Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys

Detroit defense couldn’t stop Ezekiel Elliott

Often it’s difficult to play the blame game after a Detroit Lions’ loss.

On Sunday, after the Dallas Cowboys kicked a 38-yard field goal to win, 26-24, it is easy to determine why the Lions lost.

The defense did not do its job. Plain and simple.

Doesn’t matter that they were without the injured Ziggy Ansah – no excuses, please.

All week they talked a big game about stopping Ezekiel Elliott. They knew they had one job: Stop Zeke. And yet they didn’t do it.

Hey, he’s a great back. But the Lions defense allowed him to have his best game this season with 25 carries for 152 yards with a long scamper of 41 yards. He also had four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions fall to 1-3 under new coach Matt Patricia, a defensive specialist.

Don’t expect finger-pointing in the Detroit locker room, but it’s clear the issues are mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Actually one through four, should be on the Lions’ defense but that’s too easy. As mentioned, they knew they had to stop Elliott and they did not. It’s not like it is an impossible task. In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers held Elliott to 69 rushing yards. In Week 2, the N.Y. Giants kept him to 78 rushing yards. Not sure what the Lions saw on film of those two games. Maybe they had a good plan and just didn’t execute. Going into the game, the Lions rushing defense was worst in the league so they knew they had work to do. Apparently that stat was not lost on Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

2. Time of possession in the first half was heavily weighted toward the Lions 20:31 to 9:29. Yet at the half they were behind 13-10. The Cowboys scored late in the second quarter on the first play after a questionable call on Lions starting defensive end Romen Okwara for unnecessary roughness. It looked like Dak Prescott was down but he got back up so Okwara tackled him. You can’t blame him. But on the next play, Elliott caught a 38-yard pass for a touchdown to give Dallas the half-time lead.

3. Dallas tight end Geoff Swaim was wide open on his touchdown catch on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That score gave Dallas a 20-10 lead with 2:59 left in the third. Plenty of time for the Lions’ offense to catch up, but they needed the defense to hold. Give Detroit’s defense credit for forcing a field goal on the Cowboys’ drive early in the fourth even though they were first-and-goal from the Detroit 6-yard line. Hard to imagine why the Cowboys tried to pass on second- and third-down in that situation when they had Elliott right there and obviously the Lions had trouble stopping him.

4. Matthew Stafford was sacked just three times in the first three games this season. It was all good that he was getting protection from the offensive line. However, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence was able to sack him three times on Sunday. Right guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion on the Lions’ second drive of the game and was replaced by Kenny Wiggins who allowed at least one of those sacks. When healthy, Lang is a much better guard than Wiggins. It could be part of the reason the run game was not quite as successful as it was against the Patriots.

5. The Detroit offense was not perfect — they were forced to punt twice in the first quarter. However, Stafford had a good game (24-30, 307 yards, 2 touchdowns, 131.5 rating). Golden Tate came to play with eight catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was quite the showboat – not sure that fits in with Patricia’s philosophy. Kenny Golladay had two catches of 22 yards each in a second-half drive that resulted in rookie Kerryon Johnson’s first NFL touchdown. Johnson scampered for 32 yards on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage. Looked like maybe another 100-yard game was on tap. He finished first half with six carries for 41 yards and then only touched the ball three times in the second half (one was on his touchdown). He finished 9 carries for 55 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Overall the Lions had 96 rushing yards and 286 passing yards.

BONUS: The Lions finished with eight penalties costing them 58 yards. Five of those were on the defense. Three were defensive holding calls all on one third-quarter drive — Da’Shawn Hand, Quandre Diggs and Devon Kennard were the culprits. In comparison, the Cowboys were whistled twice for a loss of 20 yards.

Five things to watch as Lions face the Dallas Cowboys; plus prediction

Dallas tough defense a threat for Lions

Momentum is a funny thing in the NFL. Its existence is questionable, but when a team is on a roll it certainly seems to be the reason.

The Lions, coming off a huge win against the New England Patriots, could certainly use another win at Dallas on Sunday to get back to even for the season. The Cowboys are not all of that. They’re also 1-2, having lost at Carolina (2-1) and at Seattle (1-2).

The Cowboys have won six of the last seven meetings against the Lions, but both of these teams are different. (Kickoff is 1 p.m. on FOX.)

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. The Lions tandem of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount must continue to grind out yards on the ground. They had their best game in the win over New England but the work is just starting. “I feel like myself and our running back room had the bar of expectation (set) high,’’ Johnson said. “We all know we’re talented guys, we all know what we can do, we all believe in this offense and this offensive line especially we’ve all felt it was something we can do and will continue to do it.”

