Five things to watch: Lions at Jaguars

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

For one team, it’ll be a week of relief and a glimmer of hope. For the other, it could be a harbinger of another season going down the tubes.

Sunday’s matchup between the Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars is anything but a game of the week, but whichever team loses could find itself on the road to a rebuild. The first part of the season hasn’t gone right for either team, but both coaches are looking for a lifeline to try to save their season.

The Lions (1-3) have been disappointing this season, with a string of losses after building double-digit leads. The Jaguars (1-4) had an encouraging opening win over the Indianapolis Colts, but haven’t been able to build on that victory, with losses to some of the dregs of the league.

It’s not that Lions coach Matt Patricia is feeling any pressure about his job being on the line with a loss to the Jaguars. When asked about whether there’s been enough time to gauge his worthiness as a coach, Patricia didn’t answer directly.

Job security is tenuous in the NFL, especially when a team has struggled to put wins together.

“I think I’ve probably hit this multiple times in the past. For us, every week, we’re just trying to go out and compete and win and do everything that we can to get better,” Patricia said Friday. “We come in and we do our job. That’s what we do. I don’t think you get into anything other than that, and you don’t ride that wave. You just try to go out and do the best you can that week.”

The Lions have played some of their best football in the first quarters of games this season; they’ll need another strong effort to solidify a win, even against the struggling Jaguars.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday (1:00 p.m., Fox/760):

1. Four quarters

The Lions have outscored their opponents, 34-20, in the first quarters of games this season. They’ve also outscored each opponent in the fourth quarter, besides the Chicago Bears in the opener, where they gave up three touchdowns in the loss. Sustaining their momentum in the middle quarters and being able to put teams away when they have them down seems to be the bugaboo. There is no such thing as scoring too many points, but the Lions’ defense can’t hold on forever — and although they’ve faced some quality quarterbacks, there’s no denying that they can do more to capitalize on their early leads and maybe bend, but not break, on defense.

2. Rush week

The Jaguars’ offense ranks 26th in the league in rushing yards and their defense is 26th against the run. Although the Lions been better on the ground this season, they haven’t had a breakout game with their rushing game, with Adrian Peterson getting a bigger piece of the pie. Peterson missed a practice this week because of a non-COVID illness but he’s set to go and the offensive line should be able to manage against what looks to be an overmatched Jaguars defensive front. The Lions have the league’s worst run defense, so whichever team gets going on the ground could have an advantage.

3.  Stafford’s TD

During his career, quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown a touchdown pass against every team — except the Jaguars. He’s looking to break that string and get the air game on track. Rookie cornerback C.J. Henderson is still getting his legs under him and like Lions rookie Jeff Okudah, he can be vulnerable. Jacksonville’s pass defense (29th) is more miserable as the run defense, so if the Lions can get clicking on offense, they could have a clear advantage.

4. Getting off the field

The Lions haven’t been able to make the plays on defense to help stop drives and turn momentum. They’ve allowed teams to convert 47 percent of third downs (22-of-47) and 4-of-5 on fourth downs. Against the Saints, it was 10-of-12 on third down, which is crushing for a defense to have to stay on the field for extended drives. The Lions have been good themselves on third down (42.6 percent) but more of those have been out of necessity in having to stay in games.

5. Sense of urgency

 Although the coaching staff won’t address it directly, there could be some concern about their job status — and that would only increase with another loss. After the Jaguars, the Lions face the Atlanta Falcons (0-5). One would only wonder what a loss in either game would portend. Two wins would put the Lions back to .500 and conceivably back in the playoff race. That’s the thinking the Lions will have to focus on, rather than the alternative.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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