Lions’ defense can’t contain Trubisky in loss to Bears; Driskel in for Stafford

The Lions had to win on Sunday to keep whatever weak chances they had of making the playoffs. Lousy play on both sides of the ball resulted in a 20-13 loss at the Chicago Bears.

Yes, the Lions were missing quarterback Matthew Stafford who was not cleared to play by doctors due to broken bones in his back. He had started 136 straight games. Jeff Driskel got the start. 

Here’s the thing, Stafford doesn’t play defense. 

The Lions dropped to 3-5-1 while the Bears (4-5) snapped their four-game losing streak. 

The Bears’ offense looked nearly Super Bowl worthy starting with their last possession in the second quarter and continuing through the third quarter – just long enough to do too much damage on the scoreboard. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who had been struggling this season, threw touchdown passes on three consecutive possessions. 

The Bears quarterback was nothing special in the first quarter, then he was transformed into more of what he looked like last season. It likely had something to do with going against the Lions’ defense, one of the worst in the NFL ((31st in yards allowed per game). Late in the third and into the fourth, the Bears were forced to punt four straight times. So give the Lions’ defense credit there.

After two Matt Prater field goals in the first half, Driskel connected with Kenny Golladay on a 47-yard touchdown play with 5:53 left in the fourth to cut the Bears’ lead to 20-13. Time was not on the Lions’ side. The Lions defense forced a punt on the Bears’ last possession and Detroit got the ball back with 1:48 left at their own 10-yard line but there just was not enough time to get to the end zone.

The Lions’ defense is missing key players (Tracy Walker, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara). Sorry, no excuses. The Bears ranked 29th in the NFL in total offense (266.8 yards per game) before Sunday’s game. It was a game where the Lions’ defense should have stepped up and made a statement no matter who was playing

The Lions played the second half without running back Ty Johnson and right tackle Rick Wagner who were both tested for concussions. 

After Driskel completed his first five passes in the first quarter, he struggled which was expected. He started five games for the Cincinnati Bengals last year (going 1-4) but other than that the 26-year-old quarterback just doesn’t have the knowledge, the experience and feel for the game. He finished 27 of 46 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also Detroit’s leading rusher with five carries for 37 yards. That also speaks volumes about the offense.

Several reports say that Stafford is week to week. He was on the sidelines, giving advice to Driskel. 

Up next: Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17. (Dallas hosts the Vikings on Sunday night.)

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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Lions QB Matthew Stafford among the best halfway through the season

Unlike the Lions, Matthew Stafford is having quite a season.

The Lions quarterback has thrived in the new offense created by coordinator Darrell Bevell. Of course, he’s got a tandem of wide receivers in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay who have combined for 13 touchdown catches. And newcomer Danny Amendola has stepped in and been a good fit, averaging 12.1 yards per catch.

Stafford’s numbers are starting to draw attention across the league even as the Lions have faded, losing four of their last five.

He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (312.4) and yards per pass (8.6). Stafford’s 19 touchdowns are second only to Russell Wilson (22) who has played one more game. He’s fourth (2,499) in total passing yards. He has the most completions of 20-plus yards wit 41 and is the NFL leader with at least 3 touchdown passes in 5 games.

Whenever he’s asked about his game day accomplishments, the always humble Stafford says he would trade them in for a win. 

Next test for the Lions (3-4-1) is Sunday at the Chicago Bears (3-5). 

“I’ve always had the ultimate respect for Matt Stafford. Some of the throws that he’s made over his career are just ridiculous. I mean there are not many players in the NFL that can make the side-arm throws that he does on the run, running left throwing right, just putting it where no one else can get it,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said in a conference call this week. 

“He’s tough, he’s a competitor, and when he’s back there at the quarterback position, he’s scary because he can make any throw and you always have a chance with him,’’ Nagy added.

The Bears’ defense is its strength this season just like the Lions’ offense which has carried the team this season (although not quite enough).

Historically, Stafford has played well against Chicago.

He ranks fifth in career passing touchdowns against the Bears with 28 TDs in 18 games. He’s in good company in this category behind three Hall of Famers, and one future HOFer. First is Brett Favre with 60 in 36 games, second is Aaron Rodgers with 46 in 22 games, third is Fran Tarkenton with 40 in 28 games, fourth is Johnny Unitas with 33 in 23 games. Also, Stafford is fourth in most passing yards (4,741 in 18 games) behind Favre Tarkenton, and Rodgers.

Last season, he threw 21 touchdown passes in 16 games and now he stands at 19 at the halfway point. The difference? 

“I think we’ve done a nice job in the play-action game, making some big plays – those guys are making great plays down the field,’’ Stafford said. “The guys up front are giving me time to get it down there. I think we’ve done a nice job on third down staying on the field, which helps. We’re getting more plays and those guys on the outside are making great plays.”

Stafford’s no-look throws have been studied, tweeted and retweeted. He has two in the loss at the Raiders. It’s not something he has worked on.

