The Detroit Lions’ Week 9 victory against Minnesota had its ups and downs. For every bright spot, there was a glaring area of concern. For every individual accomplishment, there was an equal and opposite failure. That being said, the team, overall, looked a little better than normal against a decent Vikings team. So let’s hand out some grades for the Lions.
Matthew Stafford didn’t have his best game overall. He had a terrible interception that could have proven costly had the defense not bailed them out on the subsequent possession. That play aside, Stafford had an above-average game. He wasn’t helped out by his receivers—who dropped even more passes on Sunday—or the refs—who missed some obvious pass interference calls. But Stafford came alive when the Lions absolutely needed him to. In his final two drives—not including his one spike)—Stafford went 7-8 for 108 yards and one touchdown: A perfect 158.3 passer rating. Against this impressive defense, that is no small accomplishment.
Running backs: C+
Theo Riddick may have had the longest run of his career, and Dwayne Washington may have shown some impressively hard rushes throughout the game, but the Lions running game completely failed them in the second half. Toss plays were especially ineffective for Detroit and put them in unenviable third-and-long situations against a smothering Vikings defense. If the Lions hadn’t made their incredible comeback, we’d be talking a lot about how the Lions running game completely disappeared in the second half.
And, surprisingly, Riddick was a complete non-factor in the passing game. He caught just one pass for six yards, his lowest receiving total since 2014.
Tight ends: A-
Eric Ebron was an absolute beast in this game, setting a career high in receiving with 92 yards. He had seven catches on the day, and four of those went for first downs—a fifth should have earned a first down, but was poorly spotted by the officials.
Blocking was again a struggle for Lions tight ends, which is why they didn’t get an A outright. Matthew Mulligan was the blocking tight end du jour, and he looked a bit rusty, especially so on a play where Washington had to make his way through the tight end in addition to the Vikings front line.
Wide receivers: D
If not for Golden Tate’s game-winning theatrics, the Lions receivers would have received a failing grade. For the second straight week, Lions receivers didn’t get much separation, and when the ball actually reached their hands, they got a case of the dropsies. Scratch that, this team isn’t suffering from a case of the dropsies anymore. This has happened often enough to believe this isn’t a passing illness. This is a serious problem.
Consider this: Andre Roberts’ 27-yard catch at the end of regulation gave him more receiving yards for the game than Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones combined.
Offensive line: A-
The Lions had a rookie left tackle, rookie left guard and a second-string right tackle against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The result? A clean pocket for a good majority of the game, just one sack surrendered and a mere four quarterback hits according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
The running game was a mess for the majority of the game, however. The aforementioned toss plays were mostly failures due to poor blocking. But considering the challenge the Lions’ offensive line faced, I thought they more than met the task.
Defensive line: B-
The Vikings offensive line was notoriously in shambles on Sunday, but I don’t think the Lions took advantage as much as they should have. Ezekiel Ansah finally looked like himself and Kerry Hyder continued to be the Lions’ only pleasant surprise on defense, but overall, Detroit still had to send a ton of blitzes to try and create consistent pressure. At times, Minnesota also ran the ball fairly effectively against Detroit.
This is a big improvement from the unit’s typical D or F weekly grade, but there’s still some work to do here. Josh Bynes looked much improved in his second week since re-signing with the Lions, and Tahir Whitehead finished with a team-high 12 tackles. However, the story was the same on defense. The Lions were getting gashed over the middle of the field: linebacker territory.
Without Darius Slay for a second straight week, the Lions looked to be at the mercy of Sam Bradford for almost the entire game. Not only did Bradford complete 77.5 percent of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt, but the Lions secondary was responsible for just one pass defended all game. Nevin Lawson looked okay, but everyone else was getting picked on all game.
Special teams: B+
The biggest plays of the game on special teams all went the Lions’ way: Matt Prater’s 58-yard game-tying field goal, Blair Walsh’s missed extra point and blocked go-ahead field goal.
But the Lions were not good in the return game. Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 29.0 yards per kickoff return, while Stefon Diggs had a huge 19-yard punt return. Meanwhile, Andre Roberts put the Lions in serious danger with his awful 10-yard kickoff return to start overtime. But Prater and Sam Martin were on point all game, and that made the bigger difference.
I didn’t have any real coaching qualms with Jim Caldwell all game. Some thought Detroit should have let the Vikings score late to give the Lions more time for a comeback, but as long as a field goal is not enough to take the lead, you always go for the defensive goal line stand. The Lions had already accomplished that once in the game.
The other gripe I saw other fans have with Caldwell was his decision to send in the field goal team in on fourth-and-2 at the Vikings’ 34-yard line, already up 10-9 early in the fourth quarter. Detroit’s offense had yet to earn a first down in the second half, and Prater is money. I’m perfectly fine with that decision.
As for the coordinators, I thought this was another questionable game for Jim Bob Cooter. The countless attempts to stretch the Vikings defense with tosses and WR screens seemed misguided against a very speedy, very athletic defense. Going deep didn’t really work well either, but I really would have liked to see the Lions use Riddick more in the passing game over the middle. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin deserves credit for keeping the Lions defense afloat, even though they started to crumble in the second half.