Five reasons the Lions beat the Packers

Stafford: A total team win

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense was good but not spectacular, the defense shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for a half and special teams had a good day.

It was the perfect equation for the Lions’ 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford called it a “total team win.’’ It is exactly what this team strives for every week but it doesn’t always happen.

The Lions now own a 2-3 record, (1-0 in the NFC North) heading into their bye week.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Oddly enough Detroit has beaten two of the best quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Rodgers) and fallen short against lesser teams.

“I think I’ve said it for forever and you guys hate hearing it. You have to prove it every week,’’ Stafford said. “And we’ve been close in a couple other games too, and just haven’t gotten it done at the end of the game. So, proud of our guys for getting it done at the end of the game.’’

In other words, it’s the NFL.

The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 lead at the half. Yet everyone knew the game was just getting interesting.

Five reasons the Lions hung on to win:

1. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four straight field goals and a point-after attempt. The first three misses were from 38, 41 and 42 yards — chip shots. The fourth was from 56 yards. He finally made a 41-yarder when it was so late it didn’t matter. Had he been on his game, the Packers could have won. “So, this one unfortunately was really bad and going to have to really look at this one, and you know this one hurts a bunch.  I left a lot of points on the field for this team and I’m disappointed in my performance,” Crosby said. “And, this is, I look back, I’m thinking in my childhood, you know high school, this is definitely a lot worse.  I’m bummed about that.”

2. The Lions secondary was a patched-up group thanks to injuries and yet effective. Tavon  Wilson was inactive, Darius Slay was injured in the second half but able to return and Jamal Agnew was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw for 141 yards in the first half but wasn’t able to get the Packers on the board. In the second quarter he threw a 30-yard bomb to Davante Adams to get to Detroit’s 9-yard line but Detroit’s defense held and Crosby missed the field goal. Rodgers scored touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half. But then a huge stop came on third-and-15 from Detroit’s 38, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed.

3. Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. It appears the Matt Patricia defense is starting to click. Rodgers can make defenses look weak but Detroit found a way to pressure him. He finished with 442 passing yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Rodgers was taken off the injury list this week, but he was missing two of his best receivers in Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. Also the Packers rushed for just 98 yards against the Lions’ rushing defense which is the worst in the NFL. “Defense is hard. It’s always hard every single week going against great quarterbacks, schemes, coaches. They do a phenomenal job and we’re just trying to dial it in,’’ Patricia said. “I think the biggest thing for us is some continuity. Maybe a little bit of continuity here the last couple games, which is good. That helps the communication from that aspect of it.’’

4. Even though they had a 24-0 lead at the half, the Lions’ offense remained aggressive in the second half. That was the plan. Stafford said he and Jim Bob Cooter talked throughout about remaining aggressive. Stafford finished 14 of 26 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.9 rating. The offense can play to its strengths when playing with a lead. “This is the way you want to play the game, out in front and to not have to come back. I just think that we had a great week of practice and it showed in the game,’’ Stafford said. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay had the gaudy numbers with four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

5. Once again, the run game helped balance the offense. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed as a short-yardage back and he got the job done on Sunday. He ran for a yard to convert a third-and-1 and then rammed through for a one-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. He had a dozen carries for 22 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson’s first scamper was for 16 yards and he finished with a dozen carries for 70 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Johnson injured his ankle early in the fourth after a 24-yard run that led to Stafford’s 5-yard pass to Kenny Golladay for a touchdown to vie the Lions a 31-14 lead. His ankle was taped up but he didn’t get back into the game.

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Lions Matt Patricia unconcerned about Kerryon Johnson’s light workload

Running back had 9 carries in loss at Dallas

ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Matt Patricia does not seem concerned that Kerryon Johnson only had nine carries in Sunday’s 26-24 loss at the Cowboys.

The previous week — in a win over the Patriots — the rookie running back carried the ball 16 times for 101 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

It seemed like it was his NFL coming out party.

On the first play from the line of scrimmage in Dallas on Sunday, Johnson scampered for 32 yards. Was it the start of another 100-yard game?

