a few weeks depending what happens with Brady Hoke.

And in Allen Park, Michigan, there is a guy who would fit in as a potential candidate for both.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDetroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent one season as defensive coordinator at Florida, in Urban Meyer's final season as head coach in 2010.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – who was a secondary coach with the Wolverines from 1999-2002 and was defensive coordinator with the Gators in 2010 – runs the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

So it made sense Thursday that he was asked about the job that's open at Florida.

“I’m thinking about this game right here. I haven’t even thought about it,” Austin said. “I hate it for all the guys who are down there; there’s a whole bunch of families that people who lost their jobs.”

The 49-year-old Austin would not say whether or not he wants to be a head coach down the road as he tries to focus on Detroit’s game Sunday against New England.

With the way the Lions are playing, though, there’s a possibility both Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be brought up as potential NFL or college head coach candidates as soon as this offseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, once himself in a position to move from a coordinator to a head coach, said he would support his coaches in pursuit for other jobs as long as it doesn’t affect the jobs they currently have.

“It depends on the situation,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been in a similar situation myself early on in my career. I’m supportive of whatever we have to do in order to get a guy into position to do well if that’s his heart’s desire. But we don’t let it interfere with what we’re doing.

“Our job is to win games and that’s what we’re doing. They understand that and the guys we have, have great focus in that regard. If you’re good and you plan well, you’re going to have teams and people that have interest in people on your staff. That’s the way it should be.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh was asked about his future again Wednesday -- this time by members of the Detroit media.

He said, though, that he doesn't look very far in the future.

"I just kind of look at things and enjoy the moments that I have right now and kind of go from there," Suh said.

Suh is in the final season of his rookie contract and is eligible for free agency in March, should he not re-sign with the Lions before then.

So as for that immediate future -- that would be facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday. Suh is looking forward to facing Brady, who is one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league to sack. He's only been brought down more than 30 times in a season twice -- 32 times in 2011 and 40 times last season.

So far this season, he's only been sacked 14 times for 75 yards.

"I think, in my opinion, times in the past there's ways to get after him," Suh said. "He's an exceptional quarterback. It's not necessarily easy, but no quarterback likes to be hit.

"That's one of our goals, to get after it, put a lot of pressure on him, try to speed things up, try to get back there and get in his face and do different things of that nature."

The Lions are coming off their first game of the season of not recording at least one sack.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.


TE Eric Ebron: The rookie caught all four passes thrown his way and appeared more comfortable in the offense during his return from a hamstring injury. He’s still a growth project for the Lions – as most rookie tight ends are – but Sunday was a good step forward for him. The way Detroit broke down snaps, too, showed Ebron might have usurped Joseph Fauria as the primary pass-catching tight end. That should mean more snaps and looks in the stretch run of the season.

RB Joique Bell: This will be discussed below as well, but Bell finally appears to have rediscovered the power running game he had last season. Sunday against Arizona was his best effort of the year – 85 yards rushing – but it was the way he ran that was as important as his yardage. He was decisive, difficult to bring down and looked fast. The Lions are better when he is getting the carries.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: He didn’t have any sacks Sunday against Arizona – nobody on Detroit’s defense did – but he hit Drew Stanton twice, made three tackles and was a general nuisance for the Cardinals. It is sometimes difficult to tell the impact of a defensive lineman in a game, but he has continued to play well and is a good complement to Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line even with Nick Fairley’s injury at tackle.


Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi: His game plan against Arizona was ineffective and predictable – from the long-developing short yardage runs on third down to what Detroit would do with two tight ends on the line of scrimmage in the game. His inability to have Golden Tate involved in the offense after the first quarter was also difficult to explain, as he entered the game in the top five in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards.

RB Reggie Bush: When he comes back from his long-lingering ankle injury, it’s possible he’s going to see a shift in roles. Bell has run extremely hard the past two weeks and has given Detroit a semblance of a running game that had been nonexistent for the majority of the season. Bell should be the option right now, with Bush and Theo Riddick acting as receivers, change-of-pace backs and backs used in two-back formations. This should turn into Bell’s job.

