The Detroit Lions came up just short against a good Chicago Bears on Thursday. The end result was obviously disappointing and proves that sometimes a good effort goes wasted in the NFL. That being said, the overall grades I’m giving out suggest there is some improvement with this team, despite the mounting injuries.
Here are my positional grades for the Lions’ Week 12 loss to the Bears.
For the most part, Matthew Stafford actually played what I thought was a pretty solid game. It’s clear the early strategy was to get the ball out quick and hope for yards after the catch. And after previous weeks in which Stafford took sacks instead of getting the ball away, he corrected that issue by not wasting any time against the Bears’ daunting defensive front. If the play wasn’t there, he usually got rid of it before disaster struck.
But when you throw two interceptions in the final five minutes of the game—one giving away the game-winning score and the other sealing the loss—you’re going to get downgraded very hard. While there is blame to be shared for both interceptions, the truth is neither of those passes should have been thrown in the first place.
Running backs: A-
After another slow, frustrating start to the game LeGarrette Blount had his best performance in almost a calendar year. 88 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries is a great performance for any back, and for the most part Blount was creating his own yardage, breaking through tackles, pushing through contact and even, on occasions, showing some burst.
For everyone else it was a mixed bag. Theo Riddick blew a block that resulted in a sack but had seven catches on the day, and Zach Zenner looked fine in limited playing time.
Tight ends: F
If we’re going to ding Stafford for the two game-deciding interceptions, then we’re going to have to punish Michael Roberts, too. His effort on the final offensive play of the game was just awful, and his overall route running leaves much to be desired. And while expectations have certainly shifted with this tight end unit, since they seem to be considered in the passing game, they are failing to meet even these lowered expectations.
Nick freakin’ Bellore is currently a bigger offensive threat than any tight end.
Wide receivers: B
When the Lions finally remembered they had Kenny Golladay, the offense started to thrive again. Detroit’s second-year receiver is really starting to become a No. 1 wideout that will be a mismatch for defenses.
However, the Lions failed to get any real production out of the rest of the group. Bruce Ellington caught six of seven targets, but only turned that into 28 yards—failing to get the yards after the catch that his predecessor Golden Tate was so capable of. Elsewhere, TJ Jones and Andy Jones combined for just two catches.
Offensive line: A-
Considering the tough matchup they had, this unit overperformed by a large margin. Granted, the Lions were getting the ball out quick, meaning pass protection didn’t have to be great. However, in the second half, the offensive line played their ass off. There were running lanes against the best run defense in the league. When Stafford needed time to go deep, they held up their end of the bargain. Hell, Khalil Mack’s entire statline was 1 tackle. That’s it.
They did allow two sacks, one which prevented a Hail Mary attempt, but overall, considering the degree of difficulty, this was a more-than-acceptable performance from the offensive line.
Defensive line: B
Quarterback pressure was inconsistent on Thursday, but the Lions did rack up four sacks. Ezekiel Ansah continued to show flashes of what could have been a fantastic season from the Pro Bowl. However, there were times in which Chase Daniel had just way too much time, and occasionally he would make them pay.
Still, I continue to be in awe of just how good this run defense has become since adding Damon Harrison Sr. The Bears had a top 10 rushing attack before playing the Lions, and in the two games combined between the two teams, Chicago had a total of 92 rushing yards on 37 carries (2.5 YPC).
Linebackers were good in run stuffing, as Christian Jones especially racked up the tackles (six). However, coverage was clearly a problem. Daniel was able to find running backs out of the backfield, as Chicago dinked and dunked on the Lions defense all game. Bears tailbacks combined for 10 catches, 68 yards and two receiving touchdowns. While it wasn’t always a linebacker in coverage, it was more often than not.
The Lions continue to struggle in the defensive backfield. Darius Slay still looks like his injury is holding him back from his potential, we already know who Nevin Lawson is, and while Mike Ford has shown signs he could develop into a pretty decent corner, he remains an undrafted rookie.
The Lions did get some big plays from Glover Quin (one sack) and Quandre Diggs continues to play at a pretty high level, the overall pass coverage of this team remains one of its biggest downfalls.
Special teams: B-
It wasn’t a great day from Sam Martin (45.4 average punts), and the punt coverage unit allowed Tarik Cohen to average 11.5 yards per return on four punts. That being said, Tarik Cohen is a very good returner, and the Lions did a fairly good job preventing any truly game-changing plays on special teams. That being said, it was an extremely disappointing performance from the Lions’ goal posts, who didn’t make contact with a single ball on Thursday.
The offensive gameplan in the first half was just way too conservative. I understand the thinking behind it, and Matt Patricia explained it a bit in the post-game press conference.
“We’re doing the best we can with all of it—short week, game-plan, really good team, good pass rushers, good cover guys, different personnel for us,” Patricia said.
Yes, the Bears have a good pass rush. Yes, you’re missing two of your best offensive weapons. Yes, you can’t afford another six-sack game against the Bears. But there’s a difference between getting the ball out quick and throwing just about every pass at the line of scrimmage. There are ways to let Stafford use his arm without putting him in harm. We saw it in the second half, but by then, the margin for error was tiny. And if I’m being honest, I’m pretty damn sick of hearing things like this after the game:
Jackson: “We knew when (Roberts is) in that position, he usually releases to the flat.” https://t.co/6aLy465QJ2— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) November 22, 2018
Defensively, the game plan was fairly sound. They stopped the run, forcing Daniel to beat them. Daniel missed on several passes, and while he was able to pull out the victory in the end, Detroit made him do it on long, extended drives, making sure they didn’t give up too many plays defensively.