Tate: Lions must find their 'groove'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The Lions are 0-2 for the first time since 2010 and haven't lived up to their expectations.

With Denver (2-0) coming to Ford Field for a Sunday night matchup, the Lions are trying to figure out how to get on the winning track.

That includes the offense, which has struggled to find consistency in the first two games. After having just two catches on four targets in the opener, Calvin Johnson had 10 catches on 17 targets but only has one touchdown this season.

Golden Tate, appearing Tuesday on Matt Dery's afternoon show on 105.1 FM (WMGC), said the keys are getting Johnson back in a comfort zone and protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford.

"We have to start getting in a groove. We have to find a way to get in rhythm, let Stafford hit a few of those short passes and eventually hit a bomb to Calvin," Tate said. "We have to get Calvin more involved; that guy is too special not to have 100-yard games after 100-yard games."

Second glance: Lions aren't doing much deep thinking

Johnson's longest pass play in Sunday's loss to the Vikings was 18 yards. It's unclear whether defensive coverages or injuries to Stafford's arm and ribs might have played a role in the Lions' taking few shots down the field.

Stafford was punished on eight hits and one sack Sunday and underwent X-rays after the game, but has been with the team, and Tate indicated that they're counting on him to be ready for the Broncos game. The key, though, is keeping him protected, with Denver's DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller as two of the best pass rushers in the league.

Other teams have had their top quarterbacks injured and the Lions want to avoid joining that list.

"We have to keep that guy off the ground," Tate said. "There's only so many hits you can take as a QB and we've already seen early with (the Saints') Drew Brees and (the Cowboys') Tony Romo that you have to keep your QB up."

With Denver's pressure up front and as poorly as the Lions' offensive line has played, the strategy is clear, but Tate reiterated how important the front will be. The Lions were without tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is listed as the starter on the depth chart and could return this week, after being on the active roster but not playing against the Vikings.

"After the last two weeks, if I'm a defensive coordinator and I've seen the last two games, I am coming after Stafford all game, based on how much Stafford's been on the ground," Tate said. "We have to prepare to stop that."

As far as Tate's health, he said that he was battling a thigh bruise but he felt better and played through it on Sunday.