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Detroit Lions Week 14 report card: Defense aces an easy test vs. Cardinals

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The Lions defense is continuing to show serious improvement.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at my grades for the Detroit Lions’ 17-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Quarterbacks: B-

Matthew Stafford didn’t do much in this game, but he also wasn’t asked to do much. He threw the ball just 23 times for 101 yards, while he handed the ball off 30 times for 115 yards.

Stafford missed on a couple of deep shots, but was overall accurate enough. He looked a little tepid in the pocket during the game and couldn’t find receivers often, but he also made a couple of big plays with his feet, including a nice scramble that led to a pass interference call when targeting Kenny Golladay.

Running backs: A-

LeGarrette Blount started the game better than he finished, but just as Blount was starting to be ineffective, the Lions brought in Zach Zenner, who was easily the Lions’ best offensive player of the game.

Zenner brought life to a running game that had been dead, and because of his touchdown-scoring drive, Detroit was able to cruise to a pretty stress-free victory in the final stanza.

Wide receivers: D-

Though there weren’t many egregious drops or anything, the Lions wide receivers were just a complete non-factor in this game. Bruce Ellington, Andy Jones, Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones combined for a total of 7 catches for 27 yards on 11 targets.

Receivers just weren’t getting open all game, and while injuries have dismantled this set of receivers, they should still be playing better than this.

Tight ends: D

Michael Roberts had a bad drop on a third down, as he was kept off the box score in his return from injury. The Levine Toilolo epiphany lasted just a game. He was only responsible for two catches and 26 yards on the day.

As for Luke Willson, he remains MIA in the Lions’ gameplan, and he’s only really contributed as a makeshift fullback.

Offensive line: C+

On that Zenner touchdown drive, the offensive line was absolutely mauling a pretty solid Cardinals defensive front. They were also able to keep Chandler Jones off the sack scoresheet.

However, Stafford was dealing with a tiny pocket all game, and the run blocking was inconsistent for the entire game.

It was still an overall better performance from the offensive line, especially with the mid-game injury to Rick Wagner, but there’s plenty of room for improvement, too.

Defensive line: A-

The Lions tallied eight quarterback hits on the day and 3.0 sacks. They also held David Johnson to just 49 yards rushing and the Cardinals to just 2.9 yards per carry.

Detroit’s defensive front was responsible for most of that, and they were able to do so without some key players for most of the game. No Ezekiel Ansah. No Da’Shawn Hand. No Devon Kennard.

But the play of A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison Sr., and Romeo Okwara was at its best. Sure the Cardinals offensive line is garbage right now, but Detroit took full advantage.

Linebackers: A

This is the game we’ve been dreaming of from Jarrad Davis. The Lions’ second-year linebacker looked instinctive, extremely athletic and had the playmaking abilities worthy of a first-round pick.

Davis was blowing up screens, knifing through rushing lanes, blitzing like a boss and just being an overall force in the game.

Christian Jones has a much more subdued day on the box score, but even he was able to break up a pass and was solid in run support.

Secondary: B

Darius Slay had the play of the game with his incredible pick six—and the first touchdown of his career. He also threw in another two passes defended to boot.

Quandre Diggs continues to lay the boom at least twice per game, and his help in run support cannot be understated.

But in the second half, Josh Rosen was starting to find some open receivers. Some guy named Trent Sherfield was beginning to tear up the Lions secondary with five catches and 77 yards. Coverage still continues to be a big problem for Detroit, but lucky for them, Rosen wasn’t have a particularly good game, and Slay’s pick six overshadowed any real problems from the secondary.

Special teams: B

Lions punt coverage looked shaky at times on Sunday, but every time the Cardinals picked up a big gain, it would be called back for a penalty. TJ Jones, Quandre Diggs and Bruce Ellington couldn’t provide a spark in the punt return game, but Matt Prater was perfect again on Sunday, and the importance of that seems to be highlighted every week, as opposing kickers are routinely doinking kicks off the uprights.

Coaching: B

I don’t have any issues with time management or other gameday decisions from Matt Patricia. The coaching staff also deserves credit for sporting a winning team despite nearly a dozen injuries throughout the entire game.

That being said, the Lions’ offensive gameplan remains pathetic. No one is getting open, and that’s both a combination of poor play and bad scheming. The Lions’ response to this is to simply call plays that require passes no longer than 5 yards downfield. All it takes is one negative play to end an entire drive, because this offense is completely incapable of overcoming a second-and-12.

Still, the defense dominated a team they should have dominated, and there’s a very real improvement on that side of the ball that we have all been waiting for. Credit to Patricia for finally getting that on track, even if it was too late to salvage the season.