Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat Carolina Panthers, 20-19

Offense, defense and special teams came up big

DETROIT — Perhaps the Lions’ game ball should have gone to Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. He made the decision to go for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown catch by D.J. Moore that pulled Carolina within one point with 1:07 left.

The conversion failed when quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t find an open receiver and sailed one high into the end zone. Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano had missed a field goal and extra-point earlier and Newton had momentum, it just didn’t work out.

That decision allowed the Lions (4-6) to snap a three-game losing streak with a 20-19 win over the Panthers who fall to 6-4.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t thinking about Rivera’s 2-point decision at the time.

“I’m kind of just locked in on what my two-minute calls are going to be, what I’m going to have to do to go down and score and get a field goal to win the game. I trust our defense a ton to make a play but as a player you have to be ready for what’s ahead,’’ Stafford said. “It’s either going to be two-minute or take a knee. … Obviously we didn’t need (the two-minute) which was awesome.’’

He wasn’t surprised they went for 2 points since they’re so aggressive and it gave them a chance to steal one on the road.

“Obviously our defense made a great play there at the end. They were rolling a little bit there in the second half on a couple drives. I bet they felt confident, but I was confident in our guys and I’m glad we made the play,’’ Stafford said.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. Two huge defensive plays on a Panthers’ drive early in the fourth quarter were key. Cornerback Darius Slay turned on the jets and somehow caught D.J. Moore at Detroit’s 12-yard line after an 82-yard gain that looked sure to be a touchdown. Then three plays later on third-and-2, at Detroit’s 4, linebacker Jarrad Davis sacked Cam Newton for a 12-yard loss and forced the Panthers to attempt a field goal which kicker Graham Gano clunked off the post. Big Play Slay certainly lived up to his nickname on that one play. He limped off the field but was able to finish the game.  “We knew that’s what we had to do. If we stop (Newton) ‚ he’s the show — if we stop the show, we can win,’’ Slay said. “And he’s the show and we stopped him and did our best we could against him and handled that.”

2. Kenny Golladay had a big day (eight catches for 113 yards). With Marvin Jones Jr., out, Golladay was the top wide receiver on the field. No catch was bigger than his 19-yard touchdown with just five minutes left in the game. Golladay was covered by James Bradberry, but he leapt up and dove backward into the end zone, keeping control of the ball on his way down. That score gave the Lions a 20-13 lead. “(Stafford) just gave me a nice, pretty, high ball. I like balls like that for me to just use my size, hands, athletic ability to go up there and make the catch and that’s what I did,’’ Golladay said.

3. The offensive line came up big protecting Matthew Stafford. He was sacked just once (by his old nemesis Julius Peppers) and hit just once. He had been sacked 16 times in the past two games. “I was just trying to do a good job of keeping us ahead of the sticks. If I had to take 3 or 4 (yards) on first down and not wait on something that was 10 or 15, I was going to do it,’’ Stafford said. “Credit to our guys getting open and making the catches when we were able to do that. Obviously running the ball helps … I was proud of our guys up front, they pushed them around in the run game and kept me clean for most of the day which was awesome.’’

4. Running back Kerryon Johnson ran in from 8 yards out for a touchdown on the Lions’ first possession. Johnson had a great day with 15 carries for 87 yards, along with two catches for 10 yards, until he injured his knee late in the third quarter and was unable to return. In his post-game press conference, Patricia said he had no update on Johnson. FOX reported that Johnson was crying once he got in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. “He’s got some big-play ability, you see it. Some 20-plus runs, I’ve got the best view in the house right behind him,’’ Stafford said. “Sometimes splits a seam and he’s out. He’s done a nice job for us and it was more of the same today.”

5. Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter fashioned together an offense without Marvin Jones Jr., and it worked. “We knew it was going to be a collective effort. It was going to take everybody doing a little bit here and there to make that thing go for us,’’ Stafford said. “We didn’t light up the scoreboard by any means but we got enough points to win the game which was nice.’’ Along with Golladay’s eight catches, Bruce Ellington had six for 52 yards and Theo Riddick finished with five receptions for 30 yards. Stafford was 23 of 37 for 220 yards and one touchdown. The quarterback has been criticized early and often for the last three losses, he deserves credit here too.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

UP NEXT: Lions host the Chicago Bears at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. It’s a short-turnaround for Detroit or as Stafford said, “We’ve got to flip it quick.” The Lions lost to the Bears, 34-22, two weeks ago.