2. The Lions’ run defense which tightened up a bit in the win over the Patriots, has to continue to improve. The Cowboys average 132.7 rushing yards per game which is seventh best in the NFL. The big issue is stopping running back Ezekiel Elliott who averages 5.7 yards per carry and is tied for the NFL lead in rushing with 274 yards. (He’s tied with San Francisco’s Matt Brieda who ran all over the Lions averaging 12.5 yards per carry with 138 yards on 11 carries.) “He’s got good size, good speed, good power. He’s patient,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “When he sees it, he hits it. He’s a tough tackle. He has all the attributes you want in a running back.”

3. The offensive line wasn’t perfect on Sunday but they were as good as they’ve been for a long time, giving Matthew Stafford time and opening up lanes for the run game. He’ll need time against a Cowboys’ defense that has held opponents to 6.58 yards per attempt through the air. Also, Dallas’ defensive line has recorded a sack on 10.3 percent of opponent passing attempts but haven’t intercepted an opposing quarterback. On the other side, Stafford has been sacked just three times in three games — the least amount for a starting quarterback so far this season. “Is that the deal? I didn’t even know that. That’s great,’’ Stafford said. “Our guys up front are fighting like crazy. I’m trying to do everything I can to get the ball out when guys get edges on our guys or whatever it is. I think that’s a good thing for our offense as long as I’m protecting the football and I’m not making a bad decision if I’m under duress.’’ He’s thrown four touchdown passes and just one interception in the last two games after getting off to a rocky start with four picks in the opening loss to the Jets.

4. Detroit will be without defensive end Ziggy Ansah who can’t seem to stay healthy. Still the defense has to keep the pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott who is not off to a great start this season with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. The Lions will be without tight end Michael Roberts (knee) for the second straight game. Roberts scored the only touchdown by a tight end when he pulled one in against the Jets. “I think tight ends in the League may not get enough respect for the impact they do have as blockers. A lot of run games out there, you’re going to have five offensive linemen out there just about every run game,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “You’re going to have at least a sixth guy that’s tight end and then from there, you add the different variations that everybody has. So, when we have tight ends that are successfully blocking and are part of a successful scheme doing their job, communicating well with whoever they’re connected to, could be a tackle, they could be somewhere in the backfield or whatever we have those guys doing, it does make a difference. It does lead to offensive success.”

Prediction: Lions 24, Cowboys 14.

Lions Kerryon Johnson on meeting Barry Sanders, gaining 101 yards and more

Rookie averages 5.6 yards per carry

ALLEN PARK — For a rookie just three games into the season, running back Kerryon Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite.

Diehard Lions fans have been looking, hoping, praying for a running back to believe in for years.

Of course, Barry Sanders set the gold standard. He averaged 99.8 yards per game during his 10-year career with the Lions that ended in 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Johnson is not being compared to the Hall of Famer. That is just way too much to put on the rookie’s shoulders. His talent and fearlessness is impressive so far, let’s leave it at that.

And, of course, Johnson broke the nearly 5-year-old streak of not having a 100-yard rusher in a game with his 101-yard effort in the win over the Patriots on Sunday. His longest run was 15 yards, he did it the old-fashioned way by just grinding the yards out, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Five thoughts from Johnson on Wednesday:

1. As it happens, Johnson is big fan of Barry Sanders. And, yes, he has met him. He walked up to Sanders and introduced himself a month ago. “He’s a good dude. I think people would agree, very quiet, soft-spoken. He’s just talking about ‘Hey this is our time to get it going’ and that’s what we’re trying to do,’’ Johnson said. “He was my favorite running back growing up. Barry is one of those where you question if he even needed an O-line at times. I used to try to move like him but my body doesn’t move like that.

“I used to watch his highlights a lot of time, my dad really enjoyed watching him play. It was crazy meeting him you’re like this is really the guy who did this, know what I’m saying? It’s impressive,’’ Johnson said.

2. Johnson credits his teammates with helping him pick up the NFL game so far. LeGarrette Blount is at the top of the list. “LG is very funny, but I think the best thing he’s taught me, he’s played nine years, three Super Bowl rings. He’s taught me how the game works, how to be a good running back in this league,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a lot of things you can do in college that you can’t do in the NFL, that’s on the field and off the field —    ` taking care of your body, learning the playbook. … He’s taught me a lot. I don’t know if I’d be so advanced right now or at the point right now without him or Theo (Riddick) or anyone else in the (running back) room.’’

3. Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. After his 101-yard game, fans are crying to let him have more touches. The rookie is not clamoring for more work. “This game is too physical for one back. The way I see it, I think over 16-17 weeks, that’s how I see it. Maybe for two weeks you can do it, four or five, but after a while it will catch up,’’ Johnson said. “Maybe next year it will catch up. Longevity is what we’re looking for, we’re trying to win games over the whole season. The way you do that is by having multiple guys take carries, multiple guys having great games, that’s just how you do it.’’