Lions’ NFC North chances: Detroit is tied with Green Bay atop the division this week and still has to go to Lambeau Field in Week 17. There are players on the Lions who were not alive when Detroit last won in the state of Wisconsin, so this is an issue. History aside, Green Bay has been decimating opponents in the past month, including a destruction of another potential playoff team, Philadelphia, in Green Bay. While the playoffs still look good for Detroit, unseating the Packers in the NFC North does not.
TROY, Mich. -- Golden Tate has seen this happen before when he was in Seattle.

The team was winning games -- that was most important -- but the offense was still trying to discover itself as players adjusted to new coaches and new pieces within the offense.

So he isn’t concerned that 11 games into a season, including an entire offseason for offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to scheme up what he wants, that the offense still looks like it's under heavy construction.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports"We're still trying to figure out the type of team, of offense that we want to be," Lions WR Golden Tate said.
“We’re still doing a lot of growing,” Tate said after an event at the Microsoft Store in Troy, Michigan. “We’re still trying to figure out the type of team, of offense that we want to be. We’re learning and the good news is we still have a long ways to go but we’re still sitting 7-3 with a really bright future.

“I think we can stay healthy and stay motivated and keep grinding, it’s all going to work out. We’re still learning and figuring things out.”

That has been evident this season, as the Lions have had inconsistent offensive movement throughout the year -- something that has been masked by the team’s record and place at the top of the NFC North along with Green Bay.

It is that record, though, that is all that matters to Tate and the Lions. Not how pretty or prolific the offense has been to get there. After all, Tate has seen this before with an eventual Super Bowl champion.

“In Seattle, it took us a while to really start clicking,” Tate said. “All our records say otherwise, but it doesn’t matter how you win, it’s just as long as you win and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“This is the first year we’ve had this head coach along with some the new additions on the offense and the defense. We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not playing bad football, still.”

Tate was largely taken away from the Lions on Sunday against Arizona. On Tuesday, he echoed his coach, Jim Caldwell, and his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, in saying Arizona didn’t do anything different against Detroit.

Instead, the progression of the reads, which so often had found Tate this season, just weren’t there. That’s Tate's reasoning for why he only got two targets Sunday in a 14-6 loss to the Cardinals.

Arizona’s defense -- which might have the deepest, most talented secondary the Lions have seen this year -- along with a slow start offensively also played a role.

“It’s something that, that’s a collective effort -- coaching, the players, the quarterback, the blockers, the running backs, it’s all a collective effort,” Tate said. “So I’m going to go out and just work that much harder this week to get the trust of the OC and my coach and the quarterback and see if I can help this team a little more.

“I just want to be impactful week in and week out and put this team in position to win.”

Tate has been a large reason the Lions have won this season.

With Calvin Johnson out, Tate has already set career highs in receptions (68) and yards (950). Even with a slow week against Arizona, he’s still third in the NFL in receptions, sixth in yards and potentially in line for his first Pro Bowl berth.
A month ago, the Detroit Lions were trying to aim to be one of the top defenses in recent NFL history.

That pace has fallen off a little bit in several areas, but the Lions still have a lot to like with their top-ranked defense. As we did a month ago, here’s a look at where Detroit's defense stands in some categories, with some historical perspective.

Week 6 numbers in parentheses.


The number: 36.7 -- No. 2 in the NFL (23.5, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions have faced some of the league's better quarterbacks, including Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. This week, the Lions face Tom Brady, so this number could grow.

Historical comparison: The Dolphins and Lions are the only teams under 40 in defensive QBR, but that isn’t a major statistical breakthrough. Six teams were under a 40 QBR last season. Of those teams, though, only the Bills had a record below .500.

Yards per game

The number: 290.3 -- No. 1 in the NFL (270.7, No. 1)

What it means: It isn’t surprising there has been an uptick in yardage gained on the Lions, who are continuing to deal with injuries. But they are still the only team in the NFL allowing less than 300 yards per game.

