Monday morning usually means it’s time to grade how the Detroit Lions performed on Sunday, but since the Lions didn’t play this week, there is no performance to grade.
However, I’ve got an itchy grading finger today and my red marker is feeling a little underappreciated. So instead of grading a single performance, let’s take a look at how the Lions team has performed as a whole over their first six games.
This looked like the year Matthew Stafford was finally out of excuses and was expected to lead this team to a division title. His No. 1 running back had returned, his offensive line had been revamped and all of his receiving options had spent a full offseason under Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.
But it turns out none of that has actually helped Stafford. The running game remains impotent, Stafford is on pace for the most sacks in his career, and his receivers continue to struggle creating separation.
But Stafford deserves some blame, too. He’s been extremely careless with the ball, especially over the past two weeks. He doesn’t seem to be comfortable in the pocket anymore (understandable so), and his accuracy can be off at times.
That being said, we can’t forget just how good Stafford looked to begin the season. He was excellent against a good Cardinals secondary and was incredibly precise against an smothering Giants defense. Up until Week 6, Stafford had a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
So while Stafford certainly hasn’t done enough, especially lately, when given the opportunity, he’s shown he can be the quarterback the Lions need him to be.
Running backs: C+
Ameer Abdullah hasn’t been the spark this Lions running game desperately needed. Although he hasn’t been given much help from the men in front of him:
Ameer Abdullah is 29th in the NFL, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. According to PFF, he's 4th in yards after contact, 2.97 yards.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) October 19, 2017
Abdullah is basically doing everything in his power to keep the defenses honest. Averaging 3.8 yards per carry with this offensive line is no small miracle. And Abdullah’s ability to break out long runs gives the Lions offense an opportunity for a splash play on the ground that they haven’t had in several years.
Still, Abdullah and company need to do more. Theo Riddick has been somewhat disappointing in the passing game, while Zach Zenner/Dwayne Washington have only been okay in spot duties as the third down back.
Tight ends: D
There is no way around it, this has been Eric Ebron’s most disappointing season to date, and if things down turn around in the next two months, it certainly seems like he and the Lions are headed for a divorce.
Darren Fells has picked up some of Ebron’s slack in the passing game, but even he isn’t absolved from blame in the Lions’ offensive failures through six games. According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn’t exactly been the blocking savior the Lions need:
Lions drafted a run blocking TE and signed 1, both are being out performed by Ebron.— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) October 19, 2017
Run Block Grades
More than anything, this Lions team needs a consistent force in pass and run blocking from their tight ends, and they aren’t currently getting it. Even worse, what was supposed to be a huge threat in the passing game has turned out to be a complete non-factor.
Wide receivers: D+
Once again, Golden Tate has proven to be one of the most underrated receivers in the league, coming into Week 7 as the No. 5 wideout in the league, per PFF. But that’s where the good news ends.
For those hoping for a rebirth in Marvin Jones’ game under Jim Bob Cooter, the first six weeks have been a huge disappointment. He’s averaging just 46.7 yards per game, which is his lowest total since 2013.
This Lions offense is clearly missing Anquan Boldin. Perhaps the return of Kenny Golladay can help this unit, but missing Tate for a few weeks could be just as harmful.
Offensive line: F
I’ve managed to insult the offensive line in every other unit other than the last. Games are won and lost in the trenches, and it’s very clear this trench is losing games for Detroit.
While the Lions’ investments in T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner have resulted in fairly consistent play on the right side, the left has been a complete disaster. Greg Robinson is who we thought he was, while Graham Glasgow and Travis Swanson’s development seems stuck in neutral. Injuries haven’t helped out at all, but 23 sacks in six games is completely unacceptable.
Defensive line: D
The Lions’ lack of pass rush has really hurt Detroit against some of the better quarterbacks in the league. Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees were able to torch this defense largely because of the amount of time and comfort they had in the pocket.
Anthony Zettel has been a pleasant surprise in Kerry Hyder’s role in the defense, but Ezekiel Ansah and just about every other defensive end in the rotation has been invisible.
The only thing keeping this unit from an F is their interior defenders. Haloti Ngata played well before his season-ending injury. A’Shawn Robinson is quietly making plays seemingly every week. Akeem Spence has turned out to be a good run stuffer. Overall, Detroit remains pretty solid against the run, and their defensive tackles remain a big part of that.
But the lack of pass rush will continue to kill the Lions defense until they figure something out.
For the first half of the season, this looked to be the most improved part of the defense, but recently the Lions’ linebackers have taken a bit of a step back.
Jarrad Davis has had an up-and-down rookie season, which should be expected of a first-year player quarterbacking the defense. At times, he’s looked like the instinctive, tackling machine that he was advertised as. Other times, he’s looked lost and occasionally humbled by bigger backs that can break tackles.
Tahir Whitehead has been much improved now that he’s back in his more natural weakside position, but he, too, has had the occasional lapse in judgement.
Still, this unit is much improved from last year, even when it’s had to rely on its depth. Once they can smooth out some of the inconsistencies, they have a chance to be one of the better linebacking units in the NFC.
Glover Quin is somehow still playing the best football of his career. Darius Slay continues to be a consistent, lockdown cornerback. Tavon Wilson is an excellent run defender, while Quandre Diggs has returned to rookie form (that’s a good thing) in the nickel position.
This is easily the Lions’ best unit through six weeks, even if they’ve had a bad game (Panthers) or two (Saints).
Last year, the Lions had just 10 interceptions and 63 passes defended (3.9 per game) all year. Through six games, Detroit already has nine interceptions and 35 passes defended (5.8 per game). That kind of ball-hawking ability was the reason Detroit beat the Cardinals, and the one way Detroit managed to keep it close against the Falcons and Saints.
Special teams: A
After messing around with their kick and punt returners, the Lions finally settled on Jamal Agnew, and it has paid dividends. The rookie returner leads the entire NFL with a 23.7 yards per punt return average and is the only player in the league with two punt return touchdowns (the rest of the league combined only has three).
In the kicking game, Matt Prater continues to be one of the most reliable kickers from long distance, and his dependability has already earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and NFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors.
Even with the Lions’ best punter on the NFI list, Detroit managed to cover for him well. After a short, quick Kasey Redfern disaster, Jeff Locke came in and averaged a respectable 45.3 yards per punt (19th) and 42.2 net average (ninth).
Aside from a handful of questionable decisions against the Saints, I think Jim Caldwell’s in-game management has been good this year, and he deserves some credit for keeping a level head when his team has fallen into huge deficits.
But this team has not adjusted well to injuries and their own weaknesses well. We all knew coming in that the defensive line—specifically defensive end—was a weak point on the roster, yet Detroit has not been able to compensate and generate pressure from elsewhere.
The Lions’ offensive line has been a tire fire, yet Jim Bob Cooter hasn’t found an effective way to bypass that problem and implement a successful offensive gameplan.
Good coaches in this league are at their best when adversity hits the roster, and it’s clear right now this team isn’t adjusting properly, especially on offense. Nearly every team seem to have a blueprint on how to stop this Detroit offense, and Cooter has shown no signs of adjustment or change through six weeks. Hopefully the bye week has inspired some creativity on that side of the ball.