Lions coach Matt Patricia addresses the media Monday in Allen Park after the team's 26-24 loss in Dallas. Detroit News beat writer Justin Rogers asked about the running back rotation after Kerryon Johnson got nine carries in the loss. Matt Schoch, The Detroit News
Arlington, Texas – Consider this a return of a former feature, repackaged to provide a second-day look at the Detroit Lions’ most recent game, in this case a 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
We’ll explore four topics from the game – from our locker room conversations, statistical deep dives and a second viewing of the contest – which didn’t make the overnight coverage.
Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson got his first start, which is appropriate given the way he’s performed to begin the year. And he validated the decision with a 32-yard run on the first offensive snap of the game. But after playing most of the first two series, Johnson’s playing time and offensive involvement were sparse through the remainder of the game.
He finished with just 20 snaps, behind Theo Riddick, who paced the rotation with 25 reps.
At this point, it’s abundantly clear that Johnson is Detroit’s best back. Sure, the team has to maintain a rotation. He’s simply not built to handle 30 carries every week for 16 weeks, and he acknowledged as much when chatting after the game, but nine carries and 10 touches is wasting his talent.
Johnson isn’t one to complain about his workload. He’s a high-character player who says and does the right things, which is part of his overall appeal. So I’ll say it for him: He needs more work. Clearly each game is different, and situations are going to arise that alter the game plan, but an unofficial target for Johnson, to maximize his talents while maintaining peak performance, should be 20 touches each week.
Justin Rogers and Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News talk about their takeaways from Sunday's crushing 26-24 loss. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
A day later and T.J. Lang’s latest concussion is still stomach turning. It’s never easy to see a player suffer a serious injury, but when it’s the brain, and you know this has been a recurring problem, it’s fair to worry about a player’s long-term health.
Ultimately, assuming he gets medical clearance, it will be up to Lang and his family to decide what’s next, but it doesn’t feel out of bounds to suggest retirement should be strongly considered after this season.
We’ve learned so much more about the impact of CTE, and there’s still so much we don’t understand. Lang has suffered, at the very least, five concussions during his pro career. Who knows how many others he might have played through.
He’s tough, I get that and respect it. But with a laundry list of other injuries on his resume -- including his foot, back, hip and knee – quality of life after football should be considered.
The Lions are likely to move on from Lang at season’s end, regardless of his personal decision. He's scheduled to have an $11.7 million cap hit in 2019, and even with how good he’s performed when healthy, that will be tough to justify.
A viable replacement doesn’t appear to be on the roster currently. Kenny Wiggins, a stopgap veteran backup, struggled mightily in Lang’s stead against the Cowboys, and Joe Dahl was a healthy scratch, once again. General manager Bob Quinn might be turning to the draft to find a fourth starting lineman in three years.
Speaking of the draft, Quinn appears to have found a good one in defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand. There was a lot not to like about Detroit’s defensive performance in Dallas, but the fourth-round pick out of Alabama continues to flash an impactful skill set that makes him a viable building block in coach Matt Patricia’s scheme.
Hand could stand to add some functional strength, which can be said for most rookies. That would help him hold his ground better against double-teams. But his ability to use his length and shed late as a run defender, while also showing some pass-rush ability from the inside, are promising traits.
His forced fumble, late in the fourth quarter, nearly won the game for the Lions.
At 1-3, the Lions are in a far-from-ideal spot after the first quarter of the season, but history suggests it’s not yet time to start making January vacation plans.
Since 1990, when the NFL expanded to its current, 12-team playoff format, 190 teams have started the year 1-3. Somewhat surprisingly, 28, nearly 15 percent, have gone on to make the postseason.
Obviously 2-2 would have been a little bit nicer, with 36.9 percent of those team’s making the playoffs.
The NFC North race ahead of the Lions is probably upside down from most observers’ preseason expectations. The Bears have jumped out to an early lead, moving to 3-1 on the year after dismantling the Bucs this weekend. The Packers sit at 2-1-1, while the Vikings, an early Super Bowl favorite, are just ahead of the Lions at 1-2-1.