Five things to watch as Lions host Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Turn the page, it’s been the Lions’ motto of this short week after the loss at Green Bay on Monday night.

While fans still lament the blunders from the officials in that game, the team has moved on. That’s been coach Matt Patricia’s message and the players have apparently bought in. They couldn’t even stick to the 24-hour rule —- there was no time for that.

Matthew Stafford said that by Tuesday morning he had moved onto the Minnesota Vikings who will play the Lions at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Vikings (4-2) are second the NFC North to Green Bay (5-1), while the Lions (2-2-1) are in the basement. Is there time left for the Lions to climb up the ladder? Yes, but not much. A win on Sunday would be huge. A loss would not mean the end of playoff hopes, but would certainly diminish them.

Five things to watch as the Lions play the Vikings: 

1. The Lions have to finish games. They have outscored opponents, 69-46, in first half action but have only scored 46 second-half points while opponents have scored 69. The fourth quarter is a standout ‚ they’ve been outscored 49-31 in the final stanza in the first five games. “We understand there are a lot of factors that go into closing out a game. Some of it happens earlier in the game, some of it happens later,’’ Patricia said. “That’s part of the process right now of trying to improve as a football team, is identifying some areas we think we can get better at. For us, that’s part of the work. That’s part of the improvement. … We have to stay dialed in and we have to make sure we finish it the right way, both coaching and playing, and I think everybody knows that.”

2. Perhaps you’ve heard this before, the Lions run game is too anemic. Detroit’s rushing game had its lowest output of the season at Lambeau with 56 rushing yards on 20 carries. “I think that we need to give credit to Green Bay. They did a nice job in some of the areas, but then I think it ultimately falls – it’s always going to come back to us and how we’re handling things,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “It kind of goes back to what I talked about a couple weeks ago in terms of – in the run game you have to really be on point. We were close on some of those runs. We just had either a guy falling off a block or just other issues where we were really one guy away again, and like I said, it’s happening too much. We have to get that corrected.” Kerryon Johnson had 13 carries for 34 yards against the Pack.

3. The offensive line needs to protect Stafford. Last year the Vikings sacked him 10 times in the Week 9 loss and twice in the Week 16 loss. “Obviously, they have a unique pressure system that is pretty good. But at the same time if they just want to rush four, they’re pretty good at that, too,’’ Stafford said. “They’ve got talent and scheme, which makes them a difficult out.”

4. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins may have gotten off to a slow start, but in the last two games — wins over the Giants and Eagles — he’s thrown six touchdown passes against just one interception. “He’s doing a really good job with decision making. I think he’s really trying to get the ball to his go-to players in just critical situations where I think they are very calculated plays,’’ Patricia said. “Give credit to Coach Stefanski (Vikings offensive coordinator) and the game plans that he set up. I think he’s doing an awesome job getting the run game going, letting the line of scrimmage kind of get going, take over up front. I think he’s using the tight ends really well. I would say (Kyle) Rudolph is in a little bit of a different role than he’s been in the past, but with the addition of Irv Smith and some of the things that he’s able to do, they are putting defenses in a lot more of a bind. … I think they’re giving plays to Kirk Cousins that are plays that he knows where the ball is going to go right now. He can get the ball out very quick, the decision making is very fast. When you balance that off with a consistent run game, I think that’s what you’re seeing that offense, or why you’re seeing that offense be so productive.”

5. It’s been a short week and while the players appear to have turned the page, they are only human. Deep inside it would only be normal if they’re still incensed about the bad calls against them. Will they come out angry and zeroed in? Or not. It should be clear early in the game. Patricia said he won’t know for sure about their mindsets until Sunday. He knows what he saw after the heart-breaking loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago. I’ll say this, in the game last week, I thought we were focused on that game. I thought the guys were trying to go out and compete hard in that game. Everything I would say, up to this point, about our team, I would say our team knows that,’’ Patricia said. “They’re mentally tough to do that and I anticipate our team doing that. Just doing everything they can to go play. We’ll see how Sunday turns out from that standpoint. We have to go play the game, but I think we’ll be out there fighting really hard. I love standing up in front of that group every single day knowing the mental toughness and the drive and the competitiveness that the team has to go try to win every week – it’s great for a coach because you can just put everything into it for them.”

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 17 (Expect the Lions to be focused, but Minnesota tough to handle.)

Lions Matthew Stafford ‘playing outstanding’ despite 2 straight losses

Vikings’ game crucial in NFC North race

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford needs 87 yards to reach the 40,000- yard mark for his career.

Against the Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field, he’d be perfectly happy to pass for 86 yards if the Lions could pick up the win against the NFC North opponent.

That’s the kind of quarterback Stafford is and has been since he arrived in Detroit.

The Lions (2-2-1) are coming off losses to Kansas City and Green Bay, so this game is crucial to their chances of making the playoffs. 

With the officiating blunders in the Packers game, Stafford and the Lions have said they’re turned the page and their focus is solely on the Vikings not on what could have been on Monday night.

“The one nice thing about playing Monday night and going into a Sunday is that you lose that game on Monday night, the quicker you get to go out on the field and change that last outcome,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “We’re doing everything we can to get prepared. Obviously, a little bit behind the eight-ball time-wise, but our guys did a great job today coming in and trying to lock down the early stuff that we have to get going and get ready for the game.”

Let’s be honest, it’d be difficult for Stafford to pass for less than 87 yards, especially the way he’s been playing. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and his only two interceptions in the first five games were in the win over the Chargers.

 “I think Stafford is playing outstanding. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen him,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call. “He’s throwing the ball into a lot of tight windows, he’s pulling the trigger, he’s still scrambling like he has. I feel like he’s making the right reads, getting the ball out quick. Obviously, they have some outstanding receivers. I think (T.J.) Hockenson is a really, really good tight end. The receivers they have are really good. They are running the football some. They have play-actions, they have the quick throws, they have the shots down the field. (The offense) looks really good to me.”

If Stafford can reach 87 passing yards within his next four games, he will top his friend Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (151 games) for the fewest games needed to produce 40,000 passing yards in NFL history.

“I think when you step back and look at stuff like that, I think it’s just pretty amazing. I think it goes to his resiliency and his drive and his competitiveness that he shows every single day,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “To be honest with you, we were just having a conversation and comparing some notes on Minnesota – it just takes me back a minute every single time that he and I have those conversations of just how hard this guy works, how competitive he is, how much he wants to win, how much he just continually leads this team. That’s why you hear something like that or a stat like that and you’re like, ‘It’s super impressive, and it’s super amazing,’ but I also kind of step back, and I look at it and I go, ‘Yeah, that’s about right,’ because that’s just who the guy is. I think he’s just that driven. That’s pretty cool.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)