Five things to watch as Detroit Lions open against the N.Y. Jets

All eyes are on Matt Patricia

ALLEN PARK >> Every move that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia have made since January has led up to tonight.

The Lions are 6.5-point favorites against the visiting N.Y. Jets. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m.

The pressure is on Quinn who fired Jim Caldwell after last year’s 9-7 season. He said at the time the team was better than their record.

All eyes are on Patricia in his first stint as a head coach at any level. If 9-7 wasn’t good enough for another year for Caldwell, certainly more is expected of Patricia.

“I think external expectations, they are what they are. I can’t control them, there are probably a lot of people outside this building that have no idea what goes on inside the building from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said. “So, we’re just always going to try to take it day-by-day, we’re going to take it game-by-game. That’s the only thing that matters to us. I think to put numbers on what 16 games are going to look like is just unrealistic for anybody. So, we’re going to try to make sure that we do the best job we can with this game.”

A win against the Jets would be a good start for the Lions who play at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and return home to the New England Patriots in Week 3.

Five things to watch in the opener versus the Jets:

1. Watch the running backs — either three or four of them will be active. Patricia refused to elaborate on the number in his Saturday morning press conference. He also wouldn’t say if Ameer Abdullah, who is listed as the kick returner on the depth chart, will indeed have that responsibility. Quinn has said during the offseason that three running backs will be active. Theo Riddick? Check. LeGarrette Blount? Check. Abdullah? Probably. So what about Kerryon Johnson? He will be active. Count on it. We’ll know 90 minutes before the 7:10 game time. “We’re going to try to do what we can that particular week to best fit what the game plan is, to go out and execute at a high level,’’ Patricia said on Saturday. “It might be more running backs, it might be more wide receivers, could be an extra lineman. We might have a situation where we need to go in a different personnel group from that standpoint. So, I wouldn’t always just lock in a number from that look.

2. One game doesn’t mean everything, but it could give us a better indication of what to expect from defensive end Ziggy Ansah this season. He seems healthy and is coming off a season where he had 12.5 sacks with six of them occurring in the last two games. It seemed like an off year for Ansah. The pass rush is critical to an improved defense and Ansah should lead the way.

3. Patricia, in his first game as head coach, will leave play calling to his coordinators Jim Bob Cooter and Paul Pasqualoni. Obviously he’ll chip in when he feels a need. Many Lions fans criticized Jim Caldwell for not displaying emotion on the sideline and yet finished with a 36-28 record. Patricia has been more vocal on the practice field, we’ll see how he is on game day.

4. Matthew Stafford enters his 10th season and 113th consecutive start. No doubt he has a handle on the offense which has been tweaked but not overhauled since last season. If the reworked offensive line and the run game are effective, Stafford will look good not perfect. Don’t jump off the ledge if he throws an interception. That happens, especially if the Lions fall behind. He’ll do his part but will everyone else?

5. The new-look defense will feature multiple looks and packages. This has been a focus of Patricia and Pasqualoni. First, watch for pressure up front and contain on the edges. Jarrad Davis will play a key role and needs to step up from his rookie season. Patricia seems to love Quandre Diggs, who was signed to a three-year extension this week. He’s listed on the depth chart as the starting strong safety, but could also play nickel. Glover Quin and Darius Slay are expected to pick up where they left off. Nevin Lawson had a rough preseason game, but he’s a better corner than that. Or is he?

Prediction: Lions 30, Jets 21. Opening at home will be key for the Lions. This is a game they should win. The Jets, coming off a 5-11 season, feature a rookie starting quarterback in Sam Darnold.

(The game will air on ESPN with Beth Mowins on play by play, Brian Griese as analyst and Laura Rutledge on the sidelines.)

Lions feature new look at tight end with roles still being defined

Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo have the most experience

ALLEN PARK — Overall the Lions offense has not changed drastically from 2017, with the exception of tight end.  Three new faces, three new skillsets.

The Lions open the season against the N.Y. Jets on Monday night at Ford Field.

Eric Ebron and his 53 catches and four touchdowns in 2017 are gone to the Colts. Darren Fells, who had 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, is now a Cleveland Brown.

Meet Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts and Hakeem Valles.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week he’s still plugging those guys into different spots.

“I think we’re still keeping an open mind about maybe who our best guy is to do certain things or best combination of guys to work together to do certain things,’’ Cooter said this week. “So, we’re encouraged with the guys we have in that room. … We have a versatile group of tight ends, so it does sometimes change the play-calling from when you’re sort of sticking one certain guy in one certain role and one certain other guy in another certain role. We have guys who can do multiple things well.’’

Lions tight ends coach Chris White said this week he doesn’t consider any of them his No. 1 guy. Coach Matt Patricia agrees.

