Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host New England Patriots; also prediction

New England defense without 3 sstarters

After what can best be described as a disappointing start to the season, the Lions face their toughest opponent so far when they host the New England Patriots tonight at Ford Field.

“Did they win the Super Bowl last year?” asked Glover Quin, possibly trying to downplay the Patriots’ elite status. Well, of course they didn’t win it, but they were in it.

New England is off to a 1-1 start and the offense needs some work but they have Tom Brady (five touchdowns, 1 interception). The Patriots’ defense, which has allowed 25.5 points per game, will be missing defensive lineman Trey Flowers, along with safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Eric Rowe. All three started last week and have been ruled out for this game due to injury.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is off to an inglorious start with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s been off on connecting with receivers on the long ball. Just not a good look so far.

Of course all eyes will be on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, his disciple and former defensive coordinator. They will be a part of the story on Sunday night even though they both try to dismiss the attention.

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford has to have a better game. They don’t win unless this offense gets turned around. Since he’s the quarterback he gets the blame or the credit. “I have to make sure I give those guys (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr.) chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them,’’ Stafford said.

2. The offensive line had a better Week 2. Left tackle Taylor Decker didn’t practice on Friday but it wasn’t an injury situation and he’s expected to play tonight. The line was without right guard T.J. Lang last week, but he practiced this week and should start.

3. Detroit’s secondary against Brady will be a tough matchup. It could be worse if cornerback Darius Slay (concussion) does not play. He participated in practice on Friday for the first time all week but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go. Slay gives the Lions’ defense the best chance of being able to stop Brady and his gang.

4. After missing last week, defensive end Ziggy Ansah is expected to play — he’s practiced this week. Ansah and the line have to put pressure on Brady, keep him in the pocket. They sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times, but he holds onto the ball longer so don’t give that stat too much value. Brady has been sacked four times in the first two games.

5. The Lions run game has slightly improved. They’re up to 4.3 yards per catch which is 1.1 yards better than last season. In the first two games, the Lions fell so far behind they had to resort to the pass to try to catch up. Kerryon Johnson (4.6 yards per carry) has just 13 touches in the first two weeks. If the Lions can stay in the game, he could get more of the load. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, has proven he’s still got gas in the tank.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Lions 24.

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Lions Matthew Stafford, receivers look to get back their deep ball connection

Deep ball has been big part of offense in the past

ALLEN PARK — All eyes are always on the quarterback.

With the Lions 0-2 and Matthew Stafford not looking like his usual efficient self, the quarterback and the offense don’t look close to panicked.

Stafford, who has passed for 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, has decent numbers in the opening losses. But on Sunday at San Francisco he overthrew four long passes. It’s not like him to miss on all of those.

Stafford and the offense need to perform better when they face the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

“I think I just have to throw it to where they can catch it. It’s as simple as that, right? Just have to make sure I give them a chance,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “There were some going back to last year where I probably didn’t throw the perfect ball but either Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) or Kenny (Golladay) or GT (Golden Tate) or whoever it was went up and made a great play, right? And that’s part of it, too. I have to make sure I give those guys chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them.”

Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., and Golden Tate said they will continue to work on connecting with Stafford. Oh, and it’s not all on Stafford.

“I think we all could have done something better — better releases, better route running. I have confidence that from here on we’ll complete more of those, it’s kind of what we’ve done best over the years I think,’’ Tate said on Thursday. “It’s going up to get those 50-50 balls and executing explosives that’s one thing we take a lot of pride on it. That’s something I expect us to be better at.’’

They worked on it at practice this week just like they always do.

“Obviously, we were the best last year on that. But it’s a new year, and we have to keep working on that, and we’ll get it done,’’ Jones said this week. “We just have to continue to work on it. And the more we work on it, the better we’ll get at it.”

Stafford had zero interceptions in Week 2 after four picks in the opening game. Throwing too deep is usually safer than not throwing deep enough.

