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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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 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.’’

Lions’ Kerryon Johnson breaks the 100-yard rushing mark in win over Patriots

Detroit’s last 100-yard rusher came in 2013

DETROIT — Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson was a sophomore in high school the last time the Lions featured a 100-yard rusher in a game.

That was Reggie Bush, who scampered for 117 yards at the Thanksgiving game on Nov. 28, 2013. That is a mighty long time ago.

Of course, Johnson knew the story and knew that many people were looking for him to break that obnoxious streak. In the win, he carried 16 times for 101 yards. His longest scamper was for 15 yards, so he had to work hard to reach that 100-yard mark.

“It’s a lot easier when you break a long one. But they’re a good team. They’re a good defense, they’re sound, they tackle, they don’t make many mistakes. So, we knew it was going to be a grind, but we were ready for it,’’ Johnson said. “We were ready for the grind and I’m going to say grind again. We grinded it out.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

In the two previous games (both losses), the Lions fell behind and had to abandon the run game in hopes of catching up. It was different against the Patriots — the Lions took an early lead and never relinquished it.

“I think this was our most physical game that we’ve played so far,’’ Johnson said. “We came out, we made a decision to run it downhill and our O-line got behind it, we got behind it, and that’s what we started to do. We came out and both of us, me and LG (LeGarrette Blount), were both running the ball downhill at the beginning and we just carried it through the whole game, 60 minutes.”

The Lions ran for a total of 159 rushing yards, more than in any one game last season.

Of course last season they didn’t have Johnson, who was a second-round draft pick.

“I think (Johnson) just does everything well. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a smart player, he’s got good vision. He’s a slippery runner. He’s got probably a little bit more strength than people give him credit for, a little bit more speed,’’ Matthew Stafford said. “It doesn’t maybe jump off the page to you but when he’s out there he’s really efficient and does some really nice things.”

Johnson’s break-through game didn’t really surprise coach Matt Patricia.

“You know, I think Kerryon did, a lot of what we saw coming out. You know, a lot of what we liked from him that definitely shows up,’’ Patricia said. “But I think all those guys, all the backs, work really hard and think they all have something a little bit different that they provide for us. So, you know, just good team win. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it’s all about.”

Five things to know about the Lions’ big upset win over the Patriots

Lions dominate, grab first win this season

DETROIT – With a 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night, the Lions pulled out their biggest win at Ford Field in a very long time.

Give the Lions players and coaches credit that after the 0-2 start to the season, they didn’t cave in, didn’t give up, they just kept on working getting ready to face their toughest opponent yet.

In fact, afterward coach Matt Patricia said the makings of the win started with a good week of practice.

“You go through the spring, you go through training camp, you go through preseason games. You go from the transition from preseason to regular season and just trying to get in-sync and get into a rhythm. All that helps,’’ Patricia said. “But honestly just give credit to the players. They did a great job this week in coming out and preparing and went out and executed at a high level.”

In the locker room afterward, the players gave the team ball to Patricia for his first NFL win as a head coach. Yet at the podium minutes later he kept tossing bouquets to the players.

In the second half, Lions fans were on the edge of their seats. Over the years, they had seen likely wins turn into losses. Different coaches, different players but many of the same results and excuses.

There were no excuses necessary on Sunday night.

“We did a good job of staying out of our own way,’’ said Marvin Jones Jr., who had four catches for 69 yards including a 33-yard touchdown reception.

Five things to note about the win:

1. Matthew Stafford was back. The quarterback’s play in the first six quarters of the season was head-scratchingly awful. He started improving in the second half at San Francisco a week ago and it continued through all four quarters on Sunday. Stafford was 27 of 36 for 262 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.9 rating. “It was a total team win, we have a lot to get better at, I can’t turn the ball over to start the third. That was a bad play by me but our guys are resilient and we battled and made some plays,’’ Stafford said.

2. The 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the third quarter gave the Lions a 20-10 cushion. The timing couldn’t have been better. Those points allowed the Lions’ offense to maintain a mix of run and pass. Jones wasn’t even Stafford’s first option on that call. “He was running, he was open. (He was) not really my No. 1, he came around the corner and he flashed to me,’’ Stafford said. “Man, he ran away from a really good player (cornerback Stephon Gilmore), I’m just glad out there pretty close to in stride, you can figure that out later and tell me if it was good enough for you guys.’’ That was a kindly dig at the media who criticized Stafford for not connecting with his deep receivers last week at the 49ers.

3. The Lions ran the ball for 159 yards (this is not a misprint), but the biggest news is that Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions 100-yard rusher in a game since Reggie Bush did so on Nov. 28, 2013. Johnson, the rookie, had 16 carries for 101 yards averaging 6.3 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, had 16 carries for 48 yards. “I think all of our backs played well. Theo (Riddick) in pass game did a nice job a couple times. Kerryon was really good running the ball. I thought LeGarrette was good running the ball,’’ Stafford said. “A ton of credit to our guys up front, man, that’s a defense that does not want you to run the football on them. We did it and I was happy to be a part of it.’’

4. The defense, playing without Ziggy Ansah and his wonky shoulder, forced the Patriots into three-and-outs on their first three possessions. The mighty Pats were held to 209 total yards — just 70 of them in the first half. Tom Brady’s numbers were pedestrian at best — 14 of 26, one touchdown, one interception and a 65.1 rating. LInebacker Eli Harold sacked Brady twice. Darius Slay came up with the huge interception on a second-and-8 play in the third quarter.

5. It was a win that could set the tone for the rest of the season. The Lions are now 1-2 and they have their problems but they now should have a good dose of confidence after beating the Patriots, a perennially elite bunch. “It was a total team win, we have a lot to get better at, I can’t turn the ball over to start the third. That was a bad play by me but our guys are resilient and we battled and made some plays,’’ Stafford said. “We’re a tough group, mentally tough. We have plenty of bad plays, bad throws, bad outcomes to a play, whatever it is. we’ve had them. We’re a tough group, we believe in each other, believe in what we’re doing.’’ Next up, at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) on Sunday.