Historical comparison: After six weeks, there were comparisons to the 2009 Jets defense. Right now, the Lions’ yardage is a bit less impressive. The Seahawks, at 273.6, were better last season. If this holds for Detroit, they would be the first team to lead the NFL in yards per game at 290 or worse since at least 2001. Typically, at least one NFL team hovers around 270 yards per game allowed.

Yards per play

The number: 4.82 -- No. 3 in the NFL (4.49, No. 1)

What it means: The uptick follows with the increase in yards per game and facing better offenses, which continues this week against New England. That Miami and Denver have both passed Detroit is an interesting marker to watch. The almost 0.4 yards per play doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up.

Historical comparison: It is below average among top defenses. Last season, Seattle was at 4.42 yards per play, for instance.

Rushing yards per game

The number: 68.8 -- No. 1 in the NFL (73.5, No. 2)

What it means: The Lions have been devastating against opposing backs and are the only team in the league holding teams under 70 yards rushing per game. They are one of two, along with Denver, at less than 75 yards a game.

Historical comparison: If the number holds, they’ll have the best run defense since 2010, when the Steelers held opponents to 62.75 yards per game. The Lions would be one of three teams since 2001 (the 2006 Vikings were the third team) to hold opponents under 70 yards rushing a game.

Yards per rush

The number: 3.03 -- No. 1 in the NFL (3.27, No. 4)

What it means: It goes with the yards per game, but teams have become mostly one-dimensional against the Lions, which helps the overall defense and defensive numbers. The Lions, right now, are 0.28 yards better per carry than any other team in the league.

Historical comparison: This would be the best number since those 2010 Steelers at 3.02 yards per carry. The 2006 Vikings set the benchmark at 2.83 yards allowed per carry and the 2007 Ravens allowed 2.84 yards a carry.

Passing yards per game

The number: 221.5 -- No. 5 in the NFL (197.17, No. 1)

What it means: With teams unable to run on Detroit, they’ve resorted to passing. Detroit also ran into a couple of prolific passing teams against New Orleans and Atlanta. More of the same this week against the Patriots.

Historical comparison: Not much here.

Sacks per attempt

The number: 7.4 percent -- No. 10 in the NFL (9.7, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are still pressuring quarterbacks but have seen more experienced -- and more mobile -- quarterbacks of late. That’s helped knock those numbers down a bit. Don’t be surprised to see this number be higher by the season’s end.

Historical comparison: Again, none necessary.

First downs per game

The number: 18.6 -- No. 4 in the NFL (16.8, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are good here, as they are one of six teams allowing less than 19 first downs a game. But the number doesn’t mean a ton considering the Jets, Redskins and Vikings join them in that company and are all below .500.

Historical comparison: Average among top defensive units.

Points allowed per game

The number: 15.6 -- No. 1 in the NFL (13.7, No. 1)

What it means: The Lions are the only team holding opponents under 17 points a game. That’s the major reason Detroit is 7-3 and should be in any game it plays the rest of the season. Of teams in the top five in points allowed per game, the Lions (point margin of plus-3.2) are the only team under plus-6 points per game.

Historical comparison: The numbers are a little higher than other top defenses of recent past, but by only a point or so, so they're in line there.

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

This could easily be another treatise about the woes of the Lions' offense and how the team has little to no shot against the New England Patriots on Sunday if it doesn't find some remedy to its inability to run or pass with any consistency. And all of that would be true.

But let's focus on one area here. Matthew Stafford has long been a quarterback who is often at his best -- and sometimes, his worst -- when he ends up having to react to plays instead of making his reads, having time in the pocket and then throwing. When he's put on the run, under pressure, Stafford makes the big plays, and it's often when he takes his bigger chances downfield.

