Detroit Lions: Five key moments from 2019 season

It’s over. The Lions’ 3-12-1 record this season was the worst since 2009 when they went 2-14 in Jim Schwartz’s first season trying to bring the franchise back from the infamous 0-16 season.

This season started with promise. Much was expected of the defense, especially the defensive line.

With a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell, the offense was a bit of an unknown. While the Lions had plenty of issues, the offense wasn’t one of them while Matthew Stafford was healthy.

Five key moments from the season:

1. When Matthew Stafford got crunched in the 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 3 it changed everything. Stafford, who had started 136 straight games, broke bones in his back and missed the final eight games of the season. Backup QB Jeff Driskel started three games before he was injured. Then rookie David Blough started the final five games. When Stafford went out the Lions were 3-3-1. Without him, they didn’t win another game. He wasn’t the only injured player — there were plenty — but his absence was the most consequential.

2. The fourth-quarter loss to Packers on Oct. 14. The Lions led 22-13 heading into the fourth and then Green Bay’s Allen Lazard caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers with 7:31 left. The Lions could get nothing going when they got the ball back and were forced to punt. Green Bay’s Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game with two seconds left on the clock.  It was a gut punch. A win would have given the Lions a 3-1-1 record. Instead they fell to 2-2-1 and could never recover. Oddly enough Crosby’s field goal with time running out on Sunday at Ford Field, gave the Packers a 23-20 win. Green Bay never led in those two games until the field goals.

3. The 34-30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field was back in Week 4 but could have shifted the momentum of the season to the Lions’ favor. Again, the Lions led 30-27 with two minutes left but the defense allowed a rushing touchdown that proved to be the game winner. Sense a trend? These Lions were horrid in the fourth quarter on offense and defense. In seven games they held fourth-quarter leads and lost.

4. Safety Quandre Diggs, who had struggled a bit early in the season, was traded to Seattle on Oct. 22. Diggs, who was voted a captain by his teammates, was a leader in the locker room and popular with players on offense too. Yes, the NFL is a business. But the timing of a trade like this was suspect. The Lions were 2-3-1. Lions players were careful to watch their words when speaking of the deal, but it’s clear it was a blow to the defense. This is a trade that could be made by the Patriots without anyone blinking an eye. Once the Lions have won six Super Bowls, maybe that would be the case in Detroit. But not now. The Lions went 1-9 after the Diggs’ trade.

5. Owner Martha Firestone Ford announced on Dec. 17 that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia would return for a third season. She expects the team to be a playoff contender in 2020. This deadline of sorts could definitely affect how they approach free agency and the draft. Mrs. Ford is running out of patience (and who can blame her). The expectations are now clear.

BONUS: Kerryon Johnson played in the first six games before injuring his ankle in the home loss to the Vikings on Oct. 20 and was placed on injured reserve. He was off to a solid start with 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns after missing the final four games of the 2018 season. He came back for the final two games and scored a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Paired with Bo Scarbrough (who emerged after Johnson went on IR) they could be the one-two punch the Lions so desperately need in the run game for next year. There’s always next year.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face N.Y. Giants at Ford Field

After three straight losses, the Lions face a must-win situation when they face the New York Giants on Sunday at Ford Field.

Must-win in October? Absolutely.

The Lions (2-3-1)  are in the NFC North basement, with two straight division losses. Also they hit the road for the next two weeks — at Oakland on Nov. 3 and at Chicago on Nov. 10.

The Giants (2-5) have won just as many games as the Lions. Think about that.

“We have a big challenge in front of us. I think this is a really good Giants team and I think they’re building confidence as the season goes, and certainly they create a lot of problems on both sides of the ball,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Offensively, they have some skill players that are just so dangerous, starting obviously with the running back (Saquon) Barkley and the tight end position (Evan) Engram – when you watch him more and more, his speed is really a major issue – especially, down there with a size matchup and stuff. Defensively, the packages that they mix and the pressures, and things like that they are bringing down in the red (zone) area are really hard …’’

Five things to watch:

1. Detroit’s defensive line must play better, get some pressure on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Damon “Snacks” Harrison took the blame for the poor play of the defense this week, but it is not just him. Communication and technique are issues that certainly can be fixed, the question is how quickly can this defense turn around. It is ranked 31st overall (allowing 428.7 yards per game.) Patricia is a defensive specialist which makes this all the more surprising. Mike Daniels (foot) remains out, but Da’Shawn Hand is expected to play his first game this season.