Uh, no.

Johnson got the ball five more times in the first half, but only had three second-half carries. His grand total was nine carries for 55 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

That 6.1 average is key — that’s a good number for most running backs. It was the exact same average as Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott who sliced and diced the Lions’ defense finishing with 25 carries for 152 yards. (He also had four catches for 88 yards.)

Patricia’s first question at his Monday press conference concerned Johnson’s workload or lack of it.

“I think we have a lot of good running backs and I think we try to use them appropriately. I think Kerryon played a significant amount of the game — 20 snaps of 55 —  that’s a good amount,’’ Patricia said. “Plus we have two other running backs, we had a couple two-minute drives and other personnel packages and things like that. There were quite a bit of reps for Kerryon.’’

LeGarrette Blount, a short-yardage specialist, had seven carries for 12 yards, for a 1.7 yards per carry average.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is responsible for calling the offense during the games so Johnson’s number of carries were likely mostly his decision, although Patricia said it was “a staff decision.”

The rookie seemed wise beyond his years when asked about his workload last week. He didn’t petition for more carries, instead he seemed happy to be part of the running back by committee philosophy.

Wear and tear on running backs is a concern. There is no magic number for carries and it changes each game, but when a guy is effective running the ball in the Lions’ offense perhaps make it a point to get him the ball.

“We do look at studies on full seasons and when guys are at the end of the season especially running backs, especially that position you’ll find a lot of teams where guys earlier in the season were at a high productive level but by the time they get to the end of the season the wear and tear at that position is pretty extreme,’’ Patricia said.

“You get to the end of the year those guys aren’t out there as much, so you take a look at it from a big picture standpoint and game-by-game standpoint and play-by-play standpoint. We’re obviously trying to compete at a high level. So we want to have our best players out there at all times when we can,’’ Patricia said. “We feel we have a really good strong running back group – they’re all outstanding players. We’re going to try to continue to try to improve them just like we are at every position.’’

That’s all good and sounds fine, but if the Lions (1-3) don’t win now, it won’t matter that much how they play later in the season.

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.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions open against the N.Y. Jets

All eyes are on Matt Patricia

ALLEN PARK >> Every move that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia have made since January has led up to tonight.

The Lions are 6.5-point favorites against the visiting N.Y. Jets. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m.

The pressure is on Quinn who fired Jim Caldwell after last year’s 9-7 season. He said at the time the team was better than their record.

All eyes are on Patricia in his first stint as a head coach at any level. If 9-7 wasn’t good enough for another year for Caldwell, certainly more is expected of Patricia.

“I think external expectations, they are what they are. I can’t control them, there are probably a lot of people outside this building that have no idea what goes on inside the building from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said. “So, we’re just always going to try to take it day-by-day, we’re going to take it game-by-game. That’s the only thing that matters to us. I think to put numbers on what 16 games are going to look like is just unrealistic for anybody. So, we’re going to try to make sure that we do the best job we can with this game.”

A win against the Jets would be a good start for the Lions who play at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and return home to the New England Patriots in Week 3.

Five things to watch in the opener versus the Jets:

1. Watch the running backs — either three or four of them will be active. Patricia refused to elaborate on the number in his Saturday morning press conference. He also wouldn’t say if Ameer Abdullah, who is listed as the kick returner on the depth chart, will indeed have that responsibility. Quinn has said during the offseason that three running backs will be active. Theo Riddick? Check. LeGarrette Blount? Check. Abdullah? Probably. So what about Kerryon Johnson? He will be active. Count on it. We’ll know 90 minutes before the 7:10 game time. “We’re going to try to do what we can that particular week to best fit what the game plan is, to go out and execute at a high level,’’ Patricia said on Saturday. “It might be more running backs, it might be more wide receivers, could be an extra lineman. We might have a situation where we need to go in a different personnel group from that standpoint. So, I wouldn’t always just lock in a number from that look.

