Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff ranks among the NFL leaders in a number of different categories through the first month of the season as he's arguably playing some of the best football of his career. One area in particular that stands out is Goff's ability to hit on the big plays.
Goff leads all NFL quarterbacks with a 146.8 passer rating on attempts that travel at least 21 yards in the air. He's 7-for-11 on those throws with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 18 completions of 20-plus yards are the second most in the league behind only Minnesota's Kirk Cousins. His four touchdown passes on the season of 20-plus yards is also second.
Detroit's ability to run the football (ranked No. 10 in rushing offense) and protect Goff upfront with one of the best offensive lines certainly plays a factor in Goff's success as a deep-ball thrower so far, but he's also seeing the field so well and knowing when and where those opportunities will be. When they arise, he's not missing on them very often. It's been big for a Lions' offense that ranks No. 8 in overall offense and passing offense and gives opposing defenses just another layer they have to prepare for and try to stop.
Goff has those numbers throwing the ball down the field through Detroit's first four games without arguably the team's top deep threat in second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams, who had his gambling suspension reduced from six games to four this week and is eligible to return for Sunday's game vs. Carolina.
"Yeah, he adds (speed). I think he adds a hell of a lot more than that. He can do a lot of different things, but yeah, it's just getting him the deep throws," Goff said of Williams' return. "I've got to make throws in the space and we're 3-1 and been pretty good on offense without him and hopefully he can take us to the next level."
This has been a balanced offensive attack in Detroit through the first quarter of the season that can pressure a defense in a lot of different ways with the deep passing game a legitimate threat.
The Lions held an open competition all offseason and in training camp to find their place kicker for this season and in the end Riley Patterson emerged victorious.
He's rewarded the Lions' faith in him so far with a perfect start to the season. Patterson is 5-for-5 on his field goal attempts and 13-for-13 on extra point tries.
"Yeah, he's been solid," Lions special teams coach Dave Fipp said Thursday. "We're obviously happy with the way he's played. I think the whole operation also around him has done a real nice job. The snaps have been really good, the holds have been outstanding, and he's done a good job.
"The protection – I didn't think the protection was great early on, but thought it's improved. It hasn't been a problem, but I thought it's improved. So, I think the whole operation's done a good job. Certainly, he's done a very good job."
The one test remaining for Patterson is when he's asked to step back from 50-plus and make some kicks. His longest field goal attempt on the year is just 38 yards and he isn't known to have a big leg.
What is the next step offensive coordinator Ben Johnson wants to see from rookie tight end Sam LaPorta?
"He needs to keep up what he's doing to be quite honest with you," Johnson said. "I mean, we're putting him into some challenging situations and he's coming through in a good way, positive way for us, so we'll continue to work him. We don't go into a week feeling like we have to cap him in any capacity. He's able to do everything we're asking out of that position room, and we feel really good about his progress right now."
Johnson and the Lions should feel pretty good about LaPorta's production through his first four games as a professional. LaPorta ranks first in receiving yards (242), first in receiving yards after contact (64), second in YAC (yards after catch) (107), tied for second in receiving first downs (11), third in receptions (22) and third in longest reception (45t).