Detroit Lions rebound to get passing grade for first half of season

Rich Schultz

Since the Detroit Lions have played half of their schedule, it is time to give them their mid-season grades.

Wait, is this the same Detroit Lions that I watched in the first four weeks of the season? The fact that I have to ask that question says all you need to know about the consistency of the Lions. They started the season poorly and have struggled to claw their way back to being a playoff contender again. The only consistent part of the team has been the defense. The offense and special teams have found plenty of ways to lose games.

The same names are on the back of the jerseys. Some of the things they are doing look familiar. They are also winning games that they would have lost in the early part of the season. That is mainly because they have managed to eliminate most of the mistakes that were stalling drives and giving the other team points.

We are going to take a look at each position group and grade them for what they have done so far this season. Grades are subjective, so you may not agree with mine. That is fine. These are my grades and your mileage may vary.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford has been inconsistent for many of the games this season. He has continued a career-long tendency toward slow starts. Stafford has improved over the last few games and addressed some of his inconsistency issues, but he still throws the ball too high during the early part of games. Shaun Hill has only played for a few minutes of game time, but he was stellar during those few minutes. Grade: B

Offensive Line

As a unit, the offensive line has been good at pass protection and very inconsistent at run blocking. Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims are having very good seasons. Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus have been good in pass protection but not as good at run blocking. Stephen Peterman flips the script and blocks well for the run, but he has given up some quarterback pressures in the passing game. The line is starting to make some holes for runs, partly due to the fine blocking of Riley Reiff when he is in the game. Grade: B+ against the pass and C- for run blocking.

Running Backs

Kevin Smith carried the load in the first two games, then Mikel Leshoure took over when he was able to play. Joique Bell has emerged as a good backup to Leshoure, especially late in games. While the running game has not been spectacular, it has been steadily improving. The only thing the running game lacks is a big-play threat. With Jahvid Best out for the season we are not likely to see many big running plays this year. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson is not getting touchdowns, but he is still making big plays, and he is doing it while he is hurting. Megatron has had a few drops this season that are uncharacteristic of him. Nate Burleson was almost invisible before he got hurt. Titus Young has been inconsistent but seems to be coming on of late. Ryan Broyles has been very good so far, and he deserves more targets. More accurate passing from Stafford could help this group a lot. Grade: C+

Tight Ends

Brandon Pettigrew has been his usual self. He drops some balls that he should catch and makes some tough catches he shouldn't. Pettigrew had some fumbles after catches but he was usually saved by the ball going out of bounds. Pettigrew has still been a positive factor in helping to move the chains. Tony Scheffler has made some big catches to get chunks of yardage, which is what we expect. Will Heller has quietly contributed when asked. Grade: B

Overall Offense

While we have grades by position groups, the offense plays as a single unit. It takes a lot of coordination and timing between the different pieces for everything to work. Lack of execution in any part of the game can stall a drive, and it often has. The Lions can pile up yards, but they fell short on the scoreboard too often. While the offense has been good in the last two games, they were very inconsistent before that. The late surge brings up the grade some, but the facts are that lack of consistent scoring has caused the Lions to lose some games and that is the ultimate measure. Grade: C-

Defensive Tackles

I have separated the defensive tackles from the defensive ends because I do not want the good play of the tackles to be diluted by the ineffective play of the ends. Ndamukong Suh has been very good this season. He gets pressure on the quarterback and also has played the run well. Nick Fairley has done about the same as Suh, but he has some issues with jumping offside. Corey Williams has been solid. Sammie Hill has improved against the pass but fallen back some against the run when compared to previous seasons. Overall, the unit has been very effective, but they need to be just a bit more disciplined about penalties. Grade: B+

Defensive Ends

This has been a tough season for the defensive ends. They are not making enough impact in games for the expectations that the Lions defensive scheme places on them. In the early part of the season they were mostly invisible. The unit has rebounded some, but they have not had a dominant game yet. I have no need to talk about them individually because they are all the same story. None of the defensive ends are playing as well as they did last season. Grade: C-

Linebackers

I feel that Stephen Tulloch has not been as good this season as he was last year. He is still solid, but he has had less of an impact. DeAndre Levy has made some nice plays and may be having his best season. Justin Durant has been decent but seems to be struggling at times. While the play of the linebackers has been generally good, it also has not been quite good enough, especially in pass coverage against tight ends. Grade: C+

Safeties

Erik Coleman has done a decent job. John Wendling ended up being disappointing. Amari Spievey was looking good before his concussion. Louis Delmas still can't stay on the field. Same old story for Delmas. Ricardo Silva has come in from the practice squad and played well. In the larger scheme, the safeties have been the weakest position group for the Lions this season. Grade: D+

Cornerbacks

When the season began, I thought this grade would probably be the worst on the team, but the cornerbacks have actually been pretty decent. Chris Houston has been very good. Jonte Green has progressed rapidly and he is starting to look competent. He has made some mistakes, and he will still make a lot more, but that is how the learning curve works for cornerbacks. Green has also made some good plays, and we can expect a lot more of those too. Bill Bentley showed some flashes of potential before he got hurt. Jacob Lacey has been inconsistent but acceptable as a backup. Alphonso Smith has surprised me by playing well since his return. He seems to have gotten a wake-up call from being out of the NFL for a few weeks. Grade: B-

Overall Defense

The defense has been a pleasant surprise this season. They have quietly played well and kept the Lions in every game. They also have not faced an elite quarterback this season. We will know more when the Lions have to play the Packers in a couple of weeks. At this point of the season, though, they have done well. Grade: B

Special Teams

This unit has been the downfall of the Lions this season. They have given up touchdowns, turnovers and field position. Their mistakes have cost the Lions at least two losses and have been a contributor to all of the losses. For a unit that has so few plays every game, they have had an outsized impact on the team. That impact has been almost entirely negative. The only decent aspect of special teams has been the field goal unit, and they have missed a couple of big field goals, too. Grade: D-

Coaching

The Lions have managed to turn around a season that was looking like a disaster just a few weeks ago. The frustrating part of all this is that they could have been so much better if they had just stopped beating themselves with mistakes. The only game that the Lions clearly should have lost this season was against the 49ers. In every other game the Lions have lost, it was because of their own mistakes. Both the failures, and the subsequent turnaround, fall on the heads of the coaches to some extent. The team could have been better prepared coming into the season so that the Lions didn't have so many lost opportunities to win. Grade: C

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