Five things to watch as Lions face Washington

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Detroit Lions (3-5) have a chance to win their first game at Ford Field in more than a year. That win against the Giants on Oct. 27, 2019, seems like a very long time ago.

On Sunday the Lions  face Washington (2-6) which has lost six of its last seven.

“We know how dangerous they are; they’ve got some great players. Just like every week, they’ve got a lot of good guys out there.,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

Washington quarterback Alex Smith, the best comeback story in the NFL this season, will make his first start since 2018 when his leg was brutally broken. He fought infection and went through multiple surgeries to get back to football. He’s made appearances this season (including last week when he threw 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions), but this will be his first start.

“I think, obviously, Alex Smith is an amazing story. Everything that he’s been through and his ability to battle through all that and step out onto that field and perform, it’s pretty amazing,’’ Patricia said.

This is a big game for both teams to try to get back on track.

Here are five things to watch:

1. The Lions offense struggled last week without wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hip) and they will be without him again on Sunday. It could be a double-whammy with tight end T.J. Hockenson (toe) who is questionable to play. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up in different situations, and certainly, a lot of guys that can produce. … Whatever the design is will be for whether we have them or don’t have them, and then we’ve just got to go out and execute those plays,’’ Patricia said.

2. For the good news, Matthew Stafford was able to practice this week unlike last week when he was quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19. He’s thrown three interceptions in the past two games which has to stop and he knows that.

3. The Lions run game has been inconsistent all season, although seemed to bounce back in the loss last week at Minnesota. Rookie D’Andre Swift ran for 64 of the 129 total. “Running the ball is great. It’s a great part of this game. Certainly it’s something we want to do. We didn’t do it well a couple weeks ago. I thought we got back on track a little bit last week with it, and that’s where we have to continue to go,’’ Patricia said.

4. Stopping the run just did not happen last week. Part of it was the magic of Dalvin Cook (22 carries, 206 yards), but much of it was on the Lions’ defense which didn’t appear ready even though they knew what was coming in Cook. The Vikings finished with 275 rushing yards. Enough said. Washington’s run game, led by Antonio Gibson, should not be as much of a threat. He had just 6 carries for 20 yards last week in the loss to the Giants.

5. Coaching has been an issue and it’s not just Patricia. Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin took full credit for having 10 players out on the field on defense in each of the last two games. “So when you have 10 guys out there that – obviously there was some miscommunication at some point on somewhere down the line and that’s it. It’s poor coaching,’’ Undlin said this week. “I met with the whole defense (Monday), and I told them exactly the same thing. We’re trying to be critical of these guys, we put a lot of pressure on these guys all the time. Then when we as coaches can’t get 11 guys out there – that’s on us.’’

PREDICTION: Washington 28, Lions 24

Five things to watch as Lions face Vikings

Every NFL team has to deal with the limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week it was the Lions that took a hit with Matthew Stafford and Jarrad Davis being exposed and forced into quarantine.

Still the Lions (3-4) had to keep an eye on the goal for this week — beating the Vikings (2-5) at Minnesota on Sunday.

I think for us it’s really important that we’re trying to do everything we can protocol-wise to stay in front of it and stay safe,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “We knew that probably getting towards the month of November and December as flu season kicked up – we certainly understood that situations might change, and things might change from that aspect of it.’’

Luckily many of the team and individual group meetings are virtual. So Stafford and Davis have been able to keep up that way.

“Obviously trying to stay ahead as far as what’s going on out in the communities and knowing that will definitely affect us as we go. Doing the best we can to stay in front of it from that standpoint and trying to always go more extreme than we need to, just to make sure that we’re staying safe, but understand that everything can change, you know, day-by-day,’’ Patricia said.

Five things to look for against the Vikings:

1. Stafford has not been able to practice but that shouldn’t be a huge factor. “I think if you called Matt Stafford on an April day and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go play a 60-minute football game,’ he’d be able to go out there and rip it. He’d be fine. He’d see defenses; he’d see coverage. He’d be doing all the right things. He’s a great vet. He knows how to play the game,’’ Patricia said. “… I trust Matt Stafford to always do the right things, be ready to go and that’s where we are right now. I think just in general – I think that the game of 11 guys working together at the same time, that’s why some of that stuff is important. It’s not necessary, but it’s definitely important.”

