The Detroit Lions defense finally rebounded on Sunday. Of course, there are two big asterisks next to their performance. First, they faced off against a Chicago Bears offense that is among the worst in the league. Also, they gave up touchdowns on three straight drives. So... maybe it wasn’t that good. Still, it was a step in the right direction that was completely overshadowed by offensive failures.
Let’s get into it with our Week 10 report card.
If this were grading on a scale, I’d cut Jeff Driskel a little more slack. Starting with limited preparation on the road against a very good Chicago Bears defense is not an ideal situation to be thrown into. Taking all that into account, Driskell actually fared quite well.
However, after a strong start, Driskell start to check down more and more, missed on a couple of key throws, and just as the game was starting to slip away, he made things even worse with a really bad interception.
For the most part, though, he looked comfortable, didn’t make a ton of mistakes, and showed enough promise to potentially hold down this backup job for more than just a season.
Running backs: C
This unit is simply cursed. They’ve already lost Kerryon Johnson and Tra Carson to injured reserves, and just a quarter into the game against Chicago, Ty Johnson left with a concussion.
J.D. McKissic is clearly the most talented back remaining on the roster, and he did an admirable job filling in—10 rushes, 36 yards; six catches, 19 yards—but this team appears incapable of any big plays from their running backs. The longest non-QB run was zero yards and McKissic’s longest reception was for seven yards.
Wide receivers: D
Typically one of the Lions’ stronger units, the Lions receivers did Driskell no favors in this game. Kenny Golladay had a couple of drops on some catchable (but not perfect) throws. He also had a devastating pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-1 conversion—though I personally thought the call was horrible.
Marvin Jones Jr. had a quiet 77 yards receiving and Danny Amendola had a drop, too. I haven’t really lost any faith in this receiving corps, but it was undoubtedly a disappointing performance from this group.
Tight ends: B
T.J. Hockenson had a couple of big plays in the receiving game, and Logan Thomas added a couple of his own. Most importantly, the Lions tight ends were pretty important in protecting Driskel from the likes of Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Those two ended up combining for five tackles and zero sacks.
Offensive line: C-
While protection held up fairly well for most of the game, the Lions offensive line was also responsible for some devastating penalties in this game at costly moments. For example, the Lions got a huge third-down conversion on third-and-12 at the Bears 41-yard line thanks to a 27-yard catch from Danny Amendola. That would’ve set Detroit up at the Bears’ 14-yard line.
Instead, a holding penalty on Taylor Decker put them out of field goal range, and Detroit punted two plays later. That’s at least three points off the board, potentially seven.
Also, the Lions’ running game remains dead. Take away the quarterback runs, and the Lions had 61 rushing yards on 22 carries. That 2.7 yards per carry ain’t going to cut it for this offensive line.
Defensive line: B+
Despite the endless amount of injuries suffered amongst this group, the Lions defensive line played fairly well all game. Detroit tallied seven quarterback hits, five sacks, and A’Shawn Robinson even threw in a batted ball.
And the run defense finally showed a resemblance to last year. The Bears had just 81 rushing yards on 24 carries for a lowly 3.4 yards per carry. Detroit didn’t allow a single rush over nine yards.
There were a few lapses in coverage, but for the most part, this was an uncharacteristically solid game from the linebacking corps. Jahlani Tavai impressed in an increased role, Jarrad Davis didn’t make any blatant mistakes, and missed tackles didn’t seem like too big of a problem. Oh, and check this out:
Tavai and Devon Kennard threw in sacks in their efforts and it was a pretty solid day from this corps.
Early on, the Lions secondary was doing a fine job making sure Mitchell Trubisky had nowhere to go with the ball. However, during that three-possession stretch from the end of the second quarter through most of the third quarter, the Lions secondary gave up way too many plays:
- 18-yard touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker
- 22-yard pass interference on Darius Slay on third-and-1. Next play was a TD
- 24-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel, on third-and-9
It’s not a lot, but it was difference between a win and a loss and it wasted a rare good effort from Detroit’s front seven.
Special teams: A
The Lions were absolutely fearless in kicking off to Cordarrelle Patterson, continuing their strategy of avoiding touchbacks on kickoff returns. Patterson was held short of the 25-yard line on two of four kickoffs and only got past the 30-yard line once.
However, the best performance came from Sam Martin, who consistently gave the Bears fits with punts deep in their own zone. Martin dropped four of six punts inside the Bears’ 20-yard line and did not punt it through the end zone once.
Also, Matt Prater is still money.
The Lions finally decided to make some adjustments on defense, giving Tavai more responsibilities and utilizing zone a little more in coverage. For the most part, their strategy actually worked.
Additionally, it seemed early on the Lions knew exactly what they had in Jeff Driskel and utilized his mobility to the best of their ability on short notice. However, they seemed to get away from that as the game went on.
That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff was in the team’s game management. Against a very good Bears defense, this team had an opportunity to get out to a big lead, but they stayed extremely conservative with their fourth down decisions. Look at where the Lions punted from in this game:
- Bears’ 40-yard line (fourth-and-7)
- Lions’ 48-yard line (fourth-and-1)
- Lions’ 48-yard line (fourth-and-18)
- Bears’ 42-yard line (fourth-and-13)
Some will say that Detroit’s defense was playing well enough that they were right to play the field position battle, but that’s too conservative for my liking. In those first two instances, Detroit should have absolutely gone for it. You play to score points, not win the field position battle.
The third, the Lions were probably right to punt given the down and distance, but in that final instance, the Lions were already down 14. It was time to take a risk, even with 13 to go.
Now let’s look at the Bears. Down just 6-0 with the first half winding down, they took a big risk by going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 29-yard line. They converted and eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. Fortune favors the bold, and the Bears were the bolder team on Sunday.