For the first time in 2016, the Detroit Lions won a game without any need for late game heroics. Jim Caldwell got the team out to a quick three-point lead that ballooned to ten points, and barely deflated after that. Teryl Austin, who had flirted with getting this defense into a respectable spot, showed up big against a New Orleans Saints offense that had averaged more than 30 points a game coming into Week 13. There are a lot of good things that went on in this one, and, spoiler alert, there was a little bit of not so good. But in the end, far less not good than good. Let’s jump into the good and bad in the first stock report since Jim Caldwell lead the team to clinch a .500 or better record in 2016.
Stock Up: Golden Tate, WR
Did anyone have a better game than Golden Tate? There were some group efforts that warrant consideration, but I don’t think any individual effort deserves more mention and attention than Golden Tate’s eight catch, 145 yard and an amazing touchdown effort. It started out a little bit slow for Tate. Well, not so much slow as it was lightning out of the gate, and no sign of stopping. So, not slow at all. He tore it up. Targeted only ten times, Tate made the most of Marvin Jones’ absence and took over his deep pass duties with style. His highlight touchdown on an accurate-with-no-reason-to-be pass from Stafford may come in as his second best play of the season—his touchdown against the Vikings will probably hold that honor in perpetuity—but it was a beauty to behold. How someone can make the moves that Tate makes in the open field and not get arrested for assault is beyond my legal expertise.
Stock Down: Dwayne Washington, RB
Let me start this off by making one thing clear: Dwayne Washington played his best game of the season against the Saints. He was running with power, which is something I’ve criticized him of in the past. He did phenomenal work in the passing game, another area he was supposed to be strong in but has come up short. He doesn’t pop off the stat sheet due to the low volume, and though he didn’t break off a huge run, he seemed on the verge of doing so every time he touched the ball. This is the Dwayne Washington people have been hyping. So why stock down? Washington left the game with another injury, his second potentially game-impacting injury of the year. Coming out of Washington, he was largely criticized for two things: ball control and durability. He’s managed the former expertly this season, but has struggled with the latter. Adding to the damage, his replacement, Zach Zenner, was marvelous coming in cold. Washington needs to heal up, stay healthy, and work himself back in.
Stock Up: Matthew Stafford, QB
I’ve generally avoided putting Stafford in these big write up sections since you could probably write a paragraph easily each week he’s good or bad. He deserves some very serious praise for his play against the Saints this week, however, and I’m giving him those definitely due kudos. I counted maybe four passes that were genuinely off target against New Orleans. One was a badly thrown pass which he lofted outside to a wide open Tate, one was a high ball to Boldin that he caught anyway because he’s not a real human person, one was a low pass under pressure to Ebron, and the last was a miscommunication that wouldn’t have been caught by Roberts anyway—but was still way off target. Other than that, he was pretty much on point, and his incompletions were either the result of miscommunication or solid defensive play. Stafford’s long pass to Golden Tate was perfect ball placement despite tight coverage against an aware CB with his head turned that simply couldn’t have been defended because it was in the perfect spot. Stafford has a reputation, largely undeserved, of being unable to make those kind of throws. He’s proved a lot of doubters wrong this week, or at the very least given them some game tape they’ll have to pretend doesn’t exist to keep hating.
Stock Down: Rafael Bush, SS
When I decided on the format of these articles, I wanted to make sure I gave fairly equal time to explaining what I viewed as successes and failures on a week-to-week basis. It doesn’t really lend itself well to weeks like this one when everyone pretty much did well and those that did not don’t really deserve much harping on it. Bush had a good week last week, this week he did not and was out of position on several plays. It wasn’t an awful week, just a worse one than the previous one. Nevin Lawson, for a similar reason, could go in the same spot. 1st and 2nd worst defenders on a day where the worst defender wasn’t that terrible and doesn’t need to be explained much.
