Five reasons the Lions beat the Packers

Stafford: A total team win

DETROIT — The Lions’ offense was good but not spectacular, the defense shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for a half and special teams had a good day.

It was the perfect equation for the Lions’ 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford called it a “total team win.’’ It is exactly what this team strives for every week but it doesn’t always happen.

The Lions now own a 2-3 record, (1-0 in the NFC North) heading into their bye week.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Oddly enough Detroit has beaten two of the best quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Rodgers) and fallen short against lesser teams.

“I think I’ve said it for forever and you guys hate hearing it. You have to prove it every week,’’ Stafford said. “And we’ve been close in a couple other games too, and just haven’t gotten it done at the end of the game. So, proud of our guys for getting it done at the end of the game.’’

In other words, it’s the NFL.

The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 lead at the half. Yet everyone knew the game was just getting interesting.

Five reasons the Lions hung on to win:

1. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four straight field goals and a point-after attempt. The first three misses were from 38, 41 and 42 yards — chip shots. The fourth was from 56 yards. He finally made a 41-yarder when it was so late it didn’t matter. Had he been on his game, the Packers could have won. “So, this one unfortunately was really bad and going to have to really look at this one, and you know this one hurts a bunch.  I left a lot of points on the field for this team and I’m disappointed in my performance,” Crosby said. “And, this is, I look back, I’m thinking in my childhood, you know high school, this is definitely a lot worse.  I’m bummed about that.”

2. The Lions secondary was a patched-up group thanks to injuries and yet effective. Tavon  Wilson was inactive, Darius Slay was injured in the second half but able to return and Jamal Agnew was carted off the field with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw for 141 yards in the first half but wasn’t able to get the Packers on the board. In the second quarter he threw a 30-yard bomb to Davante Adams to get to Detroit’s 9-yard line but Detroit’s defense held and Crosby missed the field goal. Rodgers scored touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half. But then a huge stop came on third-and-15 from Detroit’s 38, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed.

3. Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. It appears the Matt Patricia defense is starting to click. Rodgers can make defenses look weak but Detroit found a way to pressure him. He finished with 442 passing yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Rodgers was taken off the injury list this week, but he was missing two of his best receivers in Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. Also the Packers rushed for just 98 yards against the Lions’ rushing defense which is the worst in the NFL. “Defense is hard. It’s always hard every single week going against great quarterbacks, schemes, coaches. They do a phenomenal job and we’re just trying to dial it in,’’ Patricia said. “I think the biggest thing for us is some continuity. Maybe a little bit of continuity here the last couple games, which is good. That helps the communication from that aspect of it.’’

4. Even though they had a 24-0 lead at the half, the Lions’ offense remained aggressive in the second half. That was the plan. Stafford said he and Jim Bob Cooter talked throughout about remaining aggressive. Stafford finished 14 of 26 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.9 rating. The offense can play to its strengths when playing with a lead. “This is the way you want to play the game, out in front and to not have to come back. I just think that we had a great week of practice and it showed in the game,’’ Stafford said. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay had the gaudy numbers with four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

5. Once again, the run game helped balance the offense. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed as a short-yardage back and he got the job done on Sunday. He ran for a yard to convert a third-and-1 and then rammed through for a one-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. He had a dozen carries for 22 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson’s first scamper was for 16 yards and he finished with a dozen carries for 70 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Johnson injured his ankle early in the fourth after a 24-yard run that led to Stafford’s 5-yard pass to Kenny Golladay for a touchdown to vie the Lions a 31-14 lead. His ankle was taped up but he didn’t get back into the game.

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Five things to watch as Lions face Packers in crucial NFC North match-up

A loss would drop Detroit to 1-4

ALLEN PARK — It is huge. The Lions face the Green Bay Packers in their first NFC North game this season on Sunday at Ford Field.

“Division games they count two, so obviously we’re not in the spot where we want to be right now but getting a big division win against GB is huge. We get a win in our column, we’re able to give them a loss in their column. That’s huge,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

Detroit owns a lousy 1-3 record while the Packers stand at 2-1-1 despite the gimpy knee of quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was injured in the opener. This will be Green Bay’s third divisional game — they tied with the Minnesota Vikings and beat the Chicago Bears.

If Detroit drops to 1-4, the season isn’t over but even making it to 8-8 would be challenging. And remember this is a team that finished 9-7 last season which resulted in the firing of Jim Caldwell. General manager Bob Quinn said at the time he thought they were better than 9-7 so he hired Matt Patricia.

And here we are.

