Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host New England Patriots; also prediction

New England defense without 3 sstarters

After what can best be described as a disappointing start to the season, the Lions face their toughest opponent so far when they host the New England Patriots tonight at Ford Field.

“Did they win the Super Bowl last year?” asked Glover Quin, possibly trying to downplay the Patriots’ elite status. Well, of course they didn’t win it, but they were in it.

New England is off to a 1-1 start and the offense needs some work but they have Tom Brady (five touchdowns, 1 interception). The Patriots’ defense, which has allowed 25.5 points per game, will be missing defensive lineman Trey Flowers, along with safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Eric Rowe. All three started last week and have been ruled out for this game due to injury.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is off to an inglorious start with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s been off on connecting with receivers on the long ball. Just not a good look so far.

Of course all eyes will be on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, his disciple and former defensive coordinator. They will be a part of the story on Sunday night even though they both try to dismiss the attention.

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford has to have a better game. They don’t win unless this offense gets turned around. Since he’s the quarterback he gets the blame or the credit. “I have to make sure I give those guys (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr.) chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them,’’ Stafford said.

2. The offensive line had a better Week 2. Left tackle Taylor Decker didn’t practice on Friday but it wasn’t an injury situation and he’s expected to play tonight. The line was without right guard T.J. Lang last week, but he practiced this week and should start.

3. Detroit’s secondary against Brady will be a tough matchup. It could be worse if cornerback Darius Slay (concussion) does not play. He participated in practice on Friday for the first time all week but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go. Slay gives the Lions’ defense the best chance of being able to stop Brady and his gang.

4. After missing last week, defensive end Ziggy Ansah is expected to play — he’s practiced this week. Ansah and the line have to put pressure on Brady, keep him in the pocket. They sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times, but he holds onto the ball longer so don’t give that stat too much value. Brady has been sacked four times in the first two games.

5. The Lions run game has slightly improved. They’re up to 4.3 yards per catch which is 1.1 yards better than last season. In the first two games, the Lions fell so far behind they had to resort to the pass to try to catch up. Kerryon Johnson (4.6 yards per carry) has just 13 touches in the first two weeks. If the Lions can stay in the game, he could get more of the load. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, has proven he’s still got gas in the tank.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Lions 24.

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Lions Matthew Stafford, receivers look to get back their deep ball connection

Deep ball has been big part of offense in the past

ALLEN PARK — All eyes are always on the quarterback.

With the Lions 0-2 and Matthew Stafford not looking like his usual efficient self, the quarterback and the offense don’t look close to panicked.

Stafford, who has passed for 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, has decent numbers in the opening losses. But on Sunday at San Francisco he overthrew four long passes. It’s not like him to miss on all of those.

Stafford and the offense need to perform better when they face the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

“I think I just have to throw it to where they can catch it. It’s as simple as that, right? Just have to make sure I give them a chance,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “There were some going back to last year where I probably didn’t throw the perfect ball but either Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) or Kenny (Golladay) or GT (Golden Tate) or whoever it was went up and made a great play, right? And that’s part of it, too. I have to make sure I give those guys chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them.”

Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., and Golden Tate said they will continue to work on connecting with Stafford. Oh, and it’s not all on Stafford.

“I think we all could have done something better — better releases, better route running. I have confidence that from here on we’ll complete more of those, it’s kind of what we’ve done best over the years I think,’’ Tate said on Thursday. “It’s going up to get those 50-50 balls and executing explosives that’s one thing we take a lot of pride on it. That’s something I expect us to be better at.’’

They worked on it at practice this week just like they always do.

“Obviously, we were the best last year on that. But it’s a new year, and we have to keep working on that, and we’ll get it done,’’ Jones said this week. “We just have to continue to work on it. And the more we work on it, the better we’ll get at it.”

Stafford had zero interceptions in Week 2 after four picks in the opening game. Throwing too deep is usually safer than not throwing deep enough.

“Less bad is going to happen if you’re overshooting it, but less good as well. It’s a fine line. I’d love to just hit them all in stride, that’d be great,’’ Stafford said. “That’s what I plan on doing. But if it doesn’t happen, then our guys have to go up there and protect it if it’s short. A chance to make a play but make sure nothing bad happens. And I have to try to do my best to make sure that I’m giving them chances.”

