After a gauntlet of some of the bigger names at the tight end position lately, the Lions will face an emerging star at the position Sunday in Oakland’s Darren Waller.
It looked before the season that this weekend the Raiders would provide a respite from big challenges at the position, following a run against Philadelphia's Zach Ertz, Kansas City's Travis Kelce, Green Bay's Jimmy Graham, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph and New York Giants' Evan Engram.
But Waller, the speedy, fourth-year man out of Georgia Tech, is anything but, with 46 catches for 496 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
“I mean, I can’t catch a break on these tight ends right now,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Certainly they’re doing a lot of things to get their better players the football, and he’s one of them. He’s been a guy that has produced. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Making matters more difficult is the injury status of safety Tracy Walker, who usually deals with the opposing tight ends.
In fact, Walker was covering Engram when he was injured, as linebacker Christian Jones was blocked into him. Patricia said Walker is day to day for a team that is already short at safety after trading Quandre Diggs to Seattle last week.
The Lions (3-3-1) have done reasonably well against the star tight ends, as none have eclipsed 100 yards. Kelce’s 85 receiving yards on Sept. 29 are the most any tight end has gotten against Detroit. And in seven games, tight end groups are averaging five catches for 63.6 yards per game with two total touchdowns.
Waller’s two best games, a 134-yard effort against Minnesota and a 126-yard outing against Green Bay, have come in losses.
“His feet are really good for a guy who’s 6-foot-6,” Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “His speed is excellent, he’s a big guy. I have a lot of respect for him as a blocker as well. He’s pretty tough and he goes in there, he throws his body in there.”
Leading up to his last game coaching in the RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell recalled on Tuesday a night 16 years ago in the Bay Area that he’ll never forget.
That’s when legendary Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre played one of the most memorable games in football history, one day after his father, Irvin, died of a heart attack in Mississippi.
With Bevell as his quarterbacks coach at 33 years old, Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns as the Packers trounced the Raiders, 41-7, on Dec. 22, 2003.
“He played out of his mind,” Bevell said. “It was like angels on the field helping us. That’s something I’ll never forget, the experience that we had. It was a hard weekend and an amazing game.”
The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas next year.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.