After acing their exams last week, the Detroit Lions came back to class a bit sluggish and tired. They still managed to barely pass the test again, but there were some serious issues with their performance. Let’s take a look at their Week 14 report card for their game against the Chicago Bears.
Matthew Stafford was having himself a heck of a game after one half. He had just led the team on an impressive go-ahead drive at the end of the second quarter, ending with a perfect toss to Anquan Boldin for a touchdown. He was lighting up a solid Bears defense with no help from the running game or his offensive line:
Stafford: 16-23 for 176, 1 TD, 0 INTS 106.4 passer rating. (with no o-line or running game)— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 11, 2016
But the second half was a different story. Stafford was a bit out of sorts and although the first interception was not his fault, the second one was completely on him. That sort of costly play will take you down a few letter grades. That is, unless you immediately respond by taking the team 76 yards for the game-winning score. Stafford’s final stat line looks pretty ugly based on passer rating (64.3) and yards per attempt (6.4), but this was another decent performance from the Lions quarterback.
Running backs: B+
The Lions’ running game—without their two top rushers—managed to put together a very respectable performance. After being completely shut down in the first half, Lions running backs combined for 78 second-half rushing yards at 5.2 yards per carry. The final result was 114 rushing yards, the Lions’ highest total since Week 2 of the season.
Dwayne Washington looked particularly impressive, making solid cuts and running decisively against a good Bears front. He finished with a career high 64 rushing yards on 16 carries (4.0 YPC).
Tight ends: C
Eric Ebron had one bad drop, but he made up for it by catching all of his other four targets for 32 yards. He continues to have a somewhat marginalized role with the offense, and his blocking still leaves a lot to be desired. But just when you start to forget about him, he seems to come up with a big third down catch.
Wide receivers: B+
Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin combined for 13 catches for 174 yards and a score, as Matthew Stafford spread the ball pretty even among the three. Jones had his best game in two months with 67 yards receiving and two key pass interferences drawn.
Tate had one bad drop, but for the most part, this unit has come together again to be a pretty sure-handed group of players. I’d just like to see them get separation a little more consistently.
Offensive line: D
While the line finally managed to open some running lanes late in the game, the offensive line remained a big nuisance on Sunday. Stafford was constantly on the run, and when he wasn’t getting sacked, the offensive line was getting flagged for holding—or in one case, flagged for receiving hands to the face.
You can excuse the performance because rookie Graham Glasgow had hist first career start at center, but the play of the tackles left a lot to be desired. Riley Reiff, especially, continues to struggle with pass protection.
Defensive line: C
There weren’t a lot of performances of note from the defensive line on Sunday. Kerry Hyder played well enough to earn him a sack and a spot on our game ball nominations, but everyone else was just kind of there. The Bears had a good amount of success running the ball, and the Lions weren’t getting consistent pressure, but Detroit also never lost contain with Matt Barkley nor running back Jordan Howard.
Josh Bynes had a very up-and-down game. He tallied two tackles for loss, but he also was guilty of being out of position a handful of times. Tahir Whitehead was again a little too quick to be fooled by play action. While DeAndre Levy looked solid, but unspectacular in his first game since Week 1.
Ultimately, their play was bad enough that it turned a few 5-6 yard runs into 15-30 yard runs. Howard is a good back, but that can’t happen when the entire defensive gameplan should be Stop Jordan Howard.
This was a tough grade to give, because the Bears were successful for most of the day passing to their receivers. Typically, the Lions are gashed through the middle of the field by Matt Barkley found his receivers open early and often. Darius Slay was beaten for a long touchdown, and if it weren’t for some timely holding penalties, Detroit’s secondary would have given up at least the game-tying score late in the game.
Still, this secondary was responsible for an impressive five passes broken up, including two key deflections on the Bears’ final drive.
Special teams: A-
There’s not a lot to say here. Matt Prater was perfect again. The Lions’ kick coverage was solid again. Sam Martin had one booming punt and a rare touchback. Andre Roberts took a few kicks out of the endzone, but it didn’t really hurt the team. In the end, special teams did mostly the job they are supposed to do: remain invisible.
A lot of people are going to hammer the coaching staff for having the team come out “flat” at home against a poor team. That’s lazy analysis. This team wasn’t flat. The offense was actually somewhat efficient, putting together drives of seven plays or more in six of eight drives. If it weren’t for some untimely penalties and turnovers, they would probably have scored on at least five of those drives.
Defensively, it was a different story. After a supreme performance against the Saints, the Lions had trouble stopping Barkley and a set of third string receivers. That should be very concerning for a team that has been boasting about its deep secondary. Still, it’s hard to point to a specific coaching decision as a reason for this failure. Overall, I don’t think the coaches did anything particularly offensive this week, and the Lions managed last minute drives in both halves to perfection. That’s good enough for me.