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.

Advertisements

Lions Matt Patricia offers insights on Golden Tate trade, moving forward

It will take a team effort to replace leading WR

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia said he was open with the team about the trade of Golden Tate to the Eagles. The Lions coach talked to his players before their first practice on Wednesday minus Tate, their leading receiver.

“The biggest point for me is to make sure everybody understands this also shows a lot of confidence in the people that are in that room,’’ Patricia said. “There are great players in that room and there are a lot of them. There’s a lot of guys who have opportunities to make plays and go out there and play at a high level. The biggest thing for us is we have to turn the page and be ready to go. If we spend all Wednesday talking about this, Minnesota is getting ready to kick the ball off at 1 o’clock on Sunday, whether we’re there or not. We better show up ready to go.’’

Patricia admitted it wasn’t an easy decision. Detroit got a third-round pick in exchange for giving away their leading receiver (44 catches, 517 yards, three touchdowns).

The Lions (3-4) are still in the thick of the NFC North race and face the Vikings (4-3-1) on Sunday in a big divisional game in Minnesota. Then the Lions had to Chicago (4-3)  on Nov. 11.

“The decisions are not easy. It’s more than just players, it’s relationships, it’s friendships, it’s working together for a long time,’’ Patricia said. “I talked to Golden at length yesterday, I talked to him last night. I wanted to make sure he was alright moving forward. I know he’s going to a good place with people who will take good care of him.’’

No one on the roster currently has the same talents as Tate has so it’s going to take some adjustment on the offense. Along with Marvin Jones Jr. (26 catches for 387 yards, five touchdowns) and Kenny Golladay (30 catches for 477 yards, three touchdowns), the other wide receivers on the roster are TJ Jones (3 catches, 36 yards) and rookie Brandon Powell who has only played on special teams. Running back Theo Riddick, who has missed two games with a knee injury, can line up in the slot.

“You never try to walk in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to replace this guy with this.’ It’s a team effort,’’ Patricia said. “It’s totally however we think scheme-wise what will help us win this week.  It might be different the next week and might be different the week after that. We have a lot of good players that can step up in different roles depending on how we decide it’s best to play this game.’’

General manager Bob Quinn may have made the call, but he worked with Patricia on the decision to trade Tate for a third-round pick.

“You have to work together with all those situations. There certainly is good conversation that goes on and it’s good to have that, it really is. You can get caught up either way to one side. You may make decisions that are more emotional than logical. At some point you’re trying to make the best logical decision that you can, that’s the important thing,’’ Patricia said.

“Football is great, there’s a lot of emotion in it, there’s a lot of emotion on game day, there’s a lot of emotion during the game when we work and the relationships are emotional. That’s what makes it so special,’’ Patricia said. “… There’s a huge emotional part of this when you’re running a business or need to make decisions for the greater good.’’

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer can’t be quite sure how to prepare for the Tate-less Lions.

“I think Golden is a heck of a football player, he’s definitely a great run-after-catch guy. He’s always giving us problems,’’ Zimmer said in a conference call on Wednesday morning. “It changes some of the things with our game plans. It’s part of the NFL everything changes all the time.’’