The Detroit Lions 39-35 victory over the Indianapolis Colts featured very impressive performances from players in Honolulu Blue, but also some really poor play from other sections of the team. This roster ran the gamut of All Pro skill to practice squad outcast. Let’s take a deeper look into the performances of the Lions players by position.
I don’t know what more you could have really expected from Matthew Stafford on a day that he completed 79.5 percent of his passes for 8.7 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Stafford was phenomenal, and most importantly, he drove the Lions down the field with ease given just 37 seconds. At some point, Lions fans may become desensitized to the Stafford Comeback Win, but they shouldn’t. He’s something special when he’s on.
Running backs: A+
Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah accounted for over half of the Lions offense. Between the two, they had 108 yards rushing, 120 yards receiving and three touchdowns. That’s 51 percent of the team’s yardage and 60 percent of the team’s touchdowns.
Both Abdullah and Riddick were creating space and breaking tackles and a breakneck pace. After a disappointing preseason from both players, this was an incredibly unexpected turn of events.
Tight ends: B
Eric Ebron was impressive in his 2016 debut, collecting five catches on all five targets for 46 yards and a score.
However, Ebron was not the only tight end to play against the Colts, and I’m afraid Cole Wick stood out again for all of the wrong reasons. We saw poor blocking from Wick and it cost the Lions a tackle for loss on at least one occasion.
Wide receivers: B-
The receivers didn’t truly do anything wrong against the Colts, but against a defense that had a secondary completely decimated from injuries by the end of the game, you would expect the Lions’ receiving corps to put on a dominating performance. Marvin Jones looked pretty good in his Lions debut, but the Lions hardly got anything else from Golden Tate and only got the occasional first down from Anquan Boldin. They weren’t bad, per say, but they weren’t as dominant as they should have been.
Offensive Line: B-
If we were handing out grades on a curve based on preseason expectations, this would be an A+. The Lions only ceded one sack on the day and finished the game rushing for 116 yards at 4.8 a carry. However, the Lions avoided sack situations by getting the ball out quickly and a lot of the rushing success was the result of slick moves from the running backs. Too often, there were defenders crashing into the backfield, causing Riddick and Abdullah to turn on their magic a little sooner than they should need to. Still, it was an above-average performance from the team’s biggest perceived weakness.
Defensive line: D
After a very promising start, including two sacks in the first half from Kerry Hyder, the defensive line completely disappeared from the game. The Lions went long stretches trying to generate pressure with just their front four and it failed most of the time. When Andrew Luck had the time to sit in the pocket, he absolutely eviscerated the Lions defense. Ezekiel Ansah was a complete non-factor all game, and nobody else on the front four stood out either.
This was really a split performance by the two linebackers. DeAndre Levy looked like his normal self out there in his first full game since 2014. Levy had a pass breakup in coverage and four tackles on the day. However, his performance was overshadowed by a terrible taunting penalty that gave the Colts a huge first down after Levy made a crucial third-down stop in the second half.
As for his compatriot, Tahir Whitehead, I don’t think anyone had a more up-and-down game than he. Whitehead finished with a team-high 10 tackles and even had two pass breakups. But his mistakes were just as big, especially in coverage against tight ends, who ripped apart the Lions defense late in the game.
There is not one good performance to speak of in the Lions secondary. Quandre Diggs looked bad. Nevin Lawson looked bad. Darius Slay gave up another big play. Heck, even the Lions’ most reliable player in the back four, Glover Quin, gave up at least one touchdown. Andrew Luck had a near perfect day and it didn’t look like anyone in the secondary had any intention on stopping him. It was ugly back there.
Special teams: B+
On a day that Sam Martin set a single-game franchise record for gross punting and net average, it was the foot of Matt Prater that took center stage on Sunday. After a missed extra point put the entire game in jeopardy, Prater found redemption in the form of a 43-yard game winner with just four seconds remaining.
In the return game, Andre Roberts didn’t provide much of a spark, but the Lions did a great job in punt and kick coverage. Without the missed extra point, this was an A performance.
The Lions came out with a game plan that seemed to have caught the Colts completely by surprise. Detroit came out dominant and didn’t hold back until the teams headed to the locker room at halftime.
Whatever was said there must not have been inspiring, because the Lions came out flat. Indianapolis scored 17 points in their first four drives of the second half, while the Lions went three-and-out in three of their first four drives in the third quarter.
Then there was the clock management at the end of the game. Let’s be clear here, if the Colts had properly utilized the clock on offense, Detroit never would have had the chance at redemption at the end of the game.
Detroit had all three timeouts as the Colts were getting closer to scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Coming out of the two minute warning, the Colts had the ball on the Lions’ 21-yard line. After a nine-yard pick up, the Colts had earned a first down with just 12 yards between them and the end zone. The clock was ticking and the Colts gladly let the clock run down, knowing over 90 seconds was plenty to go 12 yards, especially with two timeouts in their back pocket. The Lions sat idly as 30 precious seconds ran off the clock.
Then something weird happened. The Colts gained zero yards on the ensuing first down and called a timeout. At that point, Indianapolis could have run the clock down to 30 seconds or so, but chose to stop it with 1:15 left. Even if they were worried about not having enough time left to score, they could have run another 15-20 seconds and left themselves plenty of time.
Having been given the gift of 30 extra seconds, you’d think the Lions would be careful as to not waste any more time, but they did exactly that. The Colts gained another six yards, inbounds, and let another 20 seconds bleed off the clock before a review stopped the clock.
Then came the Colts’ second gift. After the review, the clock was set in motion. The Colts, just six yards away from the end zone, could have ran another 20 seconds off the clock before running another play. That would have left the Lions offense with around 20 seconds left. Instead, the Colts immediately snapped the ball once it was in place, and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds left.
By my calculations, rather than be in a situation with just 37 seconds left with three timeouts—after two gifts from the Colts—the Lions could have saved almost a full minute while even keeping one timeout in their pocket. What would you rather take? 1:30 with one timeout or 37 seconds with three timeouts?
The Lions ended up winning anyways, but you won’t always escape that kind of poor clock management.