It was another ugly game for the Detroit Lions, and despite some noticeable improvements from one side of the ball, the obvious decline of the other ruined the team’s chances to compete against the Minnesota Vikings.
Here is the Lions’ Week 9 report card.
It’s hard to say whether Matthew Stafford was accurate or not on Sunday, because the man barely threw the ball. Yes, he did have 36 pass attempts, but when you figure that he dropped back to pass 51 times, that’s actually an incredibly small number.
His accuracy was fine, and he laid a couple nice touch passes in the game—though he missed one to Kenny Golladay, too—the big question was about his pocket presence against the Vikings.
Minnesota got to him early, and it clearly flustered him for the rest of the game. At times, he held onto the ball too long. At times, he panicked when the pressure wasn’t even there. Stafford’s pocket presence has steadily improved throughout his career, but Sunday he looked like a rookie in way over his head. And that lateral was just plain stupid.
Running backs: D
Theo Riddick, pyrite version of Golden Tate (look it up, kids), averaged just 5.1 yards per reception. Kerryon Johnson had no chance against this Vikings defensive front. LeGarrette Blount continues to show that his glory days are over.
This improved backfield to a step back in Week 9, even though it wasn’t entirely their fault.
Wide receivers: D+
Marvin Jones Jr. had a pretty good game against a beat-up Xavier Rhodes, but that’s where the compliments end. Big things were expected from both Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones, but the duo combined for just five catches and 59 yards.
I’ll have to consult the tape to see if they were just not getting open or if Stafford wasn’t finding him, but most FOX replays showed Stafford without many options, and that is troublesome going forward, because the Vikings secondary was severely shorthanded.
Tight ends: D
Let’s play the “Who will replace Golden Tate’s production?” Game. He’s the score so far:
Theo Riddick: Nope
TJ Jones: Nope
Kenny Golladay: Nope
Okay, tight ends, your time to shine! Let’s check the scoreboard:
Luke Willson: 2 catches, 17 yards
Mike Roberts: 1 catch (4 targets), 12 yards
Oooh, sorry, tight ends, that’s not the answer we were looking for. But enjoy this consolation prize: a year’s worth of shoe polish!
Offensive line: F
When a team rushes for 2.8 yards per carry—the longest run being an 8-yard end around— and allows 10 sacks, you’re damn right the offensive line earned an F. Sure, Stafford was to blame for some of those sacks, and, sure, the Vikings defensive line is one of the best and deepest in the NFL, but this was supposed to be one of the best offensive lines in the league, and they played like one of the worst.
One has to hope that Taylor Decker’s miserable performance was due to his back injury and in-game cramping, and I’m just not sure what’s going on with T.J. Lang. But when Kenny Wiggins is in the game, Matthew Stafford’s life insurance premiums raise by 30 percent.
Defensive line: B-
Detroit’s defensive front allowed the Lions to get into some favorable down-and-distance situations. Specifically, the Lions’ run defense was stout again—but ruined by one long run. Still, it’s encouraging to see Damon Harrison Sr. make the impact that was expected of him. It will not surprise you to hear that “Snacks” was not on the field for the 70-yard run from Dalvin Cook.
Ezekiel Ansah’s return was muted due to the fact that the Vikings weren’t forced to pass the ball all that much in the game. Ansah did notch a sack in just 12 defensive snaps, so I suppose there’s hope there, too.
The linebackers didn’t tip the scales much in either direction this week. They didn’t make any game-changing plays, but they didn’t seem to be responsible for any big plays, either. There’s really not much else to say about the linebackers.
Save Darius Slay’s interception, there is nothing nice to be said here. Teez Tabor was getting beat by an undrafted rookie. Nevin Lawson got lost in coverage on the Vikings’ only passing touchdown of the game. And, man, it’s a bummer seeing Glover Quin out there as a shell of his former self. He’s very clearly lost a step or four, and it was in plain sight on Cook’s 70-yard run. That’s a hard play for any safety to make, but the speed difference between the two was stunning.
Special Teams: D
Matt Prater was perfect and the Lions didn’t give up much in terms of returns, but the penalties are way out of control.
That’s the 12 penalty on the Lions special teams this season. #DETvsMIN— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 4, 2018
Make it 13 special teams penalties for the Lions this season. #DETvsMIN— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 4, 2018
For an offense that is going to struggle without its best weapon, putting them in tough field position is the absolute last thing this team can afford to do. Yet on Sunday, the Lions committed three special teams penalties, two of which resulted in an offensive possession starting inside their own 20-yard line.
Special teams penalties are the silent killer, and for a team that’s playing so bad in every other phase of the game, this is the most inexcusable of Detroit’s recurring problems.
I’m not exactly sure what the Lions’ plan was to compensate for Golden Tate, but none of it worked. Establish the run early in the game? Nah. Use Theo Riddick as a slot receiver? Nope. Get TJ Jones out there? Yeah, better luck next time.
But what was most infuriating was the Lions’ lack of response when the pressure was consistently on Matthew Stafford. Everyone knew what this Vikings defense was capable of, and the Lions had no answer for it. And then you come out in the second half and try to pull off long-developing plays like a flea flicker or a delayed screen? I don’t understand that line of thought at all.
Defensively, the game plan was actually somewhat sound, but the players just couldn’t win assignments they should have.
I don’t have any beef with Matt Patricia’s in-game decisions, but it’s the minor mistakes from individual players that ultimately fall on his shoulders. Theo Riddick running out of bounds at the end of the first half, the increasing frequency of special teams penalties, the blown assignments and obvious confusion on the team—all of that falls on coaching.
But, hey, neat fake punt!