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NOTEBOOK: Jones Jr. thriving as a deep threat for Lions

Posted Nov 8, 2017

Tim Twentyman covers all the news from Wednesday's practice including Marvin Jones Jr.'s performance, sticking with the run game and more.

Marvin Jones Jr. takes pride in being a complete receiver for the Detroit Lions. He’s proven he can play just about anywhere and be effective, whether he’s catching the ball on short routes, intermediate routes or down the field.

But it’s his downfield work that’s stood out through the recent tear he’s been on the last month. He leads the Lions in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns at the vertical pass level (20-plus yards downfield).

Only T.Y. Hilton (10) and Antonio Brown (8) have more 25-plus-yard receptions this year than Jones’ seven.

“He does a nice job of separating late,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said of Jones. “Whether that’s over the top or to a back shoulder, whatever it is. He does a nice job tracking the ball in the air and has great body control by the sideline and out of bounds."

Jones ranks among the NFL leaders in most downfield passing categories. His 17 targets are fourth most, his 257 yards ranks second and his three touchdowns from more than 20-yards out are third most.

That deep element has been important for the Lions' passing game. It’s not often that a touchdown or scoring drive doesn’t involve at least one chunk play. Jones is providing this offense with a lot of those chunk plays.

“It forces (a defense) to get a safety over the top, or you have to do something,” fellow Lions receiver Golden Tate said of Jones’ downfield ability. “I know the trust Marvin and Stafford has between each other is at an all-time high right now.

“I think when Stafford sees one-on-one or sees a good look, I think he gets excited. I think they both get excited.”

Jones spent this offseason working out and watching film with receiving legend Randy Moss, who was one of the best downfield threats this league has ever seen. Jones worked with Moss on ways to better separate, how to get in and out of breaks crisper and also strengthened his lower body and core to in an attempt to make more plays after the catch.

It all seems to be paying off during this current stretch Jones is on.

After averaging just two catches, 33 yards and a half touchdown over the first month of the season, Jones has averaged six catches, 96 yards and nearly a touchdown per game over Detroit’s last four contests. He's playing with a ton of confidence right now, and the Lions' offense is the beneficiary.

“It was a big thing of me getting in and out of my breaks and just being more quarterback friendly,” Jones said of the focus of those workouts and how it’s translated to the field this last month. “That’s showing up.

“They are trusting me to go down the field and Matt is throwing it where he needs to throw it, whether it be scramble drill or whatever. He’s making the throws and it’s just my job to come down with it. So, it’s been good.”

CLEVELAND’S THEO RIDDICK

There are only two running backs in the NFL with at least 150 receptions since the start of the 2015 season – Detroit’s Theo Riddick (162) and Cleveland’s Duke Johnson Jr. (150).

Over that same stretch, Johnson has 1,372 receiving yards to Riddick’s 1,334.

Johnson is Cleveland’s leading receiver in both catches and yards heading into Sunday’s game in Detroit with 34 receptions for 324 yards (9.0 average) with a score in nine games. He's also rushed 34 times for 176 yards. His pass-catching numbers are very comparable to Riddick's, who’s caught 29 passes for 266 yards (9.2) with a score in eight contests.

Like Riddick in Detroit, the Browns look to get Johnson in favorable one-on-one matchups and utilize his skillset as a receiver. It’s something the Lions will certainly scheme for on defense.

“Receiver type, but he can run the ball. Yeah, Theo Riddick is a good comparison,” Lions safety Glover Quin said Wednesday. “He’s a talented young man. I think he’s leading their team in receptions. So, they’re throwing him the ball.”

RUSHING OFFENSE

Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter remains dedicated to running the football, even if the results aren’t spectacular. The Lions ran the ball 33 times for just 64 yards (1.9 average) and passed it 33 times for 361 yards Monday night in Green Bay.

A case can be made that the latter was helped along by Cooter’s willingness to remain balanced and keep Green Bay’s defense on its toes by being stubborn with the run.

I'd expect more of the same this week vs. Cleveland, but don’t be surprised if the results look similar, too.

Last season, the Browns finished 31st in both total defense and rushing defense. Through nine weeks this year, the Browns rank ninth in total defense (313.5) and fourth in rushing defense (84.3).

The Browns have allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing in five of their last six games.

“They’re aggressive,” Caldwell said of Cleveland’s run defense. “They’re downhill. A lot of times you get some run stunts and things of that nature. They come after you pretty good.”