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NOTEBOOK: Protection issues hurting Lions' offense

Posted Oct 11, 2017

Tim Twentyman covers all the news from Wednesday's practice including better protecting Stafford, where the lions stand at DT and more.

Only Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers have been sacked more than Matthew Stafford (18) through five games this season.

Only Deshaun Watson (46.2 percent), Russell Wilson (43.5), Jacoby Brissett (43.4) and Palmer (42.5) have been pressured more often when they’ve dropped back to pass than the 39.6 percent of the time Stafford’s seen pressure on drop backs.

Stafford’s been sacked 12 times and hit 14 times over the past two weeks alone, which is more than Lions head coach Jim Caldwell would care to see or Stafford would care to endure. Stafford’s body is certainly feeling the effects of the beating he’s taken the last two weeks.

The truth is, the pressure the Lions are allowing on offense is having a direct impact on their effectiveness on that side of the ball. It's their biggest issue right now.

“Well anytime a defensive line can get penetration, whether it’s in the pass game or the run game, I think it’s a positive for the defense,” Stafford said Wednesday.

“You always want to play on their side of the line of scrimmage if you possibly can on offense, and that’s in the run game and the pass game, and anytime they’re in the back field, it’s a disruption to really any play you have going.”

Too much pressure can affect so many different aspects on offense, which Lions receiver Golden Tate pointed out Wednesday.

“You see your quarterback scrambling ... you start breaking routes off earlier. You start getting away from the details,” Tate said.

“We have to keep doing our jobs and get it all figured out. When there’s pressure on Matt, it makes everyone uncomfortable, for sure. And then it makes everyone feel like they have to do something extra, which is when you really get in trouble. We all have to do our part.”

When Stafford’s had a comfortable pocket, and the ability to survey the field, he’s been pretty good this year.

The last two weeks, that’s certainly not been the case, and pressure has been the biggest culprit.

It’s something Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have to figure out quickly if they’re going to climb out of the bottom third of the league in just about every major statistical category on offense.

“We have guys on the outside we’d like to be able to get the ball to,” Caldwell said Wednesday. “You have to be able to protect. That’s key and the No. 1 thing we have to be able to do. We haven’t been doing it well enough.”

TURNOVER CORRECTION

The Lions have been one of the top teams in forcing takeaways. They are third with 11 behind only Jacksonville (15) and Baltimore (12).

On the flip side, there’s only one team in the entire NFL that hasn’t turned the ball over yet this year, this week’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

Detroit is plus-eight on the year in turnover differential. New Orleans is plus-four. Both totals rank in the top five in the NFL.

Turnovers are always a key stat in a contest, but given how one team is good at forcing them, and the other has been quite stingy providing them, it's an even more important statistic this week.

“There’s a lot of things that are going right for you not to have at least one turnover,” Lions safety Glover Quin said of the Saints’ offense.

“Hopefully, the law of averages will prevail. Hopefully, they’re due to catch up.”

DEFENSIVE TACKLE SHUFFLE

Detroit’s defense suffered a big blow this week when veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suffered a bicep injury that’s landed him on IR. His absence leaves a void right in the center of Detroit’s defensive line.

Ngata was having a very good start to the year, and has been a big factor in Detroit’s third-ranked rushing defense through five games. His absence will have an impact off the field too, as he's one of the leaders of the defense.

“But we do have guys in place that we think can get the job done what we ask them to do,” Caldwell said. “We’ll get it done.”

That task now falls more on defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence and rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter. The Lions also signed former first-round pick Datone Jones, and former Lion Caraun Reid, this week to help fill the void left by Ngata’s absence.

EBRON SUPPORT

Lions tight end Eric Ebron has a had a rough couple of weeks dealing with drops. He’s drawn the ire of a frustrated fan base, which can be a lonely place to dwell at times.

Ebron hasn’t lost the support of his teammates, however. He and Stafford got together to talk some things out earlier this week, and Tate says the offense needs Ebron to bounce back.

“Just want to remind him, ‘Hey, you’re a heck of a player, you’re here for a reason. We need you in order to go where we want to go. All we want you to do is just to keep working hard, be mentally strong, understand your assignments and just keep growing,’” Tate said Wednesday when asked what he’d say to a struggling Ebron.

“Coming up real soon, I think Eric Ebron is going to have a career-type game.”

The Lions could certainly use it. They currently rank 29th in total offense and 23rd in passing.

“He’s a guy that’s really talented that can help us, and he’s got to continue to work hard and continue to try to improve just like everybody,” Stafford said of the fourth-year tight end.