“Less bad is going to happen if you’re overshooting it, but less good as well. It’s a fine line. I’d love to just hit them all in stride, that’d be great,’’ Stafford said. “That’s what I plan on doing. But if it doesn’t happen, then our guys have to go up there and protect it if it’s short. A chance to make a play but make sure nothing bad happens. And I have to try to do my best to make sure that I’m giving them chances.”

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. After two games Stafford is ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 633. Nothing wrong with that.

The Lions’ offense in two games has averaged 383 yards per game. The passing offense (314.5 yards per game) ranked sixth in the NFL while the rushing defense averaged 68.5 yards per game and is 30th in the NFL.That last statistic is a bit misleading since the Lions were so far behind in both games, they had to stick to the pass in hopes of catching up.

One noticeable improvement is the Lions are gaining an average of 4.2 yards per carry which is tied for 12th in the NFL. In 2017 that average — a key stat to explain the anemic run game — was 3.4 yards per carry, the worst in the NFL.

No one seemed too worried about this offense with the return of coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. However, in the opening two games the execution has come up short.

New England’s defense isn’t all of that, but the Patriots have this habit of figuring out a way to win.

Five things to know about Lions’ 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers

Lions now 0-2, welcome Patriots on Sunday night

The Lions made it interesting in the waning minutes, but had fallen too far behind to catch up. Detroit fell to 0-2 in Matt Patricia’s inaugural season with a 30-27 loss at the San Francisco 49ers.

New coach, many of the same old problems — missed tackles, run game inefficiencies and too many penalties.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

On top of that all, Matthew Stafford’s game was not spot-on. Again. He missed Marv Jones Jr., deep on three long attempts and Golden Tate on another. Those are passes that should be automatic.

Here are five things to know about the loss:

1. Stafford played better than he did in the opening loss to the Jets, but still didn’t look himself. He did not throw an interception but lost a fumble and couldn’t connect at key times. It was not all on him. It looked like Theo Riddick dropped a fourth-and-2 pass with seconds left while the Lions were trying to get in field goal position for Matt Prater. Stafford had injured his calf in the Monday night game but was not on the injury report all week. He was sacked twice on Sunday and pressured often. He shouldered the blame for the loss to the Jets, saying he had to play better. He did, but it wasn’t enough. Stafford was 34 of 53 for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

2. The Lions defense gave up to many chunk yardage plays while the Detroit offense had trouble running or passing against the 49ers for big chunk yardage. Golden Tate caught a 67-yard pass late in the game. Kenny Golladay’s touchdown was from 30 yards out. The longest run was for 21 yards by Kerryon Johnson.

3. The Lions’ run game looked less anemic than on Monday night, finishing with 98 yards rushing compared to 39 in loss to Jets. Johnson led with eight catches for 43 yards (5.4 yards per run) while LeGarrette Blount averaged 4.8 yards per carry (eight carries, 38 yards). This offense is not meant to operate at a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they have to be able to run the ball. And, actually, as Chris Spielman explained it — throwing the ball would open up the run.

4. The defense — playing without the injured Ziggy Ansah — sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times for losses of 50 yards. But he was able to complete 69.2 percent of his passes, including a pair of touchdown tosses. The Lions’ defense struggled big-time stopping the run. They  allowed 190 rushing yards with Matt Breida marking career highs with 138 rushing yards and a 66-yard rushing touchdown. This was an issue on Monday night when they allowed the Jets to rush for 169 yards. It was a concern, but obviously it was not fixed.

5. Penalties were killers. Jamal Agnew’s fourth-quarter 73-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was negated when flags were thrown for blocks in the back by two Lions. Detroit was called for 10 penalties costing them 105 yards and likely the ball game. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was kicked out of the game in the fourth quarter, when he came off the bench when Elijah Lee knocked Stafford out of bounds and no penalty was called. Blount shoved Lee and was ejected. Stafford’s wife Kelly had something to say about Blount’s ejection on Instagram: “I don’t care. I love Blount for that sh–.” She’s right, it did show passion, something the Lions were missing on Monday night.