2. One game doesn’t mean everything, but it could give us a better indication of what to expect from defensive end Ziggy Ansah this season. He seems healthy and is coming off a season where he had 12.5 sacks with six of them occurring in the last two games. It seemed like an off year for Ansah. The pass rush is critical to an improved defense and Ansah should lead the way.

3. Patricia, in his first game as head coach, will leave play calling to his coordinators Jim Bob Cooter and Paul Pasqualoni. Obviously he’ll chip in when he feels a need. Many Lions fans criticized Jim Caldwell for not displaying emotion on the sideline and yet finished with a 36-28 record. Patricia has been more vocal on the practice field, we’ll see how he is on game day.

4. Matthew Stafford enters his 10th season and 113th consecutive start. No doubt he has a handle on the offense which has been tweaked but not overhauled since last season. If the reworked offensive line and the run game are effective, Stafford will look good not perfect. Don’t jump off the ledge if he throws an interception. That happens, especially if the Lions fall behind. He’ll do his part but will everyone else?

5. The new-look defense will feature multiple looks and packages. This has been a focus of Patricia and Pasqualoni. First, watch for pressure up front and contain on the edges. Jarrad Davis will play a key role and needs to step up from his rookie season. Patricia seems to love Quandre Diggs, who was signed to a three-year extension this week. He’s listed on the depth chart as the starting strong safety, but could also play nickel. Glover Quin and Darius Slay are expected to pick up where they left off. Nevin Lawson had a rough preseason game, but he’s a better corner than that. Or is he?

Prediction: Lions 30, Jets 21. Opening at home will be key for the Lions. This is a game they should win. The Jets, coming off a 5-11 season, feature a rookie starting quarterback in Sam Darnold.

(The game will air on ESPN with Beth Mowins on play by play, Brian Griese as analyst and Laura Rutledge on the sidelines.)

Lions feature new look at tight end with roles still being defined

Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo have the most experience

ALLEN PARK — Overall the Lions offense has not changed drastically from 2017, with the exception of tight end.  Three new faces, three new skillsets.

The Lions open the season against the N.Y. Jets on Monday night at Ford Field.

Eric Ebron and his 53 catches and four touchdowns in 2017 are gone to the Colts. Darren Fells, who had 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, is now a Cleveland Brown.

Meet Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts and Hakeem Valles.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week he’s still plugging those guys into different spots.

“I think we’re still keeping an open mind about maybe who our best guy is to do certain things or best combination of guys to work together to do certain things,’’ Cooter said this week. “So, we’re encouraged with the guys we have in that room. … We have a versatile group of tight ends, so it does sometimes change the play-calling from when you’re sort of sticking one certain guy in one certain role and one certain other guy in another certain role. We have guys who can do multiple things well.’’

Lions tight ends coach Chris White said this week he doesn’t consider any of them his No. 1 guy. Coach Matt Patricia agrees.

“That has really become a multiple position, I would say in the last eight years, where you might have two guys that are really ‘starters’ or ‘No. 1 guys.’ So, I think there are a lot of personnel groups where multiple tight ends are used. Sometimes one tight end is used in certain situations, sometimes another tight end is used in a different situation,’’ Patricia said on Saturday.

He compares the tight end position to linebackers.

“There are inside linebackers, outside linebackers, there are different types of players in those positions that need to be utilized in different situations,’’ Patricia said. “I think all those guys are doing a real good job though, like I said, really through camp competing for different spots and responsibilities and playing time. So, we’ll keep pushing that with that group.”

In 2017, the Lions scored 29 passing touchdowns with seven of them caught by tight ends.

Willson spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2017, he finished with 15 catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns playing in all 16 games. Over the five seasons, he averaged 17.8 catches a year.

Toilolo spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season he had a dozen catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart behind Willson.

Only Roberts returns from last season when he was a rookie who had four catches for 46 yards.

Valles played in one game for the Lions in 2017 and 11 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. He has never caught a pass in the NFL regular season, although was impressive in the preseason games against second and third defenses which earned him a spot on the roster.