Today's Pigskin

August 18, 2016: Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) during game action between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions during a preseason game played at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
Detroit Lions

Lions lose to Titans, but several key injuries could cripple season

Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

For the Detroit Lions, losing an ugly game to the Tennessee Titans was a bad way to celebrate their home opener.

Not only did they get booed off the field after the 16-15 defeat, they killed any momentum they might have picked up in last week’s wild victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

However, the problems might have just started.

Detroit went into the game without their best defensive player, weak-side linebacker DeAndre Levy, then saw key players drop like flies on both sides of the ball. Pro Bowl pass rusher Ziggy Ansah left early with a high-ankle sprain, and the Lions also lost strong-side linebacker Kyle Van Noy and Levy’s replacement, rookie Antwione Williams.

That meant, on Tennessee’s winning drive in the final two minutes, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was missing his best pass rusher and only had two healthy linebackers — starter Tahir Whitehead and backup Thurston Armbrister. To play a 4-3 as the Titans approached the goal line, Austin was forced to insert defensive end Brandon Copeland on the outside.

The Titans, who only managed three points in the first three quarters, scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against what was left of the Lions’ defense. The winning drive went 13 plays and 83 yards with Marcus Mariota hitting Andre Johnson in the back of the end zone with 1:13 to play.

The short-handed Lions couldn’t stop anything the Titans wanted to do in the middle of the field, but coach Jim Caldwell refused to use that as an excuse.

“Injuries happen in this league — you are always going to have attrition,” he said. “That’s why you have second- and third-string players. They have to be ready to step in, and I thought some of our young guys did an admirable job of that.”

“We just didn’t make plays.”

Things weren’t quite as bad on the offensive side of the ball, but starting running back Ameer Abdullah left the game with a foot injury, and tight end Eric Ebron missed much of the second half with a suspected brain injury.

“It got to the point where I wasn’t even sure who we had available,” Matthew Stafford said. “Guys were going out, and some of them were coming back, and I just was trying to move the ball with whoever was in the huddle.”

Stafford was lucky not to be in the locker room with all of his teammates. He injured his left leg after a low hit when he was throwing a pass, and was furious not to get a call. He limped after referee Brad Allen to complain, but didn’t get a flag.

“He told me that the guy wrapped up after he hit me so that it wasn’t a penalty,” Stafford said. “Apparently, I didn’t know that rule as well as I thought I did.”

He was able to walk off that injury, but he took uncharacteristic risks twice in the first half. On a scramble, he lowered his shoulder and ran over Titans cornerback Perrish Cox, then he raced 20 yards downfield to throw a pair of blocks on a big run by Abdullah.

Both plays came back to haunt the Lions — Cox picked Stafford off with 18 seconds left to clinch the game, and Stafford’s second block knocked Avery Williamson into Abdullah — the hit that caused the running back’s game-ending injury.

“I’m sure that Jim Bob (Cooter) and Coach Caldwell aren’t going to be happy about those two plays,” he said. “But I’m watching everyone else doing everything they can to win this game, and I got caught up in that. I probably need to be smarter.”

The big question now is how much time the injured players will miss. Levy and Ansah are the two biggest playmakers on the Detroit defense, while Abdullah is the most consistent runner on a team that struggles to move the ball on the ground.

Any linebacker depth that the Lions had, which wasn’t much, was wiped out on Sunday, and there’s no other pass rusher that will give offensive coordinators sleepless nights. Abdullah will be replaced by receiving specialist Theo Riddick and rookie Dwayne Washington, but neither of them has ever been a primary back.

Of course, the Lions probably have a pretty good idea of the severity of the injuries, but that’s nothing Caldwell will share.

“I don’t talk about injuries,” he answered every time he was asked, just as he always does.

The answers to those questions, though, will play a major role in Detroit’s season.

Lions lose to Titans, but several key injuries could cripple season

More of Your Lions with Locked on Lions Podcast

To Top