Lions, Rams face off in search of more offense
DETROIT — The Detroit Lions have failed to find any consistency on offense. Their opponent this week has been even worse.
Both teams will be seeking better results when the Los Angeles Rams visit Detroit on Sunday.
The Lions snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles 24-23 last Sunday despite gaining just 45 yards in the second half. Detroit's offense failed to produce a touchdown the previous week against Chicago's injury-riddled defense.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford did throw three first-half touchdown passes against the Eagles but is mindful that the Rams held Detroit's offense to two scores in a 21-14 Lions loss last season in St. Louis.
“We played a team that was undefeated and was playing really well on defense. But each week presents a new challenge,” he said. “This week against the Rams is no different. They have a really talented defense and a smart defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) who gives you a bunch of looks. It will be on us to adjust and move forward.”
Stafford was sacked four times by the Rams last season and that's a big concern for coach Jim Caldwell.
“They can rush the passer,” he said. “They've got guys that can get up the field. Everybody knows about (defensive tackle Aaron) Donald. He's an inside rusher that can give you a lot of problems. But out on the edge you can just go on and on about those guys. There's a lot of guys that can get up the field and they give you a lot of problems in terms of the looks they have.”
The Lions fortified their backfield by signing veteran Justin Forsett this week. It's uncertain how much he'll play behind current starter Theo Riddick.
Detroit (2-3) is hopeful of getting its top pass rusher, Ziggy Ansah, back in action after he missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain. It's likely to be without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who has a shoulder injury.
The Rams (3-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped by the Buffalo Bills, 30-19. Quarterback Case Keenum threw for a season-high 271 yards but tossed two interceptions, including a pivotal pick-six with the score tied in the third quarter.
Los Angeles also failed to convert a fake punt at its 25-yard-line while trailing by four late in the game, allowing Buffalo to score a clinching touchdown.
“They created turnovers and made big plays in two situations,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We didn't get any turnovers and we gave up too many rushing yards.”
The Rams outgained the Bills 365-305, which Fisher saw as a sign of progress for an offense ranked last in average total yards (284.2) and tied for last with Houston in points (16.4 per game).
“We're getting better on third down,” he said. “We made some plays on third down, we had nine explosive plays against a really good defense and had 23 first downs. You can take the 32nd in the league and write all you want about it, but this offense is improving.”
Perhaps so, but the centerpiece to the attack can't find much room. Second-year back Todd Gurley is averaging 2.7 yards per carry and is still seeking his first 100-yard game this season.
Gurley had 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Detroit last year.
“Don't be fooled by (his stats),” Caldwell said. “I'm going to tell you something — that guy is dangerous.”
The most consistent element of the offense has been kicker Greg Zuerlein, who has made all nine of his field-goal attempts and his seven extra-point tries.
“Greg is kicking really well right now,” Fisher said. “I'd like for Greg to kick off and kick extra points. He's hitting his field goals, but our touchdown-to-field goal ratio is not where it should be. We need touchdowns.”
Los Angeles' defense took a big hit against Buffalo when top cornerback Trumaine Johnson suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for this week's game. Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown against Stafford and the Lions last season.
He'll be replaced by second-year corner Troy Hill. The team added some depth by claiming Dwayne Gratz off waivers from Jacksonville.