Here’s a look at our report card for the Detroit Lions’ 31-0 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 season finale.
It was far from a perfect game for Matthew Stafford—who missed on a couple of easy passes earlier in the game. However, given the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine him doing much better. With a cast of practice squad talent at wide receiver, Stafford elevated the talent with his calm pocket presence and intelligent reads.
Additionally, that touchdown pass to TJ Jones was one of the best throws he made all season. The Lions finally gave Stafford the ability to throw downfield again, and it resulted in a classic Stafford performance that we’ve been missing all year.
Running backs: B
I feel like I’ve said it every week for the past four weeks, but nobody is making more out of their limited opportunities than Zach Zenner. Not only did he prove on Sunday that he can handle the bulk of the carries—his 21 rushes were a season-high for any Lions RB—but he continues to prove he can do what LeGarrette Blount can’t: consistently get positive yardage and take advantage of clear rushing lanes.
Even Theo Riddick was running pretty well, and his pass protection remains the most underrated part of his game. If not for yet another horrible game from Blount, this would’ve been an “A” performance.
Tight ends: B-
No Michael Roberts. No Luke Willson. The Lions were left with Levine Toilolo and Jerome Cunningham, and as it was for most of the season, the tight end unit didn’t have much of an effect on the team in general.
Toilolo did an adequate job on Sunday, turning four targets into four catches, 43 yards and a touchdown. Grading on a curve, this was probably one of the unit’s better games, but it’s still pretty underwhelming.
Wide receivers: B+
Aside from a couple drops at the hands of Andy Jones, this unit was fantastic against a beat-up Packers secondary. Receivers were getting consistently open, guys like Brandon Powell were turning small gains into much bigger ones, and the TJ Jones we got to know in 2017 finally reemerged.
I entered the day completely cynical about the Lions’ receiving corps once Kenny Golladay was announced as an inactive, but by the end of the game, I was left hopeful. I won’t go as far to say that Brandon Powell is the new Golden Tate, but I certainly think he’ll compete for a roster spot—and potential playing role—in 2019.
Offensive line: A
For the second week in a row, the Lions offensive line was downright dominant. Stafford had all day to finally test defenses downfield, and the rushing lanes were consistent yet again. There were still a little too many negative plays from the Lions’ offense, but I feel like most of those were the result of predictable play calling or downright poor rushing.
In the last four games of the season, Stafford was sacked a total of just four times. It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Stafford didn’t throw an interception in any of those games.
Defensive line: B+
If you take away DeShone Kizer’s scrambles—which, in my opinion is more based on poor linebacker play—the Lions allowed a total of 6 rushing yards on nine carries. Jamaal Williams, who had 95 yards on 15 carries last week, had just 4 yards on eight carries.
No A’Shawn Robison, no Ezekiel Ansah, no Da’Shawn Hand, no problem.
While the Lions didn’t exactly dominate the line of scrimmage, they certainly got good performances out of everyone on that line. Damon Harrison had a nice game, albeit a quiet one by his standards. Eric Lee picked up a sack. Even though he was held off the stat sheet, I thought John Atkins also played well in A’Shawn’s absence.The only reason they weren’t generating consistent pressure is because they were rushing three men very often in this game.
This front line’s performance continues to make the Lions’ defensive coaching staff look good.
Jarrad Davis had one of his better games of the season, tallying a team-high seven tackles, 1.0 sacks, two tackles for loss and a pass defended. Of course, that pass defended was really a dropped interception, and you have to ding him a bit for that.
Otherwise, it was a fairly clean day. The had a tough time containing Kizer at times, but it’s no easy task adjusting the gameplan mid-game when there’s a quarterback change like that. Still, four rushes for 40 yards is hardly game-changing, so I can’t fault the linebackers too much.
Given how beat up this unit was, I didn’t think there was a chance in hell they’d hold up. Granted, Aaron Rodgers leaving after a couple series certainly changed the dynamic of this game drastically. Still, Detroit held Kizer to a 45.7 completion percentage, just 3.8 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 44.0—the lowest the Lions have allowed all season.
The Lions had four passes defended all game, and just about every throw Kizer had to make was to a contested receiver. True, Kizer did miss a couple of big opportunities—and I dropped the Lions’ grade accordingly—but considering the personnel the Lions had, this was a very good performance.
Special teams: A+
Let’s see: Another dominating performance from punter Sam Martin that won the field position battle for the Lions early. A special teams trick play that resulted in 34-year-old kicker Matt prater throwing the first touchdown of his career. Another perfect day from the kicking unit, and even a pretty solid punt return from TJ Jones.
Sunday was a wet dream for announcer Pat McAfee, and you could literally hear it in his voice:
This is greatest play-by-play I’ve ever heard. pic.twitter.com/Wbas3Bww3v— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 30, 2018
There were a couple of minor annoyances in this game that caused me to drag the grade below an A. Punting on your opponent’s 35-yard line should be a fineable offense—worse than showing up to your own meetings late. I don’t care about the weather, this is the last game of the season. Go for it, man. I also feel the Lions should have challenged a questionable Packers catch in the third quarter.
Otherwise, it’s hard to really complain about anything here. The Lions offense finally had the gumption to throw the ball down field, and we only got one infuriating third-down draw play (and it actually worked). Defensively, the team was dominant yet again, but this time with unenviable personnel. The defensive turnaround in the last month or two of the season—albeit against some really poor offenses—is a testament to players buying into the defensive scheme.
And you also have to give credit to Matt Patricia and company for keeping spirits high. If the Lions would’ve lost 31-0, people wouldn’t be celebrating in the streets about the Lions having the No. 5 draft pick. They’d be rioting saying Patricia lost his team, and he needs to go ASAP.
I tend to think the “players buying in” takes are a little overstated, but if you wanted proof that this team is still playing with pride, Sunday was pretty conclusive evidence.