When asked about left tackle Taylor Decker and his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery Thursday, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Decker was making good progress toward a midseason return.
Decker suffered a shoulder injury in OTAs that required surgery. He was placed on the PUP list to start the season, and is eligible to return to practice after Detroit's Week 6 game in New Orleans and play Week 8 vs. Pittsburgh (the Lions have a bye Week 7), if everything continues on the right path and Decker is ultimately cleared by doctors.
Decker played every snap as a rookie last year, and was named to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team. He allowed just 4.5 sacks in in over 600 Matthew Stafford drop backs.
Greg Robinson has been OK filling in for Decker at left tackle, but if Decker can regain the form we saw as a rookie, this offensive line could certainly see a boost with his return.
"Greg's done a lot of nice things," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Greg has not been perfect. He's getting better and better. Came in here, whatever it was, August 1st, July 20th, whenever we came to camp. Since that day, he's gotten better and better and continues to do that."
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran wild against the Lions' defense last week for Atlanta. Freeman ended up with 106 yards on 21 carries, and Coleman had 46 yards on just six carries. When it was all said and done, the Falcons had amassed 151 yards altogether on the ground.
Up next for that unit is Vikings rookie rusher Dalvin Cook, who is a similar back to Freeman, and is currently second in the NFL in rushing yards (288), and third in total yards (370).
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin knows the Lions have to be much better this week on the ground, and Austin thinks they will be better.
"We think we're a better run defense than we showed last week and we've really been working on that, regardless of who the back is," Austin said Thursday.
When he went through the tape of last week's performance, Austin didn't see a defense that got dominated physically. He said a lot of Detroit's issues on the ground were self-inflicted with bad mechanics, poor communication in run fits and other issues.
"We have to do a much better job than we did last week in terms of our fundamentals and techniques, and we just kind of got out of whack a little bit last week in terms of our run defense and that's not really what we're about," Austin said.
"We think we're a better run defense than we showed last week and we've really been working on that, regardless of who the back is."
Minnesota will certainly test that theory out early on Sunday. In their two victories over New Orleans and Tampa Bay, they were able to establish the run early, force the defense to move up adjust to it, and then hit for big plays over the top to receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The Vikings will no-doubt try and resurrect that successful formula once again at home Sunday.
HEAVY SAFETY LOOK
Starting strong safety Tavon Wilson has returned to practice this week in a limited fashion, and the Lions are obviously hoping the shoulder injury that kept him out of last week's contest heals enough to allow him to play Sunday.
With Wilson back in the fold, that heavy safety package Austin likes to use becomes more formidable with Glover Quin, Wilson and Miles Killebrew. Week 1 vs. Arizona, the Lions used the package nearly 40 percent of the game. That number will obviously fluctuate from week to week, depending on the matchup, but Wilson said the Lions are utilizing it more and more because it allows them to be more versatile on defense.
"I think we have a lot of versatile guys," Wilson said. "Miles (Killebrew) is athletic and gifted. Q (Quin) is a really good player. We think we have a lot of athletic guys and we think it puts a lot of pressure on the offense because they have to account for us, you have to know what position you consider us.
"Are you looking at us as a linebacker? Or are you looking at us as a nickel? Are you looking at us as a safety? That's up to them to figure out and it can be tough."
Jeff Locke hasn't been around Matt Prater long, but he's already impressed by the veteran kicker.
Prater is 6-for-6 kicking field goals on the year, and was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month on Thursday. He's already set an NFL record for the most field goals of 55-plus yards made in a season (4) and we're only in Week 4.
"He impresses me every day," said Locke, who took over punting and holding duties after Kasey Redfern was injured Week 1. "Really, what impresses me is the consistency of him hitting what we call a flush ball.
"It's like a perfect golf shot, right? When you swing and you hit it so well it feels like you barely hit the ball. It's like the ball wasn't even there. For me, the really cool thing working with Prater is how consistently he hits that flush ball."