Detroit Lions wide receiver trio takes a certain pride in run blocking

Tate, Golladay, Jones contribute to improved run game

ALLEN PARK — Robert Prince, the Detroit Lions wide receivers coach, knows his group is loaded with talent.

The skillsets of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay complement each other and they all have developed good communication with quarterback Matthew Stafford. The trio accounts for nine of the Lions 10 passing touchdowns in the first five games.

Prince wants receivers who are well-rounded.

Proof? Tate set a key block on Sunday during LeGarrette Blount’s second touchdown in the 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s a game plan thing. It depends on what they are going to do. I feel like Coach Prince, our position coach, prepares us moreso for the run blocking than he does the passes at times,’’ Tate said on Monday.

He wasn’t kidding.

“It’s so important and he knows we all can run routes, he knows we all can catch, he knows we all can block as well, but when a receiver goes in and makes a key block to help a big first down or touchdown I think he gets more excited about that, showing that to the other coaches and Bob Quinn in front of the offensive linemen and running backs, than us going out and catching a touchdown. That’s what we’re supposed to do I guess,’’ Tate said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Improving the run game was a huge focus entering this season. Credit rookie Kerryon Johnson and the veteran Blount with providing a one-two punch that has the Lions averaging 4.3 yards per carry (tied for 13th in the NFL) and 97.2 rushing yards per game (21st in NFL).

Credit the wide receivers with pitching in on run blocks.

“The way defenses are playing now days, when you have a run game they bring those safeties in the box and they read the run pretty danged well. Sometimes they have an extra guy and you need the receiver to go in through certain linemen or just find a way to get on them,’’ Tate said. “A lot of times that is the block that springs a 7- or 10-yard run or even break a 50-yarder or a run at the goal line. It’s very important especially in this offense. It’s something I know that Bob Quinn looks for in a receiver — a guy who can catch the ball but also can do the dirty work.’’

Funny he used the words “dirty work” — the exact words coach Matt Patricia used to describe Tate’s efforts to help block the run.

“He’s usually closer to the formation being in his normal alignment so he kind of has to dig some of those guys out and get in there pretty quick, which he does a good job of,’’ Patricia said.

The wide receivers take a certain pride in this phase of their work.

“It’s not difficult, but you have to be in the right mind frame, if you’re not you’re not going to block effectively, especially when you’re blocking somebody 250 or 200-and-whatever (pounds). You have to be in the right mind frame, you have to do your job,’’ Jones said. “We have the receivers to do it. I don’t think it’s been that hard, we just have to do it.’’

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Lions WR Kenny Golladay comes up big in NFC North win over Packers

His touchdown in the fourth was key

DETROIT >> Kenny Golladay is not a big talker. Doesn’t matter much since the Lions wide receiver lets his actions speak for him.

Golladay had four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the Lions’ 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ford Field.

“Like I have been saying, whenever my number is called, I’m just trying to make the play,’’ Golladay said. “So if they want to throw it to me five times or four times a game or nine times a game, I just want to make all the plays.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

His touchdown came early in the fourth quarter on a second-and-five play from the Green Bay 5-yard line while covered by cornerback Josh Jackson. It was a beauty of a play as he jumped up for the ball in the back of the end zone. Without missing a beat, after he caught it, he zinged the ball into the crowd.

In his second season, his relationship with quarterback Matthew Stafford continues to grow.

“He’s obviously a big kid (6-foot-4), physical kid, can run, wants to be a really good player. Smart, has dialogue with me. All of our guys do, really, which is great,’’ Stafford said. “What they’re seeing out there, what they think we can do — so, I’m just happy for our team to get a win. Obviously happy for Kenny. He had a good one.”

Along with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., the Lions have one of the best receiving trios in the NFL. They can’t all have big numbers each game, but it works.

“This is just a game of matchups. Last week, GT (Golden Tate) went for 100 and whatever, this week Kenny had a big one. Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) will have a big one next week. That’s what makes this offense difficult to defend, we have a lot of guys that can make plays,’’ Stafford said. “I was happy that Kenny had some opportunities today and made some big ones. I had a couple chances at some others and for one reason or another those got called back or whatever. So, just proud of the way we fought as a team. Kenny obviously had a nice game.”

In the first five games this season, Golladay has 27 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns. Tate has 33 receptions for 431 yards and three touchdowns. Jones had 16 catches for 241 yards and three touchdowns.

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 prepare for Green Bay Packers, gimpy-yet-effective Aaron Rodgers

It’s first NFC North contest for Detroit

ALLEN PARK — When the Detroit Lions beat the Packers twice in 2017, it was worth noticing. While there was no asterisk, there was no Aaron Rodgers on the field either.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback owns a 13-3 career record against the Lions. One of the most vivid memories of seeing Rodgers at Ford Field was his 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to beat the Lions on Dec. 3, 2015.

Rodgers, his gimpy knee and the Packers (2-1-1) will play the Lions (1-3) In a NFC North divisional contest at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Lions coach Matt Patricia has nothing but praise for Rodgers, who ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating (103.6).

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“A guy who does a great job of studying the game, and you keep mixing different looks at him but he does a good job of really identifying what it is and attacking the defenses,’’ Patricia said of Rodgers on Wednesday.

Rodgers injured his knee in the opener, a win over the Chicago Bears. On a conference call on Wednesday, Rodgers said he was not practicing but hoped to go on Thursday. He hasn’t missed a start this season and, in fact, after he was carted off with that injury he returned to the game.

“I didn’t necessarily feel great last week. I went through practice on Thursday and Saturday, but I felt really good on game day. I’m not regressing but I’m not taking huge leaps week-to-week. It’s just kind of small,’’ Rodgers said on a Wednesday conference call. “When the adrenaline kicks in on game day, I’ve felt a little better the last couple games.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he thinks he’s played well since the injury.

