NFL Wire News

Lions have work to do on defense


The Sports Xchange

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions’ starting defense didn’t look ready for the regular season in Friday’s dress rehearsal against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which the Lions won 22-17. Quarterback Blake Bortles picked the Lions apart and led the Jaguars to third-down conversions on their first seven tries while jumping out to an early 14-0 lead.

“We’ve got to get better,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s a fact, and sometimes you need an outing like that to kind of wake you up. It’s good that we got the win, but I guarantee you one thing, we better get better in a hurry because obviously when the season starts, it’ll be a little different story.”

In addition to the defensive lapses by the starters, the Lions had 13 penalties for 130 yards and gave up another long return on special teams, this time a 27-yard punt return by Jacksonville cornerback Nick Marshall.

But, the Lions’ offense helped support the struggles on defense as Matthew Stafford led two long touchdown drives in the second quarter, including a beautiful throw to Golden Tate on a 62-yard touchdown.

The defense had little success on a 15-play opening scoring drive by the Jaguars that lasted nearly eight minutes. Penalties by cornerback Rashean Mathis and safety James Ihedigbo helped set up the second touchdown. One point of concern will be the Lions’ struggles to cover tight ends without linebacker DeAndre Levy, who sat while recovering from an injury. Jaguars tight ends had eight catches for 123 yards through 2 1/2 quarters, and starter Julius Thomas did not play.

A good sign for the defense was against the run, holding Jacksonville to just 68 yards on 27 carries, but a lack of pass-rush pressure on Bortles gave the Jaguars far too many opportunities.

“It kind of gave us a look at what we can be if we get things squared away and gave us a look at what we can be if we don’t do those things,” defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “We take it all in stride, never complain with a win, but we’ve got some work to do starting tomorrow.”

Trailing 14-13 at halftime after Matt Prater missed an extra point, the Lions’ defensive starters returned to the field to begin the third quarter, perhaps a chance for them to prove their first-half performance was an aberration. Instead, the Jaguars marched quickly to a field goal to start the second half that put them up 17-13, and the backups entered thereafter on both offense and defense.

–Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been exceptional through three preseason games, going 19 of 25 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and a 156.3 passer rating. Although the offense started slow in Jacksonville, Stafford led two touchdown drives to close the first half and finished 11 of 15 for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfectly thrown deep ball to Golden Tate for a 62-yard score.

“It sure feels a whole lot better than coming out and playing bad and throwing three picks and no touchdowns,” Stafford said. “I’d rather have the three touchdowns and no picks going into the season. It’s a good feeling. It’s something to build on.”

But, as Stafford noted, the Lions haven’t been playing at full strength as Calvin Johnson was a healthy scratch in the first three exhibitions.

“Calvin’s a pretty good player, so it’ll be nice to get him back out on the field when we start playing,” Stafford said.

–Undrafted rookie Zach Zenner continued to impress and appears locked into a spot on the 53-man roster as the fourth tailback. Highlighted by a 41-yarder in the second quarter, Zenner finished with eight carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The score came on a tough 3-yard run.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t wow you without pads on and then you go put the pads on and you play real football,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “And he does the right thing in protection, has pretty sure hands and then when he gets the ball in his hands when he’s running the ball, he does a great job. He’s got really good patience, good vision and he’s obviously a big kid.”

Zenner ran for 2,000-plus yards in each of the last three years. He also had 81 yards from scrimmage last week against Washington and 55 rushing yards two weeks ago against the Jets, but said he’s not sure where he stands on the roster.

“I’m not in the decision room,” he said. “I know in this league, there’s so many variables, so it’s hard for me to say.”

About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business