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

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Five things to know about Lions WR Kenny Golladay after his career game

Second-year receiver surpassed 1,000 yards for season

ALLEN PARK — Kenny Golladay’s personal goals this season, are so personal he wouldn’t even tell his mom what numbers he set for himself.

The Detroit Lions wide receiver had a career game in the 14-13 loss at Buffalo on Sunday with 146 yards which tipped him over the 1,000 receiving yard mark (1,005) for the season.

“That’s huge you come into the season with goals and once you pass a goal, or try to break that. We’ve got two games left and just trying to add on to it,’’ Golladay said on Monday.

The second-year receiver said his goals were set before Golden Tate was traded to the Eagles and while Marvin Jones Jr. was still healthy.

“It’s different the goals I did set. I kind of blew those out of the water, which is good. It just gives these coaches an opportunity to see what I can do myself without the help of other guys around me,’’ said Golladay who still sets the bar high for himself.

Five things to know about Golladay:

1. He is trying to take advantage of being the No. 1 receiver.  “Really I just look at it like this, with Marv being out it was just more for me to prove to these coaches, like I am able to produce without those guys being the main focus for the defense. With me being pretty much the No. 1, I’m just happy to make the plays that they call,’’ Golladay said.

2. Because he’s the top receiver, he’s been able to develop more chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford. “Actually I think it’s pretty good, it kind of brings us together. He trusts I’m going to be in the spot that I’m supposed to be in and I’m going to be in the spot I’m supposed to be in,’’ Golladay said.

3. Several of his seven catches at Buffalo came with defenders as close as they could be to him without getting called for interference. But he wouldn’t say he needs to work on getting separation. “A catch is a catch, it really doesn’t matter,’’ Golladay said. “You’re not going to get much separation in the NFL. To say creating separation is something I need to get better at, I went 7 for 8 (targets).’’

4. He can’t pinpoint one thing that he has improved on this season it’s more his overall game. “All-around pretty much, just having one year under my belt, this is Year 2,’’ Golladay said. “Really just staying on top of my body. I’m fortunate to have not missed games, I want to keep that going.’’

5. Even though the Lions are out of the playoffs, they have two more games starting Sunday at home against the Vikings. In the final two games he said the offense has to stay together. “The season isn’t going how we wanted it to at all. Do it in these last two games, pretty much try to do it for next year, that’s pretty much what you have to do and run up the scoreboard,’’ Golladay said. “We’ve showed flashes good and bad, but we have to continue to work.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five reasons Detroit Lions lost to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills

Lions scoreless in 2nd half for 1st time this season

Any slim chance the Detroit Lions had to make the playoffs are absolutely gone after their 14-13 loss to the Bills at Buffalo on Sunday. Detroit drops to 5-9 in its first year under coach Matt Patricia.

The Lions came up short on offense, defense and special teams — it was an all-around team loss.

The Lions led 13-7 at the half, but were held scoreless in the second half for the first time all season.

Five of the biggest reasons the Lions lost:

1. This loss doesn’t all hang on special teams, but certainly they shoulder part of the blame. Matt Prater snapped his strong of 14 straight field goals on a 48-yard attempt that sailed wide right. That fourth-quarter attempt would have given the Lions a 16-14 lead. In the second quarter, a botched snap by Don Muhlbach forced holder Sam Martin to throw the ball away.

2. The Lions’ defense knew that quarterback Josh Allen could be a handful since the rookie can probably run the ball better than he can pass it. Yet, they could not stop him. His 42-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster in the fourth quarter proved to be the game winner. Allen was 13 of 26 for 204 yards. He also connected with Foster for with passes of 28 yards and 31 yards. Allen finished with just nine carries for 16 yards, but that included a 3-yard touchdown scamper.

3. Detroit’s defense had stepped up big stopping the run in recent weeks (with the exception of the Rams’ Todd Gurley), but couldn’t get the job done Sunday. The Bills were without their top running backs, LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. Then backup Marcus Murphy was injured early to they were forced to rely on rookie Keith Ford who was playing in his first game. Detroit’s defense allowed 117 rushing yards.

4. Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter’s offense sputtered in the second half after a so-so first half in which they led 13-7. Stafford was hurting with a bad back entering the game and early on came up limping with an injury to his left knee. He completed 75.9 percent of his passes (22-29) for 208 yards and a touchdown to Andy Jones. Once again, the tempo and play-calling were in question.

5. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay had 4 catches for 115 yards (a career high) in the first half. So why didn’t they go to him in the second half more often? He had just three catches for 31 yards in the second half. He is not Calvin Johnson, but he is an athletic, tall receiver who has a decent chance of coming down with the ball if it’s thrown in his immediate vicinity. It’s a head-scratcher the way he is used in this offense overall. He should have a much bigger role. With his 146 yards he topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 1,005.