That's one area where Stafford has done less this season. In 2013, Stafford threw the ball downfield 15 yards or more an average of 8.6 times a game. This season, he's down to 6.9 times a game. In 2014, Stafford has taken 10 or more deep shots in a game only once -- against Atlanta. Last season, he did so six times. Stafford is on pace for his fewest deep throws since his abbreviated 2010 season. And he's completing only 37.7 percent of these passes, his lowest percentage since 2010.

It always appeared Stafford was more comfortable in these situations, though. And with receivers such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, those chances should be more plentiful, not less.

This week, it might also be where the Patriots could be vulnerable. Over the past two weeks, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck completed 14 of 31 passes on deep throws. While that might not seem like a big percentage, taking some of these chances early could open up the New England defense for some underneath work later in the game and put Stafford back into his comfort zone. It would also lend a level of unpredictability to what has turned into a very conservative Lions offense.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Reggie Bush sat out his third game of the season Sunday against Arizona. He's not planning on missing a fourth due to injury.

The Detroit Lions' running back said Monday he expects to play against the New England Patriots as he continues to heal from an ankle injury suffered in Week 5 against Buffalo and aggravated often over the past six weeks.

"It's very frustrating because it's been one of those injuries that's been kind of lingering," Bush said. "I've been trying to do my best to just get as healthy as I can and be as smart as I can about it. Obviously, I don't plan on getting injured when I go back in the game.

"It's just one of those things that happened last time I was out there so hopefully not playing this past game will pay dividends for this week.”

The 29-year-old appeared to be healthy again coming off Detroit's off week to face the Dolphins. Then he was hit again in the first half in a spot that aggravated the injury again, once again knocking him out.

It was the second time the ankle had been aggravated in a game, as he also tweaked the ankle when he tried to return against New Orleans in Week 7. He then practiced one day in England prior to Week 8 before shutting it down and sitting out against the Falcons prior to the off week.

So it has been a lingering issue for Bush, who has 191 yards rushing on 53 carries and 169 receiving yards on 26 receptions this year.

"The last time, the last game, there's not much I can do. I don't care who you were. The way my ankle got bent, if I didn't have an ankle injury, I would have had one after that play, so it's just one of those deals.

"It's just unfortunate. All I can do is just kind of get myself back as close to 100 percent as possible to be able to play this weekend."

This is a game where Bush could be heavily utilized.

Bush has had success in the past against New England. In 2011 with Miami, Bush had 139 yards of offense, including 113 yards rushing, in a 27-24 loss to New England. It was the sixth-best rushing game of Bush's career.

In Bush's absence, the Lions have used Joique Bell and Theo Riddick as their primary rushers.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions don’t rank in the yop 10 in any major offensive statistical category. In a lot of them, they actually slide in at the lower third of the NFL.

Yet Lions coach Jim Caldwell appears to be fine with the way first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is calling plays.

“Certainly I’m satisfied with it,” Caldwell said. “Joe does a good job.”

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions mustered only 262 yards and two field goals against the Cardinals.
When asked what he wanted to see change with the plays that are called, he instead pointed to Joique Bell’s 14-carry, 85-yard performance Sunday -- the first time this season Bell has eclipsed the 75-yard rushing mark. It is also the first time Bell gained more than 5 yards a carry in a game.

But for once this year, the run game wasn’t an issue -- at least not Bell’s portion of it. It was a little bit of everything else that was the problem.

Consistent production has been a problem for Detroit’s offense all season. They haven’t gained more than 400 yards in a game since Week 1 against the New York Giants. They’ve gone over 350 yards of offense in half of their games this season.

That has alternated with games where the Lions struggle to move the ball. Even in their three straight come-from-behind wins to help them reach 7-2 prior to Sunday, there were offensive inefficiencies.

In two of those three games -- New Orleans and Atlanta -- the Lions gained more than 100 yards in the fourth quarter. So the drama of the late-game movement from Matthew Stafford and the offense might have temporarily masked offensive issues that are now wide open.

“Maybe a little bit,” left guard Rob Sims said. “I’m not sure. I know some things from playing in my left guard spot, I’ll tell you that. I know I played with these guys for five years and we figure out a way to get it done over the years.

