Lions T.J. Lang said team went through ‘drastic’ change with Matt Patricia

Still, no excuses for 6-10 season

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Lang has played 10 years so he knows a little about how an NFL  season unfolds.

The right guard spoke at length, after cleaning out his locker on Monday. The Lions wrapped up their season with a 31-0 win at Green Bay on Sunday to finish 6-10.

In the first season for coach Matt Patricia, the Lions got off to a slow start. There was much speculation about whether the team was buying in to Patricia’s changes especially at training camp and after the Lions started the season 0-2 with losses to the Jets and 49ers.

Lang was open about the transition calling it drastic.

“I guess I wouldn’t say the buy-in didn’t exist. Just like anything, you go through a change as drastic as we did there’s going to be a learning curve,’’ Lang said. “There’s going to be some things that you have to learn how to practice different, how to prepare different, how to meet different, I think that being said I think that takes a little longer sometimes — no excuses.

“I think that was maybe an issue we had early on in the season. I would never question the guys’ effort or the guys wanting to be here or the buy-in,” Lang said, “I think it’s something that at the end of the day, obviously it’d be nice to get off to a lot faster start in the season to kind of shred some of those questions, some of those doubts. But at the end of the day everybody in this locker room is together and that’s what it’s all about.’’

Lang said it was a combination of factors at work.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, this is my 10th season doing it. I’ve seen different coaches, different approaches, anyway you can,’’ Lang said. “It’s about adjusting as fast as you can and adapting to new way and getting rolling. Like I said there’s no excuse. I think that will be a learning experience that we can take into next year.’’

Patricia was more vague about the situation and how it should make the start of next season smoother.

“There’s always a little more comfort with familiarity when you can walk into a situation and kind of know what to expect that’s always better,’’ Patricia said. “But I certainly do believe every team is different every single year in the NFL whether there’s consistency with the coaching or not. It does change and coaches do change, things do change it’s just part of the NFL season. We’ll certainly evaluate everything and try to do the best we can to make it better from that standpoint.’’

Patricia, whose ragged beard had been trimmed, had no update on the status of his coaching staff including offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter whose contract is expiring.

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Five key moments from the Detroit Lions 2018 season which ended 6-10

Win at Green Bay wrapped up Patricia’s first season

It’s amazing what a win can do, especially a 31-0 shutout at Lambeau Field. The Lions are now entering the offseason on a bit of a positive note.

They wrapped up their first season under coach Matt Patricia on Sunday with a 6-10 record. After finishing 9-7 a year ago, the 6-10 mark is disappointing.

Patricia’s bunch beat Green Bay twice and also upset the New England Patriots. But consistency was an issue all season — game to game, quarter to quarter and often series to series.

Injuries played a factor too, but every NFL team has to withstand losing players throughout the season.

Next it’s time for evaluation before free agency and the draft where the Lions will have the eighth overall pick.

First, a look at the five key moments of the Lions’ 2018 season:

1. Hiring Matt Patricia who had never been a head coach at any level. This was not unprecedented in the NFL this season. Bears’ coach Matt Nagy and Colts coach Frank Reich were also first-time head coaches, along with Arizona’s Steven Wilks. Nagy turned the Bears around from a 5-11 record in 2017 to win the NFC North (12-4) and Reich took the Colts from 9-7 in 2017 to 10-6 and the playoffs. Wilks was fired on Monday. He took over a 8-8 team and he guided them to a league-worst 3-13 record. Patricia, who is from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, improved the defense, but seemed to have trouble getting the players to buy into his ways early on, starting in training camp.

2. The 48-17 loss to the New York Jets in the season opener dampened enthusiasm for Patricia from the get-go. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a drubbing from a team that would finish the season 4-12. The “new-look” Lions were outscored 41-7 in the second half. The defense allowed 169 rushing yards and 198 passing yards to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold playing in his first NFL regular season game. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions and one touchdown. It was a brutal, total team loss and a sign of things to come.

3. The 28-14 home loss to the Seahawks in Week 8 may not have seemed huge, but the Lions were 3-3 going into the game and had a chance to get to 4-3. This is a mental game and it could have mattered. The Lions could only manage 34 rushing yards while allowing the Seahawks 176 rushing yards with no run of more than 12 yards. It was the first of three straight losses.

