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.