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Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Three key Lions sidelined with injuries

If the Lions’ hope to snap their three-game losing streak, they need to play practically perfect football against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Ford Field. It will be the first of three straight home games.

The Panthers (6-3) are coming off a Thursday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers so they’ve had extra time to prepare for the Lions who are 3-6.

The Lions (3-6) will be without three injured starters — wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tight end Michael Roberts.

It’s been a rough start under first year coach Matt Patricia, after the Lions finished 9-7 last season.

Still quarterback Matthew Stafford said the team hasn’t quit.

“I think we have a bunch of professionals, a bunch of guys that want to win. Nobody wants to go out there and work their tail off and not win,’’ Stafford said. “So, everybody’s out there trying to figure out a way to be better. Any way we can do it, we’re going to try.”

Five things to watch against the Panthers:

1. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games. Somehow, some way, they have to find a way to protect him while allowing him to be effective. “I think everybody’s doing everything they can to try and get us going. I think it’s a total team effort, everybody’s trying to play better at all positions, at all spots,’’ Stafford said. “I think our coaches are putting a ton of work in trying to be as good as they can be. So, it’s a total team effort. Offense is no different, we’re out there trying to find ways to make sure we score points. That’s the name of the game at the end of the day. Obviously, limiting sacks and turnovers and all that kind of stuff is going to help us do that, so any way we can do that kind of stuff is going to be beneficial for us.” The offensive line will be without right guard T.J. Lang for the rest of the season.

2. Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are on the same wavelength when it comes to the offense, but they’ve got to translate it from practice to Sundays. They work closely together. “He and I shoot texts throughout the week while I’m at my place and he’s here working. I know he’s up all hours of the night trying to figure out what’s going to be the best way for us to go out there and score a bunch of points, and I’m thinking about it constantly, too,’’ Stafford said. “So, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other all day at practice, trying to find ways to make ourselves score some more points. That’s the name of the game, which has been good.”

3. Detroit’s defense will have its hands full with quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the one-two offensive punch. Each has four rushing touchdowns while Newton has thrown 17 touchdown passes (against just five interceptions) and McCaffrey has caught four of those TDs. Also wide receiver Devin Funchess averages 12.2 yards per catch with 477 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions defense has particularly struggled in the run game giving up 176 rushing yards in the loss to Seattle and 128 to the Vikings. They found better success against the Bears last week holding them to 54 rushing yards, although Mitchell Trubisky passed for 355 yards.

4. Cornerback Darius Slay, who was out last week with a knee injury, is expected to be back in action which will provide a needed boost to the secondary. “He’s a tough player. (He’s) a guy that really, through the course of the season, I’ve had the pleasure to kind of work with and be around and kind of use some of his different talents and attributes in different ways through the course of the game,’’ Patricia said. “I think he gives us some multiplicity in the backend, which is great.”

5. Coaching, as always, is key. While Cooter and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni make the calls on game days, Patricia is heavily involved. The coaching staff has got nine games of working together, but they’re facing a huge challenge with the talent on the Panthers roster. The Lions are 2-2 at Ford Field.

EXTRA: Stafford was asked what makes veteran Panthers’ defensive end Julius Peppers so good.  “Have you seen the guy before? He’s 6-6, 295 pounds, whatever he is. Extremely athletic, a very smart player. He’s seen a lot of football, he’s a smart rusher,’’ Stafford said. The two have a history going back to 2011 when Peppers (who played for the Bears) tackled Stafford, injuring his shoulder and knocking him out of action for six weeks.

PREDICTION: Panthers 35, Lions 14

Lions play poorly in 34-22 loss at Chicago: Five key reasons they lost third straight

Blame starts with coaching staff

When an NFL coach talks about working on fundamentals midway through a season, it’s a sign that something is not right in the kingdom. That’s exactly what coach Matt Patricia discussed after an embarrassing loss at the Vikings a week ago.

