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.’’