“There’s nothing in me that says we’re not going to. Obviously there are some things that we missed. Obviously some things that we didn’t do right but we’ll go back and look at the film and see what we can do.”

What happened when Caldwell went back and looked at the film was essentially the same things he saw when he was coaching it live. Protection issues. Reads by Stafford. Predictability of play calls from Lombardi.

All of it rolls into one inefficient unit right now.

Detroit is 21st in yards per game (332.3), 25th in yards per play (5.13), 30th in rushing yards per game (79.8) and yards per run (3.24), 12th in passing yards a game (252.5) and 17th in net yards per attempt (6.81).

The Lions’ QBR of 56.9 is 19th in the NFL.

“There’s never been any one thing,” Caldwell said. “And that’s the thing with consistency. We haven’t been able to be really consistent across the board and consistent enough to play as well as well as we’re capable of.

“Now, when you put 21 points up in a half or 22 points in a half, that’s moving the ball pretty well so we’ve had our spurts. But we just haven’t been able to do that consistently across the board. That’s what we’re striving for. We’ve got time to do it.

“All of the things that we’ve got problems with, they’re correctable.”

How long it takes to make those corrections, though, could determine the amount of success Detroit has throughout the remainder of the season.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eric Ebron laughed for a second Sunday afternoon.

He was asked about the spot of the ball on his third-down catch with 34 seconds left in the first half against Arizona, one that appeared to reach the first-down marker at the 9-yard line but was spotted at the 10-yard line.

The replay official, because it was under two minutes left in the half, reviewed the play. The ruling was upheld.

“We at Arizona, that’s all I can say,” Ebron said after the Detroit Lions' 14-6 loss to Arizona. “Of course I thought I had it. I knew the situation. We all knew the situation. So I mean, we at Arizona, so good call on their side.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell pushed to get the spot overturned as well to no avail with referee Jerome Boger.

“I didn’t challenge it because I thought it was short. I’m not being facetious,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, the reason why we challenged it is because we think we had a shot at it.

“That’s why we challenged it.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he thought it was a play where whatever the call was on the field, it was not going to be overturned.

It was one of a few big calls by officials Sunday.

The other came in the fourth quarter, when Arizona’s Justin Bethel attempted to down a Drew Butler punt at the 1-yard line. Bethel grabbed the ball and then threw it back onto the field. Seeing that and knowing an NFL rule that says the returning team can pick up the ball and advance it if the kicking team didn’t have possession, returner Jeremy Ross grabbed the ball and ran 49 yards.

“If I was to pick it up, run with it, throw it back to one of my other guys and let him catch it and then fumble it and they recover it, we still get the ball,” Ross said. “Back where the ball was spotted.

“On one of those plays, you just got to know like, ‘Hey, if the other guy touches it, it’s all fair game, and you can’t even lose.’"

Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he knew Bethel had possession and once he realized he could challenge the play, he chose to do so. But he even said “that could’ve went either way.”

Arians challenged the play and the play was reversed when it was ruled Bethel did have possession of the ball, giving Detroit the ball at the Lions 1-yard line instead of the Arizona 46-yard line.

“We thought it was going in our favor so we were pretty excited,” Ross said. “We had good field position but once we found out the play went in their favor, it was a bummer.

“Starting at the 1, you never want to be backed up in your own territory. It wasn’t the best situation.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Detroit Lions hired Jim Caldwell in January, part of what they sought in a coach was a highly disciplined individual who ran a highly disciplined football team.

Yet 10 games into Caldwell’s first season as the Lions’ coach, his team has racked up 73 penalties -- including eight or more in each of the past four games. That includes the nine for 80 yards Detroit rung up Sunday in a 14-6 loss to Arizona where the Lions actually committed 12 fouls, but had three wiped off the books.

When you look at total penalties -- including ones that have been declined -- it’s an even more gruesome picture for Detroit. The Lions have committed 12 penalties in three of the past four games and have been at 70 yards or more in penalty yardage over the past four games.

