NOTE­BOOK Austin: Blun­der

Co­or­di­na­tor said he was in charge when team lined up nine

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JAMES HAWKINS The Detroit News jhawkins@de­troit­news.com twit­ter.com/james­b­hawkins jhawkins@de­troit­news.com twit­ter.com/james­b­hawkins

Allen Park — Li­ons de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Teryl Austin is point­ing the fin­ger at him­self.

Af­ter the Li­ons had nine play­ers on the field dur­ing a cru­cial third-down play in the fourth quar­ter of last week’s 44-20 loss to the Ravens, Austin said he bears all the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the blun­der but de­clined to ex­plain ex­actly what went wrong.

“I’m in charge of the de­fense, so if there’s not enough guys out there, it’s on me,” Austin said Thurs­day. “There’s no ex­pla­na­tion. Jim (Cald­well) has cov­ered it. Bot­tom line is if I’m in charge of the de­fense and some­thing goes wrong with the de­fense, it’s on me.”

The play in ques­tion hap­pened in the first minute of the fi­nal quar­ter af­ter the Li­ons pulled within 20-13 and made it a one-pos­ses­sion game af­ter trail­ing by 20.

Fol­low­ing a sec­ond-down play where Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco was hit and lost the ball but was ruled an in­com­ple­tion, there was con­fu­sion dur­ing sub­sti­tu­tions and the Li­ons were caught with nine de­fend­ers on the field.

Bal­ti­more hur­ried to the line and promptly took ad­van­tage of the mis­cue as Flacco com­pleted a 23-yard pass to Chris Moore on a third-and-7 to give the Ravens a fresh set of downs at the Li­ons 10. Two plays later, run­ning back Alex Collins scored on a 7-yard run for the first of Bal­ti­more’s 24 fourth-quar­ter points.

Cald­well orig­i­nally fell on the sword and said the mistake was his fault af­ter the loss, an ad­mirable ad­mis­sion that Austin dis­missed.

“I’m in charge of the de­fense, so I’m go­ing to take this one,” Austin said. “I un­der­stand Jim is in charge of the whole team, so ob­vi­ously as a head coach if I was ever in that po­si­tion I would take that for my team.

“But bot­tom line is I’m in charge of the de­fense and what I put out there whether they played well, played poorly, have enough, don’t have enough, at the end of the day that falls back on me be­cause I’m in charge of that side of the ball.”

How­ever, it’s been a re­cur­ring is­sue dur­ing crit­i­cal mo­ments the past two games.

Against the Vik­ings on Thanks­giv­ing, the Li­ons had trou­ble get­ting the right per­son­nel on the field and only had 10 de­fend­ers line up on a sec­on­dand-goal that re­sulted in a 1-yard touch­down catch by tight end Kyle Ru­dolph.

While the Li­ons fre­quently shut­tle per­son­nel on and off the field and use a wide range of de­fen­sive com­bi­na­tions based on downs and dis­tances, Austin said that has noth­ing to do with the re­cent com­mu­ni­ca­tion mishaps.

“We’ve had two is­sues prob­a­bly all year and they hap­pen to be in the last two weeks,” Austin said.

“I don’t think it’s a prob­lem. I think we just had a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Again, it falls on me. It’s my job to get it fixed and it will be

fixed.”

Stafford on the mend

Li­ons quar­ter­back Matthew Stafford hasn’t missed a start since 2011, a streak doesn’t look likely to end Sun­day.

Stafford, who in­jured his throw­ing hand in last week’s loss to the Ravens, ramped up the ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the open por­tion of Thurs­day’s prac­tice and re­sumed throw­ing.

While ro­tat­ing in at quar­ter­back dur­ing drills, he tossed an ar­ray of short passes to run­ning backs in the flat and showed his touch on cor­ner fades in goalline sit­u­a­tions.

Stafford still had his pinky and ring fin­gers in­di­vid­u­ally taped on his throw­ing hand and handed the ball off with his left hand, but the in­creased ac­tiv­ity was a pos­i­tive sign af­ter he didn’t throw at all dur­ing the open por­tion of Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice.

Stafford sus­tained the in­jury when he was ac­ci­den­tally stepped on by Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs fol­low­ing a fourth-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion. Stafford said ex­pe­ri­enced

he “burn­ing nerve pain” while Xrays were nega­tive and re­vealed noth­ing was bro­ken.

Cald­well said be­fore prac­tice Thurs­day there’s still no timetable for de­ter­min­ing Stafford’s avail­abil­ity for Sun­day’s game against the Buc­ca­neers.

“When he’s ready (we’ll make a de­ci­sion),” Cald­well said.

Jake Ru­dock re­placed Stafford af­ter suf­fer­ing the in­jury in Bal­ti­more and threw a pick-six on his first drive. Ru­dock also took first-team reps Wed­nes­day at prac­tice, while Stafford was lim­ited.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Bob Cooter said he won’t cre­ate two sep­a­rate game plans in the event Stafford can’t play. In­stead, he said the team would “ad­just as we go.”

“I think any­time in this league when the start­ing quar­ter­back is not play­ing of­fenses change tra­di­tion­ally in this league,” Cooter said. “So, we would ad­just to play to Ru­dock’s strengths, and ob­vi­ously he hasn’t had a ton of ex­pe­ri­ence, he’s a younger player. We would ad­just as needed, but we’ll eval­u­ate that as needed.”

When asked how Stafford’s in­jury might limit the of­fense, Cooter said “we’ll eval­u­ate it and do the best thing to win the game.”

“I’m not go­ing to speak to spe­cific injuries, but ev­ery one’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Cooter said. “Ev­ery one af­fects a guy a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent and we’ll just make sure we’re do­ing the best thing for our team as we keep an eye on ev­ery­thing.” mer of hope as the Li­ons en­ter the clos­ing stretch with four winnable games, start­ing Sun­day with the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers.

And as some­one who has been here be­fore, Freeney said it’s im­per­a­tive to not get over­whelmed with the anx­i­ety of the moment and lose sight of what lies directly ahead.

“I’m al­ways up for a chal­lenge,” Freeney said. “We’re all in it to­gether and ev­ery piece mat­ters from de­fense, of­fense. Ev­ery piece mat­ters in try­ing to get there.

“It’s all about get­ting hot at the right time. That’s what we’re try­ing to do here and this has to be the week for it.”

Daniel Mears/Detroit News

“If I’m in charge of the de­fense and some­thing goes wrong with the de­fense, it’s on me,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Teryl Austin said.

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