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.’’

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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.

Lions without Ziggy Ansah against Patriots; Darius Slay active

Ameer Abdullah sits for third straight game

DETROIT — Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) will not play against the Patriots tonight. The Lions defensive end had been listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. It’s the second straight game Ansah has missed.

(Kickoff is 8:20 p.m. on NBC.)

Also missing from the defensive line will be defensive tackle Kerry Hyder who has not been on the injury report.

Cornerback Darius Slay, who suffered a concussion last Sunday, will be back on the field against the New England Patriots tonight. Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m.

Slay practiced on Friday after sitting out earlier in the week.His presence could be huge for the LIons’ chances against Tom Brady and the Patriots who are coming off a loss at Jacksonville.

Tight end Michael Roberts (knee), who was limited in practice on Friday, is out tonight. Roberts caught his first NFL touchdown last Sunday.

Other inactives for the Lions: Running back Ameer Abdullah, wide receiver Brandon Powell and guard Joe Dahl. Abdullah has been inactive for all three games this season.

Right guard T.J. Lang will play after sitting out last week with a back injury.

Linebacker Eli Harold (hip) and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (ankle), were listed as questionable on the Lions’ injury report on Friday, but are active tonight.

Left tackle Taylor Decker didn’t practice Friday but it wasn’t injury related. He will start tonight.

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.

Wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was traded to New England this week, is inactive.

 

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.

Lions Matthew Stafford, receivers look to get back their deep ball connection

Deep ball has been big part of offense in the past

ALLEN PARK — All eyes are always on the quarterback.

With the Lions 0-2 and Matthew Stafford not looking like his usual efficient self, the quarterback and the offense don’t look close to panicked.

Stafford, who has passed for 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, has decent numbers in the opening losses. But on Sunday at San Francisco he overthrew four long passes. It’s not like him to miss on all of those.

Stafford and the offense need to perform better when they face the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

“I think I just have to throw it to where they can catch it. It’s as simple as that, right? Just have to make sure I give them a chance,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “There were some going back to last year where I probably didn’t throw the perfect ball but either Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) or Kenny (Golladay) or GT (Golden Tate) or whoever it was went up and made a great play, right? And that’s part of it, too. I have to make sure I give those guys chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them.”

Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., and Golden Tate said they will continue to work on connecting with Stafford. Oh, and it’s not all on Stafford.

“I think we all could have done something better — better releases, better route running. I have confidence that from here on we’ll complete more of those, it’s kind of what we’ve done best over the years I think,’’ Tate said on Thursday. “It’s going up to get those 50-50 balls and executing explosives that’s one thing we take a lot of pride on it. That’s something I expect us to be better at.’’

They worked on it at practice this week just like they always do.

“Obviously, we were the best last year on that. But it’s a new year, and we have to keep working on that, and we’ll get it done,’’ Jones said this week. “We just have to continue to work on it. And the more we work on it, the better we’ll get at it.”

Stafford had zero interceptions in Week 2 after four picks in the opening game. Throwing too deep is usually safer than not throwing deep enough.

“Less bad is going to happen if you’re overshooting it, but less good as well. It’s a fine line. I’d love to just hit them all in stride, that’d be great,’’ Stafford said. “That’s what I plan on doing. But if it doesn’t happen, then our guys have to go up there and protect it if it’s short. A chance to make a play but make sure nothing bad happens. And I have to try to do my best to make sure that I’m giving them chances.”

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. After two games Stafford is ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 633. Nothing wrong with that.

The Lions’ offense in two games has averaged 383 yards per game. The passing offense (314.5 yards per game) ranked sixth in the NFL while the rushing defense averaged 68.5 yards per game and is 30th in the NFL.That last statistic is a bit misleading since the Lions were so far behind in both games, they had to stick to the pass in hopes of catching up.

One noticeable improvement is the Lions are gaining an average of 4.2 yards per carry which is tied for 12th in the NFL. In 2017 that average — a key stat to explain the anemic run game — was 3.4 yards per carry, the worst in the NFL.

No one seemed too worried about this offense with the return of coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. However, in the opening two games the execution has come up short.

New England’s defense isn’t all of that, but the Patriots have this habit of figuring out a way to win.

Lions Glover Quin on facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and getting ‘D’ in gear

Lions looking for first win

ALLEN PARK –  When he played in Houston, safety Glover Quin faced New England’s Tom Brady often.

So when the two line up at Ford Field on Sunday night, it won’t be a first.

The Lions (0-2) are looking for their first win this season while the Patriots (1-1) are coming off a loss at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Lions’ defense is adjusting to a new scheme under first-year coach Matt Patricia, formerly New England’s defensive coordinator. The relationship could add a little drama to the nationally televised game, although both coaches are down-playing it.