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. After two games Stafford is ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 633. Nothing wrong with that.

The Lions’ offense in two games has averaged 383 yards per game. The passing offense (314.5 yards per game) ranked sixth in the NFL while the rushing defense averaged 68.5 yards per game and is 30th in the NFL.That last statistic is a bit misleading since the Lions were so far behind in both games, they had to stick to the pass in hopes of catching up.

One noticeable improvement is the Lions are gaining an average of 4.2 yards per carry which is tied for 12th in the NFL. In 2017 that average — a key stat to explain the anemic run game — was 3.4 yards per carry, the worst in the NFL.

No one seemed too worried about this offense with the return of coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. However, in the opening two games the execution has come up short.

New England’s defense isn’t all of that, but the Patriots have this habit of figuring out a way to win.

Lions Glover Quin on facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and getting ‘D’ in gear

Lions looking for first win

ALLEN PARK –  When he played in Houston, safety Glover Quin faced New England’s Tom Brady often.

So when the two line up at Ford Field on Sunday night, it won’t be a first.

The Lions (0-2) are looking for their first win this season while the Patriots (1-1) are coming off a loss at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Lions’ defense is adjusting to a new scheme under first-year coach Matt Patricia, formerly New England’s defensive coordinator. The relationship could add a little drama to the nationally televised game, although both coaches are down-playing it.

Three thoughts from Quin:

1. Quin, who is 32, said he is fine physically yet in the first two games, he looked just a bit off on his timing. He says it’s mental. The defense is learning a new scheme and has to adjust to react quickly. No time for thinking. “When they say games are won or lost by ‘this much’ it’s literally true. Having to think and then go, opposed to just going is the difference in making a pass break-up and making an interception, or making an interception and giving up a catch. Or, being one step closer and making a tackle or being one step farther and missing a tackle is literally just like that,’’ Quin said, snapping his fingers. That said, he knows the team has to get its act together quickly, it can’t be patient while getting used to new methods. “Hopefully Sunday we’re all on board ready to roll,’’ Quin said.

2. It’s not unusual for the Patriots and Tom Brady to take a few games into the season to get warmed up. “I’ve faced Tom Brady a few times. Throughout the years he’s always been a good tough competitor. It’s always fun playing against him. (He’s) very fiery,’’ Quin said. “When you’re playing him in New England it’s a lot funnier, it’s quiet so you can hear him when he’s going off on his O-linemen and his wide receivers telling them to move and stuff.

“But he’s made some amazing throws, some amazing plays and he’s a great quarterback. I got a ton of games where I played him from earlier in my career when I was in Houston in the AFC — playing him in the regular season, playing him in the playoffs. Since I’ve been here we’ve played once in the regular season and I think we played them twice in the preseason. Last year they jumped out on us like 20-something at halftime,’’ said Quin. It was the third game of the preseason (the dress rehearsal) and the Patriots, who started Brady, jumped out to a 24-0 lead and won 30-28. Quin’s only preseason interception in his 10-year career came courtesy of Brady in that game.

3. Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is third all-time in touchdown catches by a tight end (70) in the NFL, scored one touchdown in the opener and none in the loss at Jacksonville in Week 2. Gronkowski, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with an ankle injury, has nine receptions, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. He is always a handful. “We’ve got to all recognize where he’s at, we’ve got to all be tuned into what we’re doing,’’ Quin said. “He’s been with Tom (Brady) for a lot of years so they have a good rapport on the field. They play really well together. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s faster than people think — he runs kind of weird but he moves, he moves fast. He’s not real shifty, you don’t have to be when you’re that big. He has big strong hands, great hands, great body control, when you’re got a guy that big, I don’t know if you guys realize, when you go against a guy show’s 6-6, 260-however (268) big he is. Those guys are big, it’s like guarding Ziggy (Ansah). And he can catch, great ball skills. And Tom trusts him, when you trust a guy you have to go to him.’’

Sunday’s game puts Lions’ Matt Patricia and Patriots’ Bill Belichick in spotlight

Both coaches insist it’s about the game, not their relationship

ALLEN PARK — Whether they like it or not, much of the focus leading into Sunday night’s Lions home game against the New England Patriots will be focused on the coaches.