“I think each week, it’s like anything, you get a little more comfortable playing and calling the game and doing the things that you need to focus on,’’ McCarthy said.

Even with Rodgers at less than 100 percent, the Packers have scored seven of their nine touchdowns in the air with one rushing and one on a return.

McCarthy said the run-pass balance is a game-to-game decision. He didn’t say if the Packers would take to the ground more often against the Lions’ rushing defense which is ranked dead last in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game.

“(Rodgers) is  super competitive — never really wants to stay from anything, I just think it’s part of his nature. So, that’s the challenge that you have sometimes as the play caller because you have to be smart, I think that’s understood,’’ McCarthy said. “If anything, if there has been a time during these last couple games where I may have been conservative it was — I think it’s natural to go down that road sometimes. He’s getting better each and every week, and that’s what’s most important for him.”

Rodgers expects the best from himself and his offense. He didn’t feel he got it last week in the 22-0 win over Buffalo even though the Packers finished with 423 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on their first three drives.

“I think the most important thing is — he’s super competitive. I think we all feel the same way when it comes to games and when you go out there and see you see opportunities and sometimes emotion pushes forward,’’ McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel great about our offensive performance when I walked off the field Sunday myself, too.’’

Rodgers will be the top quarterback the Lions’ revamped Patricia-style defense has faced. The quarterback can see the differences in Detroit from watching film.

“Following (Patricia) in New England I always enjoyed watching them. We played against them one time back in 2014 and him and Bill (Belichick) just always put together a fantastic plan. They’re great at adjustments. They try to take away what you do best and make you go to your third and fourth options to try and beat them and they adjust on the fly very quickly,’’ Rodgers said. “So, it’s a different looking defense from that standpoint and I’m sure they’re going to continue to expand their scheme as the season goes on and those guys get more comfortable in the scheme.”

Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys

Detroit defense couldn’t stop Ezekiel Elliott

Often it’s difficult to play the blame game after a Detroit Lions’ loss.

On Sunday, after the Dallas Cowboys kicked a 38-yard field goal to win, 26-24, it is easy to determine why the Lions lost.

The defense did not do its job. Plain and simple.

Doesn’t matter that they were without the injured Ziggy Ansah – no excuses, please.

All week they talked a big game about stopping Ezekiel Elliott. They knew they had one job: Stop Zeke. And yet they didn’t do it.

Hey, he’s a great back. But the Lions defense allowed him to have his best game this season with 25 carries for 152 yards with a long scamper of 41 yards. He also had four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions fall to 1-3 under new coach Matt Patricia, a defensive specialist.

Don’t expect finger-pointing in the Detroit locker room, but it’s clear the issues are mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Actually one through four, should be on the Lions’ defense but that’s too easy. As mentioned, they knew they had to stop Elliott and they did not. It’s not like it is an impossible task. In Week 1, the Carolina Panthers held Elliott to 69 rushing yards. In Week 2, the N.Y. Giants kept him to 78 rushing yards. Not sure what the Lions saw on film of those two games. Maybe they had a good plan and just didn’t execute. Going into the game, the Lions rushing defense was worst in the league so they knew they had work to do. Apparently that stat was not lost on Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

2. Time of possession in the first half was heavily weighted toward the Lions 20:31 to 9:29. Yet at the half they were behind 13-10. The Cowboys scored late in the second quarter on the first play after a questionable call on Lions starting defensive end Romen Okwara for unnecessary roughness. It looked like Dak Prescott was down but he got back up so Okwara tackled him. You can’t blame him. But on the next play, Elliott caught a 38-yard pass for a touchdown to give Dallas the half-time lead.

3. Dallas tight end Geoff Swaim was wide open on his touchdown catch on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That score gave Dallas a 20-10 lead with 2:59 left in the third. Plenty of time for the Lions’ offense to catch up, but they needed the defense to hold. Give Detroit’s defense credit for forcing a field goal on the Cowboys’ drive early in the fourth even though they were first-and-goal from the Detroit 6-yard line. Hard to imagine why the Cowboys tried to pass on second- and third-down in that situation when they had Elliott right there and obviously the Lions had trouble stopping him.

4. Matthew Stafford was sacked just three times in the first three games this season. It was all good that he was getting protection from the offensive line. However, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence was able to sack him three times on Sunday. Right guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion on the Lions’ second drive of the game and was replaced by Kenny Wiggins who allowed at least one of those sacks. When healthy, Lang is a much better guard than Wiggins. It could be part of the reason the run game was not quite as successful as it was against the Patriots.

5. The Detroit offense was not perfect — they were forced to punt twice in the first quarter. However, Stafford had a good game (24-30, 307 yards, 2 touchdowns, 131.5 rating). Golden Tate came to play with eight catches for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was quite the showboat – not sure that fits in with Patricia’s philosophy. Kenny Golladay had two catches of 22 yards each in a second-half drive that resulted in rookie Kerryon Johnson’s first NFL touchdown. Johnson scampered for 32 yards on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage. Looked like maybe another 100-yard game was on tap. He finished first half with six carries for 41 yards and then only touched the ball three times in the second half (one was on his touchdown). He finished 9 carries for 55 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Overall the Lions had 96 rushing yards and 286 passing yards.

BONUS: The Lions finished with eight penalties costing them 58 yards. Five of those were on the defense. Three were defensive holding calls all on one third-quarter drive — Da’Shawn Hand, Quandre Diggs and Devon Kennard were the culprits. In comparison, the Cowboys were whistled twice for a loss of 20 yards.

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.