4. It’s no accident that he often falls forward when he is tackled. “In my opinion falling forward is the safest way to get tackled. If you’re standing up or going backward, people can land on you and no one wants that,’’ Johnson said. “If you’re standing straight up, people can swipe your ankles or something, bodies are flying, bodies on the ground, In my opinion, falling forward, you get a good body lean, it’s easier to take the hits that way and, as you know, you’re gaining more yards at the end.’’

5. He was not concentrating on getting to the 100-yard mark on Sunday, but appreciated that the fans were keeping track. “It was crazy excitement, it was unbelievable,’’ Johnson said. “It’s nice to give them that, they come to every game, they come and cheer their hearts out.’’

Detroit Lions’ Ziggy Ansah absent from practice again; Roberts also out

Defensive end has missed last 2 games

ALLEN PARK — Ziggy Ansah once again did not practice on Wednesday.

The Lions defensive end, who has a wonky shoulder, was able to practice on a limited basis all last week. It appeared he was trending to be active Sunday against the Patriots, but instead missed his second straight game. Romeo Okwara started in his place the past two weeks.

It’s unknown if he had a setback at practice last week but it seems like a possibility.

Coach Matt Patricia would not address Ansah’s injury specifically on Wednesday morning. “As far as I’m concerned, whoever’s out there and ready to go, we’re ready to go. It doesn’t really matter for us. So, week-in and week-out, if the guys are healthy and they can go out there and help us win, that’s what they’re going to do,” Patricia said in his Wednesday press conference.

“Ziggy’s great. He’s working extremely hard and he’s doing everything we’re asking him to do and I have the utmost respect for his work ethic and what he’s trying to do to help us in all those situations. But so is everybody,” Patricia said. “Everybody has to be ready to go whether you’re active or inactive or you’re out there for a play and you get hurt, or somebody else has to step in, it doesn’t matter. It’s about team football, team defense. And that’s our focus.”

Ansah, a first-round pick in 2013, has been fighting injuries for the past few seasons, although he played in 14 games in 2017 (12 sacks) and 13 in 2016 (2 sacks). His best season was 2015 when he was played all 16 games, finished with 14.5 sacks (third in hte NFL) and was elected to the Pro Bowl.

Tight end Michael Roberts (knee) also did not practice. Roberts apparently injured his knee in practice last week. He was a full participant last Wednesday and Thursday, then was limited on Friday and was inactive for Sunday’s game.

The Lions (1-2), coming off a big win over the Patriots, will play at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

 

Detroit Lions’ offensive line plays best game in win over Patriots

Run game exploded; Stafford sacked just once

ALLEN PARK — Without a smart and strong offensive line, the Lions run game was going nowhere this season.

The O-line played its best game early this season in the 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

The Lions rushed for 159 yards and rookie Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions player to reach 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush scampered for 117 yards on Nov. 28, 2013.

“That’s obviously a critical part of every football game, I think (the line) did a great job up front, definitely very difficult against that defense and the multiple looks they’ll give you,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “They were spinning the dial pretty good last night with a couple different looks — four-man rushes, five-man looks, six-man looks and I think those guys did a great job up font of recognizing that stuff, getting on the same page, executing their blocks well. There were a couple plays they could have done better, but I thought we had good movement at the line of scrimmage which is most important.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Pro Football Focus’ analysis of the line: “(They) performed exceptionally well against New England. Not a single starting lineman graded below a 65 and three of them graded at 70 or better.’’

Ragnow, who allowed seven pressures the previous week to the 49ers, came back with a “dominant performance.” He didn’t allow a single pressure against the Patriots, per Pro Football Focus.

The Lions O-line features two first-round picks — Taylor Decker (2016) and Frank Ragnow, a rookie. Also center Graham Glasgow was a third-round pick in 2016.

Right guard T.J. Lang returned after missing the previous game with a back injury. Lang, who signed as a free agent in 2017, proved he’s still got something in the tank because the line was more effective with him than the previous week with Kenny Wiggins.

Right tackle Rick Wagner, who was also signed as a free agent in 2017,  quietly had a good game.

Not only did they open lanes for the running backs, they also gave Matthew Stafford plenty of time in the pocket. It’s possible more time than he’s ever had consistently for four quarters. He was sacked just once.

Immediately after the game, Stafford couldn’t say enough about the line’s play.

Stafford has been sacked on just 2.2 percent of pass attempts (3/138) this season which is the best in the NFL. The league average is 6.6 percent, per Josh Norris of Rotoworld.