Stock Up: A’Shawn Robinson, DT
I’ve mentioned several times about Robinson and what I expect out of him in his rookie season. As a run defender, he’s done a fine job and has been fairly steady in that regard. As a pass rusher, he’s been generally bad and that continued in this game as he was unable to provide much pressure to collapse the pocket. It was a bit more noticeable given how well Haloti Ngata played in the same situations. It was, however, not any different than last week, and isn’t something I’m concerned with. A strength Robinson has shown is his ability to disrupt passing lanes and a game against Drew Brees, who can be susceptible to that sort of disruption, was a good test of those abilities. Robinson came up with another pass deflection at the line on a second-and-10, but it wasn’t just that play that he disrupted. His giant mitts were constantly in Drew Brees’ way and looked like they made it difficult for him to consider his reads as he was progressing. Robinson may develop as a pass rusher, he may never do so, but as long as he’s making it more difficult to pass against the Detroit Lions, it’s a notable sign that his career can be a good one.
Stock Up: Haloti Ngata, DT
What a day from Haloti Ngata, who was the team’s best defender on the field. Not only did he knock down one pass, he nearly got his hands on another and managed to deflect a kick on special teams. The kick was still good, which was just luck, and the second pass he nearly got was still completed, but that’s a testament to how good Drew Brees is. Ngata spent a ton of time in the backfield and was a constant thorn in the side of Senio Kelemente, who had to come off the bench to play due to injuries. A tenured vet should be able to make mince meat of a cold bench player and Ngata put up a highlight of tape that is going to be used in the film room of every Saints opponent between now and 2017.
Thurston Armbrister, LB: I don’t know if he played well or even at all outside of special teams, but Armbrister was the third LB against the Saints and I didn’t notice. Win.
Adairius Barnes, CB: Barnes got more work on special teams with Don Carey out and he did well in the work he had. Felt comfortable seeing him gun.
Anquan Boldin, WR: Boldin didn’t get all of his usual plays, but two of his four catches were vintage Boldin and one of those didn’t even make scientific sense.
Josh Bynes, LB: Bynes had a bit of an injury scare, but was good when he played and did well at MLB with Tahir Whitehead out. Saints had little answer for him.
Taylor Decker, OT: I feel we say every week how nice it is that Decker is playing well as a rookie LT. Still can’t say it enough, so here it is again.
Eric Ebron, TE: Ebron wasn’t featured at all last week, but this week he had one whole drive where he was the focal piece. I want to see him do more, but better showing.
Graham Glasgow, OG: He had a bad false start—dude, you’re right next to the ball—but his blocking was on point. Way to bounce back from a benching.
TJ Jones, WR: Jones came in for the other Jones, who tried, but wasn’t ready to play. Dropped his first target, but caught the other three for 49 yards. Welcome back!
Miles Killebrew, SS: He missed his first tackle that I can recall on the year, but also notched his first interception. More notable, he played on more than third downs.
Matthew Mulligan, TE: Mulligan isn’t a big piece of the offense, but I have seen him on the field a lot lately. That’s a good sign if you’re trying to stick somewhere.
Matt Prater, K: Money from any distance.
Glover Quin, FS: Deserved a write up of his own, but I lacked the space. Quin had one of his best games of the season knocking down one pass and picking off another.
Riley Reiff, OT: It was a generally good one for Reiff, with his only bad play on one that I can’t justify from a play-calling perspective.
Andre Roberts, WR: Roberts found some use in the offense with Marvin Jones out. He had several instances of miscommunication with Stafford that need to be cleaned up, but net positive day.
Darius Slay, CB: Man, Slay is good when he’s dialed in. Held rookie Michael Thomas to a season low (tied) four catches and 42 yards, good for his second worst of this season.
Travis Swanson, OC: It’s still odd talking about how he should go to a Pro Bowl, but dang this dude has been good in the middle of that offense.
Devin Taylor, DE: Taylor has had a very poor season, but this was not an instance where he played poorly. He finally remembered he had arms and did some shop-wrecking.
Tyrunn Walker, DT: Walker was getting into the backfield regularly and while he over-pursued some of those it was a better effort than we’ve seen.
Larry Warford, OG: Warford has been very inconsistent this season, but this was certainly a plus day for him. Good time to turn it up a notch.
Antwione Williams, LB: On a day where he was pretty much it at linebacker, I’d expect a fifth-round rookie to struggle. I did not see that at all.
Tavon Wilson, SS: Wilson had some troubles on special teams, but on defense he had one of his good days, notching his second interception of the year.
