The Detroit Lions dropped another game to a good opponent and ended their season with a really frustrated four-game losing streak. There were plenty of mistakes—both mental and physical—and it resulted in an ugly 26-6 loss. As you may guess, the report card is pretty harsh, but a bad performance deserves bad grades.
Matthew Stafford didn’t have a bad game, but he also didn’t make nearly enough plays. He was off-target early, and though he improved as the game went on, he just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Obviously his final stat line was hindered by all of the early drops that not only went down as incompletions, but ended drives abruptly.
Running back: C+
Zach Zenner did all he possibly could as a third-string running back, but the truth is he’s a third string running back. He’s not capable of making something out of nothing. If a hole is where it is supposed to be he’ll run like hell through it, but his improvisational skills are lacking and that will always make him a mediocre back at best. He was somewhat valuable in the passing game on Saturday, so I’ll give him an extra plus.
Wide receivers: F
Dropped passes from Golden Tate. Boneheaded personal fouls from Anquan Boldin. The Lions receivers didn’t make a ton of mistakes, but when they did they made sure it had the maximum impact on the game. Detroit’s receivers failed to make any plays on third down—Lions finished 2 of 11—and really didn’t make any plays on any other down, either.
Tight ends: F
Eric Ebron had two awful drops, and like the wide receivers he seemed to wait until the most critical times to do so. Ebron was supposed to be the Lions’ ace in the hole with the Seahawks defense vulnerable up the middle. However, Ebron just hauled in two of six targets or 24 yards. That’s not good enough.
Offensive line: B+
The Lions were down their starting center and their starting right tackle against Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. We all expected doom for Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, but the offensive line held up their end of the bargain. Taylor Decker was a bonafide left tackle all game, Stafford stood comfortably in the pocket for 3.5 quarters and Clark didn’t even show up on the stat sheet all game.
However, the running lanes were few and far between, so I can’t in good faith give them an A. Also: Laken Tomlinson drops the unit at least half of a grade.
Defensive line: C+
The pass rush was finally back for a game, but unfortunately it came at the expense of gaping holes in the running game. Ezekiel Ansah is a perfect example of what kind of day it was for the defensive line. Ansah was constantly around Russell Wilson and made his life a living hell, but he had a really bad missed tackle in the running game that turned a short gain into a 20+ yard run.
Down the stretch of the season, there was no unit more disappointing than the linebackers. Detroit finally had their starters healthy and active, and yet nothing improved over the middle of the field. DeAndre Levy, Josh Bynes and Tahir Whitehead all had trouble filling gaps in the running game and all were guilty of giving up too much room in coverage. Seattle faced a lot of third and shorts and the linebackers would seemingly cede 5-10 yards without resistance, resulting in the Seahawks going 9 for 16 on third downs.
The Lions secondary was hardly tested all game, as the Seahawks ran the ball nearly 40 times on the night. While the secondary mostly kept the play in front of them, there were a few huge plays from the Seahawks through the air.
The Seahawks receivers made a few impressive catches in good coverage, but the Lions need players that can make plays on the ball too. This defense failed to force a turnover in their final five games of the season, and the secondary has a lot of blame for that.
Special teams: B
Matt Prater was perfect. Sam Martin was fine. Andre Roberts didn’t do anything awful or great.
I imagine this is the section that most are interested in, as Jim Caldwell is going to get a lot of flack for this game, deserving or not.
There were several crucial coaching decision made in this game. The first was their decision to go for it on fourth down early. The majority opinion is that the decision to go for it was right, but the play-call was wrong. While it’s true the fourth down play was ugly, the call was only bad in retrospect. According to Matthew Stafford, Matthew Mulligan was only the emergency option on that play:
Matthew Mulligan was the fourth option on the fourth down play, according to Stafford. That included scrambling.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) January 8, 2017
I don’t like criticizing play-calling with the benefit of hindsight, but still, I would have liked to see the Lions pound the rock there and simply try run for a first down rather than try to trick this Seahawks defense that is known for their discipline.
I also had a major issue with punting the ball with eight minutes left in the game, down two possessions. Given the way the defense was playing at that point, punting was essentially giving up.
That being said, most of this game was lost due to execution. Missed tackles, dropped passes, bad penalties. Those aren’t specific coaching issues, so it’s hard to completely peg this one on Caldwell and his staff. Still, when the same sort of problems creep up—gaps in the middle of the defense, lack of balance on offense—you have to wonder if talent is truly the only issue.