Lions QB Matthew Stafford among the best halfway through the season

Unlike the Lions, Matthew Stafford is having quite a season.

The Lions quarterback has thrived in the new offense created by coordinator Darrell Bevell. Of course, he’s got a tandem of wide receivers in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay who have combined for 13 touchdown catches. And newcomer Danny Amendola has stepped in and been a good fit, averaging 12.1 yards per catch.

Stafford’s numbers are starting to draw attention across the league even as the Lions have faded, losing four of their last five.

He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (312.4) and yards per pass (8.6). Stafford’s 19 touchdowns are second only to Russell Wilson (22) who has played one more game. He’s fourth (2,499) in total passing yards. He has the most completions of 20-plus yards wit 41 and is the NFL leader with at least 3 touchdown passes in 5 games.

Whenever he’s asked about his game day accomplishments, the always humble Stafford says he would trade them in for a win. 

Next test for the Lions (3-4-1) is Sunday at the Chicago Bears (3-5). 

“I’ve always had the ultimate respect for Matt Stafford. Some of the throws that he’s made over his career are just ridiculous. I mean there are not many players in the NFL that can make the side-arm throws that he does on the run, running left throwing right, just putting it where no one else can get it,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said in a conference call this week. 

“He’s tough, he’s a competitor, and when he’s back there at the quarterback position, he’s scary because he can make any throw and you always have a chance with him,’’ Nagy added.

The Bears’ defense is its strength this season just like the Lions’ offense which has carried the team this season (although not quite enough).

Historically, Stafford has played well against Chicago.

He ranks fifth in career passing touchdowns against the Bears with 28 TDs in 18 games. He’s in good company in this category behind three Hall of Famers, and one future HOFer. First is Brett Favre with 60 in 36 games, second is Aaron Rodgers with 46 in 22 games, third is Fran Tarkenton with 40 in 28 games, fourth is Johnny Unitas with 33 in 23 games. Also, Stafford is fourth in most passing yards (4,741 in 18 games) behind Favre Tarkenton, and Rodgers.

Last season, he threw 21 touchdown passes in 16 games and now he stands at 19 at the halfway point. The difference? 

“I think we’ve done a nice job in the play-action game, making some big plays – those guys are making great plays down the field,’’ Stafford said. “The guys up front are giving me time to get it down there. I think we’ve done a nice job on third down staying on the field, which helps. We’re getting more plays and those guys on the outside are making great plays.”

Stafford’s no-look throws have been studied, tweeted and retweeted. He has two in the loss at the Raiders. It’s not something he has worked on.

“No, that’s full feel. I’m not like working on that in the offseason or anything. It’s more just feeling it in the game, trying to see as much as I can possibly see, and then obviously trying to get to the ball to our guys with space and let them go work,’’ Stafford said.

In his 11th season, he has plenty of trust in himself to make the unorthodox throws. “I think it’s a lot of trust, obviously – trust in what I’m seeing, trust in what they’re going to do when I put it out there,’’ Stafford said. “Those guys are doing a great job of catching it and coming down with it. They always know to be on their toes and be ready for the ball.”

He’s nearly on pace for a second 5,000-yard season. His first was in 2011. He’s one of just five NFL quarterbacks who have passed for more than 5,000 yards. The list includes Drew Brees who has done it five times, along with Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Again, Stafford keeps good company.

Now if the Lions defense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL, would step up.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

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At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

NFL admits 1 bad call against Lions; Matt Patricia mum on penalties in MNF loss

Coach says they must control what they can control

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, admitted that the second illegal hands to the face penalty on Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers should not have been called. It factored into the 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

Both penalties were called on Flowers in the fourth quarter. Vincent stood behind the officials for calling the first one.

“There was one that was clear, that we support,” Vincent told reporters, referring to a prior penalty. “But there was another that when you look at it and you review the play, it’s not something that you want to see called in that particular pass rush. One you can support, but the other one, when you review it and you have seen some slow-mos, the foul wasn’t there.”

Vincent was speaking at NFL’s fall league meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

The flag on that second all against Flowers came on third-and-4 and ended up extending the game-winning drive.

Vincent did not address the personal foul called on the Lions’ Tracy Walker who was clearly going for the ball, but in the process had a helmet-to-helmet hit on the receiver.

