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)

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Five things to know about Detroit Lions home loss to Minnesota Vikings

Detroit’s defense allowed 503 yards

DETROIT — No blaming officials at Ford Field on Sunday.

The Lions defense had no answer for the Vikings offense in Minnesota’s 42-30 win in the NFC North matchup.

The Vikings’ offense, led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, finished with 503 net yards, 169 of them on the ground. Over the past three weeks Detroit’s defense has given up an average of 462 yards. You don’t win games in the NFL with that stat.

A subdued Matthew Stafford put the blame on his own shoulders but he did as much as he could completing 30 of 45 pass attempts for 364 yards and four touchdown passes.

It is the defense that is clearly the weak point for this 2-3-1 team.

Coach Matt Patricia offered the typical answers for the poor defensive showing: Coach better, be a stickler on fundamentals and execute. 

“In general, a disappointing day for all of us,’’ Patricia said. “We knew on a short week we’d have to come out and play well and play together and do everything we could to win. Thought the guys worked through the course of the week but obviously it didn’t show up here today on Sunday. Need to go back to work, improve, try to get better, get everybody on the field we can. …’’ Really, we’ve heard it all before.

Five things to know about the Lions’ loss.

1. Let’s start with a positive. Detroit wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who had one touchdown catch in the first five games, had four against the Vikings. “It just kind of happened that way. We go play the game, I try to throw the ball where I think it needs to go,’’ Stafford said. “Marv was doing a good job making some plays. His first touchdown by no means did, when I cut it loose, go, ‘Oh year touchdown.’ He made a great play. Had some contested catches which was awesome. I was really happy for him and wish I could’ve done more.” On that first touchdown it looked like he was headed out of bounds after catching the ball inside the 20, but made a few spin moves and made it into the end zone.

2. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had an amazing day (25 carries, 142 yards, 2 touchdowns), thanks to the Lions’ weak defense against the run. It’s not like it was a surprise, Cook is one of the stronger backs in the NFL (ranked fourth in the league before Sunday’s game). “Obviously they just did a great job running the ball, they knocked us off the line of scrimmage, we’ve got to get it coached better and we’ve got to play it better and definitely we’ve got to tackle we had some situations there we didn’t finish the plays off,’’ Patricia said. “(Cook is) a great running back, he’s a strong runner we know that, we know he can do a lot of things on the field, we know how dangerous they are in the run game. When you don’t get that settled down then the play action game and the balls downfield are really hard to defend.’’

3. If Patricia had a cure for the defense (not just against the run game) he would have administered it already. Linebacker Devon Kennard said, “… They scored 42 points. I feel like they had their way with us defensively. It’s very frustrating, disappointing and nobody is coming to save us. We have to bond together on defense and figure this thing out and find ways to stop these offenses.” Patricia said he’ll look at everything. “We’ll try to make sure we can settle down and get better at the fundamentals that’s really the biggest thing,’’ Patricia said. He doesn’t see it as a problem with talent, but with a lack of consistency.

4. The Lions run game seemed anemic once again with 81 total rushing yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Still, Stafford didn’t see it as a problem. “We were close on a lot of them, Kerryon (Johnson) was dinged up at some point in the game, we had some guys step up and do a nice job. I thought we were decently efficient but to have what everyone wants to call a great run game you’ve got to have some explosive ones and kind of help the average,’’ Stafford said. “By no means did I think our run game was a minus for us today. (They) picked up a big third-and-short, J.D. (McKissic) around the corner. There was some plays that we really needed in the game  — some second-and-longs that got us into third and manageables when we were able to run the ball which was huge for us.’’ Kerryon Johnson left the game in the first half with a knee injury. Ty Johnson (10 carries for 29 yards) and McKissic (5 for 29) picked up the slack.

5. Patricia mentioned several times that inconsistent play is the problem. That should not be an issue six games into his second season in Detroit. He said they can’t let any frustration build up from previous games and/or previous situations. They were coming off a Monday night loss at Green Bay. Patricia says all the right things, but he has to find a way to get the players totally prepared for Sundays. So far he’s 8-13-1 going back to last season.

