You don’t win many games in the NFL when you can’t control the line of scrimmage. That’s exactly what happened to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, as the Dallas Cowboys’ big men were much more effective than the Lions’ bigs.
But the game is about much more than that. So here are my full positional grades for the Lions’ Week 4 performance.
Statistically, this was Matthew Stafford’s best game, completing 80 percent of his passes for 10.2 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. It was also his first game this season without a turnover.
Maybe I’m holding Stafford to too high of standard, but I still think he left some plays out there, especially early in the game. He wasn’t helped by mediocre-at-best pass protection, but he missed on a couple of throws in the first half, and overlooked a few open receivers.
Running backs: C+
Kerryon Johnson had two excellent runs, but was otherwise very quiet on the day. LeGarrette Blount was downright awful. Theo Riddick continues to see his role diminished every week.
A lot of talk will be about the Lions’ decision to use Johnson—which I’ll get into in the coach section, but Detroit’s running game was largely ineffective all game. It was only the backs’ faults, but I would’ve liked to see more out of them on Sunday.
Wide receivers: A-
Golden Tate had himself one of the best games of his career. He caught all eight of his targets, turned a quarter of them into touchdowns, turned another four into first downs and finished with 132 yards—the sixth-highest in his career.
Kenny Golladay pulled down a couple of eye-popping catches, and Marvin Jones Jr. pulled down another big play on Sunday.
This team has a spoil of riches at receiver, but the only reason I didn’t give them a full ‘A’ was because I’d like to see them get open a little more often.
Tight ends: C
Three different tight ends pulled in catches against the Cowboys, which was nice to see. In total, they were responsible for four catches and 24 yards—hardly enough to sway the game, but it put the offense in better down-and-distance scenarios.
I saw a few decent blocks from Luke Willson on the day, but overall their run blocking left much to be desired.
Offensive line: D
It always hurts when you lose one of your better linemen in the first quarter, but it’s clear this front was devastated by T.J. Lang’s concussion. After so few negative plays against the Patriots, the Lions allowed three sacks and had five rushes go for zero or negative yards against the Cowboys.
There wasn’t one particular lineman that was culpable for the unit’s struggles which is actually more concerning. This was a huge step back after one of the best performances in recent memory last week.
Defensive line: D
Not much good to say here. Outside of Da’Shawn Hand and a couple of decent plays from A’Shawn Robinson, this defensive line looked as bad as we thought it was on paper. The holes Ezekiel Elliott was running through were not just massive, they were literally unbelievable.
And when the Cowboys wanted to throw the ball, Dak Prescott generally had as much time as he wanted, despite Detroit’s three sacks. The final drive was a perfect example of how this team’s lack of pass rush will lose them games.
It would be easy for me to sit here and slam Jarrad Davis for giving up what ended up being the game-winning reception, but that was a tough draw for Davis and it took an absolute dime from Prescott to drop it into a fairly small window. I actually thought Davis played his best game of the season.
However, the rest of the unit did not look good. Elliott was always going to break some tackles, but by the game’s end he was no longer breaking 6 or 7-yard runs. They were turning into 15, 20, or even a 40-yard run when the Cowboys were hitting their stride. And while Kennard picked up his fourth sack of the season, he was largely absent the rest of the game.
Too many flags. Too many instances of Cole Beasley burning Jamal Agnew. Too many “YOU WERE RIGHT THERE NEVIN LAWSON, MAKE A FRIGGIN’ PLAY!”
Darius Slay remains a god-send, but this secondary has struggled now in three out of four games.
Special teams: B
Special teams was a complete non-factor in this game. There were only two kick or punt returns in the entire game (a kick return for each team). No missed field goals, no missed extra points, and Sam Martin was fine in his four punts. The only slightly negative play was when Dee Virgin’s tiptoe touched the goal line, causing a touchback instead of the Cowboys starting at their 1-yard line.
Matt Patricia was dogged by fans for two reasons in this game, and I’m not particularly offended by either. Many believe he wasted too much time at the end of the half after Matthew Stafford got sacked, and because of it, the Lions threw away a possession. I don’t see it that way. The sack put the Lions in a tough position, made worse by a failed screen on second down. At that point, the Lions offense was in such a bad position that the Lions were right to burn clock so that the Cowboys wouldn’t have had any time to score again.
The other was the team’s decision to essentially split carries between Johnson (9) and Blount (7). While it’s clear Johnson is the better overall rusher, it’s silly to assume the rookie would’ve taken Blount’s carries and done a ton more with them. Throughout the majority of this game, the Lions running game was ineffective, whether Johnson or Blount was in. Johnson saw six consecutive carries go for 9 total yards. The problems with the Lions’ running game ran a lot deeper than using Blount too much.
So why did I give the coaching a D+? Well, because their overall gameplans were ineffective. Stop Ezekiel Elliott should’ve been this defense’s No. 1 goal (and their No. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 goal). Obviously that’s easier said than done, but the man had 240 all-purpose yards with little pushback. That can’t happen.
Offensively, the Lions continued to struggle in the red zone, which is often the result of poor play calling. When the red zone issues are this consistent, it’s going to cost you games, and that’s exactly what happened Sunday.