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.

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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.

Detroit Lions’ offensive line plays best game in win over Patriots

Run game exploded; Stafford sacked just once

ALLEN PARK — Without a smart and strong offensive line, the Lions run game was going nowhere this season.

The O-line played its best game early this season in the 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

The Lions rushed for 159 yards and rookie Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions player to reach 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush scampered for 117 yards on Nov. 28, 2013.

“That’s obviously a critical part of every football game, I think (the line) did a great job up front, definitely very difficult against that defense and the multiple looks they’ll give you,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “They were spinning the dial pretty good last night with a couple different looks — four-man rushes, five-man looks, six-man looks and I think those guys did a great job up font of recognizing that stuff, getting on the same page, executing their blocks well. There were a couple plays they could have done better, but I thought we had good movement at the line of scrimmage which is most important.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Pro Football Focus’ analysis of the line: “(They) performed exceptionally well against New England. Not a single starting lineman graded below a 65 and three of them graded at 70 or better.’’

Ragnow, who allowed seven pressures the previous week to the 49ers, came back with a “dominant performance.” He didn’t allow a single pressure against the Patriots, per Pro Football Focus.

The Lions O-line features two first-round picks — Taylor Decker (2016) and Frank Ragnow, a rookie. Also center Graham Glasgow was a third-round pick in 2016.

Right guard T.J. Lang returned after missing the previous game with a back injury. Lang, who signed as a free agent in 2017, proved he’s still got something in the tank because the line was more effective with him than the previous week with Kenny Wiggins.

Right tackle Rick Wagner, who was also signed as a free agent in 2017,  quietly had a good game.

Not only did they open lanes for the running backs, they also gave Matthew Stafford plenty of time in the pocket. It’s possible more time than he’s ever had consistently for four quarters. He was sacked just once.

Immediately after the game, Stafford couldn’t say enough about the line’s play.

Stafford has been sacked on just 2.2 percent of pass attempts (3/138) this season which is the best in the NFL. The league average is 6.6 percent, per Josh Norris of Rotoworld.

Lions run game shows steady gains week to week; Matthew Stafford improves too

Successful run game sparks win over Patriots

The Lions had a huge opportunity to get in the win column against the Patriots and took advantage of it with a 26-10 win on Sunday night.

No fluke plays, no bad calls by the officials, just solid play.

The Lions defense wouldn’t let Tom Brady sustain drives at all in the first half. The Patriots’ first three drives were three-and-outs.

Meanwhile Matthew Stafford, who didn’t look like himself in the first six quarters of the opening losses, had command. Credit the offensive line with giving him so much time in the pocket. Also, the line opened up lanes for the running backs. The Lions aren’t looking for a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they need to be effective running the all which did not happen last season.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Afterward, Stafford called it a true team win. It was huge. An 0-3 start is much tougher to overcome than starting 1-2.

“They’re a really good football team, well coached. But we needed this one. It was great to have them come into our place on a big stage and be able to do something like that,’’ a smiling Stafford said afterward.

Here are three categories where the Lions have improved week to week:

The running game which was a big emphasis in the offseason seems to be on track. The duo of veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson may be the answer. They also got big help from the blocking by the offensive line.

Week 1 – 39 yards, 2.6 yards per carry

Week 2 – 98 yards, 5.4 yards per carry

Week 3 – 159 yards, 4.8 yards per carry.

Stafford’s completion percentage has climbed week to week. Actually in the win over the Patriots he had less passing yards than the previous two games. But that’s a good thing, because he was able to depend on the run game. An ideal average for passing completion is at least 62 percent.

Week 1 – 58.7 percent, 286 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs

Week 2 – 64.2 percent, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT

Week 3 – 75 percent, 262 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Third-down conversions usually are a telling statistic. The Lions were dreadful on third downs in the opening loss to the Jets. They have improve steadily each week.

Week 1 – 3-of-13, 23 percent

Week 2 – 7 of 16, 44 percent

Week 3 – 7 of 14, 50 percent

Coach Matt Patricia enjoyed his first win as an NFL coach. He’s not counting on momentum to carry the Lions on Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2).

“It’s hard. You’d like to, you know, you’d obviously like to get that (momentum) you know if you could week in and week out, but I think each week is different in the NFL. I mean, it’s so hard, it’s different, it’s not the same every week, so you really almost have to reset every single week and you know, you grind it out, you play the game, you empty the tank, you come back in the next day and you start filling it back up and get ready for the next game,’’ Patricia said. “And that’s what we got to do every week. It’s just too hard.’’

Lions’ Kerryon Johnson breaks the 100-yard rushing mark in win over Patriots

Detroit’s last 100-yard rusher came in 2013

DETROIT — Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson was a sophomore in high school the last time the Lions featured a 100-yard rusher in a game.

That was Reggie Bush, who scampered for 117 yards at the Thanksgiving game on Nov. 28, 2013. That is a mighty long time ago.

Of course, Johnson knew the story and knew that many people were looking for him to break that obnoxious streak. In the win, he carried 16 times for 101 yards. His longest scamper was for 15 yards, so he had to work hard to reach that 100-yard mark.