This season, Patricia’s first, was not billed as a rebuild season. This team finished 9-7 last season and was supposed to improve.

So what happened on Sunday in Chicago — a 34-22 beat-down by the Bears — should not have come as a surprise.

The Lions are 3-6. The season is toast. Would they have an outside chance if they ran the table? Perhaps, but the way they have played the last three weeks the odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot are better.

Sunday’s loss was just more of the same:

1. Matt Patricia does not get a pass. This team was not ready to play. Part of that might be on the players, but he is ultimately responsible. He was welcomed to Detroit as a savior of sorts direct from the Patriots. He has much to prove in his first stint as an NFL head coach. Jim Caldwell was fired because GM Bob Quinn thought the 9-7 team last year was talented and under-performed with Caldwell. Well, guess what? They’ve added two running backs and key pieces on the defense and they continue sliding backward. Those wins against the Patriots and Packers are befuddling. Patricia talks a ton about changing the culture, but Caldwell did a good job of that. Patricia should be fine-tuning this squad, not reinventing the wheel.

2. The defense made Mitch Trubisky look perfect. He nearly was, finishing with 355 passing yards and three touchdowns.. Several of his big-play passes — he threw eight of more than 20 yards — went to receivers who were wide open and it wasn’t even close. Of course the Lions missed cornerback Darius Slay who was out with a knee injury, but not sure his presence would have made much difference. Offensively the Bears finished with 402 net yards compared to 305 for the Lions. At one points the Bears had a 244-44 edge in yards.

3. Matthew Stafford was sacked six times. In the fourth quarter Khalil Mack ran over left tackle Taylor Decker like he was a pylon. There’s blame all around for the sacks. Receivers are well covered which is why Stafford often waits too long. The offensive line was playing without right guard T.J. Lang, but they have to be better. They focused on protection during the week after Stafford was sacked 10 times by the Vikings a week ago. Much more work to do.

4. The offensive fits and starts have become commonplace. Stafford has to run a better show even without Golden Tate. Stafford finished 25 of 42 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, was sacked six times and had a 74.9 rating. Tate was his go-to guy on third downs maybe that’s why the Lions were 4 of 15 (27 percent) on third-down conversions.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Rookie Kerryon Johnson (6 carries, a rushing and a passing touchdown) continues to be one of the few bright spots along with wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The running back averaged 3.6 per carry. Golladay (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 touchdown) caught the first pass on the first play from scrimmage and he caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter when it was too late to matter. Without Tate, Golladay has to take advantage of his opportunities. Also it’s up to Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to get him involved start to finish.

UP  NEXT: Lions host the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday, Nov. 18 at Ford Field. Then on Thanksgiving they face the Bears again at Ford Field.

 

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: Five things to watch

Chicago sits atop NFC North

ALLEN PARK — It’s the second straight division game for the Lions who failed miserably at the Vikings last week.

It doesn’t get any easier, going up against the Chicago Bears (5-3), the leaders in the NFC North. The Vikings are in second (5-3-1) with the Packers (3-4-1) in third and the Lions (3-5) in the basement.

The Lions have won their last two games at Soldier Field but this team is different and still difficult to figure out due to inconsistent play week in and week out.

It will be a little tougher without two key starters who are sidelined with injuries. Cornerback Darius Slay (knee) and right guard T.J. Lang will be out.

The Bears have won all five of their games against less-than-stellar teams. One of those teams is the Seahawks (4-4), who smacked the Lions two weeks ago. The Bears also beat the Cardinals (2-6), Tampa Bay (3-5), Jets (3-6) and the Bills (2-7). That’s a combined 14-28 win-loss record.

If the Lions have any hope of turning around this season and matching their 9-7 record from last season, defeating the Bears would be a great place to start.

Five things to watch:

1. The offensive line must adjust and provide more protection for Stafford who was sacked 10 times by the Vikings. It was not all on the line, but they didn’t help. Patricia said it was lack of fundamentals and execution that led to the wretched loss at Minnesota last week. So he planned to get back to basics at practice this week. “I like our offensive line a lot. These guys work extremely hard. The offensive line is a hard group to play in. Like you said, my background with the o-line, I understand that, again, I think I’ve mentioned this before, when you try to see the game through the same set of eyes five different way, it’s not easy,’’ Patricia said. This week they’ll be without Lang and they’ll be facing big-time Bears disruptors DT Akiem Hicks and LB Khalil Mack.

