After the Detroit Lions dropped their first game of the season against the Tennessee Titans, it’s time to send the team home with a report card. Their parents aren’t going to be too happy this week.
I thought Matthew Stafford had a brilliant first half. He did just about everything he could to get the Lions out to a huge lead. Unfortunately, drops and penalties from other players set him back at every turn through the first two quarters.
What really impressed me was Stafford’s ability to extend plays with his feet and direct traffic. His touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin was Aaron Rodgers-esque.
Unfortunately, Stafford wasn’t nearly as sharp in the second half. He had some inaccuracy issues, and when the pressure started coming at the end of the game, Stafford didn’t have an answer. Still, the Lions look to be in very good hands with No. 9.
Running back: B+
The loss of Ameer Abdullah really took the wind out of the sails of the running game. That being said, the Lions still did manage to get 137 rushing yards at 6.0 yards per carry. This was against a team that gave up just 65 yards rushing at 2.3 a carry against the Vikings last week.
However, the Lions’ running backs weren’t able to get involved in the passing game. Theo Riddick was the only back who caught a pass and his 28 receiving yards hardly made a dent in the Titans defense.
Tight ends: B
It was good news/bad news for Eric Ebron on Sunday. I’m not going to mark him down for the pass interference call that never was, but the holding penalty that nullified Abdullah’s rushing touchdown was real.
Ebron was phenomenal as a receiver against the Titans, grabbing four catches for 53 yards, including an unbelievable one-handed grab on the Lions’ final drive of the game. The Lions tight ends are also still having a ton of trouble blocking, but hopefully next week’s return of Andrew Quarless will help them out.
Wide receivers: D
Seven drops. Seven. That is completely unacceptable from a crew of receivers that was touted as being one of the most sure-handed group of players the Lions have seen in quite some time.
Marvin Jones had a drop or two of his own on Sunday, but he also made up for it with 118 yards receiving, including a huge play where he shook off a would-be tackler and ran 47-yards down field.
Offensive line: C
The Lions continued to have a semblance of a running game, and the offensive line deserves a lot of credit, especially against an above-average Titans defense. However, protection started breaking down at the end of the game, and the offensive line combined for three crucial holding penalties. Laken Tomlinson continues to struggle and could be on his way to getting replaced if the issues continue.
Defensive line: B-
Considering the Lions lost the services of Ezekiel Ansah just two plays into the game, I though the defensive line played admirably. Devin Taylor picked up 1.5 sacks, while Kerry Hyder picked up his third sack of the year. Up until DeMarco Murray busted out a 67-yard run, the Lions were holding the Titans’ running game in check, too.
However, the pass rush seemed to diminish when the Lions needed it most. When the Lions needed a stop, no one on defense stepped up, including the defensive line.
It’s not really their fault. Tahir Whitehead had a good game. Kyle Van Noy held his own against the Titans. Heck, even rookie Antwione Williams made some positive plays out there. But by the end of the game, the Lions were down to Whitehead, Thurston Armbrister—who was claimed off waivers just two weeks ago—and Brandon Copeland in the game. Armbrister looked completely lost out there, with players constantly pointing to what he should be doing, while Copeland looked a little rusty transitioning back to his linebacker position.
Detroit gave it their all, but in the end the injuries were so devastating and so crucial. In the fourth quarter, the Titans were able to run the ball with ease and pass over the middle of the field with no resistance. This was almost entirely due to the depleted linebacking corps.
The corners and secondary weren’t as abused as they were last week against the Colts, but they weren’t good either. Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson combined for three penalties, and Lawson looked particularly bad in coverage yet again.
That being said, Titans wide receivers combined for just 82 yards on nine catches. And Glover Quin came up with a phenomenal interception.
The Lions’ secondary wasn’t good on Sunday, but they didn’t really have to be. The Titans were perfectly fine torching the linebackers.
Special Teams: A-
Once again, Sam Martin was a stud. He dropped all five of his punts inside the Titans’ 20 yard line. Matt Prater was perfect at field goals. The only reason the Lions were dinged half of a grade is because the return game continues to be anemic. Andre Roberts doesn’t appear to bring much to the return game, but rookie Dwayne Washington did look okay on one kick return.
In terms of time management, I thought Caldwell deserves a bit of credit. He didn’t waste his timeouts at any point in the game and was able to get his team the ball back with plenty of time to score the go-ahead points at the end of the game.
Many will point to Caldwell for the poor discipline that led to 17 penalties and 138 yards in infractions. However, I don’t quite see it the same way. Many of the penalties were performance related: six holding penalties (five on offense, one on defense), three pass interference penalties. Those were the result of players getting themselves into bad situations and having to “cheat” their way back to make things even. If the Lions were being tagged with constant personal foul penalties, late hits, illegal formations, too many men or the like, then I would point to Caldwell’s poor coaching. But Lions players did this on their own.
The coaching staff does get dinged for having the team come out flat again in the second half. The Lions have twice had a two-possession lead (or more) at halftime, and twice they have blown it. It appears the opponents are making the proper adjustments in the locker room, but Caldwell and the Lions are not.
And as a minor quibble, I would have liked to see Caldwell go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Titans 39-yard line in the second quarter, but that was not a huge error of judgement in my opinion.