“It’s a lot easier when you break a long one. But they’re a good team. They’re a good defense, they’re sound, they tackle, they don’t make many mistakes. So, we knew it was going to be a grind, but we were ready for it,’’ Johnson said. “We were ready for the grind and I’m going to say grind again. We grinded it out.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

In the two previous games (both losses), the Lions fell behind and had to abandon the run game in hopes of catching up. It was different against the Patriots — the Lions took an early lead and never relinquished it.

“I think this was our most physical game that we’ve played so far,’’ Johnson said. “We came out, we made a decision to run it downhill and our O-line got behind it, we got behind it, and that’s what we started to do. We came out and both of us, me and LG (LeGarrette Blount), were both running the ball downhill at the beginning and we just carried it through the whole game, 60 minutes.”

The Lions ran for a total of 159 rushing yards, more than in any one game last season.

Of course last season they didn’t have Johnson, who was a second-round draft pick.

“I think (Johnson) just does everything well. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a smart player, he’s got good vision. He’s a slippery runner. He’s got probably a little bit more strength than people give him credit for, a little bit more speed,’’ Matthew Stafford said. “It doesn’t maybe jump off the page to you but when he’s out there he’s really efficient and does some really nice things.”

Johnson’s break-through game didn’t really surprise coach Matt Patricia.

“You know, I think Kerryon did, a lot of what we saw coming out. You know, a lot of what we liked from him that definitely shows up,’’ Patricia said. “But I think all those guys, all the backs, work really hard and think they all have something a little bit different that they provide for us. So, you know, just good team win. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it’s all about.”

Five things to know about the Lions’ big upset win over the Patriots

Lions dominate, grab first win this season

DETROIT – With a 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night, the Lions pulled out their biggest win at Ford Field in a very long time.

Give the Lions players and coaches credit that after the 0-2 start to the season, they didn’t cave in, didn’t give up, they just kept on working getting ready to face their toughest opponent yet.

In fact, afterward coach Matt Patricia said the makings of the win started with a good week of practice.

“You go through the spring, you go through training camp, you go through preseason games. You go from the transition from preseason to regular season and just trying to get in-sync and get into a rhythm. All that helps,’’ Patricia said. “But honestly just give credit to the players. They did a great job this week in coming out and preparing and went out and executed at a high level.”

In the locker room afterward, the players gave the team ball to Patricia for his first NFL win as a head coach. Yet at the podium minutes later he kept tossing bouquets to the players.

In the second half, Lions fans were on the edge of their seats. Over the years, they had seen likely wins turn into losses. Different coaches, different players but many of the same results and excuses.

There were no excuses necessary on Sunday night.

“We did a good job of staying out of our own way,’’ said Marvin Jones Jr., who had four catches for 69 yards including a 33-yard touchdown reception.

Five things to note about the win:

1. Matthew Stafford was back. The quarterback’s play in the first six quarters of the season was head-scratchingly awful. He started improving in the second half at San Francisco a week ago and it continued through all four quarters on Sunday. Stafford was 27 of 36 for 262 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.9 rating. “It was a total team win, we have a lot to get better at, I can’t turn the ball over to start the third. That was a bad play by me but our guys are resilient and we battled and made some plays,’’ Stafford said.

2. The 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the third quarter gave the Lions a 20-10 cushion. The timing couldn’t have been better. Those points allowed the Lions’ offense to maintain a mix of run and pass. Jones wasn’t even Stafford’s first option on that call. “He was running, he was open. (He was) not really my No. 1, he came around the corner and he flashed to me,’’ Stafford said. “Man, he ran away from a really good player (cornerback Stephon Gilmore), I’m just glad out there pretty close to in stride, you can figure that out later and tell me if it was good enough for you guys.’’ That was a kindly dig at the media who criticized Stafford for not connecting with his deep receivers last week at the 49ers.

3. The Lions ran the ball for 159 yards (this is not a misprint), but the biggest news is that Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions 100-yard rusher in a game since Reggie Bush did so on Nov. 28, 2013. Johnson, the rookie, had 16 carries for 101 yards averaging 6.3 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, had 16 carries for 48 yards. “I think all of our backs played well. Theo (Riddick) in pass game did a nice job a couple times. Kerryon was really good running the ball. I thought LeGarrette was good running the ball,’’ Stafford said. “A ton of credit to our guys up front, man, that’s a defense that does not want you to run the football on them. We did it and I was happy to be a part of it.’’

4. The defense, playing without Ziggy Ansah and his wonky shoulder, forced the Patriots into three-and-outs on their first three possessions. The mighty Pats were held to 209 total yards — just 70 of them in the first half. Tom Brady’s numbers were pedestrian at best — 14 of 26, one touchdown, one interception and a 65.1 rating. LInebacker Eli Harold sacked Brady twice. Darius Slay came up with the huge interception on a second-and-8 play in the third quarter.

5. It was a win that could set the tone for the rest of the season. The Lions are now 1-2 and they have their problems but they now should have a good dose of confidence after beating the Patriots, a perennially elite bunch. “It was a total team win, we have a lot to get better at, I can’t turn the ball over to start the third. That was a bad play by me but our guys are resilient and we battled and made some plays,’’ Stafford said. “We’re a tough group, mentally tough. We have plenty of bad plays, bad throws, bad outcomes to a play, whatever it is. we’ve had them. We’re a tough group, we believe in each other, believe in what we’re doing.’’ Next up, at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) on Sunday.

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.