After the Detroit Lions’ decisive 20-10 victory over the Chicago Bears, there are plenty of good grades to pass around. So be sure to print this report card out and get yourself 20 free tokens from Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Matthew Stafford continues to make the quarterback position look easy. After a few early missed throws, Stafford dialed in and made the Chicago Bears pay down after down. His amazing throw-and-catch to Marvin Jones Jr. in the first half was not only an amazing display of arm strength and accuracy, but it also showcased Stafford’s ability to scramble and give himself some extra time to make plays.
Stafford has now completed 75 percent of his passes in three straight games. No Lions quarterback has ever done that. Where you at, Stafford haters?
Running backs: B
Theo Riddick finished with a respectable eight carries for 49 yards, but all of that came in the first half. After Riddick suffered a wrist injury, Tion Green took over with mixed results. At times, Green looked like the strong, tough-to-bring-down back that the Lions offense has missed. Other times, he looked indecisive, slow and, well, like an undrafted rookie. 10 carries for 35 yards isn’t exactly a bad performance, but it wasn’t anything special either.
The Lions backs were, once again, active in the passing game. Riddick and Ameer Abdullah combined for six catches and 25 yards.
Tight ends: B+
Aside from Eric Ebron’s phenomenal touchdown catch, it was a quiet day for the Lions’ tight ends. Ebron did haul in four other catches, but those combined for just 14 yards. Still, Ebron is starting to show up in the biggest moments in games, and he’s rising to the occasion. Literally:
No other tight ends saw a target on Saturday, but none of them made any egregious errors in pass or run blocking plays.
Wide receivers: A-
Much like the tight ends, the Lions wide receivers weren’t exactly huge players in this game. Golden Tate only caught three passes for 33 yards, Kenny Golladay only had four for 29. But this Marvin Jones Jr. catch is worth at least 15 Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens alone:
MATTHEW STAFFORD.— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2017
INCREDIBLE. #CHIvsDET #OnePride pic.twitter.com/UYnR5vAymO
Throw in three catches from T.J. Jones for 26 and a score, and you’re left with a receiving corps that played pretty darn well in their limited chances, as Stafford spread the ball out evenly among the group.
Offensive line: C
This may have been the Lions’ best run-blocking game of the season, thanks to an excellent performance from Joe Dahl in his first career start. The Lions ended up averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the ground, their second best mark all season.
But pass protection was a bit of a disaster all game, and it only got worse when T.J. Lang was forced out of the game and Don Barclay took over at right guard. Matthew Stafford was sacked four times on the day, while the Bears tallied six total quarterback hits.
Defensive line: C+
The Lions still didn’t generate enough pressure on the quarterback, especially from the edges, but overall this was a step in the right direction for a struggling unit. The interior of the defensive line did an excellent job clogging running lanes and even putting a little pressure on Mitchell Trubisky.
Akeem Spence was a standout on the line. When the Bears had a replacement guard in the game, Spence immediately abused him and pulled down Trubisky, pushing Spence’s sack total to 2.5 on the year.
Still, the Lions need a better performance from their defensive ends. Ezekiel Ansah, Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington and Dwight Freeney were essentially non-factors on Saturday.
This was an absolute dream performance from the Lions’ linebackers. Defensively, the game plan was clearly to stop the Bears’ running game in its tracks and thanks to excellent performances from rookie Jarrad Davis and veteran Tahir Whitehead, Chicago was completely unable to establish the running game.
But don’t overlook their coverage play, either. In my opinion, Jalen Reeves-Maybin had the best game of his young career. He came up with a big pass defended that almost turned into an interception. According to Pro Football Focus, Reeves-Maybin earned a 81.4 coverage grade in 24 passing down snaps. How long have we waited for a good coverage linebacker? The Lions may finally have one.
But my favorite play of the game came from Tahir Whitehead. The Bears ran a read-option with Trubisky that was very much intended to keep the Lions defense off balance, something they were able to do last matchup. But when Trubisky kept the ball, Whitehead was right there ready to make the tackle for loss. Two plays later, Quandre Diggs had a red zone interception.
If you look at Mitchell Trubisky’s final stat line, it’s incredibly misleading. The rookie quarterback completed 67.4 percent of his passes for a career-high 314 yards. But he also attempted 11 more passes in a single game than he ever has.
In truth, the Lions secondary was making life a living hell for Trubisky all game until they went into prevent in the final quarter.
For the second straight week, Quandre Diggs and Darius Slay were the two biggest playmakers on the field when Detroit was on defense. The two combined for eight tackles, 1 sack, five passes defended and three interceptions. Nevin Lawson and DJ Hayden added a pass defended each, while Glover Quin was a force in defending the run, notching an impressive tackle for loss (he added a pass defended, too).
Earlier in the year, this secondary was among the league leaders in passes defended. They have been struggling more recently, but on Saturday, they had 10 total pass breakups, which is well above their season average.
Special teams: B-
The Lions’ return game looked a lot more explosive with Jamal Agnew back in the game, even though the Lions oddly kept him out of kick returns. Agnew averaged 11.5 yards per punt return on four attempts, which actually brought his league-leading average down. However, Agnew was a broken tackle from breaking a couple of those for an even bigger gain and an 11.5 average is still pretty darn good.
Sam Martin continues to look mortal after a shanked punt and another touchback, but he won back believers in the fourth quarter when his 64-yard punt pinned the Bears at their own 6-yard line.
Kick coverage nearly gave up a huge return by Tarik Cohen, but they were bailed out by a holding penalty.
With Jim Caldwell, there are plenty of things to complain about, but his team’s performance against bad teams isn’t one of them. Coming into 2017, the Lions were an amazing 20-4 against teams that finished with a losing record under Caldwell. If records stand as they are now, the Lions are 6-0 in such games this season.
The Lions set out to stop the running game on defense and force Mitchell Trubisky to beat them. Detroit did their job and Trubisky did not. It was the perfect defensive game plan, and one that the Lions have proven is much more difficult than it seems. Give credit to Teryl Austin, too, for fixing the Lions’ problem with read options, at least for one week.
Offensively speaking, the Lions managed to put up a respectable, balanced performance. Detroit still couldn’t run the ball all that efficiently to run out the clock at the end of the game, but finishing strong with 4.5 yards per carry is a big step in the right direction, especially considering how beat up the offensive line was. But Jim Bob Cooter really shined on third down. The Lions converted on six of 13 third down plays, INCLUDING A THIRD-AND-SHORT!
In terms of game management, Caldwell was perfectly fine. I literally have no complaints with the coaching staff this week, so they get a rare A. It’s almost like they were coaching for their jobs.