NEXT UP: The Lions (0-2) play the New England Patriots (1-1) on Sunday night at Ford Field. The Patriots lost to the Jaguars, 31-20, on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Lions face 49ers

Both teams want to avoid 0-2 start

After Monday night’s 48-17 loss, the Detroit Lions have much to prove today at the San Francisco 49ers.

They can quiet the rumors that the team doesn’t buy into new coach Matt Patricia. The defense can show that Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni have drawn up a scheme that complements the players’ talents.

They can prove this team is ready to take a step up from a 9-7 record last season. They can show that they can compete for a playoff spot.

(Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. on FOX)

The Lions’ short turn-around from playing on Monday night is no excuse. This is the NFL, this is what they do.

In the past 10 seasons only 10 NFL teams  made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Here’s the thing, though. San Francisco is 0-1 too — although they looked more competitive in the 24-16 loss at the Vikings.

It all sets up for a Week 2 game with plenty on the line for both teams.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford should have a better game. The four interceptions were not all on him, but he made some bad decisions in the first game of this tenth season. He is better than that. Of course when he delivers a ball to a receiver, they cannot drop it. Golden Tate alone had two drops. He knows he can do better.

2. The offensive line last week didn’t allow Stafford to be sacked. However, the quarterback faced much pressure. With T.J. Lang (foot) out at right guard we could see Kenny Wiggins start in his place. He is experienced after starting all 16 games last season for the Chargers. The line — all five of them — have to play better than last week not just in protecting Stafford but opening up holes for the running backs.

3. That run game that has been talked about since the final snap of the 2017 season, needs to get in gear early. Let’s see more of rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount. Last week Ameer Abdullah was inactive (coach’s decision) and would expect the same at San Francisco. The Lions only had 39 yards rushing in Monday night’s loss to the Jets. They had to get away from the run in the second half because they fell so far behind. In the first half they managed just 18 rushing yards. It’s befuddling, that’s for sure. If it’s not corrected, their chances of beating the 49ers are diminished.

4. Detroit’s defense got off to a terrific start with Quandre Diggs intercepting Sam Darnold on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage. It was pretty much downhill from there with the defense giving up five touchdowns, 169 rushing yards and 48 total points. It doesn’t get easier. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense has plenty of weapons with Jimmy Garoppolo connecting on passes of 36 yards or more to three different receivers last week. Shanahan said he watched Patriots’ film from the Super Bowl to acquaint himself with Patricia’s defensive scheme. The line must get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to force him to throw interceptions. Last week he threw three, which is uncharacteristic for him. In six games last season he was picked off just five times. The Vikings made him uncomfortable (he was sacked three times) and it worked.

5. Special teams must get its act together after a lousy start against the Jets. They gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and Matt Prater missed two field goals (56 and 44 yards). Sam Martin’s punts averaged a healthy 50.7 yards but those were returned for a total of 137 yards. Special teams can be overlooked, but this unit needs to step up.

Lions Golden Tate: ‘We have a chance to write this story a little differently’

Lions play at San Francisco 49ers Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> It’s been a week of introspection for Golden Tate and many of his Detroit Lions’ teammates.

Losing a season opener 48-17 will do that to a player, even an NFL veteran.

“Personally it’s been tough because we showed up in April and put a lot of work in, a lot of hours in, a lot of expectations and the first opportunity you get to do that it hurts. Like I said, it’s a new week, it’s a new opportunity,’’ Tate said. “On Sunday we have a chance to write this story a little differently.’’

The Lions (0-1)  will look for redemption when they play at the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday.

“The season is just now starting. we’ve got a long season, a lot of things are going to happen between now and then. As far as I’m concerned, we’re starting our season this week,’’ Tate said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done last week, we didn’t give our fan base much to cheer about. We’re refocused, looking in the mirror working even harder, excited to get back on the field, get on the road against another good opponent and fix this.

“We come back to Detroit 1-1, doesn’t matter what we did in Week 1,’’ he added.

