Lions Neglecting Kenny Golladay, Plain And Simple

It's about time they make a correction.

Will Burchfield
November 08, 2018 - 4:39 pm

© Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

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One game? It happens. Two? Okay, fine. But three is no longer excusable, not when Kenny Golladay is your most dangerous receiver, not when he's a threat to break a big play anytime the ball is launched in his direction. 

But that's where Golladay stands at the moment, having been targeted four times or fewer in each of the past three games. He's tumbled from 11th in the league in receiving to 27th in that span. What looked like a breakout season just last month has come screeching to a halt. 

"Just the flow of the game," Golladay said on Wednesday. "When my number’s called I try to make the most of the plays. I just gotta be ready. You never know when your number’s gonna be called." 

It hasn't been called nearly enough of late. In fact, the Lions' usage of Golladay the past few weeks borders on neglect. Of the NFL's top 25 receivers this season, Golladay is the only one -- the only one -- who's seen four targets or fewer in three straight games. His seven targets in this stretch are the fewest of any top-40 receiver in any three-game stretch this season. 

Yes, the Lions like to spread the ball around. It's something Jim Bob Cooter has trumpeted since taking over as offensive coordinator midway through the 2015 season. It prevents defenses from keying on one receiver, the way teams used to with Calvin Johnson, and allows different players to shine each week. 

The spotlight was on Golladay the first two games of the season, when he turned 21 targets into 13 catches, 203 yards and a touchdown. It was around Week 3, he said, that defenses began to pay him more attention. So the Lions started looking elsewhere on offense. No problem. Problem is, they've rarely looked back. And they've snuffed out the momentum of a rising star in the process.

"I feel like I'm doing an okay job," Golladay said of his play this season, striking a notably different tone than the one he was a month ago. "But I only had, what, like three catches last week? Of course I want more catches than that. At the same time I, just gotta make sure I'm doing everything on my end." 

Back to those top 25 receivers. They're racked up an average of 74 targets. Golladay is stuck at 48. That's a deviation from the mean far too extreme to justify, other than to say his team has done him a disservice. 

So he hasn't been open as much recently? He's 6'4, 215 pounds. He's always open. 

So he plays in an offense with two other elite receivers? Not anymore. Golden Tate is gone. 

So receivers of his type naturally rack up more yards on fewer targets? That's exactly the point. Golladay's a big play waiting to happen. Had he qualified among the league leaders last season, his 17.0 yards per reception would have ranked fourth in the NFL. 

With Tate out of the picture, there's no longer a reason -- an excuse, really -- for Golladay to experience such craters in usage. He and Marvin Jones should see the most targets in this offense the rest of the season, and it really shouldn't be close. ​Will Tate's departure make things more difficult? You bet. Golladay acknowledged that opposing teams have "No. 19 and No. 11 highlighted" now. 

But the Lions need to highlight No. 19 too. 

That starts with Cooter and it extends to Matthew Stafford, who not so long ago had no problem letting a certain receiver of Golladay's skillset go up and get it. (Alas, Golladay's likeness to Megatron has spawned one of the worst nicknames ever.) Cooter, it seems, has beaten those type of throws out of Stafford, mostly for the better. The quarterback set career lows in picks each of the last two seasons. 

But there's value in taking risks, particularly when Golladay is on the other end of the equation. Between his size, speed and strength -- oh, his hands, too -- he's one of the more difficult receivers to cover in the NFL. Any number of defensive backs could attest.

The most recent was Haha Clinton-Dix, who said after being plowed over by Golladay in the Lions' win over the Packers last month, "I have a problem with that kid all the time. I even tell him that. He’s got these big dinosaur arms, and I can’t figure out how to get away from him."

It was at that time, five games into the season, that Golladay seemed poised to take off. Instead, he's been grounded by an offense that inexplicably stopped looking his way. Two targets in Week 7, one in Week 8, four in Week 9, for a grand total of seven. Naturally, six catches. 

It's about time the Lions make a correction. They have a potential star on their hands, but they've begun using him like a spare part. Worse, they've allowed defenses to dictate this. Top receivers around the league see extra attention every week -- they still see the ball. It shouldn't be any different with Golladay.