Lions play poorly in 34-22 loss at Chicago: Five key reasons they lost third straight

Blame starts with coaching staff

When an NFL coach talks about working on fundamentals midway through a season, it’s a sign that something is not right in the kingdom. That’s exactly what coach Matt Patricia discussed after an embarrassing loss at the Vikings a week ago.

This season, Patricia’s first, was not billed as a rebuild season. This team finished 9-7 last season and was supposed to improve.

So what happened on Sunday in Chicago — a 34-22 beat-down by the Bears — should not have come as a surprise.

The Lions are 3-6. The season is toast. Would they have an outside chance if they ran the table? Perhaps, but the way they have played the last three weeks the odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot are better.

Sunday’s loss was just more of the same:

1. Matt Patricia does not get a pass. This team was not ready to play. Part of that might be on the players, but he is ultimately responsible. He was welcomed to Detroit as a savior of sorts direct from the Patriots. He has much to prove in his first stint as an NFL head coach. Jim Caldwell was fired because GM Bob Quinn thought the 9-7 team last year was talented and under-performed with Caldwell. Well, guess what? They’ve added two running backs and key pieces on the defense and they continue sliding backward. Those wins against the Patriots and Packers are befuddling. Patricia talks a ton about changing the culture, but Caldwell did a good job of that. Patricia should be fine-tuning this squad, not reinventing the wheel.

2. The defense made Mitch Trubisky look perfect. He nearly was, finishing with 355 passing yards and three touchdowns.. Several of his big-play passes — he threw eight of more than 20 yards — went to receivers who were wide open and it wasn’t even close. Of course the Lions missed cornerback Darius Slay who was out with a knee injury, but not sure his presence would have made much difference. Offensively the Bears finished with 402 net yards compared to 305 for the Lions. At one points the Bears had a 244-44 edge in yards.

3. Matthew Stafford was sacked six times. In the fourth quarter Khalil Mack ran over left tackle Taylor Decker like he was a pylon. There’s blame all around for the sacks. Receivers are well covered which is why Stafford often waits too long. The offensive line was playing without right guard T.J. Lang, but they have to be better. They focused on protection during the week after Stafford was sacked 10 times by the Vikings a week ago. Much more work to do.

4. The offensive fits and starts have become commonplace. Stafford has to run a better show even without Golden Tate. Stafford finished 25 of 42 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, was sacked six times and had a 74.9 rating. Tate was his go-to guy on third downs maybe that’s why the Lions were 4 of 15 (27 percent) on third-down conversions.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Rookie Kerryon Johnson (6 carries, a rushing and a passing touchdown) continues to be one of the few bright spots along with wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The running back averaged 3.6 per carry. Golladay (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 touchdown) caught the first pass on the first play from scrimmage and he caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter when it was too late to matter. Without Tate, Golladay has to take advantage of his opportunities. Also it’s up to Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to get him involved start to finish.

UP  NEXT: Lions host the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday, Nov. 18 at Ford Field. Then on Thanksgiving they face the Bears again at Ford Field.

 

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Five reasons the Lions lost to the Vikings

Stafford sacked career-high 10 times

In a crucial NFC North game, the Lions were no match for the Vikings who won 24-6 in Minnesota on Sunday.

It was a particularly ugly game for Detroit because, once again, they were ineffective in all three phases. Right off the bat, Sam Martin slipped and fell on the opening kickoff. It was an omen for another wretched loss.

The Vikings are now 5-3-1 and the Lions fall to 3-5.

It was their first game without leading wide receiver Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday. The Vikings defense typically would have to account for Tate on every play. Now they don’t. Think about it. Yes, Theo Riddick can line up in the slot and catch the ball, but he is no Tate who was usually Stafford’s best option especially on third down. This is what would happen to most NFL teams if they all of a sudden lost their top wide receiver.

Hey, this loss was not all because Tate is gone, but that is a part of it.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The offensive line had no answer for the Vikings’ bull rush.

The Lions defense had another bad day at the office even though coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist and he has some decent talent on the roster. They did hold the Vikings to 283 yards and 24 points and Darius Slay came up with a big interception. But it wasn’t enough.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Vikings defense came out fired up and the Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers. If he made adjustments, they were not apparent. The Lions had their lowest offensive output (in yards) for a game this season with just 209 and their lowest points with 9. The lowest had been 264 in the win over the Packers in Week 5.

2. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times, a career high for him and a Vikings’ franchise record. Ouch. The offensive line was responsible for not providing protection on most of the sacks, although Stafford could have thrown it away a few times. One time he was ground so far into the turf, the Lions had to call a timeout to dig pellets (from the field turf) out of Stafford’s left eye. Entering the game, he had just been sacked 13 times in the first 7 games. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 199 yards for a rating of 83.0. It was the first game this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

3. The Lions also couldn’t get the run game established, finishing with 66 rushing yards. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 6.2 yards per carry, rushed 12 times for 37 yards (3.1 yards per carry).

4. Teez Tabor. Enough said.

5. Coaching. It just looked like the Lions weren’t prepared for the Vikings. It wasn’t just Patricia or Cooter or defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni — it was all of them. Patricia is kind of new to the NFC North and it showed. Watching, it was hard to imagine the Lions had won their last two games there at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wait, that was when they had Golden Tate and a mostly different coaching staff.

ALSO: Interestingly enough, the Lions had a big edge in time of possession: 36:45 to 23:15. … Vikings wide receiver had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the opening eight games but was held to four catches for 22 yards. …. The Lions play at the Chicago Bears (5-3) next Sunday. The Bears smacked Buffalo, 41-9 on Sunday.

Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat the Dolphins, 32-21, at Miami

Run game, led by Kerryon Johnson, was stellar

That was easy.

The Lions handed the Miami Dolphins their first home loss this season, winning 32-21 on Sunday in steamy Miami Gardens.

Amazing what a successful run game can do for an offense. Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter looked like a genius and quarterback Matthew Stafford had one of his more efficient games.

It was the first road win for the Lions who are now 3-3 and riding a two-game win streak.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Temps in the high 80s (and higher in the sun on the Lions’ bench) did not seem to be a factor. The Lions could not afford to wilt in the fourth quarter and they didn’t.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. The run game. The run game. The run game. The Lions rushed for 248 yards, the most since Nov. 13, 1994 when they had 293 yards against Tampa. Barry Sanders had 237 rushing yards that day. On Sunday, rookie Kerryon Johnson finished with 158 yards, including a 71-yard scamper. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had 10 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. Long runs, short runs, they ran it all. The Lions have worked toward establishing a run game and there have been some strong hints it was coming, it arrived in Miami. Prior to the game the Dolphins defense was allowing 118.2 rushing yards per game.

2. Matthew Stafford completed 18 of 22 passes for 217 yards. Stafford was a mess in Week 1 with one touchdown and four interceptions. But since then, he has one interception and 11  touchdowns, including two touchdowns in Miami. He completed passes to eight teammates. He didn’t even connect with Kenny Golladay until the second half. One touchdown pass to Golladay was negated by a holding penalty by Frank Ragnow. Tight end Michael Roberts had three receptions for 48 yards – two of them were for touchdowns.

3. Detroit’s defense which has been improving against the run, had a solid effort again. They held Frank Gore to 29 rushing yards. The 14-year veteran had averaged 48 yards per game this season. Miami’s Kenyan Drake’s 54-yard touchdown scamper was the longest that the Lions allowed. This is a huge step forward for the defense which seems to be adjusting to Matt Patricia’s changes. It was kind of ugly at first. They allowed a combined 259 rushing yards in the first two games, both losses. Detroit outran Miami 248 to 107 yards.

4. Miami backup quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 71 percent of his passes and threw for a pair of touchdowns, but he was sacked four times and often under pressure. Ricky Jean Francois, who was playing in his hometown, had two of those sacks. It wasn’t an awful game for the backup, but Detroit’s defense held him in check after he had passed for 380 yards the previous game. So much for the talk of “Brock-tober.”

5. Matt Prater was perfect three of three on field goals, including a 50-yarder late in the fourth quarter. It was the kicker’s best game this season.

UP NEXT: The Lions play the Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28. The Seahawks will be coming off their bye week.

Five things to watch as the Lions play at the Miami Dolphins; plus prediction

Dolphins are 3-0 at home

Much has been made about today’s weather forecast in Miami which is expected to reach 87 hot and humid degrees.

The visitors bench at Hard Rock Stadium gets the sun unlike the home team.

“We’re not going down there to play against the weather, we’re going to play the Dolphins we have to make sure we’re ready to go,’’ safety Glover Quin said.

The Lions (2-3) are winless on the road while the Dolphins (4-2) are 3-0 at Hard Rock Stadium.

If the Lions are going to get back on track this season and somehow improve on last season’s 9-7 record, today is the time to get started.

“We just have to play good football. I think that’s our mindset, is do everything we can, prepare as hard as we can to play good football on Sunday and that’s what it boils down to,’’ Matthew Stafford said. “The games that we’ve won we’ve played well, the games that we haven’t we did not play well. So, it’s on us to go out there, have that sense of urgency and play well.”

Here are five things to watch:

1. The defense must stop Frank Gore (in his 14th season) who averages 4.9 yards per carry as the Dolphins top running back. “Frank has done an unbelievable job of taking care of his body and just executing at a high level for a long time. I know him really well,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s a competitive guy, he’s a tough guy. He really loves the game of football. And he has an edge about him that has just been able to kind of carry him all the way through his career.’’ The Lions’ rushing defense tightened up a bit in the win against the Packers, but must continue that trend on Sunday.

2. Rattle quarterback Brock Osweiler who was announced as the starting quarterback on Wednesday with Ryan Tannehill injured. While many of the yards were after the catch, Osweiler passed for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 31-28 win over the Bears last week. “He’s got a big arm, he can throw the ball, their offense they like to throw the ball deep, they’ve got fast guys he can definitely do that,’’ Quin said. The Lions will once again be playing without defensive end Ziggy Ansah who has been declared out with a shoulder injury.

3. The Lions third-down defense has excelled and needs to continue. “You’ve got to have a good scheme and you’ve got to be able to execute it. Like I said, for us it’s about understanding what teams are going to try to do against us, what different players like to do, figure a way to take that away on third downs,’’ Quin said. “… For us we have to be on the same page we have to be locked in and clued in to all the same things so we can execute at a high level.’’

4. Getting off to a fast start so important for both teams. In their win over the Packers on Oct. 7, the Lions took a 24-0 lead at the half. It didn’t guarantee a win but changed the way they played in the second half.

5. The Lions run game has to continue the upward trajectory. Theo Riddick (knee) is out. Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount do what they do but they also can catch the ball out of the backfield so they’ll likely get more snaps with Riddick’s absence.

PREDICTION: Dolphins 27, Lions 24.

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.

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.