And if they come back 0-2? Let’s take the weeks as they come.

Five thoughts from Tate moving forward:

1. While some Lions said they didn’t hear the boos at Ford Field or tuned them out, Tate definitely heard them. “It was tough, the boos got louder and the Jets’ fan base got louder, to be at home and that be the case it definitely hurts,’’ Tate said. “I can’t say we didn’t deserve it — we didn’t put a great product out there. Like I say, it’s only week 1, we have 15 more opportunities at least to go out there and paint this picture. I have no doubt with the competitors we have that we’re going to get this fixed.’’

2. The wide receiver thinks this is a perfect time to go on the road even though it’s a cross-country trip after a Monday night game. “I like to go on the road this time after last week we played so bad we needed something different,’’ Tate said. “But overall I’d much rather be home, I don’t mind going on the road this time.’’

3. He’s kind of befuddled by the Jets’ claims that their defense was able to read the Lions offense by formation and hand signals, leading them to intercept Matthew Stafford four times. “It kind of surprised me. If it’s true to have all this knowledge of our offense the first week I’m not sure how they got it, i guess we did have a few players over there but I don’t know,’’ Tate said. “I’ve thought about it, I don’t know how they would have got such information especially when we’re at home, they did a good job but now we’re trying to move on to the San Francisco 49ers … We’re excited to get back on the field and get this taste out of our mouth. For not only us but the city, we know we’re a good team and we have some good players we just need to go out there and put it all together.’’

4. Tate takes his share of the blame for the embarrassing loss despite seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. “Anyone who’s satisfied with their performance last week definitely has to look into the mirror,’’ Tate said. “We’re having a week of practice where we’re trying to dial in on details and be better, just collectively, play better team ball and get out there and win. You guys have been around here for a while we have a lot of the same characters, we have a good team, we have good players all over the place we just need to go out there and put it together.’’

5. Tate played with 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman for three seasons (2011-2013) while they were both in Seattle. So the Lions wide receiver knows what to expect. “Richard is an incredible leader, one of the guys who has been known to be the best at what he does for a bunch of years. I can only imagine the impact that he’s had on all of those young DBs over there with similar body styles, similar game play, so we will have our hands full for sure,’’ Tate said. “We’re going to have to be on our Ps and Qs this weekend. I think if anybody can do it we can, we’ve got some talent over here as well. I think our game plan is going to be good, we just have to go out and execute as best we can.’’

Lions Matt Patricia stresses hard work, execution on day after stunning loss

Jets’ defense knew the Lions’ plays

The day after the debacle, Lions coach Matt Patricia stayed on message. He’s moving on from the 48-17 loss to the Jets on Monday Night Football

Patricia, on a Tuesday evening conference call, said the team is working hard to get better every day.

Pure coach speak. With the way the Lions stunk up Ford Field, it seems Patricia would be a little more fiery and address the areas that failed (basically all of them).

Here are two concerns:

— Have the played bought in to his message?

— How come the Jets defense knew what was coming on Detroit’s offense?

If he’s worried that some of the players may have tuned him out, he did not let on.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“The good thing about this game, one of the things we try to do is build mental toughness, that’s part of the game and what we’re all about,’’ Patricia said in a Tuesday conference call.

Really, it could have been any coach of any team in any sport uttering those same words.

This is an area that cannot be overlooked. If Patricia has lost the team — and it’s an if — one game into the season, it could turn into a four-month nightmare. Lions’ fans know the script.

Along with messaging, it certainly can’t be overlooked that Jets defensive and offensive players said they knew what plays the Lions were running and were able to adjust. This is the first game of the season so they must have gone back to last season for film — and maybe to Patriots’ film on defense. Afterall they intercepted Matthew Stafford four times and Matt Cassel once.

Patricia doesn’t seem fazed by this.