Zach Zenner, RB: What a day for this guy. At one point rushing for 7.4 YPC before the team took their foot off the gas, he still ended with 17 more rushing yards than Washington and Riddick combined for on two fewer carries.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE: Ansah is still playing hurt and while at some times you couldn’t notice, this was definitely a game it showed. Zero ability to turn the corner.
Armonty Bryant, DE: Bryant came back off suspension this week and many expected a decent day for his rushing ability. Instead, he seemed rusty and notched only a penalty.
Quandre Diggs, CB: Diggs got some attention for injury and considering he hasn’t played all that well this season, he can’t really afford to lose reps.
Nevin Lawson, CB: Wasn’t his best showing, but like Rafael Bush, it wasn’t terrible. Still, he’s played far better than this one this year.
Theo Riddick, RB: On a day two other RBs ran well, he rushed for only .5 YPC. He did notch a receiving TD, but it’s probably the easiest one of his career due to blown coverage.
Khyri Thornton, DT: I didn’t see him much, like Stefan Charles, but when I did see Thornton it was him being mugged by Saints OL. May change on rewatch, though.
Laken Tomlinson, OG: He had a shot to get back into the lineup if Glasgow struggled, but he did not.
Johnson Bademosi, CB: Bademosi is still a great special teamer.
Michael Burton, FB: Burton didn’t play much and was good when he did, but not much of a change from previous weeks.
Stefan Charles, DT: I didn’t even notice if he played.
Brandon Copeland, DE: Copeland wasn’t noticed except on ST, where he did alright. Not much to add on him.
Clay Harbor, TE: He’s still on this roster. Go figure.
Kerry Hyder, DE: Hyder was inconsistent again, but still good. Just not an improvement over previous weeks.
Sam Martin, P: Still a boss punter, still on pace to set an NFL record for net punting.
Anthony Zettel, DE: I didn’t see much one way or the other with Zettel.
Jim Caldwell, HC: Stock Up
A quality win despite the Saints not really being a quality team. Caldwell managed the loss of Marvin Jones beautifully and that is equally true of the loss of Tahir Whitehead. He managed another stupid 12-men on the field penalty, which I can’t excuse in most instances—it’s a really dumb mistake—but his coaching against the Saints was very well done. Caldwell dictated the flow of the game from the very first snap and neither Sean Payton nor Drew Brees were ever able to gain any footing. This was, in my opinion, the best coached game of Jim Caldwell’s career as a Lion. No, it wasn’t super exciting, but he had a game plan and it was executed with near-perfect precision.
Jim Bob Cooter, OC: Stock Unchanged
There were some nice calls that I really liked from Jim Bob Cooter, but far too often I was seeing plays that were holdovers from Joe Lombardi. Many will point to the failed red zone drives, with four points taken off almost every time they saw that part of the field, but I’m looking specifically at a screen that got blown up by Kenny Vaccaro. On that screen, Riley Reiff was tasked with covering a ridiculous amount of ground, and even if he were a spectacular athlete—which he isn’t—it would have been a tall order. Those plays, ones where it would require an all world athlete to even stand a chance, should have been retired the moment Joe Lombardi left town. On the whole, though, Cooter was able to move the team down the field with a fair amount of ease, even if he did often stall at the end.
Teryl Austin, DC: Stock Up
Teryl Austin has caught a ton of deserved criticism this year for the type of defense he has called, but that means no one can have any excuse for not rewarding him for when he calls an excellent game. This was one such game, and aside from moments where every defensive coach struggles (prevent), Austin called a great game. He put his guys in position to succeed and in some situations disguised his coverages so well that he forced Drew Brees to audible to a play or hot read to a receiver that likely resulted in a shorter gain than he would have if he had stayed. It was masterful, and refreshing as a fan of Austin’s to see him forcing an offensive mind like Sean Payton and a quarterback like Drew Brees to make mistakes.
Joe Marciano, ST: Stock Unchanged
There wasn’t much to talk about with Marciano in this one. Coverage was good, not great, while his specialists were their usual selves. It’s not a knock on you as a special teams coach if you don’t get to show off your skills much, it’s a testament to your players and the rest of the team.