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Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez discuss what they saw from Matthew Stafford in Thursday’s indoor practice, and whether an injured Stafford is a better option than Jake Rudock at Tampa. Recorded Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
Detroit Free Press

They don’t always have enough players on the field, but the Detroit Lions do have plenty of people willing to take blame for the communication problems that have forced their defense to play shorthanded on key plays the past two weeks.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Thursday he, not head coach Jim Caldwell, was responsible for a third-down play in last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens when the Lions had nine men on the field.

The Ravens converted the third-and-7 with a 23-yard pass, then scored a touchdown two plays later to take a 14-point lead.

Caldwell said Monday the play was “my responsibility” and “I’m accountable for all that.”

“Well, I’m in charge of the defense, so I’m going to take this one,” Austin said. “I understand, Jim’s 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 the bottom line is I’m in charge of the defense. 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. And so that’s something I’ve got to get fixed. And it will be fixed.”

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Austin, like Caldwell, refused to go into the mechanics of how the Lions ended up with too few men on the field.

And one of the players who was supposed to be in for that snap, rookie cornerback Teez Tabor, said, “They told us not to speak on it.”

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The Lions had three defensive linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs in on their nickel package for the snap.

Tabor put his helmet on after the previous play, but never ran on the field. Defensive end Anthony Zettel, who played tackle in nickel situations most of the rest of the game, also came off the field after the previous play.

“There’s no explanation needed,” Austin said. “Jim’s covered it. The bottom line is if I’m in charge of the defense and something goes wrong with the defense, it’s on me.”

The Lions have twice played shorthanded in recent weeks, and allowed a touchdown with 10 men on the field in their Thanksgiving loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

On that goal-line play, the Lions played without starting safety Tavon Wilson.

Ravens tight end Nick Boyle leaps over Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson in the first quarter in Baltimore on Sunday. (Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images)

Though the Lions frequently shuffle their defensive personnel, freely playing their backups at every position to account for different players’ strengths, Austin said he does not believe that’s part of his team’s recent communication problems.

“No,” he said. “It happened. We’ve had two issues probably all year and it happened to be in the last two weeks, so I don’t think it’s a problem. I think we just had a miscommunication, and again it falls on me. It’s my job to get it fixed and it will be fixed.”

Lions safety Glover Quin said he believes any player on defense is empowered to call a timeout if they recognize the defense is playing shorthanded, but “that’s not a situation where I’m sitting there counting the players.”

Typically, Quin said players may only recognize if they’re playing shorthanded within their position group and the player they usually line up next to is not on the field.

“I’m not sitting there like, ‘OK, do we have 11?’ ” Quin said. “I’m sitting there like, ‘This is the formation that they’re in, we got a guy on this guy.’ Like, ‘We got guys covered.’ And they’re going fast. so I’m not sitting there, ‘Oh, we only have nine guys,’ and we call a timeout.”

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Contact Dave Birkett: dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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