NEXT UP: Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) at Lions (5-9) at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field. The Vikings defeated the Dolphins, 41-17 Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills

Bills can’t be taken lightly

So there’s a slim chance the Detroit Lions could still make the playoffs.

To do so the Lions (5-8)  need plenty of help, plus they have to win their final three games starting today at the Buffalo Bills (4-9).

Safety Glover Quin admitted that of course he’s seen the scenarios.

“I’m not blind I’m not oblivious to the fact, I’m not dumb either. I can look at the record and . I kind of knew it before everybody started making a big deal out of it, I saw it unfolding,’’ Quin said.

“For us, none of that stuff matters if we don’t take care of our business so we’ve got to win out, we’ve got to prepare and get ready to beat Buffalo, we get that done then we move on to the next one,’’ Quin said. “None of those scenarios matter if we don’t take care of our business.’’

Five things to watch:

1. The big key is to stop the Bills’ running game, the bread and butter of its offense. Buffalo has run for at least 165 yards in four straight games. If they reach that number against Detroit it will be a streak not matched since 1975.

2. Keep quarterback Josh Allen one dimensional. He is the leading rusher with 490 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. It’s a strength for the rookie who has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions. Stop the run and force him to pass. He owns a completion rate of just 52.4 percent with five passing touchdowns and nine interceptions. In Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the Jets, Allen carried nine times for 101 yards and a touchdown, threw two interceptions and completed 50 percent of his passes. “Obviously a very dangerous guy. He’s right up there with a lot of the other great running quarterbacks in the league right now,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “We’ve seen a couple this year, but he’s doing a phenomenal job right now of just turning those really nothing plays into some really big or just huge plays for the offense.’’

3. Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterback Matthew Stafford have to find a way to beat the Bills’ passing defense which has held teams to less them 170 passing yards for five straight games (winning two of them). Stafford threw for just 101 yards on Sunday in the win over Arizona, his lowest output of the season. He’s averaging 245.2 yards per game. Stafford has been limited in practice all week but will play through his back pain. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington, who has stepped up with Marv Jones Jr., out, will not play due to a hamstring injury.

4. Running back Kerryon Johnson will miss his fourth straight game, but the Lions have run for more than 100 yards in each of the three games without him using a combination of LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner. It will be interesting to see if Zenner gets more opportunity after a solid effort in the win at the Cardinals (12 carries, 54 yards, 1 touchdown).

5. The Lions defense has been playing well overall and must keep it up despite playing without defensive ends Ziggy Ansah (who is done for the season) and Da’Shawn Hand (knee). These Bills can’t be taken lightly.

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Bills 21

Five reasons Detroit Lions beat Arizona Cardinals, 17-3

Detroit’s effective run game was key

Yikes. It was not pretty, but the Detroit Lions snapped their two-game losing streak with a 17-3 win at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Detroit’s defense was key, holding Arizona to a field goal.

When the Cardinals came within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Lions ran downfield, eating up clock and finishing with a Zach Zenner touchdown run.

Neither offense could get much going. The Lions finished with 218 total yards while it was 279 for the Cardinals.

The Lions are now 5-8 in Matt Patricia’s first season, while the Cardinals drop to 3-10.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. The injury-riddled defense was solid, holding the Cardinals to just a field goal and rattling rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. Larry Fitzgerald was held to five catches (77 yards) while running back David Johnson had just 15 carries for 49 yards. The Cardinals managed just 73 yards of offense in the first half. Detroit linebacker Jarrad Davis was a standout with a sack, two tackles for loss, one pass defense, one quarterback hit and eight tackles.

2. Cornerback Darius Slay’s interception and return for touchdown in the third quarter, gave the Lions a 10-0 cushion. It was Slay’s first career pick-six and his third interception this season. He also broke up a potential touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. It was one of his three pass defenses.

3. Matthew Stafford (15-23, 101 yards) played just well enough to win, but it was the effective running game that was key. The Lions had 122 rushing yards — led by Zach Zenner with 54 yards and LeGarrette Blount with 33 yards. Stafford’s aching back limited him in practice last week. It didn’t affect his arm strength — he threw deep downfield, but couldn’t connect on one longer than 17 yards.

4. It must say something that the Lions could win despite an incredible number of injures, most forcing players from the game. That includes Ziggy Ansah (shoulder), Da’Shawn Hand knee), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), Charles Washington (hamstring), Marcus Cooper (back), Rick Wagner (concussion), Nick Bellore, Luke Willson and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Next man up, indeed.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. It was a win. It was kind of ugly (really dreadful in the first half) but the Lions hung in there so there’s something that should be said for it.

