Matthew Stafford wasn’t given any help by a porous offensive line and a receiving corps suffering from an acute case of the dropsies, but he has to take responsibilities for Sunday’s loss, too.
Stafford wasn’t accurate; he didn’t seem particularly aware of incoming blitzes and when the pressure came, he had no answers. He took six sacks on the day and at least a couple of those were on Stafford’s inability to make a decision with proper time.
Matthew deserves a ton of credit for hanging in there and nearly orchestrating another improbable comeback, but if we’re grading all four quarters here, Stafford’s day was well below average.
Running backs: B-
It’s pretty tough to grade the Lions running backs, all things considered. The running game was stagnant again on Sunday, rushing for just 50 yards on 15 carries (3.3 YPC). However, both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were active in the passing game and combined for five catches and 48 yards. Riddick, especially, was valuable, shaking Luke Kuechly twice on Sunday.
Considering the tough matchup, I thought the backs did more than what was expected of them against the Panthers.
Wide receivers: C-
All week we heard about how weak this Panthers secondary was, and many were hoping for and expecting a breakout week from the Lions’ passing game. That didn’t really ever come to fruition, though.
Marvin Jones had his best game of the season with six catches for 54 yards, but that was really the extent of the entire pass offense.
Aside from one debatable drop from Golden Tate, the receivers did a good job of snagging the ball once it was in the air. However, separation remains an issue with this entire receiving unit.
Tight ends: D
What to focus on here? Eric Ebron’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day or Darren Fells’ two last-minute touchdowns?
Unfortunately, Ebron’s early drops hurt this team more than Fells’ touchdowns helped. Additionally, this wasn’t Fells’ best day as a blocker. It may be time to start seeing a little more of rookie Michael Roberts, even if he’s not quite ready yet.
Offensive line: F
The right side of the offensive line continues to perform at a good level, but the left side is such a disaster, it brings down the entire unit to a failing grade. On the offensive line, you are only as good as your weakest link, and Detroit has three weak links from the center to the left tackle.
Defensive line: D-
The Panthers have one of the worst left tackles in the league and came into Sunday with a backup center. As a result, Cam Newton had an eternity to throw the ball against the Lions. Detroit may have tallied three sacks on Sunday, but that doesn’t tell the story. Newton’s touchdown pass to Devin Funchess perfectly encapsulated the day, as he had nearly six full seconds to go through every option before finding Funchess in the back of the endzone.
The defensive line deserves a little credit for helping stop the running game, but most of that credit goes to the...
Jarrad Davis showed just how much of a game changer he can be when in the lineup. The rookie linebacker picked up 2.5 tackles for loss and eight tackles total. However, he and Tahir Whitehead had some issues in coverage and were at least partially responsible for tight end Ed Dickson’s breakout game (five catches, 175 yards).
The Lions’ defensive gameplan was absolutely clear: Stop the run and make Cam Newton beat you. Detroit executed that plan perfectly, but unfortunately the Lions secondary was not up to task. Dickson, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess caught 16 passes on 19 targets for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Detroit came into the game leading the league in passes defended, but only managed to get their hands on three passes against Carolina. Darius Slay had a rough day. Per PFF:
While Hayden was playing well, Darius Slay was having his worst game of the season. Slay allowed five catches for 71 yards, two touchdowns, and Cam Newton had a near-perfect 155.6 passer rating when targeting Slay in coverage.
Special teams: C-
Special teams was pretty much a non-factor in this game. Matt Prater was his typical perfect self, but only had a 30-yard field goal to speak of. Jamal Agnew didn’t do anything noteworthy in the return game.
The reason for the small downtick from average is because Jeff Locke had a pretty poor day punting the ball. He had several opportunities to pin the Panthers inside their own 20-yard line, but only managed to do so in one of five attempts.
I don’t have much to say about Jim Caldwell’s in-game management. I thought he could have used his timeouts a little better in the first half and saved more time for the offense to get one more opportunity. But the Lions offense was stuck in neutral anyways, and wouldn’t have done anything with the extra time.
However, the gameplans both on offense and defense were complete failures. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is rightfully getting hammered after this game. Detroit’s offense looks inefficient, unimaginative and stubbornly stuck in their ways.
Look at the Panthers offense. They were completely one-dimensional on Sunday. Their running game was non-existent, yet they still averaged 5.7 yards per play and scored on five of their first seven possessions. Carolina knows how to utilize their offensive weapons to the best of their abilities and gets them into positions they can win. You can’t say the same about the Detroit offense.
Defensively, the gameplan made logistical sense. The Lions’ secondary has played so well all year that forcing Cam Newton to beat them seemed like the right play. But Detroit is still failing to find a way to generate pressure. A lot of that falls on the players, but Teryl Austin needs to find a way to get creative and make the opposing quarterback uncomfortable.