At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions face Raiders

ALLEN PARK — It’s not really going to be too sentimental for the Detroit Lions to play their final game against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. 

It’s been eight years since the Lions’ last visit. On that day — Dec. 18, 2011 — Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:59 to beat the Raiders 28-27. 

Stafford and long snapper Don Muhlbach are the only holdovers from the 2011 Lions’ bunch.

Today at 4 p.m. the Lions (3-3-1) will face the Raiders (3-4).

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller will pose challenges for the Lions defense which is ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 420.4 yards per game.

“Coach (Jon) Gruden is doing a great job with (Raiders General Manager) Mike Mayock putting a team together that has a good combination of young, very talented, explosive players combined with some veterans that are pretty savvy vets that are experienced guys in the NFL that I think are really bringing these young guys along at a high level,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

If the Lions (3-3-1), coming off a win over the Giants, hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, finding a way to beat the Oakland Raiders (3-4) who have lost two straight.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford needs to continue his stellar play. The Lions quarterback was fighting off a cold midweek, could barely talk above a whisper on Wednesday, but said he’d be fine by Sunday. Stafford has thrown 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts. Every game another guy steps up whether it’s Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson or Kenny Golladay.  Raiders coach Jon Gruden has the utmost respect for Stafford. “I think the big thing that Matt does a great job of is he protects the offense at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t get fooled often. If you blow a coverage, he shreds you. If he sees a blitz, he throws it to his hot receiver or he fixes it and changes the play,’’ Gruden said. “He’s sharp. His experience is very, very valuable to their success and, he plays with a really quick tempo. I mean he’s very fast mentally – forget about the arm talent, and all of the different plays and talented players they have – he’s just a very quick-minded player that doesn’t miss much.”

2. It would really help Stafford if the running game could do its part. It’s a tough challenge with Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve. That leaves Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic and Tra Carson (hamstring) who is questionable. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Raiders run defense has been solid.  “We’re going to need to be able to run the ball efficiently. They’re doing a great job up front. They’re not giving up explosive runs. They’re not giving up many yards,’’ Bevell said. “I think they’re one of the top in the league at doing that. So, I think that’s really where it starts for us, is to be able to find ways to run the football.”

3. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs could be a handful for the Lions’ rushing defense. Jacobs averages 5 yards per carry and has scored four rushing touchdowns. “Terrific player. Really, really powerful, breaks a lot of tackles. Makes a lot of yards you’d think he miss. A really stout, thick guy. They have a really, really nice core of running backs,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “Jalen Richards is really good out of the backfield, DeAndre Washington has got real speed. They present a lot of problems, they certainly do.” The Lions defense has allowed 130.7 rushing yards per game. 

4. The Lions’ secondary will be tested with quarterback Derek Carr who has completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. “He’s always been very accurate, and he’s always been able to get the ball out pretty quickly, but he just seems like he’s running the whole show. He seems very, very confident (and) very, very comfortable with it,’’ Pasqualoni said. “After a year in the system, he really looks on film to be very, very confident and playing very well.” Safety Tracy Walker (knee) is out so others will have to step up.

5. Finish the game like they did in 2011, if necessary. Last week in the 31-26 win over the Giants, the Lions scored what would be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Overall they’ve been outscored 70-44 in the fourth quarter of all seven games.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Raiders 27. (Just a hunch, that somehow the Lions will pull this out. Should be close — no blowout expected.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)