September 29, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Lions' O-line better than advertised

FIRST DOWN

Dominic Raiola didn’t want to hear about how the Bears’ defensive line was hamstrung without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.

“I am not taking anything away from those guys,” he said. “That’s a good (defensive) front. But we feel like we are pretty good ourselves. You have to respect that.”

This just in — the Lions rebuilt offensive line is pretty good.

“They are young guys, they’re athletic, they’re hungry and they are playing hard,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They are finishing blocks, doing a great job of avoiding penalties and still playing physical. They are playing good football right now. We just need more of it.”

Raiola, left guard Rob Sims, right guard Larry Warford and tackles Reilly Reiff and Corey Hilliard dominated the line of scrimmage, especially in the first half. The Lions finished with 159 yards rushing with Reggie Bush accounting for 139 of it, a 7.7 yard average.

Credit Raiola, though, for a savvy blitz pick up that sprung Bush on a 37-yard touchdown.

“Sweet run,” Stafford said. “It was a play that we have been working on all week, knowing they were going to blitz us. Instead of getting out of (the play), we just ran right into it. Dom made a great call up front. (Tight end Brandon) Pettigrew had a great block. We sealed off the back side and Reggie did the rest.”

Stafford was sacked only once in the game and only pressured a few times.

“They are an underrated group,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Not by us, but it was a big worry. Every time in training camp I was taking questions from everybody fretting about the offensive line.

“Our offensive line has done a pretty good job so far.”

SECOND DOWN

They don’t give out game balls for unsung heroes, typically, but if they did, receiver Kris Durham would’ve got one Sunday.

Durham, with receivers Nate Burleson (forearm) and Patrick Edwards (ankle) out, stepped up with three big catches for 58 yards. He had a 12-yard catch on third down that set up Stafford’s 1-yard touchdown run. He had catches of 22 and 24 yards in the fourth quarter to set up a 43-yard field goal.

But his biggest contribution might have been the two onside kick recoveries he made in the fourth quarter. On the second, which sealed the win with 43 seconds left, he was speared in the back by linebacker Jonathan Bostic.

“No play was bigger than that one,” Schwartz said. “He took a big shot there. We talk a lot about player safety. He’s laying prone on the ground, giving himself up and he takes a helmet right to the back and we don’t get any call there.

“It’s a little hypocritical to talk about player safety and allow that to go uncalled.”

THIRD DOWN

It couldn’t have been encouraging for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham or defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson to see the steep drop off in productivity once cornerbacks Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis went out of the game.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of finishing the game,” Schwartz said.

Mathis went out with a concussion in the first quarter. Rookie Darius Slay replaced him and did reasonable well. But when Houston went out with a leg injury in the fourth quarter, everything fell apart.

Jonte Green came in to play right corner and Slay moved to left corner. Quarterback Jay Cutler proceeded to pick them both apart. He completed 16 of 18 passes for 146 yards, two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the final quarter.

“In football you’ve got to learn to fight through everything,” said Stephen Tulloch, who had 14 tackles and a sack. “We did a good job. Obviously, we would have liked to finish a little bit better than we did but we got a win and that’s all you can account for in this league is wins.”

Schwartz did not speak to the severity of Houston’s injury. He did remain on the sideline throughout the game.

FOURTH DOWN

They may or may not be the best defensive tackle tandem in the league (though they made a loud statement Sunday), but Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have a lot of work to do yet on their celebrations.

The two combined on a touchdown in the third quarter. Suh, who punished rookie guard Kyle Long all game, sacked Cutler and stripped the ball away. Fairley scooped it up and rumbled four yards into the end zone.

But when Fairley tried to execute a chest bump, he knocked Suh to the ground.

“Oh yeah, we’ve got to work on the celebrations,” said a sheepish Fairley afterward. “Big fellas might not need to jump. We can just do a little handshake or something. We might not want to be jumping no more.”

Suh and Fairley combined to hit Cutler four times. Suh was credited with two sacks. On Suh’s sack-fumble, he and defensive end Willie Young worked a stunt with Young collapsing the interior of the line and Suh getting free around the edge.

“That’s what we harp on in the (defensive linemens) room — we play as a unit, we play for the guy next to us,” Fairley said. “If you make a play, it’s going to motivate us to go make a play because you don’t want him making all the plays. When Suh made that sack, we come back, I told him it’s going to be on me next time and he can scoop and score.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com
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Lions return man Micheal Spurlock's 47-yard punt return in the second quarter set up Mathew Stafford's 1-yard TD run. / Detroit News / Robin Buckson
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