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Lions-Colts report card: Defense dominates the day

The Lions’ defense gave plenty of reasons for optimism on Sunday.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions looked impressive from start to finish on Sunday, defeating the Indianapolis Colts handily, 24-10. As always, there were good and bad things to take away from the game, so let’s break down their performance by position.

Here are my grades from Sunday’s game.

Quarterbacks: A-

23-35, 240 yards, 3 touchdowns 1 interceptions, 102.1 passer rating.

That was the statline for all three quarterbacks combined on Sunday. If I were to tell you on Saturday that the Lions would throw one interception against the Colts, how many of you would have picked Matthew Stafford?

No position outperformed expectations more than the Lions’ quarterbacks, and it was a relief to see their backups perform admirably.

I thought Jake Rudock looked like a completely different quarterback than last year. He had command of the offense, looked decisive with his reads, and, most importantly, looked comfortable. He still has accuracy issues and he’ll never have the arm strength to be a legitimate starter in this league. But the Lions threw a lot his way in this game, and Rudock responded well.

Brad Kaaya, much like 2016 Rudock, was not given a lot of duties. He didn’t make many challenging throws or complicated reads, but also didn’t make any real mistakes. We’ll see if the Lions add to his workload throughout the preseason.

Running backs: C-

As I predicted, the Lions’ running game didn’t look all that impressive on Sunday. With Ameer Abdullah only in for a single series and Theo Riddick unavailable, the Lions’ lack of depth was challenged and revealed.

Dwayne Washington was the sole standout on Sunday, running pretty well and displaying the physical nature that the Lions need. But no one else managed to distance themselves in what could be an intense battle for the RB4 spot.

Matt Asiata and Tion Green combined on 10 rushes for 10 yards. Zach Zenner rushed for 19 yards on one play, and seven on his other five carries, and his pass blocking was atrocious. Mike James didn’t even play a single offensive snap.

I’d like to see more out of this group going forward.

Wide receivers: B+

Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay. Kenny Golladay.

Also, Jared Abbrederis and Jace Billingsley had a couple nice receptions where they made the first man miss and picked up some extra yards after the catch. Billingsley was a little disappointing on punt return duty, but other than that, I have no complaints.

The Lions spread the ball out a bunch and their top four receivers didn’t get a lot of playing time, so it’s hard to judge the top half of this depth chart, but I thought the Lions showed their depth on Sunday, even picking up a big play or two from Dontez Ford.

Tight ends: C-

Much like students at the Milford School, Lions tight ends were neither seen nor heard against the Colts. Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. But for one tight end, he was both seen and heard, and it wasn’t for good reasons

With Eric Ebron out and Darren Fells only in for a short portion of the game, Michael Roberts got a heavy workload and was a mixed bag. At times, he showed why the Lions valued his 6-foot-6 frame enough to pick him in the fourth round. He was a physical beast who displayed a nasty stiff arm early in the game.

But Roberts also had a bad drop, and put the ball on the ground twice. One fumble went harmlessly out of bounds, while the other was incorrectly nullified because officials believe his forward progress had stopped. The Lions may not have paid for it, but those fumbles are on film, and the film don’t lie. Roberts needs to be better with the ball.

Offensive line: D+

Trouble was expected from the offensive line, but the Lions didn’t really struggle where they were expected to. Starting left tackle Greg Robinson was better than expected, but probably not as good as you think.

The real problem was with the guard play. Joe Dahl was bad. Graham Glasgow was worse. Laken Tomlinson got reps behind both. We’ve all been focusing on left tackle, but left guard may be a bigger issue for this team right now.

If you look at the stats, it doesn’t seem too bad. Detroit only gave up one sack, and they averaged just under 4 yards per carry, but if you look under the hood, not all was well with the Lions offensive line.

Hurry back, T.J. Lang and Taylor Decker.

Defensive line: B+

The injury to Kerry Hyder still hurts, but it was temporarily eased by the much-improved play from Anthony Zettel, who looked like a man reborn.

Additionally, the Lions got help from a couple undrafted rookies, Jeremiah Valoaga and Alex Barrett, who were both extremely impressive in their NFL debuts, even if it was against third and fourth stringers.

The reason I couldn’t give this unit an A is because of the defensive tackles. While A’Shawn Robinson looked beastly in limited work, no one else on the roster stepped up. Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Khyri Thornton, Bruce Gaston and Ego Ferguson were essentially all invisible.

Granted, the Lions were without two players who will likely factor heavily in the rotation at DT: Haloti Ngata and Jordan Hill. Still, it would have been nice to see someone else step up.

Linebackers: A

Okay, this scares me. The Lions’ linebackers were awful last year, and maybe I’m overcompensating at the sign of promise, but I thought Detroit’s linebackers were outstanding against the Colts.

Jarrad Davis looked comfortable in coverage. Tahir Whitehead made two excellent plays from his more natural WILL position. Antwione Williams looked poised to make some plays in his second year in the NFL.

I’m very excited about this group of linebackers right now, and they even displayed a little depth. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was good on special teams, and made an excellent play on a third-down screen to force a punt. While Paul Worrilow was decent enough to justify a backup role on this team.

I hope this isn’t fool’s gold against a poor Colts team, but for now, I’m hyped on this unit.

Secondary: A-

Normally, I’d split corners and safeties, but because I don’t have the All-22 film and preseason productions are notoriously bad, I can’t evaluate these positions with a lot of confidence.

Here’s what I know: The Lions defended six passes on the day. There were no glaring blown coverages that the Colts were able to exploit. Indianapolis completed just 53.3 percent of their passes, and they didn’t have a completion longer than 25 yards.

The only reason I can’t give the secondary an outright “A” is because these Colts quarterbacks were really bad.

Special teams: B

Kasey Redfern was outstanding for a backup punter that didn’t have a job four months ago. The Lions’ coverage units were again top notch, picking up right where they left off last year.

I was left a little disappointed by the return units, however. With such a heated competition at both kick and punt returner, I was hoping for someone to make a big play, but it never came. Dwayne Washington still looks poor as a kick returner, while Billingsley averaged a mere 4 yards on his four punt returns.

Also, I have no idea what happened with that Matt Prater missed field goal, but I’ll baselessly blame Redfern for the hold, because Prater does not miss 50-yard kicks.

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