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Katzenstein: Lions' play-calling appears puzzling

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Golden Tate had two catches for 41 yards the first four plays against the Patriots.

Then, he stood on the sideline the next two plays, and the Lions had to settle for a 48-yard field goal.

Anyone who wants to blame first-year offensive Joe Lombardi for the repeated offensive struggles received plenty of fuel after the 34-9 loss to the Patriots. Game after game, Lombardi and the Lions coaches take their best players — Tate and Calvin Johnson — off the field and wastes plays.

Blaming Lombardi for all the problems is shortsighted, of course.

■ Matthew Stafford has completed 58.8 percent of his passes, 28th in the NFL.

■ The line has allowed 33 sacks, tied for fifth most.

The running game avarges 80.8 yards, 30th in the league.

And, as the Lions showed against the Patriots, their receivers are still prone to drops.

For anyone who's watched the Lions, this list should be incredibly frustrating: Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Roddy White, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Cecil Shorts, Allen Hurns and Charles Johnson.

Those are the 24 receivers who played a higher percentage of their team's snaps than Tate and Johnson did against the Patriots. Tate played 72 of 80 snaps (90 percent), and Johnson 64 (80 percent).

The deployment of Tate and Johnson — or lack thereof — against the Patriots was a symptom of a season-long problem that has plagued the Lions offense. Coach Jim Caldwell and Lombardi are so convinced mixing personnel gives them an advantage that they waste several plays by having their best playermakers on the sideline.

Johnson has been dealing with an ankle injury most of the year, so giving him the occasional breather makes sense. But the Lions started subbing him out in the first quarter, which doesn't make sense against a Patriots team that had scored 27 or more six straight games.

Tate — who has played 85.6 percent of snaps this year — is healthy, so there's absolutely no reason for the coaches to give him plays off. The only possible explanation is he struggles blocking.

Plus, when Tate is out, it's effectively a dead giveaway the Lions are going to run. Tate came out the fifth play of the game at the New England 34, and Detroit handed to Joique Bell, who gained 3 yards. Tate stayed on the sideline the next play, and Johnson joined him, and Bell gained 1 yard.

Yet, Caldwell didn't need much time to explain his level of concern with the predictability of the offense.

"Not worried at all," he said Monday.

He should be worried. The Lions are 28th in the NFL, averaging 17.9 points.

Around the NFC North

■ The Packers (8-3) played a close game, and proved they could win, beating the Vikings, 24-21. Though the score was close, Aaron Rodgers continued his dominant run, going 19-for-29 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He has 30 touchdowns and three interceptions this year.

■ The Vikings (4-7) defense played well, but asking Teddy Bridgewater to put up more than 24 points looks like an impossible task right now.

■ The Bears (5-6) won their second consecutive game, 21-13 over the Bucaaners. Jay Cutler was brutal, but better than Josh McCown, who continues to prove his performance in Chicago last year was a fluke.

Around the NFL

■ There's no reason to waste words on Odell Beckham Jr.'s indescribable one-handed touchdown catch for the Giants against the Cowboys.

But it's worth noting how solid LSU rookies have done this year: Beckham has 41 catches for 609 yards and five touchdowns, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry has 49 catches for 450 yards and five touchdowns, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill has 643 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger has shown promise.

■ Too many people wrote off the 49ers, who have won three straight to improve to 7-4 and are thriving on defense.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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