Matthew Stafford threw a couple dimes in this game, both to Eric Ebron for big gains. But for the rest of the game, Stafford looked indecisive at best, completely befuddled at worst. He was taking too long to get through his read, he hesitated too many times on throws and he turned the ball over late in the first half, likely taking points off the board for Detroit and giving the Bengals one more opportunity to score before halftime.
Statistically, this was arguably Stafford’s worst game, completing just 54.3 percent of his passes, totalling 5.8 yards per attempt and finishing with a 69.1 passer rating. All of those marks were either his worst or second worst performance of the year.
Running backs: B-
Tion Green looked very effective as the Lions’ power back, giving some hope that he could potentially play that role in 2018. In his seven carries for 43 yards, he picked up a third-and-1, a fourth-and-1 and score a red zone touchdown. That’s quite efficient.
Theo Riddick, on the other hand, was not a very efficient runner, rushing for just 2.0 yards per carry. Ameer Abdullah was a little better, earning 21 yards on six carries.
Overall, this was a better-than-average day for this unit, but they are far from being good by NFL standards.
Wide receivers: D-
Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. combined for just 10 catches and 92 yards. Each one of them dropped a key pass that would have extended drives or resulted in big plays.
Against, a beat up Bengals secondary there was no excuse for the Lions receivers not to dominate this game. I won’t know until I watch the all-22 to see if part of the reason Stafford was so hesitant was because receivers weren’t breaking open, but either way, this was an inexcusable performance from the receiving corps.
Tight ends: B+
Eric Ebron was the Lions’ leading receiver by far on Sunday, hauling in five catches for 83 yards. He proved to be the schematic mismatch that his athletic profile always said he was. Consistently he was leaving linebackers in the dust and Stafford was finding him.
However, the other two tight ends were left completely off the box score and Ebron had a tough, but devastating drop on a third down. I can’t in good faith give them an A.
Offensive line: D
For much of the game, I thought pass protection was, at the very least, acceptable. And shockingly, aside from one quarterback hit, Geno Atkins was kept completely off the scoresheet.
But when the game was on the line, the offensive line was probably the single biggest reason the Lions lost the game. Don Barclay was a disaster at left guard, allowing five pressures and adding a few false starts along the way. The replacement next to him, Corey Robinson, was just as culpable for poor lineplay that had Stafford on the run for nearly the entire second half.
Defensive line: D+
Ezekiel Ansah notched three sacks, Dwight Freeney was actually noticeable and picked up a few quarterback hurries, and Akeem Spence had a season-high eight tackles on Sunday.
But just about everyone else on the defensive line did their bet disappearing act. Despite Ansah’s three sacks, Andy Dalton still had way too much time to throw the ball. Outside of Ansah’s sacks, the Lions only had one other quarterback hit in the game (from Spence). Additionally, much of the reason the Lions were getting gashed on the running game was because the defensive line was getting consistently pushed back.
Tahir Whitehead and Jarrad Davis both tallied a tackle for loss, but that is really the only good thing I can say about their play. Whitehead was credited with three missed tackles per Pro Football Focus, and he was also a liability in coverage.
Davis was a little more reliable as a tackle, but giving up 142 rushing yards to the worst rushing offense in the league is unforgivable and the linebackers were largely to blame.
It’s not often that I’d give the Lions secondary this low of a grade, especially when the Lions picked off a pass and Darius Slay picked up three passes defended.
But when the Lions needed a defensive stop, it was mostly the secondary that let the team down.
In addition to that, the Lions secondary committed three penalties in the second half, including a devastating holding call on Quandre Diggs that gave Cincinnati a first down on a third-and-12 play. The Bengals would score the game-winning field goal on that drive a few plays later.
Special teams: D
Matt Prater missed a field goal that would have completely changed the ending to the game. Sam Martin had several opportunities to pin the Bengals inside their own 15-yard line and went 0-for-3. And with Detroit pinned in their own zone late in the game, the Lions needed a big punt from Martin to flip the field position. His kick went 33 yards.
Detroit didn’t give up any big plays in special teams, which is the only reason they didn’t get an F here (along with an impressive special teams tackle from Don Carey). But as a unit, this was a pretty horrible game.
An elimination game against an 5-9 opponent who had nothing to play for in a half-empty stadium, and THAT’S HOW YOU COME OUT AND PLAY? This Detroit team looked completely outmatched in every phase of the game. It’s hard to know if that’s a talent, execution or gameplanning issue (likely a combination of all three), but it all falls on the coaching staff.
Throw in some conservative game management on some fourth-and-shorts, a debatable decision not to challenge a late Golden Tate catch/non-catch and poor play-calling on third down on both sides of the ball, and you’ve come up with the perfect storm to lose your job.
It’s hard to imagine Jim Caldwell and crew coming up with a worse script for Sunday’s game. I was pretty firmly in the “give Caldwell one more year” camp before this game, but they did everything they could to change my mind against the Bengals.