The Detroit Lions easily looked like the better team on Saturday against the New York Jets, but that was to be expected against a team many consider the worst in the NFL. Let’s dig a little deeper into the Lions’ performance and grade them position-by-position.
The only really performance that matters was that of Matthew Stafford, and he delivered. Stafford finished the day 8 of 10 for 84 yards and a touchdown and really looked dominant in his final possession of the game. He wasn’t perfect, however, as he nearly threw another tipped-ball interception when an inaccurate throw to Golden Tate bounced off his fingertips and almost into the arms of an awaiting Jets defender.
Jake Rudock and Brad Kaaya didn’t do much to inspire confidence after Stafford left the game. For the final three quarters, the two managed just six points of offense, and both really struggled with pressure and accuracy. It wasn’t a huge step back for either, but it wasn’t really a promising performance either.
Running backs: D
If you were watching the Lions’ version of the broadcast, you likely remember color analyst Chris Spielman hammer the Lions running backs for failing to follow their lead blockers. Spielman was right—although the Lions offensive line did not do the backfield any favors.
For the second week in a row, the Lions’ running game looked anemic, and this week it was far worse: 31 rushes for 80 yards (2.6 YPC). Sure, the Jets defensive line is one of the best in the league, but the Lions running backs did little to help themselves, which is disappointing considering the heated battle for the No. 4 spot.
Tight ends: B
Lions tight ends have been fairly quiet through two games, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering Eric Ebron has been sidelined. Quiet can be a good thing for a guy like Darren Fells, who will primarily be a blocker for Detroit in 2017. I thought he was okay at that job on Saturday, but expectations are a bit higher than how he performed.
That being said, a big standout against the Jets was rookie tight end Michael Roberts. Roberts pulled in two catches for 29 yards. Last week, Roberts struggled with drops and fumbles, so Saturday’s performance was a big step in the right direction.
Wide receivers: B+
(Celebration grade: A++++)
There were a few drops here and there—I’m looking at you Marvin Jones Jr. and Jace Billingsley—but for the most part, the Lions receivers showed why analysts call this unit extremely deep. In total, the Lions completed passes to eight different wide receivers, which isn’t all that uncommon in a preseason game, but is still pretty impressive.
Jared Abbrederis had a few nice catches. Billingsley had a great run after the catch. Keshawn Martin shined during special teams. Even if the Lions decide to only keep four receivers, they are going to have a tough decision on their hands, and TJ Jones’ injury only complicates things further.
Offensive line: D-
Perhaps if I was grading on a curve, I’d give Detroit a kinder grade here, but I can’t completely dismiss the Lions’ poor offensive line performance just because the Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the league.
Many of us came into this season believing the offensive line would not only be improved, but be among the best in the league. The Lions have used a ton of resources on the offensive line in the past two years, and they did not look a bit improved on Saturday.
Some may think I’m being an alarmist, but look at this still and tell me it doesn’t frighten you:
Two offensive linemen on their butts and Stafford with a defender slamming into his knees. Those are the kind of hits that can end a quarterback’s season.
Defensive line: B
For the second-straight week, the Lions’ defensive line did a good job easing worries about the injury-depleted unit. I had been specifically worried about interior pass rushers after a quiet game from every defensive tackle not named A’Shawn Robinson. Enter: Akeem Spence:
Akeem Spence takes down Christian Hackenberg, celebrates sack! https://t.co/b2wxTMHFOi— Sports Outlet (@1SportsOutlet) August 20, 2017
Spence had a fantastic game, adding a tackle for loss on the very next play.
But he wasn’t the only one who showed up.
WARNING: THE VIDEO BELOW IS GRAPHIC:
Cornelius Washington, in his first game action with the Lions, immediately picked up this brutal sack on Christian Hackenberg. Washington could very well be a starting defensive end come Week 1, so it was comforting to see him make a big play.
The only reason I didn’t give this unit an “A” was because we didn’t see much from those towards the bottom of the depth chart. The hype around Jeremiah Valoaga and Alex Barrett severely died out, as neither made any significant plays in the second half.
Upon first viewing, no one specifically stood out among the linebackers, in a positive or negative manner. That’s probably a good thing, especially considering the Jets offense struggled all game.
Jarrad Davis made an impressive play on the very first defensive snap of the game, which is obviously promising. But overall, there wasn’t much to grade from this performance. The jury is still out on this group.
Defensive backs: A
While this performance deserves the disclaimer that the Jets quarterbacks are awful, the defensive backs absolutely did their job on Saturday. The Jets were only able to complete 56.6 percent of their passes, while the Lions were credited with five passes defended, including an impressive interception from Rolan Milligan.
Detroit got good performances from Nevin Lawson, Jamal Agnew, Quandre Diggs and DJ Hayden on Saturday. This extremely deep group of defenders has looked very promising in consecutive weeks, but we’ll see how they test against a real quarterback next week when Tom Brady rolls into town.
Special Teams: B+
As mentioned previously, Keshawn Martin really separated himself from the kick and punt returners on Saturday, notching a 22-yard punt return and a 43-yard kickoff return against the Jets.
Kasey Redfern continues to look like a player who deserves to be on an NFL roster in 2017, even though it won’t be in Detroit.
There were a few minor things to clean up. Lions coverage units were only okay against the Jets, and there were far too many special teams penalties. The Lions were penalized on four special teams plays, which can be absolute killers in that phase of the game.
However, to end this thing on a positive, Detroit’s first takeaway since early last December came on a great special teams play. Dez Stewart tackled the Jets punt returner just as he was catching the ball, forcing a muffed return that Robert Tonyan promptly fell directly on.