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Katzenstein’s Four Downs: Lions’ coaches under the gun

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

FIRST DOWN

After starting 0-5, Lions coach Jim Caldwell had to answer a question about whether he would make any coaching changes this week.

“No,” he said.

Whether that would help is hard to tell, of course. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has been a popular scapegoat among fans, but the players still stood behind him all last week despite ranking 30th in offense.

Although there aren’t any imminent staff changes, the Lions might want to look at whether Lombardi’s scheme is effective, but Caldwell denied needing to do that neither.

“No, I’ve got to pick through myself,” he said. “That’s probably about the only thing that needs (to be) picked through. I’m not doing a very good job right now.”

SECOND DOWN

The Cardinals didn’t seem to think there were coaching issues on the Lions’ sideline. As a reporter asked defensive end Calais Campbell about the Lions’ struggles on offense, defensive tackle Frostee Rucker chimed in with an unsolicited comment.

“Hopefully those guys stay strong and bounce back,” Campbell said of the Lions.

“Yeah, because they’re well-coached,” Rucker said.

After dismantling the Lions, 42-17, how could Rucker tell they were a well-coached team?

“Caldwell’s track record in Indy,” said Rucker, a 10-year veteran. “I haven’t heard anything bad about him.”

Lions players, particularly strong safety James Ihedigbo, stood by their coach after the game and said Caldwell has the team’s best interest at heart, which makes it easy to play for him.

However, the Lions offense is loaded with talent like Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, but still hasn’t found any consistency this year.

“I think they’ll figure it out in due time,” Campbell said. “They just keep playing together, keep working on it. The talent is there, all over the field.”

Besides, the 4-1 Cardinals have other things to worry about than why the Lions offense isn’t performing well.

“It’s not on us to figure that out,” Rucker said.

THIRD DOWN

One thing the Cardinals did figure out was how much the Lions offense likes throwing screen passes. For the past couple weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about other teams knowing the Lions’ plays, and that was the case when defensive end Cory Redding intercepted Matthew Stafford on a screen pass.

“Just that one, and a lot of times, that’s a lucky guess,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said when asked if his team could predict the Lions’ plays. “(Defensive line coach) Brentson Buckner hit it on the head that time.”

The debate over the predictability of the Lions’ offense will surely rage on after having six turnovers, but most of the giveaways came from good plays by the Cardinals defensive backs. Safety Tony Jefferson forced two fumbles, safety Rashad Johnson had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, and cornerback Patrick Peterson had an interception.

“Those DBs, when they get going, those dudes are ball hawks,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to respect them. They’re so smart, they play so hard and they make us look good, so we appreciate it.”

FOURTH DOWN

In a loss as bad as the one the Lions suffered Sunday, it’s hard to blame one drive for the defeat. But it seemed pretty clear that nothing was going to improve for the Lions after the defense allowed a 99-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.

Punter Sam Martin hit a perfect, sideways-spinning punt that went 42 yards and gave cornerback Nevin Lawson a chance to down it at the 1. But five plays later, the Cardinals scored on a 2-yard run by rookie David Johnson to take a 21-7 lead with 3:11 left in the second quarter.

The key plays on the drive were a 49-yard deep pass to John Brown and a 40-yard run by Chris Johnson.

“That wasn’t the end of it,” Caldwell said of the drive. “You still have a chance to really make some things happen. We just kept kind of giving it back to them. You can’t give a good time the ball back that many times and not expect to get beaten badly, which is what we did.”

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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