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Detroit Lions report card: Defense fails to rise to the occasion vs. Patriots

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The Lions’ defense failed their biggest test on Friday, and the offense didn’t do much better.

New England Patriots v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Grading a team’s performance that is so drastically different in the first quarter than it was the rest of the entire game is difficult. How much weight do I put into the Lions team that fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter? How much credit do I give them for making it 24-14 less than five minutes into the second half?

Obviously a little more weight should be placed on the opening quarter, as that’s when most of the starters played, but team depth is very important, too, so I’ll be handing out my grades without forgetting about Detroit’s improved play throughout the grade.

Quarterbacks: A-

Throw together all three quarterbacks’ stats, and you’re left with an extremely impressive performance: 25/37, 299 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception (108.3 passer rating).

But the reality wasn’t nearly as bright. Matthew Stafford struggled with accuracy in his first five drives, which yielded zero points, one interception, two three-and-outs, a fumble (by Golden Tate) and a single first down.

After that, though, Stafford was aces:

After Stafford left, Jake Rudock took over and was near perfect. If there was ever a backup quarterback competition in the first place, Rudock ended it on Friday. His final statline of 10/13 for 133 yards and a touchdown outdueled Jimmy Garoppolo, who many consider the best backup in the league.

Running backs: C+

Much like Matthew Stafford, Ameer Abdullah didn’t show much of anything until after the first five drives. After that, we saw flashes of how electric he can be. Abdullah finished averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 13 rushes, and added 39 receiving yards, to boot.

With Zach Zenner out due to a warmup injury, Matt Asiata and Dwayne Washington split the bulk of second-string carries. Together they rushed for just 36 yards on 13 carries. Washington got in the end zone a few times, but the running game clearly has issues. Not all of them are on the running backs, but they aren’t pulling their weight completely, either.

Tight ends: C

I didn’t noticed the tight ends out there much, which could be construed as a good or bad thing. After Cole Wick was injured, we did see Tim Wright make a few plays, making his case for a roster spot should the Lions carry a fourth tight end. Otherwise, it was a quiet day for the Lions’ tight ends.

Wide receivers: B

Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate combined for nine catches, 124 yards and a touchdown on just 12 targets. However, Tate’s early fumble compounded the Lions’ issues early, helping dig the team into an early 24-point deficit.

It was another disappointingly quiet game from Kenny Golladay, but both Jared Abbrederis and Jace Billingsley had great games behind him.

With an injured TJ Jones, a Keshawn Martin who is only making plays on special teams, and two very promising young receivers, it’s hard to know what the Lions will do with their fourth and potentially fifth wide receivers spots.

Offensive line: D

Pass protection wasn’t too bad on Friday, but the Patriots’ pass rush isn’t particularly good anyways. Unfortunately, the Lions’ run blocking was bad, very bad.

Matthew Stafford wouldn’t come out and throw his offensive line directly under the bus, but here was one of the first things he said on Friday night: “They played us in dime and quarter a lot and we weren’t able to run the ball successful there early, where we had some favorable looks.”

In other words, the Patriots didn’t have a lot of players in the box, yet the Lions were still unable to create any rushing lanes. That’s bad news.

Defensive line: D-

No pass rush (zero sacks) and poor run defending (136 rushing yards allowed, 4.0 YPC). That’s the recipe for a really, really bad performance along the defensive line. Or to put in video form:

There were some minor bright spots: A’Shawn Robinson continues to look disruptive, and Anthony Zettel has overperformed in every game this preseason. But Detroit needs some other names to step up, and they absolutely didn’t. This line looked nothing like the defense that picked up eight sacks through two games.

Linebackers: F

In the past two weeks, I gave the Lions linebackers a “B” against the Colts and an “A” against the Jets. Here’s what I said after the Jets game:

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.

Fears confirmed. The Lions linebackers reverted to their 2016 form. Granted the Patriots probably have the best set of slot receivers and tight ends in the league, but the Lions linebackers couldn’t cover one of them the entire game. Jarrad Davis looked more like a rookie than a rookie possibly can.

Even Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s excellent performance couldn’t pull this unit’s grade out of the gutter. In addition to poor coverage, there was poor tackling and just plain bad play in the red zone.

Tahir Whitehead’s injury only complicates things, but for Detroit’s sake, let’s hope the bad performance said more about the Patriots than it did the Lions.

Defensive backs: C-

It wasn’t pretty, early. Quandre Diggs was beat several times in the slot. Nevin Lawson pulled his favorite trick: Get in really tight coverage, but let the opponent catch the ball anyways. Even Darius Slay was burned on a crossing “pick play” route.

Eventually, however, the Lions settled in. DJ Hayden put up another good performance, Tavon Wilson looked adequate in his first action in the preseason, and Glover Quin picked up an impressive interception after dropping a gift last week.

Special Teams: D

The Lions didn’t give up any big plays. They didn’t miss any kicks or flub any punts. But they did break the cardinal rule of special teams, and they broke it several times: DO. NOT. COMMIT. PENALTIES. ON. SPECIAL. TEAMS.

The Lions committed nine penalties in total on Friday and four of those were on special teams. One backed the Lions up inside their 10-yard line to start a drive. Another turned an extra point attempt into a two-point conversion attempt for the Pats. Yet another negated a punt pinning the Patriots down at their own 6-yard line.

These kinds of penalties ruin field position and make a tough opponent like the Patriots almost unbeatable. The Lions can’t have those kinds of mistakes against the league’s elite. Hopefully they’re getting it all out of the way in the preseason.