Bill Belichick hired Patricia in 2004 as an offensive assistant and kept him around until the Lions hired him as their 27th head coach in February.

Neither one wants to talk much about the past. In typical coach-speak, they’re focused on the matchup between the Lions (0-2) and Patriots (1-1). Kickoff is 8:20 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Belichick is 4-1 against the Lions since his first year as head coach in New England. The only loss was on Thanksgiving in his first season (2000) when the Lions won, 34-9. Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback for the Patriots who went 5-11 that season. Charlie Batch led the Lions who finished 9-7 in 2000.

“This is about the Patriots and the Lions. And each of us has a part in the game obviously, and I have all the respect in the world for Matt, Bob (Quinn), Mrs. (Martha Firestone) Ford, who I worked for. Great people in the Lions organization,’’ Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But in the end, it’s about the two teams competing and that’s what the game is about. Hopefully we can go out there and do a good job. So, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

Belichick, who has won five Super Bowl rings in New England, coached with the Lions early in his career as assistant special teams coach in 1976 and receivers coach in 1977. (By the way, the Lions were 6-8 both of those seasons.)

Patricia, who won three Super Bowl rings as  the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, would also rather focus on the Lions instead of his New England ties.

“New England is New England. We’re trying to build Detroit here. We’re trying to do the best thing we can for the Lions with this team and the players that we have,’’ Patricia said. “There’s certain philosophies that I think carry over as me as a coach and what I believe in. Whether that’s New England or Syracuse or wherever I was before, college or whatever the case may be, just things that I believe in.’’

The comparison has been made for three years since the Lions hired general manager Bob Quinn from the Patriots where he had spent 16 seasons in a variety of roles. The talk intensified when he hired Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell who was fired after posting a 9-7 record in 2017.

Belichick didn’t want to get into too many details about his relationship with Patricia. He wouldn’t say if he saw some of himself in Patricia 14 years ago when he first hired him.

“I try not to evaluate those kinds of things. Look, every player and every person is different and every coach is different. No two of us are the same, even identical twins. So, everything is different, I really don’t worry about that,’’ Belichick said. “I just try to do the best job that I can in the role that I have.”

Belichick said there was no magic when he first hired Patricia. He makes it sound like it was a just another hire.

“We had openings, he was recommended, we talked to a number of people and we thought he was the best fit. And he did a great job and continued to expand his role,’’ Belichick said. “He did a number of things in the organization. He started off as an offensive assistant on the offensive line and ended up as the defensive coordinator—and there were a lot of things in between.”

Patricia is growing and learning at his first stint at any level as a head coach. Of course, he’s taking some of what he learned from New England and trying to transform the culture at the Lions’ organization. He’s figured out at least one thing about Belichick since he’s been a head coach.

“I would say the only thing that you can’t really get a perspective on until you sit in this seat would be, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is just how much time that (Belichick)  would give me in particular and the other coaches. You walk in his office and he might be doing a thousand things. You have no idea. And your question is the most important question in the entire world, so you have to get it answered right away,’’ Patricia said. “And he would just stop and explain it, teach it, coach it. And I’d move on, I’d go handle my situation. And I’m sure that he just got stockpiled with everything else that was walking through his door, I slowed him down a little bit, I’m sure, at that point. Which you think you kind of realize, but you really don’t realize just how much is coming at you.”

Five things to know about Lions’ 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers

Lions now 0-2, welcome Patriots on Sunday night

The Lions made it interesting in the waning minutes, but had fallen too far behind to catch up. Detroit fell to 0-2 in Matt Patricia’s inaugural season with a 30-27 loss at the San Francisco 49ers.

New coach, many of the same old problems — missed tackles, run game inefficiencies and too many penalties.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

On top of that all, Matthew Stafford’s game was not spot-on. Again. He missed Marv Jones Jr., deep on three long attempts and Golden Tate on another. Those are passes that should be automatic.