2. Defensive end Everson Griffen will be playing his first game for the Lions and it’s against his former team. After the trade from Dallas, Griffen could not join the team immediately due to coronavirus stipulations. His first practice was Wednesday. “I thought his communication was really good on the field, and he’s got a high motor. He practices at a high level, so that was really good. It was good for us to be out there in pads and to be able to see some of that and just get him used to some of the communication out on the field. I thought it was a good first step,’’ Patricia said.

3. After losing five of their first six games, the Vikings upset the Green Bay Packers last week. Minnesota’s ground game averages 144 yards per game while the Lions defense has had some trouble stopping the run. Last week the Colts ran for 119 yards. Running back Dalvin Cook is the workhorse with 10 rushing touchdowns. Three of those were against the Packers last week.

4. The Vikings defense is young but strong through the middle. “Certainly, to me, it starts with (Eric) Kendricks in the middle (with) his ability to communicate, especially with the front. I think the front’s improving every single week. Those guys are long, they get off the ball, they knock the line of scrimmage back,’’ Patricia said.  So, I think he’s done an outstanding job in the middle (of) kind of settling all that down, and certainly (Eric) Wilson, he’s played a lot of football for them and he’s a good player. I feel that the strength at the linebackers, plus the strength of the safety position – Harrison Smith, obviously, and Anthony Harris – those guys are phenomenal. A lot of what they do out of their pressure packages is because of the disguise that those two can come up with. They’re very in sync with all that, and you see them communicating out to the corners. I feel that their defense is getting better each week. I think that those guys are out there and they’re getting more familiar with each other and the communication looks like it’s getting better. Those guys are playing at a high level. The strength through the middle of the defense, I think, is important. They have that.”

5. No excuses for the Lions who are coming off the 41-21 loss to the Colts at home.  They will be missing three key players — Kenny Golladay, Jamal Agnew and Tracy Walker are out with injuries. Also, Joe Dahl, Christian Jones, Darryl Roberts and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are questionable.

PREDICTION: Vikings 28, Lions 24

Lions come back in fourth for 23-22 win at Falcons

Every second counts in the NFL and if you didn’t believe it, now you do if you watched the Lions pull out a 23-22 win at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The Lions (3-3) got the ball back with 64 seconds remaining, on their own 25-yard line with no timeouts and needing 7 points for the win.

Turns out Matthew Stafford had a comeback in his pocket and his 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson who worked hard to keep his route alive.

“They played a different coverage than we thought and it ended up being zone. There’s a guy I can’t remember what number he was, he was sitting right in the middle at the goal line,’’ Hockenson said. “I turned around and saw Staff scramble and I continued on the route, he ended up finding it.’’

Hockenson (5 catches, 59 yards) knew it was coming.

“When (Stafford) reared back I was like, ‘Here it comes, let’s do this.’ We work on that all the time,’’ Hockenson said. “It’s super cool to see it come to fruition on Sunday.’’

And, it was National Tight Ends Day. Perfect.

It was Stafford’s 30th career fourth-quarter comeback and his 36th game-winning drive. He finished 25 of 36 for 340 yards, one touchdown and a 108.6 rating.

That last drive was something. It started with an incompletion to Kenny Golladay (6 catches, 114 yards) who couldn’t stay inbounds on the catch.

Then a 13-yard pass to Hockenson who had trouble getting out of bounds to stop the clock. 

Stafford spike

Then a 22-yard pass to Danny Amendola.

Stafford spike

Then a 29-yard pass to Golladay at the Atlanta 11-yard line.

Then a challenge.

Stafford spike.

Touchdown pass to Hockenson which tied the game at 22-22.

Lions took a penalty on the touchdown, so extra-point yardage was from 48 yards.

Prater’s kick was good.

Lions win 23-22 with no time left on the clock.

And here’s the thing, Atlanta running back Todd Gurley played a big part in Detroit’s win. He ran in for a touchdown on first down from 10 yards out with 64 seconds left. Had he not gone in, the Falcons could have run more time off the clock.

Falcons coach Raheem Morris admitted afterward they were trying to get to the 1-yard line and it looked like Gurley knew that but it was too late — he was over the goal line.

The win was the second straight for the Lions and it boosted their record to 3-3. They’re at Ford Field next Sunday to host the Indianapolis Colts (4-2) who will be coming off a bye week.