4.  Wide receiver Golden Tate was traded on Oct. 30. It appeared to be a sign from GM Bob Quinn that he had given up on the season. Players and coaches say otherwise, but look at the results. The Lions were 3-4 at that point. They hadn’t reached the tipping point. Since Tate was shipped to the Eagles, the Lions were 3-6. It’s odd because every week, Patricia said he is only thinking about the next game. Yet, Quinn traded Tate looking to the future and for a draft pick since this was most likely Tate’s last season with Detroit. One argument is what if Tate was injured and missed the rest of the season? That would have been bad, but the trade sent a message that the season was over. Real or perceived, the message was there. That should have been a factor in making the trade. Talk all you want about the next guy stepping up, the next guy doesn’t possess Tate’s ability to gain yards after the catch or excel in clutch situations.

5. The Thanksgiving 23-16 loss to the Bears was key in knocking the Lions out of the playoff hunt. Detroit was 4-6 going into that day with eight games remaining. Dropping to 4-7, they weren’t mathematically out but might as well have been.

Other key factors:

— Losing 30-27 to the hapless San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 to drop to 0-2. It’s not like the 49ers are a powerhouse — they finished the season at 4-12.

— The 26-10 win over the Patriots was impressive, but the Lions didn’t build on it with losses in four of the next six games.

— The trade for Damon ‘Snacks” Harrison boosted the defense. Snacks proved to be a valuable run stopper, a missing element of the defense. Don’t dismiss the power of a Twix.

— Losing wide Marvin Jones Jr. for final seven games due to a knee injury, the week after Tate was traded.

— Bringing back running back Zach Zenner after his back was healed certainly helped the run game down the stretch. Zenner averaged 4.8 yards per carry (55 for 265 yards) in eight games. He saved the best for last with 13 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s shutout win at Green Bay.

Five main reasons Detroit Lions shut out Green Bay Packers to end the season

First shutout for Lions since 1996

All week the Detroit Lions players and coaches said that Sunday’s season-ending game at Green Bay was important. Then they went out and played like they meant it.

The Lions shut out the Packers, 31-0, at Lambeau Field on Sunday. It was Detroit’s first shutout since 1996. The Lions had not shut out the Packers since 1973 and it was the first time they had shut them out at Lambeau since 1970. It was also the Lions’ second sweep of the Packers in the last two seasons.

Detroit finishes 6-10 in the first year under coach Matt Patricia who deserves credit for getting the team ready to go in a somewhat meaningless game.

Five of the main reasons the Lions won:

1. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like himself from the get-go and then left in the first quarter with a concussion. DeShone Kizer, who hadn’t played since the regular season opener, stepped in but wasn’t able to put points on the board. He was 16 of 35 for 132 yards, and one interception.  It’s possible the Lions could have beaten a healthy Rodgers, but it was easier without him. Give the Lions defense credit for holding the Packers offense to zero points and just 175 total yards.

2. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, perhaps in his final game with the Lions, went to the trick-play chapter of his playbook and dialed up a fake field goal. Kicker Matt Prater made it work when tight end Levine Toilolo got open in the end zone and caught Prater’s pass for a touchdown. It gave the Lions a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Cooter also had the offense playing at a quicker tempo in the first half.

3. Matthew Stafford, who was wearing a left knee brace and has been fighting through a back injury, had his best game in weeks despite not having any of his top targets available. Stafford was 20 of 32 for 266 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 109.6 rating. Kenny Golladay (chest) was inactive. No problem — Brandon Powell (six catches, 103 yards) and Andy Jones (six for 50 yards) stepped up. But it was veteran T.J. Jones (three catches, 40 yards) who caught a pair of touchdown passes. The Lions’ offense had not scored more than 22 points since the 32-21 win at Miami on Oct. 21.

4. The Lions stuck with the run game. LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 15 yards) struggled, but Zach Zenner had a career day with 21 carries for 93 yards and a rushing touchdown. He also caught one pass for 30 yards. Zenner had two touchdown runs negated due to holding penalties. Zenner has stepped up big in recent weeks with the absence of rookie Kerryon Johnson. Wouldn’t be surprising to see Zenner return next year. He’s a solid backup and plays well on special teams.

