After a terrific start to the season that had some wondering if Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay could be a big breakout candidate in 2018, the second-year receiver out of Northern Illinois has hit a bit of a slow patch.
Golladay opened the season with a seven-catch, 114-yard performance against the New York Jets, and scored three touchdowns over the team's next four contests following that. Golladay had 41 targets, 27 receptions, 428 yards and four touchdowns over the first five games of the season.
But in Detroit's last three contests vs. Miami, Seattle and last week in Minnesota, Golladay has been targeted just seven times and has six combined catches for less than 100 yards and no scores.
"I feel like I'm doing an OK job, but like I said, I only had three catches last week," Golladay said. "Of course I want more catches than that, but at the same time, I just have to make sure I'm doing everything on my end."
Part of the reason for the decline in production has been defenses shifting coverage more Golladay's way. That's a byproduct of a fast start in this league. He's likely to continue seeing greater attention from defenses, especially with Golden Tate no longer on the roster.
"I'm sure (opponents) go into their week having No. 19 (Golladay) and No. 11 (Marvin Jones Jr.) highlighted," Golladay said. "So, just have to roll with it. You can only control what you can control, and that's what I go out there and do each day."
The Lions are attempting to replace the most productive receiver on this team, not just through the first seven games of this season, but for essentially the last four seasons, in Tate. Other players in that room need to step up, but that can't just be exclusive to the collection of players being tasked with trying to replace Tate in the slot. The two best receivers currently on this roster are Jones and Golladay. The offense needs more from those two, and especially more than they've gotten from Golladay over the last three games.
"I think we're always looking for chances to get our guys in good matchups in favorable matchups," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Try to let them go out there and win. Kenny is no different than any other guy on our team.
"Everyone is out there trying their best to get open and I'm doing my best to try and find them and get them the ball. I think we're always looking for opportunities and matchups in our offense."
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 342 yards. Right behind him is Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky with 302.
It's an area of his game the second-year quarterback has really taken advantage of this season, and an area where the Lions' defense knows they have to plan for and be fundamentally sound against.
"I guess you can compare him to a Russell Wilson," Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard said this week of Trubisky. "With his ability to run the ball and throw the ball. They are different players, but they have some similar characteristics."
That's pretty high praise of Trubisky's ability from the veteran Kennard. Trubisky is averaging 7.9 yards per rush this season.
"When he makes that decision where he does tuck the ball and turns himself into a running back, he's very dynamic with it," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said.
"He's an extremely good athlete, he's fast, he has good burst, and he also has a little bit of a suddenness to him where I think sometimes the defenders slow up and he has that acceleration to kind of get away from them. When he does that and the ball is tucked, he's more of a running back in that particular case."
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Though not all of the 10 sacks suffered by the Lions last week were the fault of the offensive line, they certainly deserve their fair share of the blame. Center Graham Glasgow said right after last week's game he was "embarrassed" by the performance.
The Lions entered last week's game among the NFL leaders with just 13 sacks allowed in seven games. So, is last week and anomaly, or a sign of things to come?
Patricia gave the group a vote of confidence this week.
"I like our offensive line a lot," he said. "These guys work extremely hard. The offensive line is a hard group to play in. My background with the o-line, I understand that, again, I think I've mentioned this before, when you try to see the game through the same set of eyes five different ways, it's not easy.
"But I would say our group works extremely hard every single day to get better and I think if you look at the overall picture of what we're talking about, this group has been one of the groups of our team that has gotten much better in the course of a year.
"(They) come to work every single day, grinding it out, trying to get better, really trying to learn the techniques and trying to improve, it's probably one of the best groups that we have that's trying to do that every single day."
Zach Zenner, who re-signed Tuesday with the Lions after the waiting period for his injury settlement ended, broke two vertebrae in his back in the Lions' exhibition finale back in August. The waiting period and his recovery of six weeks coincided nicely for Zenner, and it's worked out that he can rejoin the Lions roster this week.
Zenner remained in the Detroit area and rehabbed here after his settlement. He's expected to help give Detroit's special teams a boost, and be the team's No. 4 running back behind Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick.
"When I got healthy, that's when it got harder to watch (Lions games), because you feel like you can be out there playing and participating, or at least helping out during the week," Zenner said.
"There was some talk about (bringing me back after the settlement), but the thing is it's so long ago that you can have whatever intentions you want, but then eight weeks into the season, who knows what's going to be happening."
Zenner wondered after the injury if football was done with him, even though he knew he wasn't done with football. But it's worked out for Zenner to continue his football dreams, and hopefully he can play a role in the Lions getting back on track in the win column.