“No, that’s full feel. I’m not like working on that in the offseason or anything. It’s more just feeling it in the game, trying to see as much as I can possibly see, and then obviously trying to get to the ball to our guys with space and let them go work,’’ Stafford said.

In his 11th season, he has plenty of trust in himself to make the unorthodox throws. “I think it’s a lot of trust, obviously – trust in what I’m seeing, trust in what they’re going to do when I put it out there,’’ Stafford said. “Those guys are doing a great job of catching it and coming down with it. They always know to be on their toes and be ready for the ball.”

He’s nearly on pace for a second 5,000-yard season. His first was in 2011. He’s one of just five NFL quarterbacks who have passed for more than 5,000 yards. The list includes Drew Brees who has done it five times, along with Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Again, Stafford keeps good company.

Now if the Lions defense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL, would step up.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Five thoughts from Lions QB Matthew Stafford on win over Giants

DETROIT — Matthew Stafford has kept his head up and continued to work through the rough start to the season for the Lions.

When they lose, the quarterback shoulders the blame.

When they are victorious — like Sunday’s 31-26 win over the Giants — he credits his teammates.

“He is just a competitive, competitive guy. He always wants to be the best, and he’s great. He works really hard, he’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s grinding it out every single day,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “He did a great job today, leading the offense and just staying consistent all the way through. He handles pressure really well. You just have to love the guys. You have to love how hard he works, how he battles, and you have to love how tough he is, and he’s smart.’’

Stafford completed 25 of 32 pass attempts for 342 yards. It was his third game of the last four that he threw at least three touchdown passes. He had one blip — an interception — that he is absolutely not happy about.

Five thoughts from Stafford on the win:

1. A flea-flicker play in the fourth quarter resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Kenny Golladay with an assist from J.D. McKissic who got the ball first. It’s more proof that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell looks outside of the box. “I like that’s he’s willing to try those things, put them in and if we execute them (in practice) and they look good, then he has confidence to go out there and just like any other play and call it during the game,’’ Stafford said. “Obviously we had a good spot on the field to call it and got a little bang for our buck and scored.’’

2. Every Sunday a different wide receiver steps up. This game it was Kenny Golladay with a pair of touchdown catches among his 6 receptions for 123 yards. Danny Amendola had eight catches on eight targets for 95 yards. Marvin Jones Jr., had just four receptions for 22 yards after he scored four touchdowns a week ago. “I’m just trying to get the ball to the guy who’s open, to where the coverage tells me to throw it,’’ Stafford said. “I’m trying to read every play appropriately and trust in our guys are going to win. They’re winning a bunch right now and making great plays for me. That’s just what i’m trying to do, I don’t go into a game thinking i’m going to feed this guy or feed that guy.’’ 

3. Amendola, in his first season with the Lions, has fit right in. He’s Stafford’s kind of player. “He’s doing a great job, I still think he and I can continue to build and be better but he’s doing a really nice job on the inside part of the field,’’ Stafford said. “… He’s just doing everything for us. You guys know what he is, he goes out there, works his tail off, gets open when he’s supposed to get open, makes great catches, blocks in the run game, he’s a guy who does everything right. ‘’

4. Wide receiver Marvin Hall had just one catch but it was for 49 yards and a touchdown. He doesn’t get the ball often but makes big-time yardage when he does. “He’s done a great job, he’s an explosive player. I think I  should’ve thrown it to him one more time, he got behind some guys on another ball I didn’t find him on, he’s done a great job,’’ Stafford said. “He’s smart guy, he’s in the right spot, does the right things, when I’ve given him chances he’s come through. That was a huge play today, third-and-15. Any time you convert that it’s great, to score a 50-yard touchdown on it it’s even better.’’

5. Stafford’s interception came on the Lions’ opening possession on a first-and-10 play from the Giants’ 40-yard line. The ball was intended for Marvin Jones Jr., but Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins made the play.  “I got totally in-between on how I wanted to throw the ball — whether I wanted to rip it over 21’s head (Jabrill Peppers) or I wanted to throw it in the back of the end zone and let Marv go get it,’’ Stafford said. “And somewhere in-between was not a good place. Poor decision/throw, just a bad play. I was beating myself up pretty good about that one.’’

 

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ 31-26 win over N.Y. Giants

DETROIT — After three straight losses, the Detroit Lions absolutely needed to beat the N.Y. Giants to have a chance to turn the season around.

And so they did.

The Giants hung tough, but Detroit won 31-26 on Sunday at Ford Field. With the Bears’ loss to the Chargers, the Lions (3-3-1) moved up to third in the NFC North.

Detroit’s defense scored first when Devon Kennard returned a fumble for a touchdown. It turned out to be a good sign of things to come.

“It was a lot of fun. It was my first time scoring since high school, so touching the paint and getting in the end zone was a lot of fun for me,’’ Kennard said.

A flea-flicker play that resulted in a 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay provided a little razzle-dazzle, but it was mostly grind-it-out football by both teams.

