Matthew Stafford—as he has been for the past three or four weeks—was neither good nor bad; not spectacular nor horrible. He missed on a couple of throws, was victimized by a handful of drops, and was just pretty boring, if we’re being completely honest. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have any receivers, but Stafford isn’t making plays on his own anymore, which was something he was becoming known for over the past two years.
Running backs: D
Zach Zenner was fine—arguably even good—although he had a drop of his own. Everyone else, however, struggled mightily. LeGarrette Blount had a few drops and was inefficient in his 11 rushes (29 yards). Theo Riddick had seven touches that went for a total of 5 yards.
The Lions miss Kerryon Johnson badly.
Wide receivers: D
It looked like the Lions had learned from last week’s offensive disaster, and got Kenny Golladay involved early and often. However, much like last week, Golladay’s efficiency dropped as the game went on. The Lions No. 1 receiver dropped a couple passes and only mustered 58 receiving yards on the day. He also proved he’s a horrible pass defender on the Vikings’ successful Hail Mary try.
There weren’t any other notable performances from the wide receiver group. TJ Jones had six catches for 42 yards, but 13 yards after the catch. Andy Jones and Brandon Powell combined for two catches. Yawn.
Tight ends: D-
Tight ends were responsible for one catch for 16 yards (Levine Toilolo). When Luke Willson went down with an injury, instead of relying upon their depth, they essentially used Joe Dahl as a tight end. That just goes to show you how poor this group of tight ends are.
Offensive line: A
Okay, now let’s talk about the good part. The Lions’ pass protection was stellar in this game, and that comes just a couple months removed from the Lions allowing 10 sacks against this exact same team. Detroit often utilized a sixth linemen to help, and it absolutely worked.
Although Stafford was sacked twice, both of those came in the second half when the team was in a desperate situation. When the game was in hand, the Lions offensive line was dominating.
And that goes for run blocking, too. There were running lanes that better running backs could have turned into explosion plays. While there were a fair amount of negative rushing plays, some of that is on the running backs and some of it is just inevitable against a solid Vikings defense.
Considering the opponent, this was as good of a performance from the offensive line you could’ve expected... and I did not expect it.
Defensive line: A-
As much as the Lions were dominating the offensive trenches, they were doing the same on the defensive side of the ball.
In the first half, the Lions tallied two sacks, allowed just 22 yards rushing on 10 carries and was a big reason Detroit forced four straight three-and-outs to start the game. The defensive line was clogging running lanes, providing real pressure and basically winning the game for them.
This changed a bit in the second half, when A’Shawn Robinson left for an injury. The Vikings were able to keep Kirk Cousins clean for the rest of the game and rushed for 78 yards (4.3 YPC) in the second half. Still, it was a good enough full performance to keep Detroit in this game until the fourth quarter.
Vikings tight ends were wide open in this game. Both Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones fell back on poor tackling techniques, and despite the defensive line occupying offensive lineman, the linebackers couldn’t take advantage.
The Lions’ defensive backs were excellent at defending the run. Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs and even Mike Ford looked outstanding when forced into run defending roles.
However, this unit was responsible for some of the biggest, most devastating plays of the game. The 40-yard pass on third-and-17 was caused by Darius Slay leaving his zone. And then there was the Hail Mary, which was just about as poorly as you can defend that play.
Special teams: B-
Jamal Agnew looked rusty. Matt Prater was back. Kick and punt coverage units were meh. Sam Martin was pretty good, though.
There were no glaring in-game mistakes from Matt Patricia and company, although I would’ve liked to see them go for it down 24-9 with 9:11 left in the game, facing a fourth-and-8 at midfield.
I really thought the Lions’ gameplan to protect Stafford was genius, and the proof was in the pudding. And despite having nothing externally to play for, the Lions really gave the Vikings their best shot in the first half. Credit to Patricia for keeping them motivated.
But that’s all the nice things I have to say about this coaching staff. The way the team defended the Hail Mary made it look like they’ve never practiced. The team remains absolutely horrible in situational downs.
No play will scream JIM BOB COOTER more than this one:
In the first quarter, up 3-0, the Lions faced a third-and-13 from the Vikings’ 33-yard line. Arguably already in field goal position, Cooter drew up the play he always seems to do on third-and-long: a draw play. Obviously, the thinking is that a draw play could catch them off-guard, and while a first down would still be unlikely, it would get Matt Prater five or six yards closer.
The play went for -4 yards and the Lions opted to punt it away. Cooter’s extreme conservative nature actually proved to be too risky.
I know third-and-long is a nightmare scenario against the Vikings defense—and it’s just asking for Matthew Stafford to get sacked—but good teams in this league dictate what they’re going to do on offense and strike fear in the defense, not vice versa. You’re paying Stafford a billions dollars, LET HIM PLAY.