The bye week looks to have come at a perfect time for the Detroit Lions.
It was an early Week 5 bye this season, but this was a Lions football team that’s been banged up early this season, and the bye might have come at a perfect time for a number of key contributors.
The Lions returned to the practice field Wednesday ahead of Monday night’s NFC North matchup in Green Bay, and did so with everyone but defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Damon Harrison Sr. Lions head coach Matt Patricia said before practice that everyone except Daniels was expected to practice, so it’s unclear what forced Harrison’s absence.
Leaving that Chiefs game with injuries were tight end T.J. Hockenson (concussion) and safety Quandre Diggs (hamstring). Both were back on the practice field during the open portion of practice and were taking part in all activities.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Hockenson remains in the concussion protocol, but he looks to be progressing nicely through the protocol as he’s to the point where he’s allowed to take part in physical activity.
Even defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (elbow) looked to be doing more during the open portion Wednesday. He’s been out since training camp with the injury. He was hitting the sleds with his fellow defensive linemen Wednesday, and looked to be much more of a participant in the open portion of practice than he’s been in prior weeks. He’s been inactive through Detroit’s first four weeks because of the elbow injury suffered the first week of training camp. His ability to be disruptive in the middle of the defensive front has been missed the first month of the season.
Even quarterback Matthew Stafford looked to be moving much better having had a week to rest a sore hip.
It’s going to be a long 12-week grind for the Lions with their bye week in the rearview mirror, but given the injuries they were dealing with to some key players, and the apparent health they have coming out of the bye, it might have been perfect timing for the Lions to get their week off.
SMITH & SMITH
The Packers are playing pretty good defense under second-year coordinator Mike Pettine, and a couple of shrewd offseason free-agent signings have helped spearhead the way for Green Bay’s defense.
The signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the edges have really transformed the Packers' defense into a threat.
Green Bay ranks eighth in points allowed this year (18.6), their 15 sacks rank ninth and their plus-seven turnover differential is tied with New England for the league lead. The Packers have 11 takeaways in five games and are 4-1 on the year to lead the NFC North.
“You’re going to start with Za’Darius (Smith) and Preston Smith on the edge,” Patricia said, when asked what’s been the reason for the Packers’ improvement on defense this season. “I think their playmaking ability, their aggressiveness, the way that they can set the edge of the defense and funnel everything back inside.”
The two Smiths have combined for 33 tackles, 10.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and a forced fumble so far this year.
Taylor Decker, Rick Wagner and the rest of the Lions’ blockers on the edge will have their hands full this week with Smith and Smith.
Stafford was asked Wednesday what he liked about the offense the first quarter of the season after he got a chance to look back and do some self-evaluation over the bye.
“I thought we were explosive, which is good,” he said. “Both in the run and the pass. Had some big plays and those lead to points in this league, no question about it.”
Detroit still ranks in the top 10 in the NFL with 18 passing completions of 21-plus yards. Stafford leads the league with an average depth of target nearly 13 yards (12.6) down the field, per Pro Football Focus statistics. Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wasn’t kidding when he told reporters before the season that he wanted this Lions passing attack to be explosive.
“It’s been fun,” Stafford said of running this new attacking offense. “We’ve been kind of doing it a bunch of different ways. Throwing the ball down the field. Throwing it short and letting those guys run with it, and really, I feel like all position groups have been a part of it.”
Can it continue Monday in Green Bay against a Packers' defense that’s top 10 in the NFL in points allowed (18.6) and has generated 11 takeaways in five games?