NEXT UP: The N.Y. Giants will play the Lions at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27, at Ford Field. On Sunday, the Giants (2-5) lost 27-21 to the Cardinals,The early line has the Lions as a 7.5-point favorite.

NFC NORTH: The Packers (6-1) remain atop the conference, the Vikings (5-2) are in second, the Bears in third and the Lions (2-2-1) in the basement.

Five things to watch as Lions host Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Turn the page, it’s been the Lions’ motto of this short week after the loss at Green Bay on Monday night.

While fans still lament the blunders from the officials in that game, the team has moved on. That’s been coach Matt Patricia’s message and the players have apparently bought in. They couldn’t even stick to the 24-hour rule —- there was no time for that.

Matthew Stafford said that by Tuesday morning he had moved onto the Minnesota Vikings who will play the Lions at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Vikings (4-2) are second the NFC North to Green Bay (5-1), while the Lions (2-2-1) are in the basement. Is there time left for the Lions to climb up the ladder? Yes, but not much. A win on Sunday would be huge. A loss would not mean the end of playoff hopes, but would certainly diminish them.

Five things to watch as the Lions play the Vikings: 

1. The Lions have to finish games. They have outscored opponents, 69-46, in first half action but have only scored 46 second-half points while opponents have scored 69. The fourth quarter is a standout ‚ they’ve been outscored 49-31 in the final stanza in the first five games. “We understand there are a lot of factors that go into closing out a game. Some of it happens earlier in the game, some of it happens later,’’ Patricia said. “That’s part of the process right now of trying to improve as a football team, is identifying some areas we think we can get better at. For us, that’s part of the work. That’s part of the improvement. … We have to stay dialed in and we have to make sure we finish it the right way, both coaching and playing, and I think everybody knows that.”

2. Perhaps you’ve heard this before, the Lions run game is too anemic. Detroit’s rushing game had its lowest output of the season at Lambeau with 56 rushing yards on 20 carries. “I think that we need to give credit to Green Bay. They did a nice job in some of the areas, but then I think it ultimately falls – it’s always going to come back to us and how we’re handling things,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “It kind of goes back to what I talked about a couple weeks ago in terms of – in the run game you have to really be on point. We were close on some of those runs. We just had either a guy falling off a block or just other issues where we were really one guy away again, and like I said, it’s happening too much. We have to get that corrected.” Kerryon Johnson had 13 carries for 34 yards against the Pack.

3. The offensive line needs to protect Stafford. Last year the Vikings sacked him 10 times in the Week 9 loss and twice in the Week 16 loss. “Obviously, they have a unique pressure system that is pretty good. But at the same time if they just want to rush four, they’re pretty good at that, too,’’ Stafford said. “They’ve got talent and scheme, which makes them a difficult out.”

4. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins may have gotten off to a slow start, but in the last two games — wins over the Giants and Eagles — he’s thrown six touchdown passes against just one interception. “He’s doing a really good job with decision making. I think he’s really trying to get the ball to his go-to players in just critical situations where I think they are very calculated plays,’’ Patricia said. “Give credit to Coach Stefanski (Vikings offensive coordinator) and the game plans that he set up. I think he’s doing an awesome job getting the run game going, letting the line of scrimmage kind of get going, take over up front. I think he’s using the tight ends really well. I would say (Kyle) Rudolph is in a little bit of a different role than he’s been in the past, but with the addition of Irv Smith and some of the things that he’s able to do, they are putting defenses in a lot more of a bind. … I think they’re giving plays to Kirk Cousins that are plays that he knows where the ball is going to go right now. He can get the ball out very quick, the decision making is very fast. When you balance that off with a consistent run game, I think that’s what you’re seeing that offense, or why you’re seeing that offense be so productive.”