“That has really become a multiple position, I would say in the last eight years, where you might have two guys that are really ‘starters’ or ‘No. 1 guys.’ So, I think there are a lot of personnel groups where multiple tight ends are used. Sometimes one tight end is used in certain situations, sometimes another tight end is used in a different situation,’’ Patricia said on Saturday.

He compares the tight end position to linebackers.

“There are inside linebackers, outside linebackers, there are different types of players in those positions that need to be utilized in different situations,’’ Patricia said. “I think all those guys are doing a real good job though, like I said, really through camp competing for different spots and responsibilities and playing time. So, we’ll keep pushing that with that group.”

In 2017, the Lions scored 29 passing touchdowns with seven of them caught by tight ends.

Willson spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2017, he finished with 15 catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns playing in all 16 games. Over the five seasons, he averaged 17.8 catches a year.

Toilolo spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season he had a dozen catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart behind Willson.

Only Roberts returns from last season when he was a rookie who had four catches for 46 yards.

Valles played in one game for the Lions in 2017 and 11 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. He has never caught a pass in the NFL regular season, although was impressive in the preseason games against second and third defenses which earned him a spot on the roster.

Detroit Lions: Five things to know about LeGarrette Blount on eve of opener

Winning more important than number of carries

ALLEN PARK >> LeGarrette Blount is happy to talk about the three Super Bowl rings he’s won in the last four seasons. It’s rare he’ll wear them in public and when he does, it’s the duplicates not the real diamond-encrusted bling. And, oh by the way, the Lions running back says he wears all three together.

However, when it comes to Monday’s season-opening game against the N.Y. Jets at Ford Field, Blount is all business.

“I’m really excited about it, just the opportunity to go out there and play a real game against a lot of different guys, against a really good defense. Obviously we know they’re a good team. I’m excited about it,’’ said Blount whose last game was for the Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.

Five things to know about Blount with the regular season a few days away:

1. He’s one of four Lions’ running backs who should get touches in every game. He’s not concerned about his workload or lack of it. “We’re just worried about winning the games, we don’t care about the touches at this point,’’ Blount said on Friday. Last season he led the Eagles with 173 carries for 766 yards (4.4 yards per carry). He also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. That’s about 18 carries a game. He was the Eagles’ top producing back. Jay Ajayi had 70 carries for 408 yards, while Corey Clement had 74 for 321 yards.

2. Blount loves the versatility among the Lions’ backs which should cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. “(There’s) an unlimited amount of mismatches, let’s just say that. Like I said we have a lot of different dynamics in our room. Obviously Theo (Riddick) is one of the most dynamic running backs in this league. AA (Ameer Abdullah) is also one of the most elusive guys in this league. We have a dynamic group and we’re excited to see what we all can do,’’ Blount said, also mentioning rookie Kerryon Johnson.

3. One reason Blount signed with the Lions is that he had a good relationship with Matt Patricia when they were both with the New England Patriots. It’s a mutual admiration society. “He’s been in a couple different programs, so he can really adapt pretty quickly to different structures, different schemes,’’ Patricia said on Friday. “Obviously a physical presence, he runs the ball with a good aggressiveness, a good nature of trying to get the ball vertical into the defense and with a good run attitude from that standpoint. But he really just does a great job. He’s a great teammate, he works extremely hard, he really cares. He cares about winning, he cares about competition, which is great and which obviously you can just keep pushing everything every single day, as far as that’s concerned, to get better, which is what we’re trying to do.’’

4. Blount seems to be a good fit no matter the team. Since his rookie season in 2010 he has played for Tampa Bay (2010-12), the Patriots (2013, 2014-2016) , the Steelers (part of 2014) and the Eagles (2017). “One thing I can say is I just get along with everybody. I bring a lot of energy and joy to wherever I’m going, I think that’s part of it,’’ Blount said. “I never go into any situation with that thought (that I won’t fit in) in my head. I always make my decisions based on what’s best for me whenever I choose to go to a team — what’s best for me, what’s best for my family. I pray over it and I make my decision. I haven’t been anywhere where I was like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’’’

5. Even though he’s a short-timer, he’s aware of the Lions’ sad history in the run game since Barry Sanders retired and the 68-game stretch since a back (Reggie Bush) has run for at least 100 yards in a game. “Our group, we want to step up to any challenge that’s presented to us. I wouldn’t say since Barry, I would say since Reggie. I think Reggie was one of the most dynamic backs this league has seen in a long time. He’s one of the good running backs who’s come through here also. I give props and respect to him. I’ll just take full responsibility on how good our room plays. I want to make sure we’re in the best place possible, the best position possible to win the football game and make sure our group does everything possible to put us in that position.’’ Running for 100 yards in a game isn’t the goal, winning games is.