2. Matthew Stafford has had a rough go in the last two weeks, both losses. In that span he has completed 68.4 percent of his pass attempts for 509 yards which is not bad considering he was sacked 13 times. He has taken the blame for some of those sacks and maybe he held on too long trying to make something happen. But also it’s tough to throw to receivers who can’t get open. He also lost one fumble in each of the last two weeks. “I’m sure if you sort out certain numbers and don’t really take into account game situations, you can kind of make them say whatever you would like,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said when asked about Stafford. “Our job is to do what we can do to score points to help our team win games. It’s on us to keep ourselves in a good game situation so that we do have multiple avenues available to us to attack a defense. Sometimes we have this year and sometimes we have been a little bit further behind than we should be.’’

3. Grabbing a lead early, once again is key. The Bears have outscored opponents 120-51 in the first half — 75-23 in the second quarter. The Lions need a good start, especially with the way they’ve played the last two weeks, to have a chance of winning. Stafford used to be able to fight back and come from behind in the fourth quarter, but not sure that’s much of a possibility this season. “I think it’s on our list of musts every week, is to start fast. And that’s as a team. I’m a big part of that team, I understand that, and doing what I can do to help us get points,’’ Stafford said. “Converting third downs, hitting big shots when we get it, just making sure that when we have those opportunities from the opening kickoff that we’re ready to go. The more I can hit the throws and make the right checks, all that kind of stuff, the better we’re going to be.”

4. The defense has to stop the run and the Bears have a dynamic duo in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen who are two different kinds of backs. “Jordan Howard, a big powerful guy, downhill type of back, who has enough speed, keeps the ball rolling for them. Tarik is very dynamic, very explosive, (he can) do it all, he runs between the tackles, he runs outside, he runs routes, catches passes, screens, they get him involved a lot of different ways,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. We have to identify who’s in the ball game and understand how to play against each guy’s skill sets because they are two dynamic players.’’ And he noted that at times both backs are on the field together.

5. Mitchell Trubisky is a young quarterback who has shown much improvement over last season, completing 64.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s also mobile quarterback.  “If things break down and he runs and there’s a receiver open, he’s going to throw it to that receiver as he’s advancing towards the line of scrimmage. He has more of a tendency to put the ball away and go with it as opposed to trying to get outside the pocket, reset, look downfield and throw the ball,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.

PREDICTION: Bears 24, Lions 17

Lions Matt Patricia: Fundamentals, execution holding us back right now

Next up, Lions head to Chicago, the NFC North leader

ALLEN PARK >> Matt Patricia said there was not one glaring factor when Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times in the 24-9 Lions’ loss at the Vikings on Sunday.

Obviously, more sacks than points scored is never good.

“It’s a full team thing, it’s a full unit thing and we have to do a better job. We can’t play that way,’’ Patricia said at his Monday press conference.

And, even though it’s November, half of the season is history and the Lions are 3-5, the first-year coach is leaning on basics.

“Fundamentals and execution is what’s holding us back right now,’’ Patricia said.

Talent? The coach said they have plenty of talented guys to help them win.

So where are the wins? How could they get humiliated two straight weeks? Yes, the Vikings and Seahawks are good teams, but the Lions didn’t just lose, they were embarrassed.

Certainly the Lions’ coaches made adjustments as Sunday’s game went on, it was just difficult to see the improvement.

“What happens as the season goes and you have some success in certain areas, obviously teams are going to gear up to try to stop those things you do and make you do them differently,’’ Patricia said. “We have to be able to handle those changes better than what we do right now and put our players in a better situation to give them some success, especially with the offensive run game. The defensive run game definitely seeing some repeat runs which are giving us problems.’’

And, of course, there was Dalvin Cook’s 70-yard run which Patricia called “catastrophic.”

The Lions ran for just 66 yards at the Vikings and the Detroit defense gave up 128 rushing yards.

