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NOTEBOOK: How will offense perform on third down without Tate?

There are a number of keys to success Sunday for the Detroit Lions if they want to secure a victory in Minnesota, stay undefeated within the NFC North and creep back to the .500 mark at the midway point of their season.

Containing the Vikings' run game, keeping a talented Vikings' defensive front off Matthew Stafford, and winning the turnover battle are just a few of them.

Another interesting one this week will be how the Lions' offense performs on third down. Entering this contest, Detroit is 12th in the NFL converting on third down 42.3 percent of the time. But this will be the first game without their best weapon on third down this season, wide receiver Golden Tate.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has 36 completions on third down this year for a completion percentage of 60 percent and a passer rating of 93.3.

However, 15 of those 36 completions, or a little more than 40 percent, were completed to Tate. Tate's 15 grabs on third down through his first seven games were the sixth most among all receivers in the NFL this season.

Tate was clearly Stafford's security blanket on third down, something all quarterbacks seem to have. It's Adam Thielen for Kirk Cousins, Julio Jones for Matt Ryan and Davante Adams for Aaron Rodgers.

So, with his security blanket on third down now in Philadelphia, who will be Stafford's go-to guy on football's most crucial down?

"I think everybody," Stafford said this week. "I don't think it's one man's job to step in.

"I think it's just on everybody. We've got a lot weapons. We still have a ton of guys on offense that can make big plays for us. They do it probably a different way than he did it, but I still think we can be very successful in what we want to do."

How good Detroit can be on third down will be something to watch Sunday against a Vikings' defense that is No. 1 in the NFL on third down, allowing a first down just 25.5 percent of the time.


If there's one area that's probably underperformed the most through the first seven games for the Lions, it's their special teams units. After being one of the better units in football last season, for whatever reason, it's an area where they haven't really been able to get on track so far this year.

Place kicker Matt Prater has been good, but the Lions haven't gotten enough out of their punting game, or both of their coverage and return units.

Veteran safety and core special teamer Charles Washington prefers to look at the situation as glass half full instead of half empty.

"Coaches are fighting hard for us and we're fighting hard to be a top special teams team," he said. "It isn't too late."

Penalties have been one of the big issues this season on special teams, negating big returns and affecting field position on both sides. The Lions have 45 penalties as a team this year. Of those, 11 are on special teams. The special teams penalties ranks among the most in the NFL.

That's something that can be cleaned up with better technique and fundamentals. Washington is hopeful the Lions can fix some of those small details that have affected them on special teams, and turn special teams into a strength the remainder of the season.

"There's a lot of football left," Washington said. "Once you look at the schedule, look at the games, there's a lot of time to get things flipped around. What we've done in the past, we know we can correct it, and that's the beauty of it."


The Lions aren't going to disclose the game plan they've developed to try and contain Thielen, who has eight straight 100-yard receiving games to start the year and leads the league with 925 receiving yards.

Will they put Darius Slay on him? When Thielen's in the slot – which he is roughly 62 percent of the time – will they keep it status quo with new nickel cornerback Nevin Lawson on him?

If Lawson does see some time covering Thielen, the fifth-year cornerback is looking forward to the challenge.

"It's definitely a good challenge for me, if I get to go against him," Lawson said. "Just to be able to compete against that guy should be exciting. He's one of the best receivers, and the recognition that he has, it'll definitely be a great and exciting matchup for me."

It's one of those potential matchups for Lawson that can say a lot about where he is as a player and where he's headed.

Teams are completing just 52 percent of the passes they throw Lawson's way this season, which ranks in the top 10 in the NFL. However, the 15.8 average per attempt he's given up on those completions is the 18th highest among all cornerbacks.

When and if Lawson finds himself on Thielen Sunday, it will be a matchup to keep an eye on.

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