The Detroit Lions’ 42-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings wasn’t all bad, but when it was, it was really bad. Still, there were some positives and negatives to the game, so let’s hand out some grades to the team for their Week 7 performance.
You look at Matthew Stafford’s statline and it doesn’t look like he could’ve done much of anything else in this game: 30-of-45 for 364 yards four touchdowns and an interception. His one pick came in desperation mode down two scores with a minute left, so that shouldn’t really count against his resume here.
And when you factor in just how good this Vikings defense is, this looks like not just a good performance from Stafford, but a masterpiece. However, I didn’t really get that feeling while watching the game. Stafford missed some easy passes early on, and obviously the offense stalled quite a bit in the second half, scoring just three points until the final three minutes of the game.
Stafford was good, borderline great on Sunday, but I still felt like he left a few plays out there.
Running backs: B+
For the first time all season, there was a semblance of a running game in Detroit, and it came against a great run defense. When Kerryon Johnson went down with an injury, J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson picked up the slack pretty efficiently. As a team, the Lions rushed for 81 yards on 20 carries (4.1 YPC). Additionally, McKissic and Ty Johnson combined for 59 yards in the receiving game, too.
By no means was this a fantastic performance, but given the degree of difficulty and the fact that Detroit had to rely on backups for the majority of the game, I think this was a pretty impressive performance.
Wide receivers: A+
The Lions wide receivers made Minnesota’s secondary look silly all game. Marvin Jones Jr. had one of the best games of his entire career, Danny Amendola notched the 10th 100-yard game of his career, and Marvin Hall had his patented big-play-of-the-game.
The only player that had an underwhelming performance on Sunday was Kenny Golladay, but you don’t tend to care too much when everyone else is balling out.
Tight ends: C-
T.J. Hockenson had a couple of significant catches, but it was otherwise a pretty underwhelming performance from this tight end crew. I admit I have to rewatch the tape to see how they performed in their blocking duties, but thus far, it’s hard not to be disappointed by Detroit’s newly-revamped tight end crew.
Offensive line: B+
The Lions only ceded two sacks on the day. While Stafford successfully avoided a few near-sacks, I thought the guys in the trenches did about as good of a job as one could expect against a Vikings defense that is capable of wreaking havoc on just about any offensive line in the NFL.
Defensive line: F
When you can’t stop the run and can’t provide any pressure on Kirk Cousins, you’re not doing anything particularly well up front. For a unit that received so much offseason hype, this has to be a major disappointment against a Vikings offensive line that is improved, but still pretty average.
At this point, you’d love to think getting Da’Shawn Hand and Mike Daniels back would help out some, but things weren’t that much better when Daniels was playing, and who knows what Hand is going to look like after almost a full year since he last played in a game?
Christian Jones had trouble holding the edge in the run game, Devon Kennard couldn’t do much in terms of pressure, Jarrad Davis is all over the place—and not in a good way, and Jahlani Tavai is a rookie.
This is the worst unit on the team, and they continue to prove it week after week. Dalvin Cook, at times, made this unit look silly. Perhaps most disappointing from this unit—and really every defensive unit—was their inability to tackle. Last year, this was one of the most sound-tackling teams in the NFL. Sunday was an embarrassment in that aspect of the game.
They weren’t given an easy task since the front seven failed to create pressure and stop the run, but when the opposing quarterback completes over 70 percent of his passes for nearly 10 yards per attempt and four touchdowns, you still did a very bad job.
Detroit had exactly zero passes defended after ranking in the top six in that category through six weeks despite only playing five games. Even with Darius Slay this secondary struggled. Everybody other than Slay looked completely lost.
Special teams: C
Many will point to Don Muhlbach’s false start as a critical error, but Matt Patricia’s post-game comments seem to suggest they weren’t serious about kicking that field goal in the first place, and were simply hoping to draw Minnesota offsides.
Aside from that, special teams was pretty much a non-factor on Sunday. The Lions probably ceded a little too much in terms of kick coverage—Ameer Abdullah averaged 29.3 yards per return—but punting and punt coverage was much better. Matt Prater was perfect, while the Lions Ford Field voodoo worked effectively against Vikings kicker Dan Bailey.
When the same problems keep popping up with a team, you have to start looking at some coaching issues. For as much as Matt Patricia is billed as a defensive genius, he certainly hasn’t done much of a job turning around Detroit’s horrific run defense through six games. The Lions have given up over 100 yards and at least 4.2 yards per carry in every single game this year, and their personnel is arguably better than it was last year—when they had one of the best run defenses in the league.
We’re beyond the point where we can blame key players like Damon Harrison Sr. or Trey Flowers missing part of the offseason. They should be fine now, but they certainly are not fine, and that ultimately falls on coaching.
As for in-game decisions, I was impressed that Patricia decided to go for it with six seconds left in the first half instead of kicking a field goal. I also thought it was the appropriate time to go for it on fourth-and-2, even if the play turned out to be a dud. However, with the defense playing as it was, I don’t agree with the decision to kick it deep when the team was down five with three minutes left. Detroit needed to steal a possession at that point, and instead they gave it back to the Vikings, who managed to go 75 yards in four plays.
But to end on a positive, the offensive game plan was outstanding and Darrell Bevell continues to prove he may have been the Lions’ best offseason acquisition.