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Lions-Washington report card: Detroit’s defense has a pulse

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Could this be the beginning of a defensive turnaround for the Lions?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions defeated Washington on Sunday for their third straight win. Although the win required another fourth quarter comeback, there were a lot of things about the victory that felt different. Primarily, there’s the fact that the Lions defense gave up just 17 points in the game and actually had some semblance or a pass rush.

But it wasn’t all great. In fact, there were a lot of issues with this performance that they probably don’t get away with had Washington not gifted them with two fumbles. So without further ado, let’s look at the Lions report card from Sunday.

Quarterbacks: A-

This wasn’t Stafford’s best game of the year, by any means. Early on, Stafford appeared to have happy feet and found himself scrambling to get the Lions offense moving. However, Stafford didn’t make many, if any, mistakes all game.

And when it came down to it, Stafford made huge plays down the stretch. He threw some beautiful balls, like his perfectly placed bomb to Marvin Jones. He made plays with his feet, totaling 32 yards on the ground, including a big 14-yard pickup on the final drive. And that final drive was near perfection. Stafford 4 MVP, y’all.

Running backs: D

I feel like the Lions running backs left a lot of yards on the table. The offensive line wasn’t always kind to them, but Detroit was facing the 31st-ranked run defense and managed just 62 yards rushing between their running backs.

Individually, I thought Justin Forsett played much better than Zach Zenner. Forsett averaged a solid 4.1 yards per carry on eight rushes, while Zenner managed just 3.2 YPC on nine. The Lions really need Theo Riddick and/or Dwayne Washington back.

Wide receivers: B+

The Lions had some issues early with drops again, but by the end of the game, every single one of the Lions receivers had made a huge play for the team. Jones had his unbelievable 52-yard catch with Josh Norman draped all over him. Golden Tate had pickups of 27 and 22 yards. Anquan Boldin hauled in the game-winning touchdown. And Andre Roberts had a huge, clutch snag on the final drive of the game. That’s a true team effort.

Tight ends: C+

I can’t speak much to the blocking acumen of the tight ends in this game, but Clay Harbor finally appears comfortable enough in this offense to be a legitimate receiving threat. In the two games prior to the Washington game, tight ends were targeted just one time total. In this game, Harbor pulled in both of his targets for 16 yards. That isn’t exactly a stellar output from Harbor, but it’s enough to acknowledge Harbor for a good day.

Offensive line: D-

It was not a good day for anyone along the offensive line. Riley Reiff had a particularly bad day against the talented Washington pass rush. Taylor Decker and Larry Warford also faltered multiple times during the game. In total, Stafford was sacked three times on the day, but it probably would have been more had he not escaped pressure multiple times in the game.

In terms of run blocking, the offensive line wasn’t given any favors by poor vision from the backs, but this was a very bad run defense and the Lions couldn’t capitalize. Overall, this was a big step back for this unit.

Defensive line: B

Interestingly, this was a big step up for the Lions defensive line. Detroit finally had something resembling a consistent pass rush against Washington, and considering they have what many consider to be one of the best offensive lines in the game, that’s a very good sign. Kerry Hyder and Ezekiel Ansah were bringing the pressure from the outside, combining for five QB hits according to ESP, while Khyri Thornton had a surprisingly great game from defensive tackle.

There were still some problems with consistency and Detroit didn’t do much to stop the running game, but overall this was the closest the Lions had to a complete performance from the defensive line, and it made a huge impact on the game.

Linebacker: C-

The linebackers weren’t good on Sunday, but for the first time, they didn’t seem a like a huge liability. Yes, that sounds like a backhanded compliment and it probably is one. Tahir Whitehead still doesn’t seem capable of being the quarterback on defense and Kyle Van Noy is looking like he has plateaued in his development. But we didn’t see any of the coverage breakdowns that we’re used to seeing from this unit and the tackling was a little better on Sunday. Baby steps.

Secondary: F

The Lions corners and safeties were absolutely horrendous in this game: there’s no way around it. Darius Slay wasn’t having much of a game before he had to leave with a hamstring injury, and when Johnson Bademosi came in to replace him, Kirk Cousins lit him up with regularity. Especially bad were all of the safeties not named Glover Quin. Rafael Bush and Miles Killebrew were exploited in coverage several times by Cousins. Another game, another quarterback completing over 75 percent of their passes against the Lions defense for a passer rating over 100. This is getting beyond embarrassing.

Special teams: B

The Lions missed a key field goal early in the game thanks to a poor snap and a bad whiff from Matt Prater.

However, the Lions coverage teams continue to be one of the most underrated parts of this Lions team. Sam Martin had three punts on the day that averaged 51.0 yards per punt and Washington had just 16 return yards all game. Detroit didn’t have a single return in the kicking or punting game, so they receive an incomplete in that aspect of the game.

Coaching: B

Just a few minor quibbles with Jim Caldwell’s management of the game. On the first offensive drive. Caldwell let the game clock run all the way out in an attempt to see if the Lions should have challenged the spot on third down on what I thought was a pretty obvious correct call. The hesitation from Caldwell cost the Lions an early timeout, and they ended up punting anyways.

Additionally, the Lions had a chance at one more possession to finish off the first half, but Caldwell let Washington run the clock down from about 35 seconds to four seconds before kicking the game-tying field goal at the end of the half. Detroit probably would have only had 30 seconds left with a single timeout if they had spent a timeout there, but I still thought it was worth a shot. This offense can move quickly in a short amount of time.

Other than that, the Lions played a pretty clean game. They only had four penalties, they were turnover free for the second straight game, and their game plan had the team in control of the game for almost all four quarters. There’s also something to be said about Caldwell turning this team completely around after everyone counted them out after the loss to the Bears. You can accuse Caldwell of a lot of things, but losing the locker room has never been one of them.