“I would say in general, there are a lot of things that go on in the games that are identifiable to the players on both sides of the ball through the course of the game and that happens at times. Those things come up,’’ Patricia said. “There are certainly very specific things that are used in the course of a game where guys do a good job of steering things or studying things and seeing stuff at that standpoint. We try to do the best we can to keep it moving on both sides of the ball. We certainly have the same situation from our side, we study opponents the same as everybody else does and you kind of, group, I would say, things into categories based on schemes and systems. And that’s really important to understand. So, if you do that, sometimes that’s helpful and sometimes it’s not.”

Got that?

The offensive woes on Monday night were possibly most worrisome since it’s basically the same offense that Jim Bob Cooter ran last year. It seems like he would have changed formations and signals, or maybe he did.

Patricia brought in a new defensive scheme. Do the Lions have enough talent and depth on defense to execute it? He didn’t really say.

“We have the players that we have that are going to help us try to get better. I think the biggest part of it for us, again I’ll start with myself, some of the coaching and some of that stuff has to be better and some of the execution of some of the things we were trying to do last night has to be better,’’ Patricia said. “I don’t think it was a situation where we were outmatched or out-manned , we just got out-executed, give credit to the Jets.’’

Veteran safety Glover Quin said it felt like the defense never was in control of the game.

The Lions finished 2017 with a 9-7 record. They’ve won at least nine games in three of the last four seasons. Patricia doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. This is not a rebuild. This is not a young team by NFL standards. These guys know football.

“I feel like we were right in the game in a good situation at the beginning of the third quarter and we let things spiral out of control from there,” veteran linebacker Devon Kennard said. “Like I said, being a defensive guy, I would’ve loved to get a stop after our offense scored and put them in position to maybe score again. But we didn’t do that and things got out of control.”

 

Lions, Matt Patricia had seven months to prepare for Jets; results inexcusable

Lopsided loss raises doubts

Seven months. Coach Matt Patricia and his staff had seven months to prepare for the N.Y. Jets. The results are shameful.

The Lions are coming off a 9-7 season which was not good enough to keep Jim Caldwell around. On paper it’s a decent NFL team. Not elite, but it should be at least an eight- or nine-win team.

This is not a rebuild. This is a team that should re ready to take the next step, a playoff win.

Then came a stinker like Monday when the Lions lost 48-17 at Ford Field to the Jets and their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

Color me befuddled.

It would be understandable if Stafford happened to have a bad day but the defense and special teams held their own. Or any variation of that – defense bad and Stafford and special teams good. Or, if one of the key players had been out with an injury it would have been a little less befuddling.

But it was all three phases that stunk in Monday night’s debacle. Even Matt Prater missed two field goals.

Stafford threw four interceptions and afterward several Jets defenders said they knew what play the Lions were going to run by their formations and Stafford’s hand signals, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports.

How can that happen? Patricia is a defensive guru — he’s the guy who has been looking for tells on other offenses. How can he not see them in his own offense?

He took partial blame, but should have put it all on his shoulders. That’s what Stafford did – he told his teammates that loss was on him. That’s a sign of a leader.

Seven months.

Look back to 2009 when Jim Schwartz, also a first-year head coach, took over the Lions who had stumbled to an 0-16 record in 2008. That was a job no one wanted. The roster he inherited had more weak points than strengths (Calvin Johnson). Matthew Stafford was a 21-year-old rookie. The team culture was all about losing. The roster didn’t have near the talent or depth that today’s does.

The 2009 season opener was in New Orleans, a tough place for any NFL team to win except the Saints. Drew Brees threw six touchdown passes and zero interceptions while Stafford threw three interceptions and zero touchdowns. And, yes, the Lions lost, but the score was 45-27. Detroit had 33 rushing yards, even then it was a weak point. It was not a great start for Schwartz, but considering where the Lions came from, it was not that upsetting.

In 2014, Jim Caldwell won his first game as Lions coach on a Monday night against the Giants, 35-14, at Ford Field. Those Lions were coming off a 7-9 season that got Schwartz fired.

That was then, this is now. Patricia’s message has been “last year was last year.”

Well, last year is looking pretty good.