Five things to know about the win:

1. Stafford’s stellar season continues. He passed for 342 yards (25-32), three touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown for at least three touchdowns in three of the last four games. Stafford led the offense to convert 8-of-14 third-down chances and two of those were scores. Stafford, of course, shines the light on his teammates. “There’s a bunch of great players around me, just trying to get the ball to those guys, they make some great plays and we get in the end zone,’’ Stafford said. “It doesn’t matter to me if I’m throwing it in or we’re running it in I just want to score points, obviously left a few out there today but made enough plays to win the game.’’

2. Golladay’s half-dozen catches for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns were key. Just before the flea-flicker touchdown catch, he caught an 18-yard pass on second-and-9 with his arms totally outstretched and somehow on his way to the turf managed to hold on to the ball. The offense had practiced the flea-flicker —  the handoff to J.D. McKissic, who tossed it back to Stafford, who found Golladay — in the past two weeks. It worked in practice so coordinator Darrell Bevell found the perfect time to put it in play. Golladay’s first touchdown reception came on third-and-2 at the Giants’ 9-yard line. “The defender tried to undercut it, so I pretty much just had to do just hands it and not really let it get too close to him. I just snatched it away, quick turn, and made sure both feet were in,’’ Golladay said. 

3. Detroit’s defense had its hands full with running back Saquon Barkley who not only is a phenomenal runner but can also pick up yards after the catch. Barkley had 19 carries for 64 yards and eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. The Lions were able to contain the Giants enough for the win. It was tough late in the game when they lost safety Tracy Walker to a knee injury especially since Darius Slay (hamstring) was inactive and they traded Quandre Diggs earlier in the week. 

4. Defensive end Trey Flowers who had one sack in the first six games had back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter. The first one came on the Giants’ first-and-10 on Detroit’s 43. Flowers knocked the ball out of quarterback Daniel Jones’ grip but Jones was able to recover for a loss of 10 yards. On the next play Flowers sacked him again for  a 6-yard loss. So Giants went from first and 10 to third-and-26 courtesy of Flowers. It was key because the Giants were down by 12 points but there were six-plus minutes left in the game. “(Credit) to the defense on those plays that allowed me to be able to get back there, and I just made the play when it came to me,’’ Flowers said. “There are a lot of guys on this defense that are capable of doing it, and we’re just going to continue to work.”

5. With Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve, running-back-by-committee looked to be the best option. And it was. But not many expected Tra Carson, who the Lions signed on Oct. 17, to be the starting back. He ran on three of the Lions first plays in their opening possession and gained 23 yards. He finished with a dozen carries for 34 yards. Ty Johnson (7 for 25), Paul Perkins (3 for 4 yards) and McKissic (one for minus-1) also got in on the action.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford’s favorite target changes game to game

ALLEN PARK — Give credit to Matt Patricia for consistently preaching that on offense and defense, the personnel used each week in part depends on the opponent and the way the game unfolds.

It makes it tough to name a No. 1 wide receiver. And, seriously, there is no need to do that since the receiver with the most success has changed in each of the first three games including Sunday’s 27-24 win at Philadelphia.

“Whatever it takes that week, that play, that game, that particularly situation we’re going to do the best we can to go out and execute the play, go through the progressions and try to get the ball to the guy who is either open or hand off to a play we think is going to work in that situation,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “Certainly give credit to Matt Stafford to be able to go through all that, find the right guy in those situations.’’

In that big win over the Eagles, it was Marvin Jones Jr., who topped the 100-yard mark with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.

“To be honest with you, (Jones has) had two really good weeks or practice it’s the stuff we’ve seen every day through the course of the last couple weeks —  that consistency in his play style,’’ Patricia said. “It’s great to see it show up in the game. When you put that amount of work into it and work that hard, you want the guy to be able to perform well on Sundays. That was a real positive.

In the Week 2 win over the L.A. Chargers, Kenny Golladay finished with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. He had just two catches in Philadelphia (8 targets) but it didn’t matter because Jones found a way to get open.

In Week 1, both Danny Amendola (7 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD- and T.J. Hockenson (6 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD) surpassed the 100-yard mark.

It’s a wealth of riches on the offensive side of the ball but none of it would matter unless Matthew Stafford was playing as well as he has so far.

“Whatever it takes that week that play that game that particular situation we’re going to do the best we can to go out and execute the play, go through the progressions and try to get the ball to the guy who is either open or hand off to a play we think is going to work in that situation,’’ Patricia said. “Certainly give credit to Matt Stafford to be able to go through all that, find the right guy in those situations.’’

In three games Stafford has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 831 yards, 6 touchdowns and two interceptions. With two touchdowns a game he’s on pace for 32 this season which is considerably more than the 21 he threw in 2018.

The last two games Stafford has been pressured, but has not been sacked thanks, in part, to the protection by offensive line and also because he has successfully thrown under pressure.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)