It’s no secret the Lions have struggled to stop the run this year. The film is out there, and in a copycat league like the NFL, opponents will continue to try and grind the ball on the ground against Detroit until they prove they can stop it.
Veteran defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. tried to take a lot of the blame this week for Detroit’s struggles against the run, but the reality is it’s been an 11-man problem on defense for the Lions. It’s going to take all 11 players to be better with their run fits and tackling to fix the problem.
Detroit currently ranks 28th in the NFL against the run, allowing 139.2 yards per game.
It certainly doesn’t get any easier this week with New York Giants second-year running back Saquon Barkley coming to town.
Barkley missed three games this year with a high-ankle sprain, but he’s healthy now and looking to do damage at Ford Field Sunday. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the year, and is one of the true elite backs in the league.
“He’s an outstanding back,” Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “They’re doing a really fine job of running the ball. They are very, very efficient. They’re averaging over 100 yards – about a 105 a game.
“(Barkley’s) difficult to tackle. He can hit any gap. So if he runs the ball to the far right, guys are on the left, you still have to understand there is a point of attack and that ball could end up back to the left. So we just have to do a really good job fundamentally. Technique-wise, it always comes down to that. We have to do a good job tackling.”
The Giants will try to get the ball into Barkley’s hands both handing it off to him and throwing to him. He caught 91 passes last season and has 14 catches in four games this year.
Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Barkley is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and trails only Christian McCaffrey (2,888) and Ezekiel Elliott (2,779) in total scrimmage yards with 2,419.
The Giants have watched the Lions film this year and will come out trying to establish Barkley and their run game in hopes of setting the tempo controlling the game on the ground.
Detroit knows it’s coming, but can they stop it? Can they fix what’s been ailing them defensively against the run and force New York out of their game?
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has always had a laser focus of looking at the season one week at a time. But after three straight losses, and now trailing Green Bay by four games in the win column and Minnesota by three games, even Stafford knows there’s a point when getting too far behind makes it too hard to claw back.
“Every week when you step out there, it’s go win the game,” Stafford said. “We work long hours and extremely hard to go out there and win. We don’t go out there just to play well or get close, we want to win the game. As the deeper the season gets, the more important they come.”
The Lions still have 10 games remaining, which is a lot of football to be played, but Minnesota is currently the six seed in the NFC playoffs at 5-2. Detroit’s record is at 2-3-1. They can’t afford to drop too much more behind those teams vying for the playoffs in the NFC.
Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate were teammates at the receiver position in Detroit for two and a half seasons before Tate was traded to Philadelphia midway through last season.
In 2017, the duo became just the third pair of Lions teammates since 2006 to each record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Jones had 1,101 that year and Tate had 1,003.
Tate signed with the Giants in free agency this offseason, and is set to make his return to Detroit Sunday for the first time since being traded last year.
“I can’t wait to see him, man. It’ll be fun,” Jones said.
The two have stayed in contact since Tate was traded to Philadelphia. In fact, Jones says they live about 15 minutes away from each other in the offseason in San Diego.
While Jones has seen Tate since he left, it will be the first time a lot of his former teammates get to catch up. It will also be the first time Lions fans have to watch their defense try to tackle Tate since his days in Seattle.
Tate made a living in Detroit as one of the league’s best run-after-the-catch players. Lions head coach Matt Patricia still sees that as Tate’s biggest threat.
“He has got to be one of the toughest guys in the NFL to tackle,” Patricia said. “His ability to make guys miss, and he’s so smooth with the ball that really that’s a major issue, and he’s returning punts which is probably the only thing that’s maybe majorly different from us.”
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.