Three thoughts from Quin:

1. Quin, who is 32, said he is fine physically yet in the first two games, he looked just a bit off on his timing. He says it’s mental. The defense is learning a new scheme and has to adjust to react quickly. No time for thinking. “When they say games are won or lost by ‘this much’ it’s literally true. Having to think and then go, opposed to just going is the difference in making a pass break-up and making an interception, or making an interception and giving up a catch. Or, being one step closer and making a tackle or being one step farther and missing a tackle is literally just like that,’’ Quin said, snapping his fingers. That said, he knows the team has to get its act together quickly, it can’t be patient while getting used to new methods. “Hopefully Sunday we’re all on board ready to roll,’’ Quin said.

2. It’s not unusual for the Patriots and Tom Brady to take a few games into the season to get warmed up. “I’ve faced Tom Brady a few times. Throughout the years he’s always been a good tough competitor. It’s always fun playing against him. (He’s) very fiery,’’ Quin said. “When you’re playing him in New England it’s a lot funnier, it’s quiet so you can hear him when he’s going off on his O-linemen and his wide receivers telling them to move and stuff.

“But he’s made some amazing throws, some amazing plays and he’s a great quarterback. I got a ton of games where I played him from earlier in my career when I was in Houston in the AFC — playing him in the regular season, playing him in the playoffs. Since I’ve been here we’ve played once in the regular season and I think we played them twice in the preseason. Last year they jumped out on us like 20-something at halftime,’’ said Quin. It was the third game of the preseason (the dress rehearsal) and the Patriots, who started Brady, jumped out to a 24-0 lead and won 30-28. Quin’s only preseason interception in his 10-year career came courtesy of Brady in that game.

3. Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is third all-time in touchdown catches by a tight end (70) in the NFL, scored one touchdown in the opener and none in the loss at Jacksonville in Week 2. Gronkowski, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with an ankle injury, has nine receptions, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. He is always a handful. “We’ve got to all recognize where he’s at, we’ve got to all be tuned into what we’re doing,’’ Quin said. “He’s been with Tom (Brady) for a lot of years so they have a good rapport on the field. They play really well together. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s faster than people think — he runs kind of weird but he moves, he moves fast. He’s not real shifty, you don’t have to be when you’re that big. He has big strong hands, great hands, great body control, when you’re got a guy that big, I don’t know if you guys realize, when you go against a guy show’s 6-6, 260-however (268) big he is. Those guys are big, it’s like guarding Ziggy (Ansah). And he can catch, great ball skills. And Tom trusts him, when you trust a guy you have to go to him.’’

Lions training camp: Five thoughts from veteran RB LeGarrette Blount

Blount has won 3 Super Bowl rings in last 4 seasons

ALLEN PARK >> If you’re expecting LeGarrette Blount to be the savior, to resurrect a Lions’ run game that has been dormant for too long, take a deep breath and step back.

Blount, who is 31, should provide a boost to the Lions’ run game which was the worst in the NFL last year. However, he will just be one factor.

Much emphasis has been placed on running the ball effectively, including signing Blount who has won three Super Bowl rings in the past four seasons. Last year with the Eagles and twice with the Patriots. Last season he had 173 carries for 766 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

His work ethic and straight-forward approach seem to fit right in with coach Matt Patricia who knew him from their Patriot days together.

Blount was asked on Wednesday if the run unit was going to work to develop swag and he provided the perfect answer: “We’re going to worry about the swag later. We’re going to worry about football right now.”

Here are five thoughts from Blount:

1. He’s serious about being serious. He’s not going to boast about the run game potential at this point one week into camp. “It’s early. We’ve only done drills against each other like we’ve been doing the entire offseason. It’s pretty tough to gauge at this point,’’ Blount said. “We’ll just continue to work hard, we’ll continue to grind, fix all the mistakes that we have, pay attention to all the details we have and do everything we can to improve the running game and our play of offense all together.’’

2. Patricia demands physicality and has placed a huge emphasis on it through drills at camp. “You practice being more physical, you practice hitting more, you practicing tackling live, you practice getting in situations where you have no choice but to play downhill and either make a stop or make a play. We’re continuing to try to get better with everything, all aspects of the game,’’ Blount said.

3. While he is starting his ninth NFL season, he is working beside Kerryon Johnson, a rookie with potential. “He’s a good runner, he’s a really good runner. He does a lot of things well, he does a lot of things exceptional,’’ Blount said. “He can catch the ball, he can run the ball, he has great vision, he picks up on the offense well. He’s going to be a good player, he’s a good part of our team.’’

4.  Age isn’t probably his favorite topic, but he sad he feels great and doesn’t think he is slowing down. He makes sure to take care of his body.. His offseason program hasn’t really changed much. “Work out, run, lift and eat,’’ he said with a hearty laugh. It appears to be working. In the last five seasons he has missed just four games (all in 2015).

5. Blount has played with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Carson Wentz in recent years. He doesn’t see himself as a quarterback evaluator since he’s never played the position, but thinks highly of Matthew Stafford. “I think Stafford is a great quarterback, he’s been doing wonderful things over the course of his career. A lot of amazing games, a lot of comebacks, he’s done a lot of good things in this league,’’ Blount said. “He’s somebody that I definitely have a lot of confidence in , that can do what we need him to do, we have a lot of confidence in him to make sure our offense is running smoothly.’’