Those numbers -- the 73 penalties accepted and the 91 total penalties called -- put the Lions in the bottom 10 teams in the league in both categories.

“It’s always a problem,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. We have to improve in that area.”

For a little while, it looked like Detroit was actually cutting down on its penalties, but they are on pace to have more penalties accepted and penalties called than either 2012 or 2013. They are actually on pace to reach 2011 levels of penalties for Detroit, when the Lions had 146 penalties called and 127 accepted.

The penalty issues are in all phases. The Lions have had 36 offensive penalties (28 accepted) and 13 special-teams gaffes (10 accepted). Both are on pace to equal or surpass the totals of the past two seasons.

Defensively, the Lions have committed 42 penalties (35 accepted), which is also on pace to equal last season.

And all around, it hurts Detroit’s chances for success.

“Penalties, how many penalties did (Arizona) have today? Two or three,” running back Joique Bell said. “To our what, 10? Definitely self-inflicted.”

Actually, the Lions had nine penalties and Arizona had four, but his point remains. Two of Detroit’s defensive penalties gave Arizona first downs. Two of their offensive penalties cost the Lions major yardage offensively.

And then the taunting penalty on Julian Stanford on special teams with the Lions trailing late in the fourth quarter was unnecessary and something that seemed more plausible under the previous coaching regime.

When the referee, Jerome Boger, was explaining it to Caldwell on the sidelines, he didn’t see the player who did it, just the act and what it represented.

“He didn’t give me a number,” Caldwell said. “He had no idea. He just said someone stood up and flexed. We’ll look at it on film.”

When Caldwell does, he’ll see a team that is not playing anywhere near as disciplined as he would like them to and as they need to.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Detroit Lions blamed it on the clichéd execution. Quarterback Matthew Stafford said some of it extended to the progression of his reads during plays.

But one thing is clear now, after a game in which the Lions failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time since Stafford's rookie season in 2009: The play-calling by first-year coordinator Joe Lombardi leaves a lot to be desired.

This was supposed to be the game in which he could finally open things up again, with his full complement of receivers and tight ends along with two of his top three running backs. Instead, the Lions sputtered in a 14-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. They converted five of 15 plays on third down. They reached the red zone only once.

Detroit seemingly forgot all about receiver Golden Tate, who was targeted only twice Sunday -- the fewest times he's been thrown to as a member of the Lions.

"They weren't forcing me to look away from him," Stafford said. "Just going through my progressions, trying to find open guys. They get paid, too, guys to cover. Just trying to send the ball the correct way."

Six Detroit players were targeted by Stafford at least once on his 30 attempts. He completed 18 of those for 183 yards, his lowest total since his 183 yards in Week 7 of 2011 -- not counting the Lions' game in a blizzard at Philadelphia last season.

The Lions totaled just 262 yards -- the third time this season and the third time in the past six games that the Lions have been held to fewer than 275 yards of offense.

"The biggest thing is, for me, it's frustrating when you leave plays on the field," receiver Calvin Johnson said. "Your defense is playing their butt off, holding them to 14, you figure you're going to win all those games."

One of the biggest trend areas for the Lions -- it showed up again Sunday -- has been on third downs. Detroit's 33.3 percent conversion rate Sunday was the fourth time this season the Lions have been unable to convert more than one third of their third-down chances. The Lions have only been above 50 percent in the area three times this season -- and two of those games were in September.

The play calling Sunday in third down situations was particularly rough and somewhat predictable. Twice on Sunday, including on the Lions' first drive of the game, the team ran the ball on third-and-short and failed to get the one yard necessary to continue the drive. That first third down, a handoff to Jed Collins, was fairly obvious to those who have seen Detroit play this season because it is something the Lions have done before.

To be fair, the play had worked before, as Collins converted every third down rush he had all season prior to Sunday. But it seemed somewhat obvious it was coming. There were other issues, too, including Stafford's throwing short of the sticks on third down often Sunday.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn't seem too concerned about the team's play calling and said, "I don't feel that way," when asked if the Lions were becoming predictable on third down or in general.