Five things to watch as the Lions face the Packers:

1. Even on one leg, Aaron Rodgers has been effective throwing seven touchdowns against just one interception. His top three wide receivers have been on the injury list this week — Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are questionable while Randall Cobb has been ruled out. “(Rodgers) will be moving around very fast. He’s an extremely athletic player even if you go back to the Washington game where you can say he wasn’t moving as well but he still scrambled and ran for first downs on third down and no one could catch him,’’ Patricia said. “So, this guy is very dangerous when he’s out in space. This guy can make and create a lot of plays not only with his arm, but with his legs.’’ Rodgers is 13-3 against the Lions and, of course, threw the Hail Mary game-winning touchdown pass in 2015 that took the air out of Ford Field.

2. The Lions have not been able to stop the run. Period. They rank 32nd in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game. There really is no excuse. Safety Glover Quin this week said they’ve had too many missed tackles, among other issues. He said more film work and concentrating on this in practice is the way to improve. Packers running backs Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones were watching film too. “They do a really good job of creating space and separation in the defensive front and a little bit of a zone and stretch run team. Those guys are very explosive backs that do a good job of getting into the secondary very quickly,’’ Patricia said. “And the guys up front do a real good job blocking and obviously the backs are taking advantage of that and finding space. But, definitely a big part of their offense is their ability to run the ball, which obviously opens up the rest of it for them in the passing game.’’

3. Matthew Stafford needs five passing touchdowns to become the all-time leader in that category against the Packers. Five in one game would be a ton, but it shows that he has had success moving the offense against the Packers, if not beating them. Currently Johnny Unitas is tops with 34 touchdowns and Fran Tarkenton is second with 33. Stafford has been on solid ground after the opener when he threw four interceptions. For the first time in his career, Stafford will be facing the Packers with a defensive coordinator not named Dom Capers. Mike Pettine has taken over the Packers’ defense. “I wouldn’t say it was easier (with Capers), but I was more familiar with what they were all about. Obviously, (they have) a new defensive coordinator this year so I have quite a bit of learning to do on these guys,’’ Stafford said. “Do I know a few of their players maybe better than some non-divisional opponents? Yes, but they have plenty of new guys around, too, to get to know and to learn.”

4. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson was limited to nine carries last week in the loss at Dallas. There’s clamoring from the Lions’ faithful that he needs to get more touches, but the Lions’ coaches will continue with their plan for the rookie. “Every game’s a little different. You don’t know situationally what’s going to happen with each game from a reps perspective, from a situational perspective, from a match-up perspective,’’ Patricia said. “So, the ultimate goal is just to win the game. That’s the goal each week. That’s what we put all our thought into, all our work into and that’s the emphasis for us.”

5. Injuries will affect both teams. The Lions have ruled out Ziggy Ansah, T.J. Lang and Michael Roberts while the list of questionable players is long. Defensive back Quandre Diggs has been practicing with a cast on his broken left hand so would not be a surprise if he plays. The Packers have ruled out Randall Cobb, but have a half-dozen listed as questionable. Tight end Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers were taken off the injury report.

Prediction: Packers 27, Lions 24

Lions Matt Patricia unconcerned about Kerryon Johnson’s light workload

Running back had 9 carries in loss at Dallas

ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Matt Patricia does not seem concerned that Kerryon Johnson only had nine carries in Sunday’s 26-24 loss at the Cowboys.

The previous week — in a win over the Patriots — the rookie running back carried the ball 16 times for 101 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

It seemed like it was his NFL coming out party.

On the first play from the line of scrimmage in Dallas on Sunday, Johnson scampered for 32 yards. Was it the start of another 100-yard game?

Uh, no.

Johnson got the ball five more times in the first half, but only had three second-half carries. His grand total was nine carries for 55 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

That 6.1 average is key — that’s a good number for most running backs. It was the exact same average as Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott who sliced and diced the Lions’ defense finishing with 25 carries for 152 yards. (He also had four catches for 88 yards.)

Patricia’s first question at his Monday press conference concerned Johnson’s workload or lack of it.

“I think we have a lot of good running backs and I think we try to use them appropriately. I think Kerryon played a significant amount of the game — 20 snaps of 55 —  that’s a good amount,’’ Patricia said. “Plus we have two other running backs, we had a couple two-minute drives and other personnel packages and things like that. There were quite a bit of reps for Kerryon.’’

LeGarrette Blount, a short-yardage specialist, had seven carries for 12 yards, for a 1.7 yards per carry average.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is responsible for calling the offense during the games so Johnson’s number of carries were likely mostly his decision, although Patricia said it was “a staff decision.”