Here are five things to know about the loss:

1. Stafford played better than he did in the opening loss to the Jets, but still didn’t look himself. He did not throw an interception but lost a fumble and couldn’t connect at key times. It was not all on him. It looked like Theo Riddick dropped a fourth-and-2 pass with seconds left while the Lions were trying to get in field goal position for Matt Prater. Stafford had injured his calf in the Monday night game but was not on the injury report all week. He was sacked twice on Sunday and pressured often. He shouldered the blame for the loss to the Jets, saying he had to play better. He did, but it wasn’t enough. Stafford was 34 of 53 for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

2. The Lions defense gave up to many chunk yardage plays while the Detroit offense had trouble running or passing against the 49ers for big chunk yardage. Golden Tate caught a 67-yard pass late in the game. Kenny Golladay’s touchdown was from 30 yards out. The longest run was for 21 yards by Kerryon Johnson.

3. The Lions’ run game looked less anemic than on Monday night, finishing with 98 yards rushing compared to 39 in loss to Jets. Johnson led with eight catches for 43 yards (5.4 yards per run) while LeGarrette Blount averaged 4.8 yards per carry (eight carries, 38 yards). This offense is not meant to operate at a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they have to be able to run the ball. And, actually, as Chris Spielman explained it — throwing the ball would open up the run.

4. The defense — playing without the injured Ziggy Ansah — sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times for losses of 50 yards. But he was able to complete 69.2 percent of his passes, including a pair of touchdown tosses. The Lions’ defense struggled big-time stopping the run. They  allowed 190 rushing yards with Matt Breida marking career highs with 138 rushing yards and a 66-yard rushing touchdown. This was an issue on Monday night when they allowed the Jets to rush for 169 yards. It was a concern, but obviously it was not fixed.

5. Penalties were killers. Jamal Agnew’s fourth-quarter 73-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was negated when flags were thrown for blocks in the back by two Lions. Detroit was called for 10 penalties costing them 105 yards and likely the ball game. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was kicked out of the game in the fourth quarter, when he came off the bench when Elijah Lee knocked Stafford out of bounds and no penalty was called. Blount shoved Lee and was ejected. Stafford’s wife Kelly had something to say about Blount’s ejection on Instagram: “I don’t care. I love Blount for that sh–.” She’s right, it did show passion, something the Lions were missing on Monday night.

NEXT UP: The Lions (0-2) play the New England Patriots (1-1) on Sunday night at Ford Field. The Patriots lost to the Jaguars, 31-20, on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Lions face 49ers

Both teams want to avoid 0-2 start

After Monday night’s 48-17 loss, the Detroit Lions have much to prove today at the San Francisco 49ers.

They can quiet the rumors that the team doesn’t buy into new coach Matt Patricia. The defense can show that Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni have drawn up a scheme that complements the players’ talents.

They can prove this team is ready to take a step up from a 9-7 record last season. They can show that they can compete for a playoff spot.

(Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. on FOX)

The Lions’ short turn-around from playing on Monday night is no excuse. This is the NFL, this is what they do.

In the past 10 seasons only 10 NFL teams  made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Here’s the thing, though. San Francisco is 0-1 too — although they looked more competitive in the 24-16 loss at the Vikings.

It all sets up for a Week 2 game with plenty on the line for both teams.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford should have a better game. The four interceptions were not all on him, but he made some bad decisions in the first game of this tenth season. He is better than that. Of course when he delivers a ball to a receiver, they cannot drop it. Golden Tate alone had two drops. He knows he can do better.

2. The offensive line last week didn’t allow Stafford to be sacked. However, the quarterback faced much pressure. With T.J. Lang (foot) out at right guard we could see Kenny Wiggins start in his place. He is experienced after starting all 16 games last season for the Chargers. The line — all five of them — have to play better than last week not just in protecting Stafford but opening up holes for the running backs.

3. That run game that has been talked about since the final snap of the 2017 season, needs to get in gear early. Let’s see more of rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount. Last week Ameer Abdullah was inactive (coach’s decision) and would expect the same at San Francisco. The Lions only had 39 yards rushing in Monday night’s loss to the Jets. They had to get away from the run in the second half because they fell so far behind. In the first half they managed just 18 rushing yards. It’s befuddling, that’s for sure. If it’s not corrected, their chances of beating the 49ers are diminished.

