MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: What we learned from Week 12

Posted Nov 28, 2017

Mike O'Hara takes a look at what we learned from Week 12 of the 2017 season.

Head coach Jim Caldwell’s isn’t blind to what’s happening in the playoff race, or to what other teams do that makes an impact on the Detroit Lions.

But while Caldwell opened the window on his awareness of the race with his comments in his press conference Monday, he closed off any notion that the focus for him or his team is anywhere but on the next opponent.

What we learned Monday is that knowing what other teams do isn’t the same as getting distracted by it.

We also added a chapter to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr.’s pledge to improve over last season, how special teams and offensive balance can help the team and other issues.

Regarding the Lions’ playoff chances, they took a severe hit on Thanksgiving Day with a loss to the Vikings that dropped their won-loss record to 6-5. The Lions are out – for now -- of the top six teams in the NFC that would qualify for at least a wild card berth.

“We have an understanding of what’s going on around us, and all those kind of things,” Caldwell said. “We can read. We understand. We can calculate. But I think our focus has to remain narrow. I think that’s the best thing for us.

“So the next game is the most important one.”

Jones keeping up: Marvin Jones Jr. has continued his steady play to the point where he might join an elite group of receivers in franchise history.

He had six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. It gave him five TD catches in the last four games, and his second game in that span with two TD catches.

With eight TD catches for the season, Jones trails league leader DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans, who had nine before Monday night’s game against the Ravens. 

Jones is in the running to be only the fourth Lion in NFL history to lead the NFL in TD catches.

The three Lions who have done it are Cloyce Box, with 15 TD catches in a 12-game season in 1952; Terry Barr, with 13 in a 14-game season in 1963; and Calvin Johnson, with 12 for the 0-16 Lions in 2008.

“He had his eyes set on improving the things that he could control, in terms of route running – things of that nature – and understanding of the system,” Caldwell said. “When he came back, you could tell there was a little different crispness to his routes.”

Special teams: Kicker Matt Prater and rookie returner Jamal Agnew aren’t the only ones who have made this unit special. The Lions blocked two kicks against the Vikings. A’Shawn Robinson blocked Minnesota’s first extra-point attempt. Later in the game, Jeremiah Ledbetter blocked a 53-yard field-goal attempt.

Offensive balance: It can do wonders for a team’s offense and its quarterback. The Vikings had a double helping of offense on Thanksgiving. They had 136 yards rushing and 11 first downs, and 282 yards passing and 14 first downs. 

Manpower advantage: Whether it’s too many players on the field or too few, a mistake by the defense can lead to big plays by the offense. The Vikings completed a touchdown pass when the Lions had 10 men on defense. Later in the game, the Lions took advantage of a free play when the Vikings had 12 men on defense. The result: A 43-yard TD pass to Marvin Jones Jr.

Expect the unexpected: That’s not a new thought, but it was proven again on the Vikings’ second touchdown when quarterback Case Keenum ran nine yards for a touchdown on first and goal. It was a play the Vikings had not shown before with Keenum at quarterback. They saved it for the right moment.