The rookie seemed wise beyond his years when asked about his workload last week. He didn’t petition for more carries, instead he seemed happy to be part of the running back by committee philosophy.

Wear and tear on running backs is a concern. There is no magic number for carries and it changes each game, but when a guy is effective running the ball in the Lions’ offense perhaps make it a point to get him the ball.

“We do look at studies on full seasons and when guys are at the end of the season especially running backs, especially that position you’ll find a lot of teams where guys earlier in the season were at a high productive level but by the time they get to the end of the season the wear and tear at that position is pretty extreme,’’ Patricia said.

“You get to the end of the year those guys aren’t out there as much, so you take a look at it from a big picture standpoint and game-by-game standpoint and play-by-play standpoint. We’re obviously trying to compete at a high level. So we want to have our best players out there at all times when we can,’’ Patricia said. “We feel we have a really good strong running back group – they’re all outstanding players. We’re going to try to continue to try to improve them just like we are at every position.’’

That’s all good and sounds fine, but if the Lions (1-3) don’t win now, it won’t matter that much how they play later in the season.

Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys

Detroit defense couldn’t stop Ezekiel Elliott

Often it’s difficult to play the blame game after a Detroit Lions’ loss.

On Sunday, after the Dallas Cowboys kicked a 38-yard field goal to win, 26-24, it is easy to determine why the Lions lost.

The defense did not do its job. Plain and simple.

Doesn’t matter that they were without the injured Ziggy Ansah – no excuses, please.

All week they talked a big game about stopping Ezekiel Elliott. They knew they had one job: Stop Zeke. And yet they didn’t do it.

Hey, he’s a great back. But the Lions defense allowed him to have his best game this season with 25 carries for 152 yards with a long scamper of 41 yards. He also had four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions fall to 1-3 under new coach Matt Patricia, a defensive specialist.

Don’t expect finger-pointing in the Detroit locker room, but it’s clear the issues are mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Actually one through four, should be on the Lions’ defense but that’s too easy. As mentioned, they knew they had to stop Elliott and they did not. It’s not like it is an impossible task. In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers held Elliott to 69 rushing yards. In Week 2, the N.Y. Giants kept him to 78 rushing yards. Not sure what the Lions saw on film of those two games. Maybe they had a good plan and just didn’t execute. Going into the game, the Lions rushing defense was worst in the league so they knew they had work to do. Apparently that stat was not lost on Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

2. Time of possession in the first half was heavily weighted toward the Lions 20:31 to 9:29. Yet at the half they were behind 13-10. The Cowboys scored late in the second quarter on the first play after a questionable call on Lions starting defensive end Romen Okwara for unnecessary roughness. It looked like Dak Prescott was down but he got back up so Okwara tackled him. You can’t blame him. But on the next play, Elliott caught a 38-yard pass for a touchdown to give Dallas the half-time lead.

3. Dallas tight end Geoff Swaim was wide open on his touchdown catch on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That score gave Dallas a 20-10 lead with 2:59 left in the third. Plenty of time for the Lions’ offense to catch up, but they needed the defense to hold. Give Detroit’s defense credit for forcing a field goal on the Cowboys’ drive early in the fourth even though they were first-and-goal from the Detroit 6-yard line. Hard to imagine why the Cowboys tried to pass on second- and third-down in that situation when they had Elliott right there and obviously the Lions had trouble stopping him.

4. Matthew Stafford was sacked just three times in the first three games this season. It was all good that he was getting protection from the offensive line. However, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence was able to sack him three times on Sunday. Right guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion on the Lions’ second drive of the game and was replaced by Kenny Wiggins who allowed at least one of those sacks. When healthy, Lang is a much better guard than Wiggins. It could be part of the reason the run game was not quite as successful as it was against the Patriots.

5. The Detroit offense was not perfect — they were forced to punt twice in the first quarter. However, Stafford had a good game (24-30, 307 yards, 2 touchdowns, 131.5 rating). Golden Tate came to play with eight catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was quite the showboat – not sure that fits in with Patricia’s philosophy. Kenny Golladay had two catches of 22 yards each in a second-half drive that resulted in rookie Kerryon Johnson’s first NFL touchdown. Johnson scampered for 32 yards on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage. Looked like maybe another 100-yard game was on tap. He finished first half with six carries for 41 yards and then only touched the ball three times in the second half (one was on his touchdown). He finished 9 carries for 55 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Overall the Lions had 96 rushing yards and 286 passing yards.

BONUS: The Lions finished with eight penalties costing them 58 yards. Five of those were on the defense. Three were defensive holding calls all on one third-quarter drive — Da’Shawn Hand, Quandre Diggs and Devon Kennard were the culprits. In comparison, the Cowboys were whistled twice for a loss of 20 yards.

