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Lions looking to put the big play back in the offense

The Detroit Lions and New England Patriots got together Monday for the first of three scheduled joint practices at the Lions' practice facility in Allen Park.

The practice featured 1-on-1 drills, team periods, special teams work and situational periods.

In 1-on-1 drills early in practice, the Lions wide receivers were pitted against the Patriots cornerbacks. Detroit made a statement right out of the gate. The first rep was a deep completion down the right sideline from quarterback Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay with Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore in coverage.

The very next rep saw Marvin Jones Jr. matched up with Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty. Again the Lions went for the home-run ball along the right numbers and again they completed it.

Golladay made another big catch down the left sideline later in a 7-on-7 period, and Jones got behind the Patriots' defense in a team period.

New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said earlier this offseason he wanted to be explosive in the passing game.

“When we throw the ball, we want to be able to throw it down the field and get big plays,” he said.

So far in camp we’ve seen that.

The Lions have two receivers in Golladay and Jones with a history of being able to make plays down the field, and it’s something both have been showing off over the first two weeks of camp.

The Lions struggled a bit last year with the deep ball. Stafford’s passer rating of 76.8 on balls thrown 21 yards or more in the air ranked 21st in the league. The 17 passes completed ranked 20th. Stafford’s completion percentage of 34.7 on those throws ranked 17th, and his three touchdowns ranked 25th.

It was a little head scratching because Detroit was only a year removed from being one of the best downfield passing teams in the NFL in in 2017. Their 119.7 passer rating on deep balls that year was tops in the league. Their 29 completions and 10 touchdowns were both the second most, and their 47.5 completion percentage ranked third.

For whatever reason last year those numbers declined sharply. Stafford dealt with some injuries, Jones played only nine games due to a knee injury, and wide receiver Golden Tate was traded midseason. Whatever the reason, the big plays in the passing game simply weren’t there.

So far in training camp, they have been.

“We like to go up and get it, there’s no question about it,” Jones said after Monday’s practice. “We definitely love what’s going on right now. We’re just using this camp to take it day by day. Get more in tune with the offense day by day and some good things will come out of it.”

View photos from Day 10 of Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage.

Jones has been a consistent downfield threat for the Lions over the last three seasons. His 16.8 average yards per catch are tops in the NFL among receivers who’ve played at least 20 games over that span.

Golladay’s 15.2 yards per reception last year ranked in the top 20 in the NFL. He was one of only five players in the league last season to record 70-or-more receptions, average at least 15.1 yards per reception, and record five touchdowns.

“Me and Marv love going deep,” Golladay said. “But if we need to go underneath, and you know, make a huge third-down conversion, we’re going to do that as well. But as far as the deep shots, we’ve got to make those count.”

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