Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, our weekly report cards are not split into two semesters: the first half and the second half. If it worked that way, the Lions would head back to Detroit with their heads held high, knowing they finished on a high mark. Unfortunately, the first half happened and it cannot be ignored. So let’s just skip the formalities and jump right into the bad news.
Matthew Stafford shook off a bad first half marked with inaccuracy and inconsistency and finished with another studly performance. Stafford finished Week 3 with the second most passing yards in the league, the second most passing touchdowns in the league, all the while completing 68.3 percent of his throws.
His one interception wasn’t on him, but Stafford did escape a few other throws that probably should have picked been picked off. Still, for a guy who spent most of the game behind a poor line and no running game, Stafford put on another very good performance.
Running backs: C+
Not a big day for the running backs, but I wouldn’t put their poor statistics on them. Theo Riddick probably jumped around a little too much in the backfield, but he was once again a force in the receiving game late.
Dwayne Washington had the same amount of carries as Riddick (10) but finished with 29 more yards (38). As the Lions continue to throw more Washington’s way, he continues to meet the challenge. At this point, it looks like the Lions have themselves a solid No. 2 running back, at the very least.
Tight ends: C-
Eric Ebron had an above average game, but his fumble/interception/drop was an absolutely crushing play in the first half. The Lions were desperately trying to keep themselves in the game early and were already in Green Bay territory. The interception—which Ebron rightly took blame for—immediately put the Packers in field goal range and likely took points off the board for Detroit. That’s a huge swing.
Elsewhere, Cole Wick had a nice grab when Ebron was ailing, but his blocking skills still are a huge problem. This is why the Lions need to seriously consider activating Brandon Pettigrew whenever he’s healty enough to come off the PUP list.
Wide receivers: A-
There’s Marvin Jones and there’s everyone else. Jones had a career day, setting a personal high in receiving yards (202), while hauling in six catches and two touchdowns. Jones continues to be Stafford’s favorite target and probably has the most reliable hands on the team.
Anquan Boldin added a few important catches, including a touchdown on a key fourth down early in the second half. Golden Tate continues to underwhelm in 2016, but he did have four catches for 40 yards. Overall, this was a much better performance for the receivers than their drop-filled Week 2 game.
Offensive line: D-
There were some players along the offensive line (Travis Swanson, Riley Reiff) who would end up with very high individual marks, but unfortunately the offensive line works as an entire unit, and they are only as good as their weakest link. That was evident on Sunday, as the Lions couldn’t get anything going on the ground, despite the Packers having some key defensive players missing in their front seven.
Pass protection wasn’t too much better as rookie Taylor Decker was responsible for at least two of the Packers’ three sacks on the day. Stafford would have likely gone down more if it weren’t for some savvy pocket maneuvering from the veteran quarterback.
Defensive line: F
No push. No pressure. No stopping Eddie Lacy. Maybe the Packers were guilty of a few holds, but for the most part, this defensive line wasn’t generating any sort of push anyways. The Lions tried to send blitzes, they tried to run stunts, they tried to just overpower the Packers and none of it worked.
Even if they were trying to just keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket, that strategy failed on several occasions. Often during the game Rodgers would avoid one tackler and find an entire side of the field wide open to rush in.
As a reminder, we don’t grade on a curve based on injuries, so despite the Lions having to play Zaviar Gooden—a guy added to the team just four days before the game—the Lions still get poor marks. The Lions weren’t exactly abused by tight ends like they were over the first two weeks, but that’s only because they didn’t have to be. Linebackers weren’t reaching Rodgers when blitzing, they weren’t tackling Lacy when he split the gaps, and they certainly weren’t making any plays in coverage.
For the second straight week we saw members of the secondary finger pointing at guys like Thurston Armbrister after the play, showing them where they should have been. That’s not good.
We’re still not seeing any playmakers in the secondary, but this is a hard loss to put on the Lions’ defensive backs. Coverage was often good enough to have Rodgers spending six, seven seconds looking for someone open. Jordy Nelson was responsible for half of the Packers’ receiving yards, and half of those came on one play that had Armbrister on the Packers’ No. 1 receiver.
I am not taking any points away from the secondary for the weak pass interference call against Nevin Lawson, so when you take everything else into consideration, the Lions’ secondary really wasn’t responsible for all that many bad plays on Sunday. That being said, they weren’t responsible for any positive plays either.
Special Teams: C-
Punt and kick coverage continue to look fine, partially thanks to another solid game from punter Sam Martin.
Matt Prater missed a 43-yard field goal, but made a 50-yarder later in the game. So we’ll call that a wash.
But we need to talk about Andre Roberts. I don’t know if the coaches kept telling him to take the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs or if it was his decision, but regardless, Roberts has proven to be an unreliable returner. He returned three kickoffs—all of which were from the end zone—and failed to return any of them beyond the 21-yard line. That mean the Lions were losing yardage every time he brought it out of the end zone. The Lions have two capable returners on their practice squad in TJ Jones and Jace Billingsley. I think it’s time the Lions used one of them.
I know this is the grade that will draw the most ire, but let me explain myself. The coaching staff deserves quite a bit of credit for keeping the Lions in the game emotionally after that train wreck of a first half. A lot of teams would lose focus and start making a lot of mental errors, but the team believed they could still win the game and nearly tied it up in the end.
In terms of game management, I think Caldwell did about as good as you could expect him to. Thankfully, he went for it on fourth down on the opening drive of the second half. I heard a few people get mad about his timeout usage in the final drive of the game, but I disagree with any criticism. Perhaps he used his first timeout a little early, not giving the Lions a chance in case they gave up a single first down. But the truth is, the Lions gave up two first downs on defense, and no combination of timeout usage was going to get the ball back for the Lions with that defense.
Where the Lions do deserve criticism is their defensive play calling. I understand the Lions are in a desperate situation with personnel. I know the Lions don’t want Armbrister out there any more than the fans do, but you just can’t put yourself in a vulnerable position where you have guys like Armbrister or Haloti Ngata covering a guy like Nelson. You have to get creative, you have to dial up pressures that will work. Teryl Austin failed in every way imaginable to compensate for poor players with good scheming.