Allen Park — Lions wide receiver Golden Tate has played a critical role in the team's offensive improvement recently, scoring five touchdowns in the past four games.
As Tate has been scoring, though, he has been otherwise inefficient statistically. In those four games, he has an impressive 30 receptions but just 218 yards, a 7.3-yard average. His longest catch over that stretch went just 19 yards.
And really, this has been the case most of the season as he's averaging just 8.8 yards per reception, which would be the lowest mark by a significant margin.
Tate averaged 10.8 yards per catch as a rookie, 10.9 his second year and has been a much bigger factor since then, averaging 15.3 yards in 2012, 14 in 2013 and 13.4 in 2014, his first season with the Lions after four with the Seahawks.
"I used to be a deep threat in Seattle," he said. "I guess not so much anymore. I don't know why."
In each of his final two years with the Seahawks, Tate had 12 catches of 20-plus yards. In his first year with the Lions, Tate had 17 such plays.
This year, he has just six even though he has 82 receptions, which is already the second highest total of his career to the 99 he had in 2014.
"We're trying to get the ball in Golden's hands a lot," Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Sometimes that comes in shorter passes; sometimes that comes down the field."
Cooter explained that quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson have a history of connecting on deep passes, and the Lions are trying to exploit defenses that focus on stopping Johnson.
"Defenses sometimes overreact to that or really try to do everything in their power not to let you launch it down the field like that," Cooter said. "So to me, that's where Golden has such value. We get him the ball underneath; he makes a guy miss. I don't know when the last time the first guy ever tackled him, but he does a good job catching the ball, making a guy miss, making big catches on third down. There'll certainly come a time he'll get the ball down the field for sure."
The Lions, who hardly tested teams deep early in the year, have thrown passes 20-plus yards downfield to Tate just seven times this season and haven't connected on any of them, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson has caught nine of 26 such targets.
Tate had 13 targets of 20-plus yards in 2014 and caught seven of them, but the increased opportunities likely had to do with Johnson being hobbled.
Before Cooter addressed the media Thursday, Tate admitted Wednesday he was curious how the coach would explain his limited use downfield.
Although Tate said he's grateful to play with Johnson because opponents double-teaming Johnson creates opportunities for him, he said he didn't know if Johnson's presence limited his deep chances.
"It's just the way the plays work out," Tate said. "I'm still getting my touches and still making the best out of every ball that comes my way. That's all I can do."