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Scouting Report: Lions

Posted Oct 27, 2017

Stafford accustomed to winning games late.

A look at what the Steelers will be up against on Sunday night at the Detroit Lions:

IT AIN’T OVER ’TIL IT’S OVER: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has authored 29 game-winning drives in his nine-year career (when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter or overtime). Stafford has one such comeback this season (Sept. 10 against Arizona) and turned the trick eight times in 2016. He’s perceived in NFL circles to possess a gunslinger’s mentality and an ability to figure out coverages as a game progresses.

Stafford has finished off 18 of those game-winning drives in overtime or with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

TURN ’EM OVER: Through seven weeks (six games for the Lions plus a bye), Detroit ranks third in the NFL in takeaways (14), second in points off turnovers (61), tied for third in interceptions (nine) and tied for third in opponent fumble recoveries (five).

The Lions have three TDs on interception returns this season (safety Miles Killebrew, safety Glover Quinn and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson).

PASSING GAME OPTIONS: Running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have been regular targets for Stafford since the two joined forces in Detroit in 2015. The Lions rank third in receptions by a running back (257), fourth in receiving yards (2,163), fourth in receiving touchdowns (tied, 12), second in first-down receptions (111) and third in yards after the catch (2,147) in that span.

ONE OF THOSE DAYS: The Lions are coming off a 52-38 loss on Oct. 15 at New Orleans during which they turned the ball over more times (five) than they had in their first five games this season combined (three). One of the Lions’ three fumbles (two lost) was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. One of Stafford’s three interceptions was returned 27 yards for a touchdown and another was picked off in the end zone.

The poor ball security was uncharacteristic for the Lions, who only turned the ball over 15 times last season (their fewest number of giveaways since 1940). Detroit’s 22 giveaways since Week 10 of the 2015 season are tied with Buffalo for the fewest in the NFL since then.

CASHING IN: The Lions have scored touchdowns on 60 percent of their red zone possessions this season (tied for fifth in the NFL) and are No. 3 in the NFL in that category since 2011 (60.9 percent).

RECEIVING TIGHT END: Darren Fells has caught three touchdown passes this season, including one of at least 20 yards in Detroit’s last two games (20 yards on Oct. 8 against Carolina, 22 yards against New Orleans).

OFF THE EDGE: Defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettle each have four sacks through six games. Detroit is one of seven teams in the NFL boasting two players with at least four sacks. Since 2010, the Lions are fourth in the NFL in sacks by a defensive lineman with 234.

NO FLY ZONE: Cornerback Darius Slay has a career-high three interceptions through six games.

RUNNING ON EMPTY: The Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since head coach Jim Caldwell’s arrival in 2014. The last Detroit running back to reach triple digits on the ground was Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving, 2013 (117 yards vs. Green Bay). The Lions only rushed for 100 yards as a team three times in 16 games last season and have done so once in six games this season (138 on Sept. 18 against the New York Football Giants).

SPECIAL EDITION: Rookie cornerback Jamal Agnew has two punt returns for touchdowns this season, including a 74-yard effort against the Saints. Kicker Matt Prater is 40-for-51 in his career on field goals of 50-plus yards (4-for-6 this season). Prater connected from 55 and 57 yards on Sept. 24 against Atlanta and has become the first kicker in NFL history to make four field goals of at least 55 yards in a season this season (58, 56, 55, and 57). Prater is 10-for-12 on the season overall on field goals, with his misses coming from 59 and 56 yards. Prater kicked an NFL-record 64-yard field goal on Dec. 8, 2013 for Denver.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Lions have held four of their first six opponents under 100 yards rushing this season but surrendered 193 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns on 37 carries at New Orleans.

HE SAID IT: “He’s a very physical player. Coach (head coach Mike Tomlin) compared him to Hines Ward. He just goes really hard. He might not be the fastest or the strongest but he gets open, runs good routes, plays very physical, plays with a lot of energy and likes to get after you in the running game, also. You gotta keep your head on a swivel for him.” _ Steelers cornerback Joe Haden on Lions wide receiver Golden Tate.