For Tate, Frustrations With Lions Offense Finally Starting To Vanish

He's singing a different tune in 2018.

Will Burchfield
October 10, 2018 - 4:50 pm

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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Throughout last season, Golden Tate tried to hide his frustration with two failings of the Lions offense: the run game and the O-line. At times, though, it peeked through. 

Toward the end of October, he admitted the constant pressure on Matthew Stafford was taking a toll on his play. Stafford had been sacked 23 times through six games, and the Lions' passing attack had yet to take off. 

“It can be frustrating at times when you run a good route and you’re wide open and you see your quarterback back there scrambling for his life," Tate said. "It can be frustrating. It’s kind of hard not to start cutting routes off early when every time you run something you look back and he’s being pressured or having to run for his life." 

About a month and a half later, Tate said the Lions were one piece away from being a consistent contender in the NFC, a shortcoming he would later admit was the run game. Detroit finished last in the NFL in rushing for the second time in three years. 

Fast forward to Week 5 of 2018, and Tate is singing a much different tune. The Lions are finally running the ball efficiently and the O-line is keeping Stafford on his feet. It's yet to pay dividends in the standings, but the offense, which was already one of the best units in the NFL last year, looks much more complete. 

It's definitely paid dividends for Tate, who's on pace for career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns -- in his contract season, no less. His 431 yards rank 10th in the league, and Kenny Golladay is one spot behind him with 428. Only one team, the high-flying Rams, has two receivers ranked higher in this department, Tate was told on Monday.

He approved. 

"I did not know that stat, but that’s really cool. We’re just doing our jobs. Jim Bob’s doing a great job drawing up plays to get us the ball and 9’s doing a great job just slinging it. But it starts with the offensive linemen. Those guys are protecting very well this year, giving 9 the confidence to sit back there and find us. That’s what you want as a receiver."

Bob Quinn and the Lions have invested heavily in the O-line the past three years, starting with the selection of Taylor Decker in the first round of the 2016 draft. They signed Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang to lucrative contracts the following offseason, then spent another first-round pick this year on Frank Ragnow. 

It's finally starting to pay off. Even though Lang has missed two games due to injuries, the O-line has held up well this season. Look no further for proof than Stafford, who's one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, for what feels like the first time ever. 

The run game has benefited as well. After finishing last in the league in yards per carry in 2017, the Lions have jumped to No 12. They're averaging 4.3 yards a tote. They've also climbed 11 spots in terms of yards per game.

That, in turn, has made life easier for Detroit's deep cast of receivers. 

"I think it makes us very dangerous, especially when you mix in a run game that can go out there and put up 150 yards any week or multiple weeks," Tate said. "I think that’s where it opens up for all of us. Not feeling like you have to throw it every down is definitely a benefit for us this year." 

The Lions are actually throwing it more frequently than they did last year, while running it just about the same. Their 39.4 passes per game rank ninth, while their 22.8 rushes are tied for 23rd. That owes in part to the team falling behind big in its first two games, and the gap figures to narrow as the season presses on. 

Another development that has aided the offense? The continued rise of Golladay, who's turning into a nightmare for opposing defenses and demanding more coverage by the week. More coverage on Golladay means less on the receivers around him, particularly Tate and Marvin Jones. 

"Having Kenny play the way he's been playing, really since he came on the team, has been huge," Tate said. "He’s opened it up for everybody. For a long time, the options were kind of Theo (Riddick), Calvin (Johnson) and Golden, (then) Marv, Golden and Theo. Now we have a bunch of guys who can make plays, from tight ends to running backs. We got four receivers who can make a play at whatever point in the game, and that helps. It takes a lot of stress off of myself and Marv, and it puts a lot of stress on defenses.

"Last week I had a pretty good game, this week Kenny had a big game, next week it might be Marv -- who knows? And that's the fun thing about it. You can’t just dial in on one guy."

As for that stat he took a liking to, Tate wants to push it higher. And he wants his buddy Jones in the mix too. Jones finished ninth in the NFL in receiving yards last year, when he and Tate were the league's only wide-out duo to each crack 1,000 yards, but he's off to a slow start this year. 

Part of that, of course, owes to the emergence of Golladay. 

"The thing about it is we’re 10th and 11thbut I feel we could be a little bit higher if Kenny and I just do a little bit better in out route-running and getting open," Tate said. "There's always room for improvement, and we’re hoping to get Marv up there too. His time is going to come soon, I believe, where he’s going to have a two-, three-, four-touchdown game with 150 yards. We’re just going to keep grinding and working and trying to help this team win."

The pieces have fallen into place for the Lions offense, the same pieces Tate was lamenting a year ago. When they come back from their Week 6 bye, they'll have 11 games to make it count.