Four Downs: Lions' Kenny Golladay inching toward greatness
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 31-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Great players in professional sports are defined by their ability to play at a high level consistently and make big plays when they matter most. While it’s not fair to tag Kenny Golladay with that kind of lofty standard quite yet, he’s certainly inching in that direction.
Despite Detroit have plenty of weapons to spread the ball to, Golladay has posted at least four receptions and 50 yards each week. He’s topped 70 yards four of five games and has a touchdown grab in three of the past four.
There’s a rapidly developing trust from quarterback Matthew Stafford. On third-and-long in the first quarter, Stafford went deep to Golladay, resulting in a touchdown that was ultimately nullified by a penalty. When the two connected deep again, it was essentially on a jump ball, where the quarterback trusted his receiver to go up and make the play. He did that and then some with a devastating stiff arm on Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the open field.
Stafford and Golladay also hooked up for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, squashing the Packers’ second-half momentum. It was on this play the subtle improvements to the receiver’s game came shining through, with a black-belt level release off the line of scrimmage, ripping past the jam attempt by the defensive back to get quick and easy separation.
Golladay has made impressive strides in so many small areas, from his releases off the line, to his blocking, to his ability to consistently high point the ball. Added up, you’re seeing the results.
Lions coach Matt Patricia warns Golladay has more unique coverage looks coming his way, so the continued mental growth will be the next stage in the receiver’s development, but so far, so good this season.
The Lions would unquestionably be better off with a healthy Ziggy Ansah, but the ability to score Romeo Okwara off waivers and essentially plug him into Ansah’s role has been a fortuitous bounce for the organization.
Because of a leaky secondary, Detroit's defense had to play a grueling 81 snaps against Green Bay. The most impressive number to come out of that was Okwara’s workload. NFL teams rotate their defensive linemen, aiming to keep the front fresh while trying to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. But Okwara barely left the field on Sunday, working a career-high 73 snaps.
And while he’s not Ansah, in terms of his ability to regularly impact the game, Okwara certainly had that kind of day against the Packers, recording two sacks, forcing a fumble, which the Lions recovered, and netting an intentional grounding with some pass-rush pressure, all while being steady against the run.
When Ansah returns, the combination of the two, with fresh legs, should make more a formidable strongside tandem.
When watching football, our tendency is to follow the ball, but it’s what happens away from the ball that often makes the difference with whether a play succeeds or fails.
When we think of wide receivers blocking, it’s typically on the perimeter, fending off a cornerback in space in hopes of springing an outside run. But against the Packers, the Lions got big blocks on the interior from the unlikely tandem of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, converting a pair of short-yardage runs.
Tate motioned inside and did a nice job getting leverage on the safety in the hole to clear enough room for running back LeGarrette Blount to score his second touchdown on Sunday. And Jones played a similar role in the fourth quarter, when Blount ran behind the lanky receiver’s block to convert a critical 3rd-and-1 to start the fourth quarter, leading to the Lions’ final touchdown.
The Lions entered Sunday’s game last in the league in red zone offense, converting just four of 12 trips inside the 20 into touchdowns. The team managed to flip that script against the Packers, going 4-for-4, bumping the season-long success rate up to 50 percentage.
The Packers handed one to the Lions, muffing a punt and giving Detroit possession at the 1-yard line. Golladay’s 60-yard catch in the first quarter made it first-and-goal from the 5, and Blount did the rest, powering across with two attempts.
On the other two, Stafford connected with open receivers in the back of the end zone. That’s notable because it’s a throw Stafford has sailed over his intended target at least three times earlier this season.