5. It’s been a short week and while the players appear to have turned the page, they are only human. Deep inside it would only be normal if they’re still incensed about the bad calls against them. Will they come out angry and zeroed in? Or not. It should be clear early in the game. Patricia said he won’t know for sure about their mindsets until Sunday. He knows what he saw after the heart-breaking loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago. I’ll say this, in the game last week, I thought we were focused on that game. I thought the guys were trying to go out and compete hard in that game. Everything I would say, up to this point, about our team, I would say our team knows that,’’ Patricia said. “They’re mentally tough to do that and I anticipate our team doing that. Just doing everything they can to go play. We’ll see how Sunday turns out from that standpoint. We have to go play the game, but I think we’ll be out there fighting really hard. I love standing up in front of that group every single day knowing the mental toughness and the drive and the competitiveness that the team has to go try to win every week – it’s great for a coach because you can just put everything into it for them.”

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 17 (Expect the Lions to be focused, but Minnesota tough to handle.)

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ 34-30 loss to Kansas City Chiefs

DETROIT — Any talk during the week  of the Lions-Chiefs matchup being a statement game, did not come from the Lions players or coaches.

So it fits that while it appeared the Lions proved they could play with one of the NFL’s elite teams in the 34-30 loss to Kansas City on Sunday, the Lions (2-1-1) didn’t like that storyline.

“I don’t think we need to prove anything to anybody – we love the way we practice, the way we work, the way we come out and play. We’re a good football team, lost to a good football team today,’’ Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “There were a bunch of great plays made in this game, a couple bad plays be each team made in this game, that’s the way it goes in the NFL. It came down to the last 15 seconds, they were undefeated coming into this game, so were we. Somebody was going to have to lose, obviously want to win them all at home, was a good opportunity to beat a good team and we were darned close.’’

Coach Matt Patricia was happy with the fight he saw in his team. “This team doesn’t blink, it just keeps going forward,’’ Patricia said.

Five things to know about the Lions’ loss:

1. The Lions scored touchdowns on two of their five trips to the red zone, but on three others they managed just three points. In the first quarter on fourth-and-7 from the 7-yard line they settled for a Matt Prater field goal. Then in the third quarter Stafford fumbled while trying to make a run on third-and-5 from the 5. The Chiefs recovered. Then Kerryon Johnson fumbled on a first-and-goal from the 1, the ball was scooped up by the Chiefs’ Bashaud Breeland and run back 99 yards for a touchdown (see below). On his fumble, Stafford looked like he was going to make a throw. “I thought Marvin Hall had a chance in the back of the end zone at least a chance to throw it away but I really probably should of eaten it for a sack on third and goal,’’ Stafford said. “Chances of making that play not so good, chances of Prater making a chip shot probably really good. Obviously disappointed I put the ball on the ground.’’

2. Kerryon Johnson took full responsibility for that fumble that led to the Chiefs’ touchdown. “My perspective is, they called it a fumble. We lost three or seven points, which turned into seven points for them, we lost by three points, so obviously it hurt. Big play in the game, we had a lot of momentum going for us, kind of killed it,’’ Johnson said. “I take full responsibility for it.” In a pool report. NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said: “The officials ruled on the field that they did not see the ball carrier down. They did not see a body part other than the hand or foot down.’’ That’s why they didn’t blow the whistle.

3. To have a chance to beat the Chiefs, Detroit’s run game had to improve and it did. Kerryon Johnson had 26 carries for 125 yards and the Lions finished with 186 rushing yards. “I think for us the run game, we were close last week maybe a couple blocks or details away, we’ll see what the tape looks like, it appears that that was cleaned up … I think the group in general, they want to get better, they’re trying to improve, that’s all you can ask for as a coach, we have to coach them better and keep working with them,’’ Patricia said. In the first three games this season, Johnson finished with 49, 41 and 36 yards.

4. The defense played well to hold quarterback Patrick Mahomes to just 315 passing yards his lowest total this season. Also, he had no passing touchdowns — he’s had at least three in each of the first three games this season.. However, the Lions’ defense would like at least one play back. With 1:55 left and the Lions leading 30-27, the Chiefs had a fourth-and-8 at their own 34. The Lions stop them and it’s likely they could hold on for a win. Instead Mahomes sees a big gap straight down the middle and runs 15 yards to get the first down. Eight plays later, Chiefs running back Damien Williams runs up the gut for the game-winning touchdown. Patricia took the blame on that one, saying he needs to coach better. To their credit their pressure on the previous play (third-and-8) forced an incomplete pass to Demarcus Robinson.

