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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Defense shows improvement in win over Jaguars

Defensive end Trey Flowers had 20-20 vision – or better – on what the Detroit Lions' defense needed to do to improve.

Stop the run, Flowers said before the Lions went on their bye week, and the pass rush would improve.

The formula worked in Sunday's 34-16 road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Lions won the battle up front, holding the Jaguars to 44 yards rushing while rushing for 180 yards on their own led by a breakout performance by rookie D’Andre Swift.

The Lions sacked quarterback Gardner Minshew II only once – Flowers got him late in the first half and forced a fumble that the Lions recovered -- but they chased him around the field most of the afternoon, reducing his effectiveness.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at what Flowers said after the game. There's also a look at Swift's performance, with a telling comment from him about his misplay in the opening game. There's also a look ahead at next week's game in Atlanta, and why it's not the pushover that some projected, along with takeaways on offense, defense and special teams and what's trending.

We start with Flowers.

1. Affect the QB: It's not only the sacks that bother quarterbacks and disrupt timing in the passing game. It's also pressure, and the Lions had that on Minshew. He completed 25 of 44 passes and was on the run for much of the game.

"We knew it was a challenge," Flowers said in a Zoom interview. "We stood up to the challenge, from our practice and today.

"It definitely allowed us to control the game. Like I said in the past, if they can run the ball, why would they pass it?

"We got them one dimensional by stopping the run. Now we can pin our ears back as a defensive front and do a lot of different things. We didn't get the sacks, but just having him (Minshew) focusing on the rush, he was probably throwing the ball faster than he wanted.

"That's still affecting the quarterback."

2. Swift returns: Swift didn't get down on himself after dropping what would have been the game-winning pass in the end zone in the opening-game loss to the Bears.

He didn't feel like he was getting redemption with Sunday's performance – 116 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

"I know that I'm not that player," Swift said. "I'm showing everybody else that.

"I know that."

Swift had 13 receptions and 12 carries in the first four games. He had 14 carries Sunday.

Head coach Matt Patricia didn't give any indication in his postgame press conference that Swift has played his way into a bigger role. He didn't have to. His performance speaks for that.

3. Unthinkable: That's the word that comes to mind on what it would have been like had the Lions lost to a Jacksonville team that was 1-4, with four straight losses, going into Sunday's game.

There is certain to be some skepticism over the quality of a win over the Jaguars. But it's better to have skepticism over a win than the reaction to a loss.

4. Look ahead: Next up for the Lions is Sunday's road game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons were 0-5 before Sunday's win over the Vikings, so why worry about the Falcons?

Here's why: Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four TDs.

5. Takeaways, offense:

  • The Lions had to rotate offensive linemen Sunday, as they did regularly last season, but not quite to the extent they did Sunday when all eight linemen were used. There was a payoff: No sacks allowed, and 189 yards rushing.
  • Control: The Lions had it, largely because of the run game. They had a 70-61 advantage in plays, and 35:57 to 24:03 in possession time. Running the ball keeps the clock ticking.
  • T.J. Hockenson highlight: He scored his third TD of the season on a one-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He had three TD catches all of last season.

6. Takeaways, defense:

  • Stats squeeze, quarterback: Minshew went into the game with an average completion rate of 69.9 percent for the season, and an average of 287.8 yards per game. Against the Lions, he completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 243 yards.
  • Obviously, there's a difference between the two teams, but the defense did play better than it did in its last game against the Saints, especially against the run. The Lions gave up 29 first downs to the Saints – 13 rushing, 15 passing and one on a penalty. They cut that to 16 against the Jaguars – three rushing, 11 passing and two by penalty.
  • One more comparison to the Saints game. They scored touchdowns on five straight possessions. The Jaguars did not score on consecutive possessions – touchdowns or field goals.

7. Takeaways, special teams.

  • Looking at his net average of 25.0 yards, punter Jack Fox had his first bad game. In reality, he was a victim of the situation. He had two punts -- for 50 yards on the Lions' last play of the first half, and 40 yards on their next-to-last possession. Both punts went into the end zone for touchbacks. That deducts 40 yards from his gross of 90 yards, leaving him a net average of 25.0.
  • Matt Prater was wide on a 57-yard field goal attempt, but made his other two from 31 and 41 yards. His only three misses this year have been from longer than 50 yards.

8. Trending:

  • Up: Run game for the offense, stopping the run for the defense.
  • Down: Heat and humidity. Two of the Lions' starting offensive linemen had to leave the game in the first half because of dehydration.
  • Even: Wide receiver Kenny Golladay. He had touchdown catches in his first two games – against the Cardinals and Saints. He didn't make it to the end zone against the Jaguars, but he had four catches on six targets for 105 yards and a long catch of 48 yards.

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