5. The Lions defense never quit despite the double-digit lead through most of the game. Jarrad Davis, Tavon Wilson and Kerry Hyder each had a sack. Quandre Diggs came down with his third interception of the season late in the fourth quarter.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

BONUS: Fox 2’s Jennifer Hammond tweeted that after the game she asked Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford if she was happy with the direction the team is headed under Patricia. “Yes I am,” Ford said.

 

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions wrap up the season at Green Bay

A battle for last place in the NFC North

When the NFL schedule was released in the spring, this matchup between the LIons and Packers was teaming with possibilities. Perhaps it would even determine the NFC North title or a battle for a wild-card berth.

What a difference seven months can make.

The Lions (5-10) play the Packers (6-8-1) at Green Bay at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Ending the season on a win is dandy but not all that important in the long run for either team.

Don’t tell that to the players, though.

“They’re a good football team. Anytime you go to Lambeau Field, it’s a big challenge. I think they’re a talented, young football team and we’ll have our work cut out for us,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Obviously, Aaron (Rodgers) is doing a great job this year playing at a high level and scoring a bunch of points. As an offense, that’s a big challenge for us, knowing that we’re going to have to go out there and score some points. And then obviously, a big challenge for our defense anytime you’re facing a guy like Aaron and a team like that.”

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. Stafford has been limited in practice for a few weeks with a bad back, but was a full go this week. It’s been a tough season for the quarterback who is in his 10th season. “I just wish we won more games, that’s the biggest thing. I’m fighting for these guys in this locker room. The guys are working to try and win every Sunday,’’ Stafford said. “When you don’t win, everybody feels it. We wish we could and are doing everything we can to try and win, we just haven’t done it enough this season. So, that’s tough to swallow.”

2. The Lions have gotten some quality run production out of Zach Zenner in recent weeks. Give him the ball, let him show what he can do. LeGarrette Blount has been good in spurts but not consistent. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter takes pride in the fact that they have improved the run game this year. “We kind of came into the year saying, ‘Boy, we have to run the ball better. We have to run the ball more effectively.’ We made a big point of emphasis on that, and by and large, I think we did a lot of those things,’’ Cooter said. “Not that it’s a done deal at this point, but I think we made some strides running, blocking, all those things.’’

3. Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams is expected to play despite being on the injured list this week. He burnt Detroit’s defense for 140 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first game against the Packers. Expect Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to be prepared, but he could have his hands full with the Pro Bowl wide receiver.

4. The Lions pass rush has been mostly anemic all season, but they did sack Rodgers four times in the first game. Pressure is key on Rodgers who has had a good season statistically, but just hasn’t been able to pull out the wins on his own. Amazingly he’s thrown just two interceptions while tossing 25 touchdowns and 4.416 yards.

5. It’s a nothing game but it’s one of just 16 so the Lions should be prepared. Some weeks it looks like they are, some weeks not. The Lions and Packers played on Oct. 7 so it’s not like they don’t know what to expect. The Lions won that one 31-23 at home. HIstorically Detroit has been lousy at Green Bay where they are 12-32-3 at Lambeau Field.

PREDICTION: Packers 24, Lions 16

Lions Matt Patricia says Matthew Stafford is his QB, quells trade speculation

Says he has utmost respect for the QB

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia said today that Matthew Stafford is the Detroit Lions quarterback and there are no plans to move on from him.

“I have the utmost respect for him and everything that he does every single day and how he works. He’s my quarterback, we’re grinding every single day to get better,’’ said the coach whose Lions are 5-10.

Patricia was asked about trade speculation about Stafford who has had an off year.

“Like I’ve said before, Matthew Stafford is an unbelievable quarterback, he’s our quarterback,’’ Patricia said on Friday. “He’s been fighting, battling and leading this team throughout the entire course of the season. We’ll obviously just keep working and progressing and trying to get better next year and hopefully we can do some things to help him.’’

The Lions’ offense has struggled this season, but it is not all on Stafford. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Patricia are working together for the first season and have changed the offensive philosophy. Also, wide receiver Golden Tate was traded on Oct. 30 and Marvin Jones Jr., was placed on injured reserve missing the final half of the season.