5. It’s not unusual for a Lions team (we’re talking in recent years) to deflate after a big play. That did not happen after that Chiefs touchdown that was returned after the Kerryon Johnson fumble. Stafford tried to help his teammates stay tough. “My point was we score a touchdown there, the game wasn’t going to end,’’ Stafford said. “We didn’t win the game if we scored a touchdown there. They don’t win the game because they scored a touchdown, there was a lot of football left. I think there were 9 or 10 minutes left in the third quarter. There was a lot of football left to play.’’

BONUS on INJURIES: Stafford was questionable going into the game with a hip injury. He didn’t want to talk about it afterward but said it wasn’t the same injury as last season. … Safety Quandre Diggs injured a hamstring trying to run down a Mahomes pass late in the first quarter and didn’t return. Patricia did not have an update after the game. … Tight end T.J. Hockenson had to be carted off the field after he landed on his shoulder and head leaping to avoid a tackle. Patricia said he was in good spirits afterward and did not go to the hospital.

UP NEXT: The Lions have a bye weekend, then will play at Green Bay (3-1) on Monday night, Oct. 14.

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ 27-24 win at Philadelphia Eagles

When the Eagles blocked a Matt Prater field goal attempt, with less than 2 minutes left it could have been really bad news for the Detroit Lions.

After a penalty, Philadelphia had the ball at midfield with 1:40 remaining. Plenty of time to score a touchdown to win or a field goal for the tie. But the Lions’ defense held on and Detroit left the City of Brotherly Love with a 27-24 win and a 2-0-1 record on the season.

NFL games are typically won due to a handful of plays. This was no different.

Perhaps Matthew Stafford’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr. early in the fourth to grab a 27-17 lead was key.

Another key pass play was on third-and-11 when Stafford connected with Danny Amendola for 15 yards and a first down later in the fourth.

Then, of course, the defense in the fourth quarter came up big.

Five things to know about the win:

1. Matthew Stafford was kept clean. For the second straight week, the offensive line stepped up and he was not sacked. He brought cookies to the offensive line after last week’s performance, maybe it was just the ticket. Taylor Decker returned at left tackle. Stafford was pressured, but not sacked. His numbers were fine (18-of-32, 201 yards, 1 TD) not spectacular, but a win is a win. He missed a throw on third-and-8 with 3:45 remaining when he underthrew Jones. He had more time than he thought. He’ll be the first to admit that error.

2. Jamal Agnew, who was benched the previous week after a fumble on a return, lined up to return the kickoff on the Lions’ first possession. Then he ran down the left sideline 100 yards for a touchdown. The offense hadn’t taken the field and the Lions had a 7-3 lead. Special teams turned things around after a bad outing the week before. Other than one short punt by Sam Martin and allowing the late blocked field goal, they played well. 

3. Jarrad Davis returned and his presence was noticeable on defense. The linebacker rotated in and out early in his first game of the season. He went out once with a foot injury but before Twitter could explode with his absence, he was back on the field. No interceptions against Carson Wentz, but Darius Slay recovered a fumble and returned it 28 yards to the Eagles’ 22. Slay left the game and didn’t return with a hamstring after that play. It’s unknown how serious it is. The defense forced three fumbles. The Eagles had five drops which had something to do with the defensive pressure. The Lions’ defense also sacked Wentz three times — Chrtistian Jones, Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Trey Flowers came up big. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, their biggest offensive threat, had six catches for 64 yards but no touchdowns.

4. Quietly wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., had a standout game with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. He was one of eight pass catchers found by Stafford. Kenny Golladay was targeted 8 times but only came up with 2 catches. Pedestrian numbers for the big guy but it wasn’t all on him, Stafford shared part of the blame there. 

5. The offense, under coordinator Darrell Bevell, stayed aggressive just like they did late in the win over the Chargers the previous week. It’s a good sign of things to come with this new offense. It’s a balanced attack with the run game coming around. Kerryon Johnson had 20 carries for 36 yards and a rushing touchdown, while J.D. McKissic had just one carry but it was for 44 yards.