NEXT UP: Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9), at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 16.

Detroit Lions lose to L.A. Rams: Five things to know about loss

Defense solid but not quite good enough

DETROIT — It was a game not new to the Lions. They held on against a tough opponent, kept it close until the fourth quarter and then couldn’t get across the finish line.

Sunday’s 30-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams dropped the Lions to 4-8 with losses in five of their last six games.

You know what they said afterward about needing to improve as a team moving forward. It’s been said in eight post-game press conferences this season.

“Give the Rams credit. That’s a really good team over there. They’re very explosive, very dynamic, and I think we tried to be in it all the way through it,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Obviously, we didn’t get it done in the end.”

Five things to know about the loss:

1. The defense actually played pretty well through most of the game. Defensive back Quandre Diggs had a solid game with an interception, two pass defenses and six tackles. He wasn’t alone. Damon Harrison and Eli Harold each sacked quarterback Jared Goff. And, at least in the first half, running back Todd Gurley was kept in control. Although he finished with 23 carries for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

2. Matthew Stafford kept the offense moving until late in the game. He was 20 of 33 for 245 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the end zone trying to make a play with 11 seconds left in the game. But when he was sacked by Aaron Donald in the fourth quarter, he couldn’t hold onto the ball, fumbled it and the Rams were able to recover at Detroit’s 24-yard line. Three plays later Gurley scampered in for a touchdown to put the Rams up 23-13 with 6:53 left. It was a killer play.

3. Fans were booing loudly when on a third-and-19 in the third quarter, Theo Riddick ran a draw play. It seems to happen quite often that the coaches are so conservative on third-down plays. The Lions settled for a field goal on that drive after Riddick picked up 8 yards. On a third-and-13 in the fourth quarter, Stafford passed short right to Bruce Ellington for 5 yards. It’s not just in this game, either. This is a theme with the coaching calls on third down.

4. Tight end Levine Toilolo stepped up with four catches for 90 yards. He caught one for 22 yards on a first-and-20 in the third quarter on a drive that led to a Matt Prater field goal. Then on the Lions’ next possession he caught one deep down the middle for 39 yards, getting Detroit to the Rams’ 23-yard line. Three plays later left tackle Taylor Decker caught a touchdown pass.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh seemed to be quite fired up for this game, his first return to Ford Field since he signed as a free agent in 2015 and left town. Suh finished with six tackles (his season high is nine) and no sacks. He was whistled twice for personal fouls. With 1:41 left in the game and the Rams leading 30-16, Suh was penalized for roughing the passer. Inexcusable. Stafford was asked if his former teammate had anything to say to him: “Nope.” Then he was asked if he said anything to Suh. “Nope.” End of story.

NEXT UP: Lions at Arizona Cardinals (3-9) at 4:25 p.m. on Dec. 9. The Cardinals upset the Packers at Green Bay, 20-17, on Sunday.

Lions LT Taylor Decker scores first touchdown in loss to Rams

Play designed by Jim Bob Cooter last week

DETROIT — You want a creative and imaginative offensive play? Jim Bob Cooter drew one up last week for the Lions.

On Sunday it resulted in 11-yard touchdown pass to left tackle Taylor Decker in the 30-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. With Decker’s score, the Lions were down just 16-13 late in the third quarter.

It was Decker’s first-ever NFL touchdown. And if you happened to catch the ball that he sailed into the stands afterward, he’d like it back. Thank you.

It was not a play that had been in the works for months. Decker said it all came about “pretty late in the week.”

“Walked into breakfast one morning and heard they were going to have a little wrinkle for me and I literally said, ‘I’m going to score a touchdown,’’’ Decker said.

It’s not like they had a lot of practice time to fine-tune it.

“I think we ran it once (in practice). It’s more of a scheme thing, it’s not like I”m beating man coverage,’’ Decker said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said it was a Cooter-designed play and that he and Decker got a couple throws in on the side at practice.

“That was Jim Bob this week. I thought it was a great add. Situation was perfect, to tell you the truth, to call it and it worked,’’ Stafford said. “I think our crowd got a little loud when he was telling everyone that 68 was reporting as eligible, which I thought was great. Our guys executed it well. It was a big play and obviously gave us a touchdown.”

Decker said he was a little hyped when he heard the play called. He was so tired afterward he got oxygen on the sideline.

“Obviously didn’t get the result we wanted, but it was a cool moment for me’’ Decker said.

“He’s a big target. So I was happy for him, happy for those guys,’’ Stafford said. “Always good to watch a big guy score, man, they enjoy it. I think he threw it in the stands, huh? Copycat.”