Johnson echoed his comments and said it didn't have anything to do with what Lombardi was drawing up.

"I don't know. I'm not going to blame it on that," Johnson said. "It's just execution."

If that is truly the issue -- if the team isn't able to perform the plays well enough consistently -- that might be a bigger problem for Detroit as it hits the final six games of the season with a playoff berth still within reach. That is what Caldwell stressed Sunday after the game.

Despite the way Detroit played Sunday, and despite the offense's continued inefficiency, they are still in the middle of the playoff picture and tied with Green Bay for now.

"Just missed opportunities," running back Joique Bell said. "Missed opportunities, that's it. Can't call out one particular group. At the end of the day, we're a team. We play as a team, fight as a team, win as a team, lose as a team. So when you have those factors, you can't really point out one particular [area]."

On offense, it isn't one area right now at all that is Detroit's problem. It's the culmination of everything.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 14-6 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals:
  • Calvin Johnson was the last Lions player seen leaving the locker room because he spent extensive time after the game in the training room. Although he finished with five catches for 59 yards, Johnson said he was dealing with an elbow issue. He said the elbow shouldn't be an issue in the future.

    "I was out there all day, man," Johnson said.
  • The media congregated around Jeremy Ross' locker to talk to him about his punt return that ended up not counting, after it was ruled the ball was down at the Detroit 1-yard line.

    Ross said he thought the Arizona player didn't have possession when he picked up the ball and ran with it, but as he watched the replay, he saw how the official could call what he did.

  • Lions left guard Rob Sims compared Sunday's game to a postseason atmosphere on the field.

    "This felt like the playoffs," Sims said. "Those guys are good. Those guys are going to be good down the stretch. Maybe we'll see them down the line. Who knows."

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 14-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

What it means: The Lions continued to have a strong defense, and once again, the Lions’ offense failed them. Detroit only reached the red zone once Sunday and failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season.

This came about because of some rough throws by Matthew Stafford, some bad protection of Stafford by the Lions' offensive line and a lack of creative play-calling on movement downs. Detroit was 5-of-15 on third downs but should have been much better, considering at least two of the Lions’ failed third downs were third-and-short.

The biggest issue for the defense now is the lack of sacks on Drew Stanton. The former Lions’ quarterback wasn't sacked once but was picked off twice.

Stock watch: Rising -- Joique Bell. The running back once again had an inspired game -- even when the rest of his offense couldn’t do much. Bell hurdled defenders, was rarely brought down by the first tackler and again gave evidence he should be the team’s lead running back.

Falling -- Joe Lombardi. The Lions' offensive coordinator had a fairly predictable game plan, including running the ball with fullback Jed Collins on third-and-short. His offense has struggled most of the season, but against a strong Arizona defense, he left them at a loss. It was so bad, the Lions’ offense failed to score a touchdown.

Falling -- LaAdrian Waddle. The right tackle just can’t stay healthy this season. A week after hurting his knee, the second-year pro went down with an ankle injury in the second half and did not return. He was replaced by Cornelius Lucas. It’s a rough time for the right side of the Lions’ offensive line right now.

Back to their old selves: Jim Caldwell has often stressed to his team the importance of limiting penalties -- it’s one of the things he was brought in to help correct. On Sunday, though, that all began to fall apart. Detroit was flagged nine times for 80 yards, including a 15-yard taunting penalty on Julian Stanford late in the game.

Game ball: Joique Bell. The running back did everything he could Sunday; he gained 85 yards on 14 carries against one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL. He also caught three passes for 30 yards and ran hard when the rest of the Detroit offense looked fairly lifeless. Bell looked more and more like the running back he was a season ago, when he ran for 3.9 yards a carry as the complement to Reggie Bush.

What’s next: The Lions continue their two-game road trip by heading to New England on Sunday for a game against Tom Brady and the Patriots.