UP NEXT: Next Sunday the Lions host Patrick Mahomes and the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Ford Field. The Chiefs beat the Ravens 33-28 Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

It’s official: Lions sign DE Mike Daniels; surprisingly release Theo Riddick

ALLEN PARK — The Lions made it official on Saturday morning that they’ve signed veteran defensive end Mike Daniels.

Running back Theo Riddick was released to make room for Daniels.

Coach Matt Patricia made the announcements Saturday morning just before the start of camp.

“I have a lot of respect for (Daniels), he’s had really good production in the way he plays the game, he’s very intense,’’ Patricia said noting his knowledge of the game.

Patricia said he met with Daniels on Thursday. 

“He’s very aware of the division which is nice,’’ Patricia said.

Daniels joins Damon “Snacks” Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Trey Flowers, Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara on the defensive line. 

The Green Bay Packers released the 30-year-old Daniels just before the start of camp.

The seven-year veteran signed a one-year deal worth $9.1 according to several reports. He was set to make $8.1 million in Green Bay this season.

Daniels, a Pro Bowler in 2017, had 29 sacks in his seven years with the Packers. He was a fourth-round draft pick in 2012. 

Patricia would not get into details of why they cut Riddick who was scheduled to make $3.2 million this season.

“Theo is obviously a great professional, did a lot of great things for us,’’ Patricia said.

Riddick spent the last six seasons with the Lions. Last season in 14 games he had 40 carries for 171 yards and 61 catches for 384 yards.

The Lions added veteran running back C.J. Anderson in the offseason and have depth at the position with Kerryon Johnson, Zack Zenner and rookie Ty Johnson.

Detroit Lions’ C.J. Anderson describes his run game as ‘just nasty’

ALLEN PARK – Running back C.J. Anderson has three words to describe his style: “It’s just nasty.”

OK, then. The seven-year NFL veteran expects to bring some of that nastiness to the Detroit Lions offense.

“It’s just downhill, there’s nothing special about it if it’s 4 it’s 4. If it’s 6 it’s 6, if is’t 46 it’s 46. It is what it is,’’ Anderson said on Friday, the second day of training camp.

He’s averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his first six seasons in the league — the first five with the Denver Broncos and then in 2018 he played nine games for the Florida Panthers and two for the Los Angeles Rams.

He credits his respect for coach Matt Patricia as the reason he signed with the Lions.

“Me and him had a lot of battles (when I was) in Denver in his New England days,’’ Anderson said. “I respect what he’s trying to get done over here, I see what he’s trying to get done over here. He respects me as a player and he asked if I could help him accomplish that and I said. “Why not?’’’

Anderson owns one Super Bowl ring and came up on the short end in two other Super Bowls.

That experience is a part of what he brings to Detroit.

“aCome out here and work every day, we put our heads down, try to eliminate bad football, understand situational football,’’ Anderson said. “That’s the difference between really good teams and really bad teams — understanding those little situations, getting off the field on third down on defense, keeping drives alive on third down for us. Some of those things are being talked about, I can’t speak what was talked about (last year) I wasn’t here. I just know the past two successful teams I’ve been on — two losses, one (Super Bowl) win —  those are some of the things we did.’’

He said it’s about attitude and leadership.

“I pride myself on preparation. I’ve been raised in this league by the more better, correct vets, I guess you could say,’’ Anderson said. “Just trying to bring that knowledge of football to the team.’’

It’s early but he’s quite impressed by running back Kerryon Johnson who is heading into his second season.

“Kerryon is a good man, he’s going to be fun,’’ Anderson said. “I had a young guy last year, C- Mac (Christian McCaffrey), just trying to give him everything I can. I’m here to help whether that’s on the field or whether that’s off the field or in the meeting rooms. I’m here to help hopefully push his career beyond mine or up to mine — Year 7 or past Year 7. That’s my goal with the young guys.’’

Without pads in the first two days of training camp, it’s impossible to judge Anderson’s game. He does seem to be alongside Kerryon Johnson for much of the workouts.