He also did not speak to the non-call on a pass interference on Marvin Jones Jr. when Packers cornerback Will Redmond draped his arm across Jones’ chest before the ball arrived.

Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would not speak to specifics from Monday night. But he had a short answer when asked how pass interference is being called this season: “It’s not.”

As expected, Lions coach Matt Patricia did not want to discuss the officiating.

The coach said he had been in meetings all day Tuesday and had not talked to anyone from the NFL yet or heard about Vincent’s comments.

“For me obviously there were some calls in the game that everyone’s focused on right now. I’m focused on the ones we have to do right out on the field through execution and coaching and playing,’’ Patricia said in a conference call on Tuesday. “If you go through a game and you’re relying on the officials to tell you if you’ve won I don’t really think you’re going to turn out in a favorable manner more times than not.’’

He repeatedly said they have to control what they can control to give themselves a chance to win.

“The things we can control are definitely a lot of the plays out there that we know we can do a better job,’’ Patricia said.

While he’s been sequestered planning for Sunday’s home game against the Vikings, the Lions fans are in an uproar over the state of the NFL officiating and the way it always seems to work against the Lions.

“I love our fan base and I love their passion, I love all of it. I appreciate it more than you know,’’ Patricia said. “I just want the fans to know we’re going to work to get things right, do things the right way. We’re tough, we’re built tough, we’re blue collar – just like this city, just like this state. We’ll continue to be tough and in the end toughness is going to prevail. And we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that happens.’’

“I think the game is going the way of player safety and we understand that. We’ve just got to be careful, there’s a fine line. Just be careful in regards to what we’re doing,’’ defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said on a conference call on Tuesday. 

After each game, NFL teams submit questionable calls to the NFL for clarification. Patricia would not say if that number after last night is more or less than usual. 

He did explain what keeps him going.

“Football is an emotional game, that’s why we love it so much,’’ Patricia said.

Four bad calls helped doom Detroit; Packers edge Lions 23-22 at Lambeau

NFL official offers explanations via pool reports

In case you missed it, the Detroit Lions led the Packers on Monday night until Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal with no time left to win the game for Green Bay, 23-22.

Yes, the Lions settling for field goals instead of touchdowns definitely hurt their chances, but the officials were the talking point on ESPN and Twitter afterward. That is never a good sign. The Lions drop to 2-2-1 while the Packers are 5-1.

The Lions opened with a 66-yard flea-flicker from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay,  but had to settle for a field goal, their first of five thanks to Matt Prater’s big leg.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

However, the officials made four second-half calls that were costly to the Lions. All four were at the very least questionable and likely just bad.

Lions coach Matt Patricia said they will take a look at the film to see what they could have done better. “We know how detrimental those penalties are,’’ Patricia said. It’s safe to say the Lions will communicate with the NFL asking for explanations. 

Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who is admittedly biased, checked in on Twitter: “That is sickening… the @NFL needs to look at a way to prevent that from happening. Two phantom hands to the face calls really hurts us tonight. Yes, we could have scored TDs, but @Lions played too well to have the game end this way.”

The four calls:

— Tracy Walker was called for unnecessary roughness for helmet-to-helmet hit on Geronimo Allison early in the third. The Lions safety was clearly going for the ball, not to make the hit. The NFL is trying to cut down on head injuries — and that’s all good — but Walker was not going for the head. “The rules are pretty clear, it’s on the defense to make sure we don’t make contact there,’’ Patricia said. It was a good politically correct answer but it would have been very hard, maybe physically impossible, for Walker to put on the brakes on that play.

Here’s what NBC analyst Tony Dungy tweeted: “That’s incredible. The Lions DB is trying to make an interception. He is playing the ball all the way and gets an unnecessary roughness penalty. Hard to believe.”

A pool reporter asked the official Clete Blakeman if Walker had a right to go after the ball and does that offset any helmet-to-helmet hit? Blakeman: “That’s a good question but the reality is, it is strict liability for a defensive player. In this case, he may be going for the ball and not intending to hit the helmet but when there’s helmet contact it is a foul in that situation.” Blakeman also said if he had impacted the helmet and made the interception it still would have been a foul.