“With both offensive and defensive lines I would say the point of emphasis right now is fundamentals,’’ Patricia said. “Some of our fundamentals (Sunday) got out of whack, some of our technique stuff was not necessarily where it needs to be on a consistent basis.’’

It all seems a little nuts. They worked on fundamentals in long, grueling training camp sessions in July and August. Much of the roster is composed of NFL veterans who should not need to go back to square one for Football Fundamentals 101.

But they will work on basics this week in the meeting rooms and Patricia said he might add some extra periods during practice. “It’s hard when we’re trying to get everything we can done and get ready to go. It is what it is, we have to get it done, put a little more effort into it,’’ Patricia said.

Next up is another road game against a divisional opponent, the first-place NFC North Chicago Bears (5-3).

Patricia said they had a good week of practice last week, it just didn’t carry over.

“We were prepared and ready to go we just didn’t show up on Sunday enough all the way around,’’ Patricia said. “Just got to do a better job.’’

That is everyone, coaches included.

When Patricia was hired by the Lions in February, he was not brought in for a rebuild. The long-time Patriots defensive coordinator was expected to improve on the Lions’ 9-7 record from 2017.

General manager Bob Quinn made it clear the reason Jim Caldwell was fired was because he thought they were capable of winning more than nine games each of the last two seasons. He traded Golden Tate, the top wide receiver, last week. Maybe it’s a move for the future but Quinn knew they had two divisional opponents coming up.

Any talk that the Lions are currently sinking because it is all a part of the plan is just not true unless they’ve changed course and didn’t mention it.

Sunday’s loss at the Vikings was cringe-worthy.

Fundamentals and execution. Seems like we’ve heard those two words before.

The season appears to be basically over thanks to a 3-5 record. Not sure this was part of the Quinn-Patricia plan.

Five reasons the Lions lost to the Vikings

Stafford sacked career-high 10 times

In a crucial NFC North game, the Lions were no match for the Vikings who won 24-6 in Minnesota on Sunday.

It was a particularly ugly game for Detroit because, once again, they were ineffective in all three phases. Right off the bat, Sam Martin slipped and fell on the opening kickoff. It was an omen for another wretched loss.

The Vikings are now 5-3-1 and the Lions fall to 3-5.

It was their first game without leading wide receiver Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday. The Vikings defense typically would have to account for Tate on every play. Now they don’t. Think about it. Yes, Theo Riddick can line up in the slot and catch the ball, but he is no Tate who was usually Stafford’s best option especially on third down. This is what would happen to most NFL teams if they all of a sudden lost their top wide receiver.

Hey, this loss was not all because Tate is gone, but that is a part of it.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The offensive line had no answer for the Vikings’ bull rush.

The Lions defense had another bad day at the office even though coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist and he has some decent talent on the roster. They did hold the Vikings to 283 yards and 24 points and Darius Slay came up with a big interception. But it wasn’t enough.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Vikings defense came out fired up and the Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers. If he made adjustments, they were not apparent. The Lions had their lowest offensive output (in yards) for a game this season with just 209 and their lowest points with 9. The lowest had been 264 in the win over the Packers in Week 5.

2. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times, a career high for him and a Vikings’ franchise record. Ouch. The offensive line was responsible for not providing protection on most of the sacks, although Stafford could have thrown it away a few times. One time he was ground so far into the turf, the Lions had to call a timeout to dig pellets (from the field turf) out of Stafford’s left eye. Entering the game, he had just been sacked 13 times in the first 7 games. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 199 yards for a rating of 83.0. It was the first game this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

3. The Lions also couldn’t get the run game established, finishing with 66 rushing yards. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 6.2 yards per carry, rushed 12 times for 37 yards (3.1 yards per carry).

4. Teez Tabor. Enough said.

5. Coaching. It just looked like the Lions weren’t prepared for the Vikings. It wasn’t just Patricia or Cooter or defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni — it was all of them. Patricia is kind of new to the NFC North and it showed. Watching, it was hard to imagine the Lions had won their last two games there at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wait, that was when they had Golden Tate and a mostly different coaching staff.

