Detroit Lions’ opener vs. Jets should reveal more of Matt Patricia’s influence

Preseason was for evaluation, now is time to win

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia admitted he was a little extra fired this week.

The Lions are inching closer to his debut as a head coach when they open the season against the New York Jets on Monday night at Ford Field.

“I’m pretty fired up every day. So, sometimes I come in here and you guys suck the life out of me, but other than that, I’m pretty good because you guys aren’t really excited when I walk in here. So, I’m not going to let you guys do that to me today because we’re going out there and we’re getting ready to go win. I mean the best that we can.,’’ said Patricia who was laughing as the words spilled from his mouth.

It’s an odd week for the Lions since they don’t open the season until Monday. They practiced Monday and Wednesday, had Thursday off and then will practice Friday and Saturday.

“We’re just going to try to prepare — look this is a really good team, I’m just telling you. Todd Bowles, I have the utmost respect for him, his staff, and what they do week in and week out. Obviously been going against him for a while. And he’s a great coach, and he’s an even better person,’’ Patricia said. “So, when you go up against somebody like that and you’re not really sure what it’s going to look like week 1, you have to be ready to go from the start. So, that’s where we’re at.”

It was an unimpressive preseason (1-3) under Patricia who was evaluating his roster, not necessarily trying to win. So the big reveal will be at kickoff Monday night. No one really knows what to expect, but here are five things we might be able to learn about Patricia’s version of the Lions in the opener:

1. The re-imagined defense has been the subject of much discussion. New scheme, new coaches and a few new players. After watching all of training camp and the offseason, it’s difficult to know what we will see. The pass-rush in the preseason was ineffective (and that’s being nice.) Defensive line coach Bo Davis said he’s not concerned. “We get everybody playing together I think it will be a different scene,’’ Davis said. “I think that’s the thing, we have to continue building on, I think the guys are very aware of it. It’s more in being in control of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.’’ We will see.

2. The run game has been a huge focus. Don’t expect they will lean heavily on rookie Kerryon Johnson early on unless he looks so good they can’t keep him off the field. Don’t count out LeGarrette Blount as a key factor and, of course, Theo Riddick. One similarity for the run game, will be the fact that it’s by committee. Don’t look for a No. 1 running back because you won’t find one. Also the back who gets the most carries on Monday night, might not get the same workload the next week at San Francisco. The Jets gave up 117.9 rushing yards per game in 2017, but this is a different Jets’ team also.

3. Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis needs to take a big step from his rookie season. He’s got his leadership role down but he needs to improve his pass coverage. It’s not all about Davis, but he’s an integral part of this new-look defense. “We’ve tried to do a few things and played a lot of people in preseason. So, it’s a work in progress. We’ll get better. I think we’ve had some spots where we have done well, and we’ve had some other spots where we have to be more consistent. So, we’ll just keep working at it and keep getting better,’’ defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.

4. Matthew Stafford, entering his 10th season, should be just fine. He and coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have developed a better relationship over two-plus seasons. “The more we’re around each other, the more we talk through different thoughts and ideas, I think the deeper we get into certain thought processes—sometimes very similarly, sometimes coming from a different angle,’’ Cooter said. “So, we’ve had certain times where he’s walked off the field and maybe I’d go into a discussion about what I was thinking on a certain play and he finishes the second half of that discussion because he was right on the same page. And there’s also times where I might see a certain route one way and he kind of sees the other way and we’re talking through that stuff. Like anything, the more you’re around—players, coaches, each other—you really get to know each other better, you really sort of go through the trials of working through those things.’’

5. On paper, the Lions have a better team with an experienced quarterback. They’ll be facing Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the youngest QB to start an opening game in the NFL since the AFL/NFL merger. It’s tough to plan a defense for a rookie NFL quarterback. “It’s a big challenge, I think, when you get those guys. And certainly with a new offensive coordinator, maybe a couple different things scheme-wise that they’re going to do with the hiring of a couple new coaches,’’ Patricia said. He doesn’t expect to learn much from preseason game film.

Lions waive Anthony Zettel; awarded DE Romeo Okwara via waivers

Zettel had 6.5 sacks in 2017

In the past two years, Lions GM Bob Quinn has proven that he is not shy about dumping his own draft picks.

It happened again on Wednesday when Quinn waived defensive end Anthony Zettel who was a sixth-round pick in Quinn’s first draft class in 2016.

The Lions were awarded DE Romeo Okwara via waivers from the New York Giants. Okwara, 23, played in six games for the Giants in 2017 due to a knee injury and finished with no sacks. As a rookie he played in all 16 games with four starts and one sack. He was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in 2016.

In 2016 with Kerry Hyder out, Zettel started all 16 games and was second in sacks (6.5) only to Ziggy Ansah (12).  As a rookie he played in 13 games with no starts.
Zettel, who is from West Branch, Mich., was listed as Hyder’s backup on the depth chart released this week.

In the final game of the 2017 season, the defensive line starters were Zettel, Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence who was traded to the Dolphins in May. Ricky Jean Francois and Sylvester Williams are expected to start at defensive tackle with Robinson as a backup. Hyder and Ansah will start at defensive end.

The Lions open the season on Monday night against the New York Jets.

Lions, Diggs agree to $20.4 million extension; Marquis Flowers signed

Flowers played for Patricia with Patriots in 2017

ALLEN PARK — Quandre Diggs got his payday. Today the Lions announced a contract extension for the defensive back through the 2021 season. The three-year deal is worth $20.4 million according to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport.

The Lions’ made a roster move on Monday morning when they signed linebacker Marquis Flowers. He was at practice wearing No. 59. Flowers spent last season with the New England Patriots where Lions coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator.

“Quandre has developed into one of our core defensive players and we are excited to come to this agreement that will have him as a Detroit Lion for the next four seasons.” GM Bob Quinn said. “I also want to thank Quandre and his representatives for their work in making this extension a reality.”

Diggs, 25, played five games at safety to end last season. He’s expected to play nickel and corner. Obviously his versatility is a huge plus.

“He’s a another guy who’s obviously a critical part of our team defensively. A guy that has worked extremely hard since he walked in the door,” coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “Someone since I got here who has embraced everything that we’ve been doing and has taken a big leadership role for us.”

Diggs, a sixth-round pick in 2015, has appeared in 44 career games with 19 starts. His career totals include 131 tackles (110 solo), three interceptions, 16 pass defenses, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one sack.

Flowers, 26, was a sixth-round pick in 2014 by the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s played in all 16 games in each of his first three NFL seasons. He started two games for the Patriots in 2017 and finished with 3.5 sacks and 32 tackles.

Latest practice squad roster:

QB Jake Rudock, WR Chris Lacy, OT Dan Skipper, CB Cre’von LeBlanc, CB Mike Ford, S Rolan Milligan, LB Darnell Sankey, DE Alex Barrett, DE Eric Lee and DT John Atkins.