— Defensive lineman Trey Flowers was called with hands to the face twice in the fourth quarter and neither one looked like a good call. With less than 12 minutes left, on third-and-10, Rodgers was sacked and Flowers was called for illegal hands to the face, giving the Packers an automatic first down. Then on the Packers’ next possession, on third-and-4 from Detroit’s 16 with less than 2 minutes left, Rodgers’ pass to Jake Kumerow was incomplete but Flowers was whistled again for illegal use of hands even though his hands were clearly on the shoulder pads.

According to ESPN, Flowers had never been called for this penalty in his entire career and he was called twice in one quarter.

After the game Patricia sat next to Flowers at his locker and had a few words for his D-lineman before giving him a hug, per FOX 2’s Jennifer Hammond.

Flowers told reporters (via Brad Galli’s Twitter): “I was working a move and they saw something different than what actually happened and they called what they thought they saw. I actually changed the position of my hand. It was to the chest initially, I was doing it all game, I didn’t know it was a flag to the chest so I changed it. I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty, I thought hands to the face, but I had them right here on the chest then I changed it. It’s part of a move that I do.

A pool reporter asked Blakeman about the Flowers’ calls. The pool report says: “The umpire threw both of them. The last one was really the only one I’ve discussed with him. Basically, it’s for illegal use of the hands, hands-to-the-face foul. To be a foul, we basically need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area of the defender. So, in his mind, he had pinned him back, it was prolonged and that’s what created the foul.” The pool reporter asked for clarification: “Head or neck area?” Official replied: “Head or neck area, yes.”

—  In the fourth quarter, on a second-and-6, Green Bay cornerback Will Redmond had his arm across wide receiver Marvin Jones’s chest before the ball arrived. It was clearly pass interference, but there was no call. Jones was looking for the flag, but it never came. While NFL coaches can ask for a review on pass interference, it’s been made clear early in the season it’s unlikely a call or non-call will be overturned.

Dungy again checked in on Twitter: “That was clearly DPI on the Packers. Coaches are afraid to challenge now though because these plays have not been overturned recently.”

Former Lions and Packers offensive guard T.J. Lang tweeted: “In my 11 years involved with the NFL, I’ve never seen worse officiating than this year and it’s not even close.”

Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst and former Lions quarterback, tweeted: “Enough is enough is enough is enough @NFLOfficiating. I choose my words wisely, and I love the #NFL You’re ruining football for fans.”

 

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford’s favorite target changes game to game

ALLEN PARK — Give credit to Matt Patricia for consistently preaching that on offense and defense, the personnel used each week in part depends on the opponent and the way the game unfolds.

It makes it tough to name a No. 1 wide receiver. And, seriously, there is no need to do that since the receiver with the most success has changed in each of the first three games including Sunday’s 27-24 win at Philadelphia.

“Whatever it takes that week, that play, that game, that particularly situation we’re going to do the best we can to go out and execute the play, go through the progressions and try to get the ball to the guy who is either open or hand off to a play we think is going to work in that situation,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “Certainly give credit to Matt Stafford to be able to go through all that, find the right guy in those situations.’’

In that big win over the Eagles, it was Marvin Jones Jr., who topped the 100-yard mark with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.

“To be honest with you, (Jones has) had two really good weeks or practice it’s the stuff we’ve seen every day through the course of the last couple weeks —  that consistency in his play style,’’ Patricia said. “It’s great to see it show up in the game. When you put that amount of work into it and work that hard, you want the guy to be able to perform well on Sundays. That was a real positive.

In the Week 2 win over the L.A. Chargers, Kenny Golladay finished with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. He had just two catches in Philadelphia (8 targets) but it didn’t matter because Jones found a way to get open.

In Week 1, both Danny Amendola (7 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD- and T.J. Hockenson (6 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD) surpassed the 100-yard mark.

It’s a wealth of riches on the offensive side of the ball but none of it would matter unless Matthew Stafford was playing as well as he has so far.

“Whatever it takes that week that play that game that particular situation we’re going to do the best we can to go out and execute the play, go through the progressions and try to get the ball to the guy who is either open or hand off to a play we think is going to work in that situation,’’ Patricia said. “Certainly give credit to Matt Stafford to be able to go through all that, find the right guy in those situations.’’

In three games Stafford has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 831 yards, 6 touchdowns and two interceptions. With two touchdowns a game he’s on pace for 32 this season which is considerably more than the 21 he threw in 2018.

The last two games Stafford has been pressured, but has not been sacked thanks, in part, to the protection by offensive line and also because he has successfully thrown under pressure.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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)