he 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.
Included in the list of players taking part in practice were cornerback Darius Slay (hamstring) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (chest), who both missed Detroit’s Week 4 loss to Kansas City.
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.
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.
The Detroit Lions are doing something unusual with their offensive line, and four games into the season, it seems to be working.
While most NFL teams play their starting five linemen together as much as possible, the Lions have rotated three players regularly at the two guard spots.
Graham Glasgow has started every game at right, Joe Dahl has started every game at left, and Kenny Wiggins has played a series or two every game at both positions.
The rotation was the brainchild of offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, and the Lions aren’t in any hurry to change it.
“There came a time, obviously in that first week (of the season that) I’m sitting here trying to agonize over who’s winning the starting job and all that stuff there,” he said. “To me, it was clear who owned the starting jobs, but I also believed that Kenny Wiggins earned the right to be on the field and it’s just a way to be able to get that done also.”
Wiggins made 10 starts as an injury fill-in for right guard T.J. Lang last season and spent most of the summer splitting time with Dahl at left guard.
Glasgow moved from center to right guard this spring after playing all but one of a possible 1,075 offensive snaps last season.
Frank Ragnow, last year’s left guard, replaced Glasgow at center this fall and has not been a part of the team’s offensive line rotation.
Pro Football Focus ranks Glasgow as the No. 3 guard in the NFL and Dahl as the No. 22 player at the position. And while that would make it seem as if the Lions are losing something when Wiggins is on the field, Davidson said that hasn’t been the case.
“It’s also helped pull off the legs of those guys a little bit, too, to hopefully create a little longevity for the rest of the season, the next game, the end of the game, all those things as well,” he said.
Although NFL teams value continuity on their offensive line, Davidson said the Lions’ rotation up front works because of the communication that’s involved.
He gives Wiggins a series or so heads up before putting him in the game, and both Glasgow and Dahl go into games knowing they likely won’t play a full complement of snaps.
“Kenny is enough of a pro that he knows the way that he has to go about business,” Davidson said. “There’s been very good communication on that, everybody knows the way it’s going. It’s something that I think is helping us and I feel comfortable with him being in the game just as much as I feel the other guys.”
“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?