Lions observations: From elation to deflation
The Detroit Lions' 2018 regular season started off with a promising bang.
Then it quickly turned into a disaster.
Coach Matt Patricia's debut under the national spotlight turned out to be quite the roller coaster ride Monday night against the New York Jets at Ford Field — with the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between.
Here are some observations from Detroit’s season opener:
■ Running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson — two key contributors last season and two former second-round picks — were among the seven inactives for the Lions. Both were healthy scratches.
Abullah’s benching signaled he’s the odd man out in the crowded backfield rotation, which includes rookie Kerryon Johnson, bruiser LeGarrette Blount and pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick in addition to fullback Nick Bellore.
Robinson’s absence meant Lions only rolled with five defensive linemen: Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder on the edges, and Ricky Jean Francois, Sylvester Williams and Da’Shawn Hand in the middle.
■ The Lions are still waiting for all those investments in the run game to pay off. Blount was the first running back on the field and his first carry — in an I-formation — went for minus-7 yards.
Johnson didn’t receive his first snap till the second quarter and saw plenty of work in his first offensive series. He ripped off runs of five and eight yards on his first two carries and showed his versatility as an option in the passing game with two catches for 14 yards.
Despite Johnson’s flashes, the run game as a whole continued to struggle and racked up just 18 yards on nine carries in the first half.
The offensive line was equally awful in pass protection, allowing Stafford to get pummeled in the second and third quarters.
■ The curtain was finally lifted on Patricia’s defensive scheme, which mixed up looks early and often. Ansah, Williams and Francois all started up front with linebacker Devon Kennard also lining up on the left edge.
During third downs early on, the Lions also utilized two down linemen with Hyder and Ansah coupled with Kennard and linebacker Jarrad Davis up on the line. That front was able to get home to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold on New York’s second drive, resulting in an 8-yard sack by Ansah.
Overall, though, the defense wasn’t able to generate much pressure in key situations and allowed the Jets to convert 6 of 9 third downs in the first half, lowlighted by Darnold’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson.
■ The Lions were bit by the injury bug with Darius Slay, Stafford, Ansah and Blount all getting dinged up.
In the first quarter, Slay was a victim of friendly fire and took an inadvertent shot to the head from Ansah during a tackle. Slay briefly exited and was evaluated for a concussion. He was eventually cleared and returned to the field on the next series.
In the second quarter, Ansah exited with a shoulder injury and wasn't on sideline after halftime, while Stafford was left limping and favoring his left leg after an offensive lineman was driven back into him.
In the third quarter, Blount exited with an injury when his left leg got caught under him when he was being tackled. One play later, Stafford went down again after being sandwiched by two Jets defensive linemen.
■ Second-year receiver Kenny Golladay appears poised to play a much larger role on offense this season. He reeled in five catches for 88 yards on eight targets before the game completely fell off the rails in the third quarter.
Golladay also made a key play in the first half when he rocked Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson after an interception, forcing a fumble that he ended up recovering to keep a promising drive alive.
■ Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s play calling on third downs in the first half didn’t exactly please the Ford Field faithful. On the Lions’ first drive, they ran a draw with running back Theo Riddick on a third-and-17 at their own 15-yard line. Then on a third-and-15 at the Jets’ 38, Stafford threw a quick pass to Golden Tate that netted just one yard.
The Lions converted just 1 of 6 third downs in the first half.
■ Detroit's special teams wasn't excluded in the debacle, giving up punt returns of 43 and 78 yards to Andre Roberts, who scored a touchdown on the latter. Kicker Matt Prater also missed two field goal attempts from 55 and 44 yards.