Free Press writers Shawn Windsor, Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez dissect the Lions’ 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sept. 23, 2018 at Ford Field.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions looked like one of the best teams in the NFL in last week’s win over the New England Patriots, and one of the worst teams in the league the previous two weeks.

So how does Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reconcile that as he prepares for Sunday’s game against the Lions? Through film, of course.

“There were some good things in really each of the games, stuff that we have to prepare for and stuff that we’re going to be challenged by in all three phases of our team,” Garrett said in a conference call with Detroit reporters Wednesday. “And that’s really how we go about our preparation independent of what the results of the games were.”

Offensively, Garrett said the Lions’ “very balanced attack” will be an especially tough challenge for the NFL’s third-ranked defense.

Kerryon Johnson last week became the first Lion to rush for 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush in 2013, and the Lions are the only team in the NFL with three players who rank in the top 25 of the league in receptions (Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate and Theo Riddick).

Tate leads the Lions with 20 catches and 257 yards, Golladay has 19 catches and 256 yards, and Marvin Jones remains the team’s top deep threat.

“They can run the ball, they got a couple different guys they hand the ball to regularly,” Garrett said. “They got a running back who they really like coming out of the backfield. Obviously, Matthew (Stafford is) a great, great quarterback and they can beat you so many different ways. He has weapons outside who he likes. So every time they break the huddle, they challenge you with the run and with the pass, and they’re a multi-dimensional and they attack you a lot of different ways.”

More on the Lions:

Ziggy Ansah misses Detroit Lions practice; how much longer is he out?

Windsor: Matt Patricia took the heat, now he deserves the credit

Vander Esch rules

Rookie Leighton Vander Esch is expected to start at outside linebacker for the Cowboys on Sunday in place of the injured Sean Lee.

The Lions hosted Vander Esch on pre-draft visit this spring and “spent a lot of time” studying him as a possible selection with the 20th pick of the first round, Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

“Big, long, linebacker with real athletic skill set,” Patricia said. “Does a good job of reading zone coverage. Great story as far as he’s concerned, his travel through college and then obviously getting to Dallas. Real good run player. He’s fast enough to fill and get downhill and then like I said, is a good enough space player with his length, which is kind of unusual.”

Vander Esch made 11 tackles in the Cowboys’ loss last week to the Seattle Seahawks, and has 21 tackles in three games off the bench this year.

Patricia said he expects Lee will be by Vander Esch’s side this week to help the rookie prepare for the Lions.

“Sean Lee, boy, he really directs traffic in there,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “We’ve been through many a battle with him where maybe our quarterback, maybe (Matthew) Stafford is checking one play and Sean Lee is checking their defense. He plays the game at linebacker sort of mentally with the quarterback. He’ll be trying to stay a step ahead of us, that’s something he’s done for a long time and something he’s led their defense doing for a long time.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!