Stafford, in his tenth season, is unlikely to reach the 4,000-yard passing yard mark for the first time since 2010 when he played in just three games. He’s at 3,511 with Sunday’s game at Green Bay to finish the season. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns which is the lowest since the 2010 season when he had six.

In 2017, Stafford threw for 29 touchdowns, had 10 interceptions while passing for 4,446 yards when the Lions finished 9-7.

“We’re in a situation where Matthew Stafford is our quarterback, that’s what it is. I think the world of the guy. I think he’s an unbelievable competitor, I think he’s a great player,’’ Patricia said.

The coach does not question Stafford’s leadership.

“I think his leadership and the way he approaches every single week and his drive at the game, his demand of excellence that he has for himself, the players and the people around him is everything you want,’’ Patricia said.

Five reasons the Lions lost, 27-9, to playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings

Plenty of frustration, not many answers

DETROIT  — The Lions have gone five straight games without scoring more than 17 points. Not surprisingly four of those were losses including Sunday’s 27-9 beatdown by the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Matt Patricia is big on talking about improving not just game to game, but also day to day in practice. If it’s happening, it’s not showing on Sunday.

The Lions dropped to 5-10. It’s their worst record since 2012 when they finished 4-12 in Jim Schwartz’s fourth season. It’s the fourth season since 2008 when the Lions finished 0-16 that the losses have been in double digits.

You can wrap it up and put a bow on it but there’s nothing pretty about this season. And, it’s not over yet. The Lions play the Packers at Green Bay next Sunday.

It’s been another season of frustration for all involved. The crowd gave up early on Sunday, leaving Ford Field en masse in the second half.

Perhaps Matthew Stafford summed up the frustration best. The quarterback can’t tell you one thing that is missing from this team.

“I think you look at each game as different. That’s part of the frustrating part, it’s not one thing where you say, ‘OK, let’s go fix it and we’ll be fine,’’’ Stafford said. “It’s tough to win games in the National Football League and, for one reason or another, execution and play-making we haven’t done enough of.’’

Five things to know about Sunday’s loss:

1. The offense struggled against a solid Vikings’ defense. The three field goals in the first half were dandy, but they needed to get in the end zone and could not do it. “Just didn’t execute well enough, had some chances, got down in the red zone the one time and didn’t execute I can give Kenny (Golladay) probably a better ball on that one down the sideline there,’’ Stafford said. “Got into field goal range a few times and had some negative plays — a screen that went for minus, a couple runs that went for minus and against that defense it’s tough. You have to stay ahead of the chains and we weren’t able to do it. You get third-and-long against those guys it’s tough.’’

2. The defense was solid stuffing the Vikings’ run game and preventing them from picking up a first down until late in the second quarter. But once the damn burst, it was trouble. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Adam Thielen for 40 yards on a third-and-17 at Detroit’s 49. Two plays later he found Stefon Diggs in the end zone for their first touchdown. One minutes and 33 seconds later, Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. Putting the Lions in a 14-9 hole at the half. “We just have to get a little bit better from an alignment standpoint, we have to get some of those guys in better position,’’ Patricia said about the Hail Mary. “Get the guy who caught the ball boxed out and get him out of there. So, a couple details there.”

3. While it appeared that those back-to-back touchdowns sucked the life out of the defense in the second half, Patricia said it wasn’t so. “We were out there trying to battle nonstop. I think those guys, even when the ball got put in some tough field position standpoints, everybody’s out there fighting real hard,’’ Patricia said. “So, it’s a tough game and that was a good team. They have a lot of good players. Our guys fight hard.”

4. Plenty of talk about needing to execute better from everyone involved. It’s the same thing that’s been said since Week One. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, but it’s kind of a head-scratcher. “We just didn’t execute and do the things we needed to do to get off the field and get the ball back to our offense,’’ said cornerback Nevin Lawson who had his first career sack. Execute is the word of the season.