2. The Lions secondary will be forced to make adjustments with Darius Slay (hamstring) sidelined and the trade of starting safety Quandre Diggs. Look for Tavon Wilson, along with rookie Will Harris and, possibly C.J. Moore, to see more snaps. Diggs was a leader on and off the field, so his presence will be missed all-around. Patricia mentioned that Miles Killebrew, who mostly plays special teams, could get involved in the defense. They must contain Golden Tate, former Lions’ wide receiver. You can bet Tate will be looking to have a great game. Patricia noted this week that he’s one of the toughest guys in the NFL to tackle. 

3. The Giants’ rookie quarterback Daniel Jones could cause real problems. He’s young so he’ll make mistakes. His stat line of six touchdown passes against seven interceptions is hardly impressive. Still, he should be taken seriously. Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni on Jones: “He’s very, very athletic, he has a very strong arm, he can make all the throws. He can do some real damage – he can do some real damage scrambling and running out of the pocket. They are running the zone-read play. He did do that against Tampa and had one heck of a nice run in the red zone for a touchdown. He’s a really, really, really good player, and I think it’s just he’s a little bit young and trying to get used to playing quarterback in the pocket with the speed and the violence of the game in the NFL.”

4. Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense has been solid but will be challenged without running back Kerryon Johnson who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic will pick up the slack. Maybe fullback Nick Bawden could get more involved too. Johnson has almost half of the team’s rushing yards — 308 out of 619 — and both of the Lions’ rushing touchdowns. He also ranks sixth in receiving yards with 126. The Diggs trade took much of the spotlight off the bad news regarding the run game which has struggled at times with Johnson healthy. He’s a big loss and coordinator Darrell Bevell must come up with a way to compensate and in a hurry.

5. The fourth-quarter letdowns must end. The Lions have been outscored 38-16 in the fourth quarters of the last three games, all losses. 

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Giants 24 (No excuses, the Lions have to find a way to win this home game.)

Detroit Lions Matt Patricia looks to youth to replace safety Quandre Diggs

ALLEN PARK — Coach Matt Patricia said despite the trade of starting safety Quandre Diggs the Lions’ goals remain the same for the final 10 games of the season.

That starts Sunday against the N.Y. Giants at Ford Field.

Certainly, those decisions are very difficult. They’re not taken lightly. There are certainly things that we try to do to help the team get better in the long run for us, and certainly in a situation where we think moving forward hopefully, we have some players that can still help us, even if we do make a move like we did yesterday’’ Patricia said at his Wednesday press conference.

Diggs, a former sixth-round draft pick, was shipped to the Seattle Seahawks along with a seventh-round pick for a fifth-round pick in 2020.

The Lions’ goals have not changed, Patricia said they want to win every week.

“I think those guys in the back end have all been working really hard and developing, and some of those guys have had to really play in the last couple of weeks, and in some of those bigger games that we’ve had so far this year,’’ Patricia said on Wednesday. “Will Harris is someone that’s has to step into some roles, Tracy Walker plays more for us in some of those roles, Tavon Wilson who has been a good solid player for us for a long time. 

“C.J. Moore, you’ll see him, he’s been mixed out there actually in some of these games, too in some other aspects. We have some depth too, with guys that have played for us in the past – (Miles) Killebrew would be another one. With those guys, they’ll continually push to get better, and they understand that maybe they have to take on maybe a little bit more work load or job responsibility. They’re good with that challenge, they’ll accept that challenge and kind of go forward from there.”

So far this season Tracy Walker has started all six games; Tavon Wilson who had started three games and played in all six.

The trade shows the Lions have faith in rookie Will Harris, a third-round pick, who has played in every game.

Killebrew who plays almost exclusively on special teams has played sporadically on defense in his four seasons with the Lions.

Moore, a rookie, has played just five snaps on defense in the first six games, contributing mostly on special teams.

Being a young NFL safety has its challenges. This is where the coaches need to step up.

“I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge for us. Especially as we go through the season and we’re starting to see different looks or multiple looks from teams, and especially good quarterbacks and good offensive schemes, just the experience part of it,’’ Patricia said. “Those guys are going to have to catch up on that stuff really quickly. The good thing for us is Tracy (Walker) played in a lot of critical situations last year. He played in those maybe situations that you don’t have an opportunity during the game to talk about, they happen, and you have to react to them. His ability to be able to communicate with the less experienced guys that are on the field at that time, and certainly Tavon is someone that has great experience playing this game and can see some those situations happen pretty quick.’’

Diggs had played in 65 regular season games and was very much a student of football growing up watching his brother Quentin Jammer, who played for the San Diego chargers. 

Replacing Diggs in midstream will certainly have its challenges.