Five things to watch as Lions face the Dallas Cowboys; plus prediction

Dallas tough defense a threat for Lions

Momentum is a funny thing in the NFL. Its existence is questionable, but when a team is on a roll it certainly seems to be the reason.

The Lions, coming off a huge win against the New England Patriots, could certainly use another win at Dallas on Sunday to get back to even for the season. The Cowboys are not all of that. They’re also 1-2, having lost at Carolina (2-1) and at Seattle (1-2).

The Cowboys have won six of the last seven meetings against the Lions, but both of these teams are different. (Kickoff is 1 p.m. on FOX.)

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. The Lions tandem of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount must continue to grind out yards on the ground. They had their best game in the win over New England but the work is just starting. “I feel like myself and our running back room had the bar of expectation (set) high,’’ Johnson said. “We all know we’re talented guys, we all know what we can do, we all believe in this offense and this offensive line especially we’ve all felt it was something we can do and will continue to do it.”

2. The Lions’ run defense which tightened up a bit in the win over the Patriots, has to continue to improve. The Cowboys average 132.7 rushing yards per game which is seventh best in the NFL. The big issue is stopping running back Ezekiel Elliott who averages 5.7 yards per carry and is tied for the NFL lead in rushing with 274 yards. (He’s tied with San Francisco’s Matt Brieda who ran all over the Lions averaging 12.5 yards per carry with 138 yards on 11 carries.) “He’s got good size, good speed, good power. He’s patient,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “When he sees it, he hits it. He’s a tough tackle. He has all the attributes you want in a running back.”

3. The offensive line wasn’t perfect on Sunday but they were as good as they’ve been for a long time, giving Matthew Stafford time and opening up lanes for the run game. He’ll need time against a Cowboys’ defense that has held opponents to 6.58 yards per attempt through the air. Also, Dallas’ defensive line has recorded a sack on 10.3 percent of opponent passing attempts but haven’t intercepted an opposing quarterback. On the other side, Stafford has been sacked just three times in three games — the least amount for a starting quarterback so far this season. “Is that the deal? I didn’t even know that. That’s great,’’ Stafford said. “Our guys up front are fighting like crazy. I’m trying to do everything I can to get the ball out when guys get edges on our guys or whatever it is. I think that’s a good thing for our offense as long as I’m protecting the football and I’m not making a bad decision if I’m under duress.’’ He’s thrown four touchdown passes and just one interception in the last two games after getting off to a rocky start with four picks in the opening loss to the Jets.

4. Detroit will be without defensive end Ziggy Ansah who can’t seem to stay healthy. Still the defense has to keep the pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott who is not off to a great start this season with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

5. The Lions will be without tight end Michael Roberts (knee) for the second straight game. Roberts scored the only touchdown by a tight end when he pulled one in against the Jets. “I think tight ends in the League may not get enough respect for the impact they do have as blockers. A lot of run games out there, you’re going to have five offensive linemen out there just about every run game,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “You’re going to have at least a sixth guy that’s tight end and then from there, you add the different variations that everybody has. So, when we have tight ends that are successfully blocking and are part of a successful scheme doing their job, communicating well with whoever they’re connected to, could be a tackle, they could be somewhere in the backfield or whatever we have those guys doing, it does make a difference. It does lead to offensive success.”

Prediction: Lions 24, Cowboys 14.

Lions Kerryon Johnson on meeting Barry Sanders, gaining 101 yards and more

Rookie averages 5.6 yards per carry

ALLEN PARK — For a rookie just three games into the season, running back Kerryon Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite.

Diehard Lions fans have been looking, hoping, praying for a running back to believe in for years.

Of course, Barry Sanders set the gold standard. He averaged 99.8 yards per game during his 10-year career with the Lions that ended in 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Johnson is not being compared to the Hall of Famer. That is just way too much to put on the rookie’s shoulders. His talent and fearlessness is impressive so far, let’s leave it at that.

And, of course, Johnson broke the nearly 5-year-old streak of not having a 100-yard rusher in a game with his 101-yard effort in the win over the Patriots on Sunday. His longest run was 15 yards, he did it the old-fashioned way by just grinding the yards out, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Five thoughts from Johnson on Wednesday:

1. As it happens, Johnson is big fan of Barry Sanders. And, yes, he has met him. He walked up to Sanders and introduced himself a month ago. “He’s a good dude. I think people would agree, very quiet, soft-spoken. He’s just talking about ‘Hey this is our time to get it going’ and that’s what we’re trying to do,’’ Johnson said. “He was my favorite running back growing up. Barry is one of those where you question if he even needed an O-line at times. I used to try to move like him but my body doesn’t move like that.

