Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez parse through what matters from the preseason game at Ford Field on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.
Marvin Jones may be a tad stronger this year, and he’s definitely more comfortable in the Lions’ offense.
But if there’s one change quarterback Matthew Stafford has seen in his co-No. 1 receiver, it’s that Jones is doing a better job of “talking to the quarterback with (his) body language.”
“He’s doing a nice job of that,” Stafford said. “Putting that foot in the ground and getting right, that’s when I cut the ball loose. It’s not see a guy’s open and then throw it to them. It’s a football term, quarterback-receiver term. (He’s) just trying to talk to the quarterback.”
In Game 2 of the preseason Saturday, Jones wasn’t just talking to his quarterback, he was whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
Stafford led two scoring drives in three series against the New York Jets’ first-team defense and capped his day with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jones as the Lions stayed undefeated in exhibition play with a 16-6 win at Ford Field.
Jones caught a game-high four passes for 34 yards, and scored his first touchdown since last Oct. 16 with a beautiful toe-tap in the back of the end zone on a perfectly thrown fade route.
“He does a nice job with body control, man,” Stafford said. “His body control is pretty outrageous. By the sidelines he’s always got a knack for finding a way to get that last little foot in or whatever it is. He did it again tonight.”
The Lions need Jones to play at a more consistent level than he did last year if their offense is going to reach peak efficiency this fall.
Jones got off to a piping-hot start in 2016, with 482 yards receiving in his first four games, then had just 448 yards over the final three months of the season.
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On Saturday, he caught all four of his passes on the Lions’ lone touchdown drive and gave fans a glimpse of what the Lions offense can be this year.
“When I look at him and watch him practice, he’s better than he was a year ago,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s coming out of cuts better. He’s running better routes. But just like anything else, week to week everything changes.
“You could have Golden (Tate) have a big day one time, Marvin the next. It could be obviously someone else later on. So you don’t always see a situation where a guy will catch an inordinate number of passes on a consistent basis.”
Stafford completed 8 of 10 passes for 84 yards Saturday, running back Ameer Abdullah had four carries for 16 yards as he continues his return from Lisfranc surgery, and the Lions also got a dominant effort from their first-team defense.
Playing against a feeble Jets offense that started second-year backup Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, the Lions had two sacks, two near takeaways and allowed just two first downs in four series with their mostly first-team defense on the field.
Cornelius Washington, who made his first start at left end in place of the injured Kerry Hyder, sacked Hackenberg and forced a fumble that the Jets recovered on the third play of the game, and Glover Quin dropped an interception on a tipped pass on the Lions’ second defensive series.
Hackenberg finished 2 of 6 passing for 14 yards and did not complete a pass until early in the second quarter.
“We played very well,” Washington said. “There was a couple times where I know that I should have gotten off the ball a little harder, set the edge a little better. So I think we can improve in that area, just kind of setting the edge, playing a little more physical, little more tough at times. But other than that, I think we all played pretty well.”
The Lions played Saturday without their top two defensive ends – Hyder is out for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon last week and Ziggy Ansah remains on the physically unable to perform list with a leg injury – but got right guard T.J. Lang back for the first time this preseason.
Lang, who’s practiced intermittently this preseason as he recovers from January hip surgery, played three series on Saturday and was not available in the locker room for comment after the game.
“It’s kind of part of what we planned for him, just kind of working him along,” Caldwell said. “I did not see any glaring errors out there, but that guy, he knows how to play. He’s a really good player. It’s just a matter of making certain that he’s got his feet underneath him, and I think he does. He’ll play a little bit more next week.”
The Jets kicked two fourth-quarter field goals for their only points Saturday, while backup quarterbacks Jake Rudock (8-of-13 passing, 84) and Brad Kaaya (4-7, 38 yards) led field-goal drives for the Lions.
No. 3 receiver TJ Jones also left Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury for the Lions, who host the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots next week.
“Next week is going to give us another opportunity to see where we are and obviously, perennially they’ve been maybe the best team in the league, year in and year out,” Caldwell said. “So that’ll be a great test for us. We’re looking forward to that. It’ll be one because it’ll give you a lot of different looks to deal with. They’re very, very smart in what they do. They don’t make very many mistakes. And our guys are going to have to measure up to play well against them. And plus you’re not quite certain sometimes exactly what you’re going to get from them because they are multiple, both sides of the ball and in their kicking game. So that’ll be good for us.”
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@davebirkett.
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