5. The play-calling on offense continues to be an issue. On third-and-13 in the first quarter from the Vikings’ 37 Theo Riddick’s sweep loses 4 yards. Two plays earlier LeGarrette Blount had lost 3 yards on a first-and-10. So effectively those two plays took the Lions out of field goal range. Earlier, on the third play of the game, running back Zach Zenner scampered for 29 yards. He’s their best running back at this point of the season, but they won’t stick with him. They keep going back to Blount and Riddick who are not getting the job done. Zenner averaged 5.9 yards per carry on Sunday while it was 2.6 yards per carry for Blount and minus-0.7 for Riddick. Go with what’s working. It’s a mystery, the same as when they repeatedly throw short passes in long-yardage situations. They want to protect Stafford, but the coaches (Patricia and  Jim Bob Cooter) have to unchain his handcuffs.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Minnesota Vikings; plus prediction

Vikings still in wild-card hunt

ALLEN PARK — While the Detroit Lions have eliminated themselves from the playoffs, the Minnesota Vikings have control of their playoff destiny.

If the Vikings beat the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field and the Eagles tie or lose to the Texans, Minnesota will earn a wild-card playoff berth.

This game does mean something, just not to the Lions.

Technically, coach Matt Patricia says the LIons are still trying to improve over the final two games. So the game means something moving forward.

“(The Vikings are) a team that formed extremely well last week against the Dolphins and in all the changes that they had up there. They obviously played the game exactly how they wanted to and they’re in a great position and trying to come down here and keep working towards the rest of their season,’’ Patricia said. “So, we have a big challenge in front of us and we have to do a great job of going out and trying to give ourselves a chance to win. It’ll be a good week for us to go out and try to get better.”

Five things to watch:

1. Protect Matthew Stafford. In the Vikings 24-9 win on Nov. 4, he was sacked 10 times. That came at the hands of the starting five — Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. Lang and Wagner are out, likely to be replaced again by Kenny Wiggins and Tyrell Crosby. Stafford’s sacks are not all on the offensive line but the percentage is high. “Plenty of really good rushers, good cover guys, kind of a really unique defensive scheme that creates problems with their blitzes. The challenge level is very high for us, that’s a big part of the game,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Obviously, last time I did not do a good enough job of putting our guys in a good position to sort of play these guys.’’ He said the Lions won’t win every matchup against the Vikings but they have to scratch and claw to win each one.

2. Keep feeding the ball to Kenny Golladay. Seems like a no-brainer but it doesn’t always happen. Stafford has to trust the big guy, Golladay has to keep coming down with the ball and Cooter and Matt Patricia must get him involved in the game from the get-go. Golladay had a career high 146 receiving yards in the win at Buffalo on Sunday. Since he’s had more targets with Marvin Jones Jr., out, the defenses have focused in on him. “That could be coverage type, that could be two defenders finding their way near you a little more often than other times, or maybe a certain corner that’s a really good player finding his way to cover you more often,’’ Cooter said. “Kenny’s been competing and battling, and stats are stats, but at the end of the day Kenny is competing really hard to improve and get better. We’re seeing those strides.’’

3. Stop Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and the run game. In the previous match-up, the defense did a good job containing Cook except for one breakout run of 70 yards. Other than that he had nine carries for 19 yards. They’ve improved their run stopping and much of it started with that game with the addition of Damon “Snacks” Harrison who has made his presence known on the defensive line.

4.  Along with stopping the run game, they have to control quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing game. They were semi-successful in the first game holding Cousins to 164 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Lions were successful in holding wide receiver Adam Thielen to four catches for 22 yards in the first match-up. “Since then and really, almost every week now, Adam’s drawn an awful lot of attention with some double coverages and things like that. So, we’re going to have to figure out a way to help him out,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call.

5. Don’t look for players to sit just because the Lions are out of the playoffs. “I think the thing is the NFL is a violent sport and when you step in between those white lines, it’s something that every player that’s out on the field has to deal with and they understand that there’s a risk of injury,’’ Patricia said. “But, we’re certainly never going to put somebody out there and put them in an injury situation where they can’t perform and put themselves in a situation where they can’t protect themselves if that was an issue. So, for us, if a guy is ready to go and they’re healthy and they can go out and perform and help us win then that’s what we’re going to go try to do.’’

Prediction: Vikings 28, Lions 17