Bears running back Matt Forte's 53-yard touchdown run is just one of the big plays that the Lions are looking to reduce as the season progresses. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Allen Park — In Week 1, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gashed the Lions for a 78-yard touchdown run and wide receiver Jerome Simpson had catches of 44 and 47 yards.
In Week 3, Washington running back Alfred Morris scored on a 30-yard run and the next week, Chicago's Matt Forte ran for a 53-yard touchdown. Last Sunday, Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin ran for a 45-yard gain on an end-around and receiver Josh Gordon broke free for a 36-yard reception.
Despite these chunk plays and more, the Lions won all four of those games. Moving forward, though, preventing the game-breaking plays will be key for the defense.
"It's really frustrating," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said Friday. "Last week we overreacted — the same thing all year. I think so many guys are trying to make plays that they get out of position.
"One guy makes a mistake and it causes great pain for us to make the adjustment, and we had to do that at halftime last week."
The plays by Benjamin and Gordon both came in the first half, as Cleveland gained 250 yards and grabbed a 17-7 lead. At halftime, Cunningham made adjustments and the Lions shut out the Browns in the second half by holding them to 145 yards in a 31-17 victory.
"I just challenged everybody on my behalf and said, 'We've been making dumb mistakes for 4 1/2 years and I'm tired of it. The head coach is tired of it. Let's see what we're going to do the second half,'" Cunningham said, recalling the halftime message. "That was about the gist of it other than going over a few plays. The first snap in the second half, I couldn’t believe it. We had 11 guys in their backfield."
The Lions rank 26th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (393.2), but thanks to turnovers and holding teams to field goals after some long plays, they rank 19th in points allowed per game (23.3).
"Some of the plays that we get beat on, we're right there; we just ain't making plays," safety Louis Delmas said. "Luckily for us, those big plays can definitely be handled and definitely fixed.
"I think at times we just get a little lackadaisical out there and not focused and not read our keys, which we should do each and every play."
Delmas said the Lions starting 4-2 despite giving up big plays is a compliment to the defense. It helps that the Lions have 13 takeaways, tied for fourth in the league.
"We know the potential that we have and we know how great of a defense we can be," Delmas said. "As long as we limit those big plays by doing our job and focusing on our assignments, I think we can be a great defense."
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) is probable for Sunday's game against the Bengals. Johnson must be feeling better because, although limited, he practiced all three days this week and was questionable the past two weeks.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson (forearm) and tight end Tony Scheffler (concussion) are both out Sunday. Rookie Joseph Fauria should continue to see an expanded role in Scheffler's stead.
Right tackle Jason Fox (knee) is doubtful, so Corey Hilliard will likely start again.
Running backs Joique Bell (ribs) and Theo Riddick (concussion) are both questionable. Bell was limited in practice all week, and Riddick practiced for the first time in two weeks Friday, though he was limited. If either can't play, Mikel Leshoure should be active for the second week in a row.
Safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) and linebacker Ashlee Palmer (ankle) are all probable.