4. Detroit’s defense got off to a terrific start with Quandre Diggs intercepting Sam Darnold on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage. It was pretty much downhill from there with the defense giving up five touchdowns, 169 rushing yards and 48 total points. It doesn’t get easier. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense has plenty of weapons with Jimmy Garoppolo connecting on passes of 36 yards or more to three different receivers last week. Shanahan said he watched Patriots’ film from the Super Bowl to acquaint himself with Patricia’s defensive scheme. The line must get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to force him to throw interceptions. Last week he threw three, which is uncharacteristic for him. In six games last season he was picked off just five times. The Vikings made him uncomfortable (he was sacked three times) and it worked.

5. Special teams must get its act together after a lousy start against the Jets. They gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and Matt Prater missed two field goals (56 and 44 yards). Sam Martin’s punts averaged a healthy 50.7 yards but those were returned for a total of 137 yards. Special teams can be overlooked, but this unit needs to step up.

Lions Golden Tate: ‘We have a chance to write this story a little differently’

Lions play at San Francisco 49ers Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> It’s been a week of introspection for Golden Tate and many of his Detroit Lions’ teammates.

Losing a season opener 48-17 will do that to a player, even an NFL veteran.

“Personally it’s been tough because we showed up in April and put a lot of work in, a lot of hours in, a lot of expectations and the first opportunity you get to do that it hurts. Like I said, it’s a new week, it’s a new opportunity,’’ Tate said. “On Sunday we have a chance to write this story a little differently.’’

The Lions (0-1)  will look for redemption when they play at the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday.

“The season is just now starting. we’ve got a long season, a lot of things are going to happen between now and then. As far as I’m concerned, we’re starting our season this week,’’ Tate said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done last week, we didn’t give our fan base much to cheer about. We’re refocused, looking in the mirror working even harder, excited to get back on the field, get on the road against another good opponent and fix this.

“We come back to Detroit 1-1, doesn’t matter what we did in Week 1,’’ he added.

And if they come back 0-2? Let’s take the weeks as they come.

Five thoughts from Tate moving forward:

1. While some Lions said they didn’t hear the boos at Ford Field or tuned them out, Tate definitely heard them. “It was tough, the boos got louder and the Jets’ fan base got louder, to be at home and that be the case it definitely hurts,’’ Tate said. “I can’t say we didn’t deserve it — we didn’t put a great product out there. Like I say, it’s only week 1, we have 15 more opportunities at least to go out there and paint this picture. I have no doubt with the competitors we have that we’re going to get this fixed.’’

2. The wide receiver thinks this is a perfect time to go on the road even though it’s a cross-country trip after a Monday night game. “I like to go on the road this time after last week we played so bad we needed something different,’’ Tate said. “But overall I’d much rather be home, I don’t mind going on the road this time.’’

3. He’s kind of befuddled by the Jets’ claims that their defense was able to read the Lions offense by formation and hand signals, leading them to intercept Matthew Stafford four times. “It kind of surprised me. If it’s true to have all this knowledge of our offense the first week I’m not sure how they got it, i guess we did have a few players over there but I don’t know,’’ Tate said. “I’ve thought about it, I don’t know how they would have got such information especially when we’re at home, they did a good job but now we’re trying to move on to the San Francisco 49ers … We’re excited to get back on the field and get this taste out of our mouth. For not only us but the city, we know we’re a good team and we have some good players we just need to go out there and put it all together.’’

4. Tate takes his share of the blame for the embarrassing loss despite seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. “Anyone who’s satisfied with their performance last week definitely has to look into the mirror,’’ Tate said. “We’re having a week of practice where we’re trying to dial in on details and be better, just collectively, play better team ball and get out there and win. You guys have been around here for a while we have a lot of the same characters, we have a good team, we have good players all over the place we just need to go out there and put it together.’’

5. Tate played with 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman for three seasons (2011-2013) while they were both in Seattle. So the Lions wide receiver knows what to expect. “Richard is an incredible leader, one of the guys who has been known to be the best at what he does for a bunch of years. I can only imagine the impact that he’s had on all of those young DBs over there with similar body styles, similar game play, so we will have our hands full for sure,’’ Tate said. “We’re going to have to be on our Ps and Qs this weekend. I think if anybody can do it we can, we’ve got some talent over here as well. I think our game plan is going to be good, we just have to go out and execute as best we can.’’