The Minnesota Vikings defense is no slouch, and they’ve given the Lions fits over the past few years. Prior to Sunday’s game, the Vikings had held the Lions to just 17.9 points per game in their past eight contests.
But Sunday—the Lions’ first game without Golden Tate—this Lions offense hit a new low.
The Lions came into Week 9 having scored at least 14 points in 25 straight games. Against the Vikings they scored just nine. Detroit finished with only 209 yards of total offense, their lowest output since 2015. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times—three more than he’s ever been sacked in a single game, which is quite amazing considering how many times Stafford has been sacked in his career.
The Lions averaged just 3.0 yards per play on Sunday. The last time they had that poor of offensive efficiency was 2010, a few years before the Lions brought Tate aboard.
It would be unfair to put all of the blame for Detroit’s lack of offense on missing Tate. Golden wouldn’t have helped a hapless offensive line against a dominating Vikings pass rush. Tate wouldn’t have prevented Matthew Stafford from making a mind-numbing lateral that ended up being returned for a defensive touchdown.
But it’s impossible to ignore that Tate would have made at least a noticeable difference in this game. Many of the 10 sacks that Stafford took were coverage sacks. Without his favorite check-down option, Stafford was left to hold onto the ball for far too long, and it killed this team’s offensive potency. Remember, this team was scoring the eighth-most points per drive heading into this game.
The Lions were also completely ineffective on third down, converting just four of 15 opportunities. That’s just 26.7 percent, as compared to their 42.4 percent conversion rate in the seven games prior. Guess who the Lions’ favorite third-down option was heading into Week 9:
Golden Tate wasn't necessarily "elite" at producing 1st downs (t-49th in '16, t-40th in '17), but he'd been the Lions' go-to on 3rd down. This season on 3rd:— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) November 2, 2018
Tate: 15 rec-198 yds (10 firsts)
M. Jones: 5-100
The Lions tried their best to use what they had in Tate’s spot. That mostly involved using running back Theo Riddick in the slot. While Riddick did manage seven catches on the day, he turned those into just 36 yards. Only one of those seven catches earned the Lions a first down—his very first catch of the game.
No one else on offense showed up to compensate for the loss, either. Kenny Golladay was invisible yet again, only drawing four targets and turning those into 46 yards receiving. Michael Roberts was targeted four times, but caught only one. The highly-promoted, slot receiver-in-the-making, “Swiss Army Knife” TJ Jones? Just two catches for 13 yards.
Credit where credit is due: The Vikings defense was a terror on Sunday. They flustered Matthew Stafford early and often, and, ultimately, that’s exactly how you beat this Lions team.
But on a day in which the Lions defense actually played well enough to give the Lions a chance to win, it’s hard not to think about what could have happened if Stafford had his favorite target still on the team.