ALSO: Interestingly enough, the Lions had a big edge in time of possession: 36:45 to 23:15. … Vikings wide receiver had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the opening eight games but was held to four catches for 22 yards. …. The Lions play at the Chicago Bears (5-3) next Sunday. The Bears smacked Buffalo, 41-9 on Sunday.

Lions: Five things to watch vs. Vikings

First look at Tate-less offense

ALLEN PARK — It’s almost halfway through the season and the Lions will play just their second NFC North game on Sunday at the Vikings (4-3-1).

It’s huge. The Lions (3-4) are in the mix but it’s close with the Bears (4-3) and Packers (3-3-1).

It won’t be easy in the Lions’ first game without Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles. Tate was Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy especially on third down, leading the team with 44 catches.

“I know you hate hearing it, but we have to take it one at a time. We can look at the big picture of all of it for sure, but this week’s starting off (with) a lot of big challenges. Really every week in the NFL, as we know, is a huge challenge,’’ Stafford said. “Going on the road in the division, I like to say division games count for two. You get the win and they get the loss. They’re big games. And the more you can go and win those, whether on the road or at your place, the better. We have a big stretch of them coming up and hopefully we’ll win more than we lose, and it’ll be a good situation for us.”

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford’s offense has been inconsistent this season and is coming off a bad showing in the 28-14 loss to the Seahawks. Stafford now has the added issue of making it work without Tate. “I think the biggest thing for me is just moving forward with what we have,’’ Stafford said. “That’s all I can do. I try to go out there and prepare each week whether somebody’s hurt or somebody’s traded, whatever it is, not available to play that week. Alright, let’s go be successful with what we have. And this week is no different from that standpoint.”

2. Look for TJ Jones to line up in the slot in place of Tate. Jones only has three catches in six games. He was inactive against the Seahawks with rookie Brandon Powell activated for the first time, but Powell only returned. He has yet to get his first NFL catch. It could happen in Minnesota. Powell will have to prove his worth. If he makes the most of his opportunities, he may get more targets. “I’ve played a decent amount of football with TJ, too. Brandon not as much. But, TJ is a savvy guy. He’s got a lot of great feel, he’s a smart guy,’’ Stafford said. “He’s a good blocker. He does everything you would want in a receiver. I think he and BP give us a really good element inside.”

3. Offensively the Lions will have trouble sustaining drives against the Vikings tough third-down defense which is the best in the NFL and it’s not even close. They allow just 25.5 percent of conversions. That’s 6 percentage points better than Baltimore which is No. 2. Offensively, the Lions convert 42.3 percent of their third-down chances. “Third down is a critical part all the way across the board. One of the things (the Vikings) do defensively on third down, which is so difficult, is the different looks and fronts and stunts and blitzes that they are able to run,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “They have a bunch of combinations of overloads, walk-up, double-A gap looks, tight coverage that’s mixed in behind it. Some of that’s tight zone coverage, some of that’s tight man coverage. When you watch it, they do a great job with the timing, especially at home.’’

4. The Lions’ secondary will have its hands full with the one-two wide receiver punch of Adam Thielen (74 catches, 925 yards) and Stefon Diggs (58 catches, 587 yards). They’ve combined for 10 of the Vikings’ 16 receiving touchdowns. Cornerback Darius Slay can just handle one at a time. And don’t forget tight end Kyle Rudolph.  “Now with a lot of attention going to those receivers, the tight end position is now back open and he becomes more critical. Especially I would in the you’ve-got-to-have it situations or most importantly the red area. He’s a big target down there, he’s a big catch radius guy, he’s a savvy veteran,’’ Patricia said.

5. The Lions must establish the run game early and stay with it which will be difficult because the Vikings rushing defense is among the NFL’s best. “We play these guys a bunch, they’re very good defense. They have really good players, very good scheme, very sort of diverse scheme. It’s a good challenge for us kind of every year getting to play these guys a couple times. It’s really quite the challenge,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Really good players, really good scheme. Coach (Mike) Zimmer does a nice job with these guys. There always ready to play and they play a high level.” The Lions can’t fall too far behind at the half. The Vikings have outscored opponents in the second half 107-83.

Prediction: Vikings 31, Lions 17.