Lions run game shows steady gains week to week; Matthew Stafford improves too

Successful run game sparks win over Patriots

The Lions had a huge opportunity to get in the win column against the Patriots and took advantage of it with a 26-10 win on Sunday night.

No fluke plays, no bad calls by the officials, just solid play.

The Lions defense wouldn’t let Tom Brady sustain drives at all in the first half. The Patriots’ first three drives were three-and-outs.

Meanwhile Matthew Stafford, who didn’t look like himself in the first six quarters of the opening losses, had command. Credit the offensive line with giving him so much time in the pocket. Also, the line opened up lanes for the running backs. The Lions aren’t looking for a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they need to be effective running the all which did not happen last season.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Afterward, Stafford called it a true team win. It was huge. An 0-3 start is much tougher to overcome than starting 1-2.

“They’re a really good football team, well coached. But we needed this one. It was great to have them come into our place on a big stage and be able to do something like that,’’ a smiling Stafford said afterward.

Here are three categories where the Lions have improved week to week:

The running game which was a big emphasis in the offseason seems to be on track. The duo of veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson may be the answer. They also got big help from the blocking by the offensive line.

Week 1 – 39 yards, 2.6 yards per carry

Week 2 – 98 yards, 5.4 yards per carry

Week 3 – 159 yards, 4.8 yards per carry.

Stafford’s completion percentage has climbed week to week. Actually in the win over the Patriots he had less passing yards than the previous two games. But that’s a good thing, because he was able to depend on the run game. An ideal average for passing completion is at least 62 percent.

Week 1 – 58.7 percent, 286 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs

Week 2 – 64.2 percent, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT

Week 3 – 75 percent, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Third-down conversions usually are a telling statistic. The Lions were dreadful on third downs in the opening loss to the Jets. They have improve steadily each week.

Week 1 – 3-of-13, 23 percent

Week 2 – 7 of 16, 44 percent

Week 3 – 7 of 14, 50 percent

Coach Matt Patricia enjoyed his first win as an NFL coach. He’s not counting on momentum to carry the Lions on Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2).

“It’s hard. You’d like to, you know, you’d obviously like to get that (momentum) you know if you could week in and week out, but I think each week is different in the NFL. I mean, it’s so hard, it’s different, it’s not the same every week, so you really almost have to reset every single week and you know, you grind it out, you play the game, you empty the tank, you come back in the next day and you start filling it back up and get ready for the next game,’’ Patricia said. “And that’s what we got to do every week. It’s just too hard.’’

Lions’ Kerryon Johnson breaks the 100-yard rushing mark in win over Patriots

Detroit’s last 100-yard rusher came in 2013

DETROIT — Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson was a sophomore in high school the last time the Lions featured a 100-yard rusher in a game.

That was Reggie Bush, who scampered for 117 yards at the Thanksgiving game on Nov. 28, 2013. That is a mighty long time ago.

Of course, Johnson knew the story and knew that many people were looking for him to break that obnoxious streak. In the win, he carried 16 times for 101 yards. His longest scamper was for 15 yards, so he had to work hard to reach that 100-yard mark.

“It’s a lot easier when you break a long one. But they’re a good team. They’re a good defense, they’re sound, they tackle, they don’t make many mistakes. So, we knew it was going to be a grind, but we were ready for it,’’ Johnson said. “We were ready for the grind and I’m going to say grind again. We grinded it out.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

In the two previous games (both losses), the Lions fell behind and had to abandon the run game in hopes of catching up. It was different against the Patriots — the Lions took an early lead and never relinquished it.

“I think this was our most physical game that we’ve played so far,’’ Johnson said. “We came out, we made a decision to run it downhill and our O-line got behind it, we got behind it, and that’s what we started to do. We came out and both of us, me and LG (LeGarrette Blount), were both running the ball downhill at the beginning and we just carried it through the whole game, 60 minutes.”

The Lions ran for a total of 159 rushing yards, more than in any one game last season.

Of course last season they didn’t have Johnson, who was a second-round draft pick.

“I think (Johnson) just does everything well. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a smart player, he’s got good vision. He’s a slippery runner. He’s got probably a little bit more strength than people give him credit for, a little bit more speed,’’ Matthew Stafford said. “It doesn’t maybe jump off the page to you but when he’s out there he’s really efficient and does some really nice things.”

Johnson’s break-through game didn’t really surprise coach Matt Patricia.

“You know, I think Kerryon did, a lot of what we saw coming out. You know, a lot of what we liked from him that definitely shows up,’’ Patricia said. “But I think all those guys, all the backs, work really hard and think they all have something a little bit different that they provide for us. So, you know, just good team win. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it’s all about.”