The Detroit Lions were just 30 minutes away from winning their first division title in 23 years. With a 14-10 lead at halftime, things were looking pretty good as the Lions offense was not only keeping pace with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers electric offense, but the defense was holding up their end of the bargain.
However, much like last week against the Dallas Cowboys, we saw a completely different second half team, and the Lions were outclassed in the final two quarters. It’s hard to know what exactly happened again, but let’s hand out some grades to make some clarity of it all.
Matthew Stafford’s final stat line looked well above average, finishing 26-41 for 347 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers look especially impressive considering the slump he has been in. He also had at least two or three absolute dimes against this poor Packers secondary.
However, he also missed on a few key opportunities, including a sure touchdown pass to Golden Tate early in the first half. He also threw a terrible ball that should have been pick-sixed by Clay Matthews toward the end of the second quarter.
It wasn’t a bad game from Stafford, but in a game in which he needed to be near-perfect, he left too many opportunities out there on the field. You can’t say the same thing about Aaron Rodgers.
Running back: B+
Zach Zenner suddenly looks like not only a competent back, but even a potential starter. I’m sure the Lions would still prefer to use him as a second-string back, as he doesn’t really provide any potential for explosion plays. However, Zenner has proven his worth both in the running and passing game over the past two weeks.
If there’s something that still needs drastic improvement in Zenner’s game, it’s pass protection. Zenner struggled on multiple occasions in picking up blitzes or helping out with chip blocks. That is the only thing preventing him for acing this game.
Tight ends: A-
I thought this was Eric Ebron’s best overall game of the season. He hauled in all six of his targets for 61 yards, but what I liked most was his blocking ability. He had several key blocks in the running game, and I didn’t notice any lapses in the rare instances he was in as pass protection.
I would have liked to see him more involved in the passing game, but when you catch all six of your targets, there’s not a whole lot else you can do.
Wide receivers: C-
If you look at the statline, you’d think the Lions wide receivers tore apart the Packers secondary. Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin combined for 15 catches, 210 yards and two touchdowns. However, this was a poor Packers secondary that saw just about as many injuries as the Lions did on Sunday night. Despite that, Stafford was forced to throw into heavy traffic on nearly every throw. Lions receivers are still hardly getting any separation from their defenders and it’s making Stafford’s job nearly impossible.
Offensive line: C-
It’s not easy for an offensive line when you’re trotting out two, sometimes three, rookies out there, but the offensive line had some real trouble in key moments on Sunday. Corey Robinson struggled against the likes of Nick Perry, while for the second straight week, the Lions couldn’t decide on who they like better: Laken Tomlinson or Joe Dahl.
Still, I thought the offensive line held their head above water for most of the game. Stafford was only sacked twice, while there were some clear running lanes early in the game.
Defensive line: B-
I saw major improvement from this unit against the Packers. Sure, they failed to take down Aaron Rodgers when they had him on the move several times on Sunday, but that is no anomaly. No quarterback is better at identifying pressure and getting out of harm’s way quicker than Rodgers.
There still needs to be improvement with edge rushers, but I think Detroit did a relatively good job in making Rodgers’ job a tad harder, and the run defense problems had more to do with the men behind them.
Speaking of which, I thought this was a huge step back for the Lions linebacking crew. Detroit finally has the personnel that we expected all year, but they are not playing at the level we expected from them. Tahir Whitehead continues to have at least a few mental lapses per game where he leaves his assignments, both in the running game and in the pass coverage.
DeAndre Levy, to me, just does not look like the same player right now. He’s slower to diagnose plays, he’s nowhere near the ferocious tackles we came to know and love, and he just seems like he needs more time to shake the rust.
The middle of the field was another huge vulnerability on Sunday and tackling was an issue. That’s all about the linebackers.
Darius Slay made his return against the Packers and played fairly well. He covered Jordy Nelson for most of the game and managed to hold him to just six catches and 66 yards while keeping him out of the endzone. That may not seem like a great day, but Nelson had been averaging 105.6 yards per game over his past five games coming into Sunday night.
It was everywhere else that the Lions were hurting in the secondary. In the second half, Rodgers discovered that Detroit had no options at nickel corner after Asa Jackson and Crezdon Butler left with injuries. Don Carey, among others, were picked on and dissected by Rodgers the entire second half, and the Lions didn’t have an answer for it.
This game was nearly identical to the Cowboys game. After a half of play, the Lions made you think they could hang with the Packers and could actually win the division. Then they came out completely flat and were overpowered in the second half.
That leads me to believe one of two things are happening. Either the Lions come out of the gate with a great gameplan that masks some clear deficiencies, but come back to Earth once the other team settles in and figures things out. Or, simply, the Lions are failing to make any sort of second half adjustments and are getting outcoached in the second half.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but there are still some puzzling things happening. I know people are upset about Zenner not getting more touches in the second half, but look at the situation a little more closely. The Lions had a total of eight offensive plays in the third quarter. EIGHT. Three of those were rushes to Zenner. They tried to keep the run established, but it stopped working and the Lions barely got the ball in the second half because the defense was giving up 10, 8 and 11-play drives.
Once they started to move away from the run in the second half, things actually got better. After two failed drives to start the second half, the Lions finished with scoring drives in two of their final three possessions. The only drive that didn’t end in points was a drive that got all the way into the red zone before Stafford was intercepted on some, let’s say, physical coverage.
Still, the Lions had no defensive answer for the Packers in the second half, and the game plan out of halftime simply did not work. If you look at the above grades, you’ll see that the players themselves played okay overall. But the Lions coaches couldn’t put that to its best use and they deserve some heat for that.