Certain games are extremely hard to comprehend. Sometimes it’s because a team seemingly routs another, but the scoreboard says otherwise. Sometimes a team will just come out and completely surprise you. Other times, nothing you see makes sense. The Detroit Lions’ latest loss to the Dallas Cowboys falls under that last category.
The Lions came out guns a’blazing in the first half. They scored a touchdown on each of their first three possessions, then never ended up scoring a single point in the rest of the game. That’s seems like a near impossible task, yet here we are. It makes this game incredibly hard to grade, but let’s give it a shot.
Matthew Stafford’s MVP chances died in Arlington, Texas Monday night. He had to deal with poor pass protection all game, but that doesn’t excuse some of the poor decision and inaccurate throws he made in the second half. Stafford’s interception was the spark that lit the flame that eventually burned down the entire game for the Lions.
After that, Stafford was just off the rest of the game. He passes sailed, his decision making waned and the Lions would never score again. Stafford completed just 56.5 percent of his passes on Monday night, his second-lowest percentage all year. And this was against a Cowboys defense that was one of the worst in the league.
Running backs: B+
Zach Zenner’s first half was easily the most unbelievable thing from this game. Zenner kept pace with Ezekiel Elliott and found the end zone twice in the first two quarters. He finished the game with 67 rushing yards at 5.6 a carry, but for whatever reason, Zenner had just two carries in the second half for three yards.
Instead, the Lions mostly rode Dwayne Washington in the second half, who managed a mere 22 yards on seven carries. This was an odd change of pace for a Lions offense that was working so well in the first half, but I don’t put that on the running backs themselves. This was a good day from them.
Tight end: B
Eric Ebron had his best statistical day on Monday, setting career highs with eight catches for 93 yards. However, he also had some key drops early in the game and, at times, didn’t show enough aggressiveness in tight coverage. Still, Ebron should keep his head high, as he was one of the few players still helping this offense in the second half.
Wide receivers: D
Once again, this offense was plagued by covered receivers and Marvin Jones is still completely missing from this offensive game plan. Jones finished with just one catch for the third time this season. Elsewhere, Golden Tate didn’t get involved until it was too late. The only safe option Stafford had all game—when he wasn’t out with an injury—was again Anquan Boldin, who continues to make tough catches in traffic. Overall, though, this was another disappointing performance from the Lions receivers.
Offensive line: D
After an impressive first half that saw Detroit have real running lanes, the offensive line fell apart everywhere else. Pass protection was beyond poor all game, and Graham Glasgow seemed to especially struggle at center. Though he wasn’t alone. Taylor Decker, Riley Reiff and Laken Tomlinson all gave up key pressures in this game.
The Lions are so desperate at this point on the offensive line that in the biggest game of the season, the Lions brought in rookie Joe Dahl to take his first offensive snaps of his NFL career. He promptly gave up a big pressure on third down and was back on the bench for most of the game afterwards.
Defensive line: C
For the most part, I thought the defensive line did a good job swallowing up Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushing game. Of course, the 55-yard touchdown run was unacceptable, but otherwise, Detroit did a good job limiting Elliott to just 25 yards on his other 11 carries.
The lack of pass rush, however, is here to stay. Detroit’s inability to pressure Dak Prescott gave him way too much time, and Dak made them pay. It was a tough test for the defensive line, going against one of the best offensive lines in the game, and I think they overall held their own.
The Lions linebackers were mostly quiet on the day, for better or worse. A few times they were swallowed up after biting on play action, though that’s to be expected with a well-balanced offense like Dallas’. Still, Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy combined for just eight tackles, which isn’t good enough production from your top linebackers. This unit wasn’t predominantly responsible for the defense’s total collapse, but they didn’t do much to help out, either.
Absolutely nothing went right for the Lions secondary all game. Prescott only threw five incomplete passes all game, completing his other 15 attempts for 10.6 yards per attempt and three touchdowns. Nevin Lawson was outclassed by Dez Bryant, while no other Lions cornerback looked like they deserved to be on the field.
The Lions safeties, typically Detroit’s strength in the secondary, had just as bad of a game. Glover Quin showed his age several times against the Cowboys. He took poor angles on two Elliott runs, and was late several times getting over as deep help. There was just no saving grace for this unit on Monday.
Special teams: C
Andre Roberts got in a nice kick return, Sam Martin knocked a couple punts inside the Cowboys’ 20-yard line, but Detroit missed a field goal and their coverage units weren’t at their best. A few good plays mixed with a few bad gives them an average grade.
It’s hard to not give the Lions credit for coming out so strong, but at the same time, you can’t ignore how poorly the Lions played in the second half. There were a few mind-boggling decision from the coaching staff, but none bigger than benching Zach Zenner for most of the second half. The guy was playing the game of his life and when the offense was struggling, the Lions decided to bring out rookie Dwayne Washington instead?
Then there were a few odd in-game decisions from Caldwell. First, down 14 points with a defense that couldn’t stop anything, Caldwell elected to try a long field goal late in the third quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-5. Then, down 21 late midway through the fourth, Caldwell threw in the towel by punting. Finally, with just a minute left in the game, Detroit decided to trot out Matthew Stafford, putting him at minor injury risk with the game completely out of hand.
The players made plenty of mistakes on their own Monday night, but the Lions coaching staff didn’t put them in the best position to win, which is essentially their entire job.