The Detroit Lions walked away with their first win in October on Sunday, after vanquishing the New York Giants 31-26. Let’s break down their team performance by position group and hand out some grades.
It’s our Week 8 Detroit Lions report card.
Matthew Stafford’s first half wasn’t very good, if I’m being completely honest. I thought Stafford missed some open receivers, made a horrible mistake (and throw) on his interception (on a first-down play, no less), and took a couple sacks he probably didn’t have to.
But the dude was literally perfect in the second half. 12-of-12, 148 yards, two touchdowns. You quite literally can’t get any better than that, and to finish a game off strong like that was the biggest reason Detroit was able to hold off a Giants comeback attempt.
Running backs: D
There’s a reason it seems inevitable that the Lions will be trading for a running back in the next 36 hours. Tra Carson got the surprise start on Sunday, and while it seemed like things were working early—he had five rushes for 25 yards in the first quarter—the Lions running backs rushed for 37 yards on 18 carries the rest of the way. Even worse, the Lions running backs played almost no part in Detroit’s passing attack, combining for just four catches and 15 yards.
As we’ve mentioned before, the failures of the running game go beyond the running back, but you can still see a stark difference when Kerryon Johnson isn’t out there.
Tight ends: D
It was another rough day of blocking from the Lions tight ends. T.J. Hockenson continues to struggle mightily in this aspect of his game, and he added a bad chop-block penalty to his resume that stalled a drive and forced a long field goal attempt, which Matt Prater promptly missed.
Both Hockenson and Logan Thomas had a single catch on single targets, and that’s just not enough for a position group that appeared to be much improved this offseason.
Wide receivers: A-
The wide receivers were the star of the show, once again. Kenny Golladay was electric in the second half (five catches, 107 yards and 2 TDs in the half alone). Danny Amendola was electric in the first (six catches, 68 yards). Marvin Hall added his big play of the day, too. Marvin Jones Jr. was quiet, but Stafford can only spread the ball so much.
The only thing bringing this group down from a solid A was Golladay’s fourth-quarter fumble. While it didn’t end up being costly, it gave the Giants a prime opportunity to get back in a game they had no business of getting back into.
Offensive line: C-
Despite Stafford’s four sacks, pass protection was mostly good on Sunday. At least a few of those sacks were on Stafford for not getting the ball out quicker. And as previously alluded to, there were actually some running lanes earlier in the game.
However, all that good will in run blocking was quickly gone. Detroit was completely incapable of running the ball for the final three quarters, and it put the offense into terrible positions on third down. Thankfully, Stafford was magic in the second half, but if he wasn’t, we’d be talking a lot more about this offensive line performance.
Defensive line: B+
This was a revelation game for the Detroit Lions defensive line. Saquon Barkley had a ton of trouble finding running lanes, thanks to the return of Da’Shawn Hand and Damon Harrison Sr. returning to form. Barkley rushed for just 3.4 yards per carry—only the second time this season he’s been held below 4.0.
They even generated a fair amount of pass rush against the Giants. Trey Flowers had a beautiful strip sack, and followed it with another sack on the next play.
That being said, A’Shawn Robinson and Romeo Okwara were both left completely off the stat sheet.
Jarrad Davis had a pretty big game, as the Lions utilized him frequently as a pass rusher. Davis created Detroit’s first score of the game by sending a delayed blitz Daniel Jones’ way and forcing a backwards pass that Devon Kennard scooped up and scored with. Davis added four more tackles on the day, including another half tackle for loss, to go along with a pass defended and another QB hit.
But Christian Jones continues to struggle mightily, and not many other good things can be said about this group. Missed tackles continue to be a huge problem with this unit.
Without Darius Slay, the Lions’ secondary looked helpless. Justin Coleman put together another rough performance, while Rashaan Melvin was giving up touchdowns or penalties on just about every play he was targeted.
Several times when it looked like the Lions defense was about to get off the field, the secondary would rear its ugly head with an away-from-the-play holding penalty.
Detroit’s game plan was clearly to stop Barkley on the ground and allow their talented secondary to make plays against a beat-up, unimpressive Giants receiving corps. The Lions secondary was clearly not up for that challenge.
Special teams: A
Let’s talk about the Lions’ kick coverage team for a minute. The Detroit Lions obviously have a ton of confidence in this group, because they keep kicking off short of the end zone, not content with giving the other team the ball on the 25-yard line every time via a touchback.
Sam Martin only has 10 touchbacks on the year, which is by far the fewest of any kicker that with at least 30 kickoffs (Martin has 42). The next closest is 17 touchbacks.
On Sunday, Martin didn’t kick a single touchback, and because of that, here is where the Giants started after every kickoff:
- 19-yard line
- 14-yard line
- 12-yard line
- 34-yard line*
- 22-yard line
- 9-yard line
So in every instance but one, the Giants were forced to start before the 25-yard line, and in half of the instances, they had 10 or more yards worse field position than a touchback. In the one case where they returned further than the 25-yard line, it was at the very end of the first half, and the kickoff ran nine valuable seconds off the clock, giving New York no time to actually conduct an offensive drive.
Matt Prater may have missed a field goal, but Detroit’s kick coverage was the secret superstar of the game.
I don’t think I really had any problems in terms of in-game management from the coaching staff. You could say the got a little conservative on offense towards the very end of the game, but they also threw in a freakin’ trick play in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, I think the Lions are going to get hammered for their gameplan, but I actually think it made a lot of sense. Stop Barkley from running down your throat, and trust the back end to do their job against a rookie quarterback and a weak Giants receiving corps. That position group simply did not do their job. That’s it.
So I think this was a pretty clean day from the coaching staff, despite the close score against a poor opponent.