Update: The Lions placed Da’Shawn Hand on injured reserve later Tuesday.
The Detroit Lions may be out of the playoff hunt, but coach Matt Patricia insisted that won’t factor into the decision of how the team proceeds with its injured players.
“We really approach injuries the same no matter what,” Patricia said in his weekly Tuesday teleconference. “We’re competitive and we’re trying to be competitive every single week and we’re trying to win.”
Seven Lions sat out last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills because of injuries, including rookies Kerryon Johnson and Da’Shawn Hand.
Johnson has not played since Nov. 18 because of a left knee injury, and Hand suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in a win over the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 9.
Both players have had nice rookie seasons for the Lions. Johnson leads the team with 641 yards rushing and had two 100-yard games before his injury. Hand has three sacks and ranks as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 13 interior defensive linemen this season, tops among rookies.
Along with the rookies, right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion), receiver Bruce Ellington (hamstring), fullback Nick Bellore (ankle), special-teams ace Charles Washington (hamstring) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (back) missed the Bills game with injuries.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford also is dealing with a back injury that has limited him in practice the past two weeks, though he has made 126 consecutive starts.
“There’s certainly a situation where (if) guys that we feel that are in a situation where they can help us go win and they’re ready to go from that standpoint, then we’re going to go (play them) and we’re going to go try to win,” Patricia said. “If it’s a situation where guys, they can’t, they’re not ready to go or whatever the case may be from the injury that they’re dealing with day to day, then we’ll address it then for those guys individually. But we’re just trying to get everybody ready to go and just keeping our focus moving forward.”
Asked specifically how optimistic he was that Johnson, who has missed four games, will play again this year, Patricia was evasive.
“With the injury thing, we’ll update everybody as soon as we have updates on it but I would say for us we’re just day by day,” he said. “If he can go out and contribute and help us then we’ll go from there, but obviously just full steam ahead trying to get ready for Minnesota.”
The Lions used cornerback Nevin Lawson to shadow top Vikings receiver Adam Thielen when the two teams met Nov. 4 in Minnesota’s 24-9 win.
Thielen, the NFL’s eighth-leading receiver, had four catches for 22 yards in that game, his second-lowest total of the season. But Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said that doesn’t necessarily mean the Lions will deploy Lawson on Thielen in Sunday’s rematch.
“I think the key word is balance,” Pasqualoni said. “You can’t go out there and do exactly what you did, obviously. And at the same time, you did things that were effective. You don’t want to abandon those things, either. So there’s got to be some adjustments, there’s got to be some tweaks in what you do.”
Pasqualoni said Lions coaches spent a good chunk of Tuesday morning discussing the Lawson-Thielen matchup and other gameplan items. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota’s No. 2 receiver, did not play in the first meeting, when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had his lowest passing total (164 yards) of the season.
“There’s a very, very fine line,” Pasqualoni said. “You want to do what your players do best and what you feel will help you against what their guys do best. So that’s something that today, last night, we’ll work through the remainder of the work to try to figure out.”
Free Press sports writers Shawn Windsor, Dave Birkett discuss the Lions’ offseason, 2019 outlook and Matthew Stafford, after loss to Bills, Dec. 16.
Dave Birkett and Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.