“I used to watch his highlights a lot of time, my dad really enjoyed watching him play. It was crazy meeting him you’re like this is really the guy who did this, know what I’m saying? It’s impressive,’’ Johnson said.

2. Johnson credits his teammates with helping him pick up the NFL game so far. LeGarrette Blount is at the top of the list. “LG is very funny, but I think the best thing he’s taught me, he’s played nine years, three Super Bowl rings. He’s taught me how the game works, how to be a good running back in this league,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a lot of things you can do in college that you can’t do in the NFL, that’s on the field and off the field —    ` taking care of your body, learning the playbook. … He’s taught me a lot. I don’t know if I’d be so advanced right now or at the point right now without him or Theo (Riddick) or anyone else in the (running back) room.’’

3. Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. After his 101-yard game, fans are crying to let him have more touches. The rookie is not clamoring for more work. “This game is too physical for one back. The way I see it, I think over 16-17 weeks, that’s how I see it. Maybe for two weeks you can do it, four or five, but after a while it will catch up,’’ Johnson said. “Maybe next year it will catch up. Longevity is what we’re looking for, we’re trying to win games over the whole season. The way you do that is by having multiple guys take carries, multiple guys having great games, that’s just how you do it.’’

4. It’s no accident that he often falls forward when he is tackled. “In my opinion falling forward is the safest way to get tackled. If you’re standing up or going backward, people can land on you and no one wants that,’’ Johnson said. “If you’re standing straight up, people can swipe your ankles or something, bodies are flying, bodies on the ground, In my opinion, falling forward, you get a good body lean, it’s easier to take the hits that way and, as you know, you’re gaining more yards at the end.’’

5. He was not concentrating on getting to the 100-yard mark on Sunday, but appreciated that the fans were keeping track. “It was crazy excitement, it was unbelievable,’’ Johnson said. “It’s nice to give them that, they come to every game, they come and cheer their hearts out.’’

Lions run game shows steady gains week to week; Matthew Stafford improves too

Successful run game sparks win over Patriots

The Lions had a huge opportunity to get in the win column against the Patriots and took advantage of it with a 26-10 win on Sunday night.

No fluke plays, no bad calls by the officials, just solid play.

The Lions defense wouldn’t let Tom Brady sustain drives at all in the first half. The Patriots’ first three drives were three-and-outs.

Meanwhile Matthew Stafford, who didn’t look like himself in the first six quarters of the opening losses, had command. Credit the offensive line with giving him so much time in the pocket. Also, the line opened up lanes for the running backs. The Lions aren’t looking for a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they need to be effective running the all which did not happen last season.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Afterward, Stafford called it a true team win. It was huge. An 0-3 start is much tougher to overcome than starting 1-2.

“They’re a really good football team, well coached. But we needed this one. It was great to have them come into our place on a big stage and be able to do something like that,’’ a smiling Stafford said afterward.

Here are three categories where the Lions have improved week to week:

The running game which was a big emphasis in the offseason seems to be on track. The duo of veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson may be the answer. They also got big help from the blocking by the offensive line.

Week 1 – 39 yards, 2.6 yards per carry

Week 2 – 98 yards, 5.4 yards per carry

Week 3 – 159 yards, 4.8 yards per carry.

Stafford’s completion percentage has climbed week to week. Actually in the win over the Patriots he had less passing yards than the previous two games. But that’s a good thing, because he was able to depend on the run game. An ideal average for passing completion is at least 62 percent.

Week 1 – 58.7 percent, 286 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs

Week 2 – 64.2 percent, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT

Week 3 – 75 percent, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Third-down conversions usually are a telling statistic. The Lions were dreadful on third downs in the opening loss to the Jets. They have improve steadily each week.

Week 1 – 3-of-13, 23 percent

Week 2 – 7 of 16, 44 percent

Week 3 – 7 of 14, 50 percent

Coach Matt Patricia enjoyed his first win as an NFL coach. He’s not counting on momentum to carry the Lions on Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2).

“It’s hard. You’d like to, you know, you’d obviously like to get that (momentum) you know if you could week in and week out, but I think each week is different in the NFL. I mean, it’s so hard, it’s different, it’s not the same every week, so you really almost have to reset every single week and you know, you grind it out, you play the game, you empty the tank, you come back in the next day and you start filling it back up and get ready for the next game,’’ Patricia said. “And that’s what we got to do every week. It’s just too hard.’’