It was a true team effort on Sunday afternoon for the Detroit Lions. As in, each aspect of the team was partially to blame for the Week 9 loss to the Oakland Raiders. But let’s parse through the game a little more. Here is the report card for the Lions’ loss to Oakland.
Like many games this year, Matthew Stafford came out slinging. After his first three possessions, Stafford literally had a perfect passer rating and seemed to be on his way to yet another MVP-like performance.
However, things slowed—as they have often this year—in the second half. Stafford started to miss some throws, he tripped over himself on the final drive that cost Detroit 10 yards, and he just couldn’t find the downfield throws that made the offense so successful in the first two quarters.
This isn’t to harp on Stafford too much. His overall performance was still very good. It was just a little disappointing to see him struggle in the second half, when that has become a recurring theme to this offense.
Running backs: B-
If there was any silver lining to this game, it was the play of the running backs. Detroit was fairly efficient in the running game, with the tailbacks combining for 16 carries for 77 yards (4.8 YPC). J.D. McKissic was the most efficient runner with four carries for 32 yards, and he added a 26-yard touchdown reception, too.
However, he also had a costly fumble early in the game that took at least three points off the board. And when the Lions really needed their running game to come through late, it was as inefficient as ever. Detroit ran the ball seven times in the fourth quarter for just 20 yards.
Tight ends: C
I didn’t see much good nor bad out of this unit throughout the game. T.J. Hockenson had a couple of big catches before getting knocked out of the game with another injury. But when the game was on the line and the Lions called the numbers of Logan Thomas and Jesse James, neither could break open on the game-deciding play, and Thomas couldn’t snag the jump ball.
This unit continues to underwhelm this season, but this wasn’t an egregiously bad performance from the tight ends.
Wide receivers: A
Marvin Jones Jr. was absolutely fantastic in this game, pulling in eight catches on 10 attempts for 126 yards and a score. It seemed like each catch he made was for his highlight reel.
Meanwhile, Kenny Golladay was just as impactful, eclipsing Jones’ 126 yards with 132 on just four catches.
While both Jones and Golladay struggle to get separation, they are the very definition of playmakers right now, and they’re keeping this offense—and this team—afloat.
Offensive line: C
There were more consistent running lanes on the ground, but it’s still far from where it needs to be in terms of run blocking. Pass blocking was somewhat inconsistent. Oftentimes, Stafford had all day in the pocket, but far too often there was a free rusher that Stafford had to evade before even looking downfield. The sack numbers were low (two), but for all this team has invested in the offensive line, they just need to be better. Period.
Defensive line: D
Damon Harrison Sr. was better, but Detroit still struggled to create pressure with their defensive front. In the ground game, you could easily see just how dominant the Raiders offensive line was in this matchup.
Let’s just make it simple here: 36 rushes, 171 yards (4.8 YPC). Two quarterback hits, one sack. That isn’t anywhere near good enough to win football games.
You knew this was coming. The linebackers are struggling to tackle, they aren’t making plays in coverage unless Derek Carr is throwing into their backs, and at this point, it’s much harder to come up with a list of what they can do.
The best use of these linebackers is sending Jarrad Davis on a delayed blitz, but this defense can’t get into enough obvious passing downs to use him like that often.
I thought this was actually a somewhat solid game from the cornerbacks. Hunter Renfrow vs. Justin Coleman was a fairly evenly-matched battle. Darius Slay was good enough that Carr completely avoided him all game. Rashaan Melvin made a play or two.
But it was all undone by the play of the safeties. Will Harris looked like the rookie that he is. Tavon Wilson was missing tackles here and there.
The truth is this secondary is put into an impossible situation where they have to cover forever. It ultimately makes them look bad, but it’s really the front seven that’s letting them down.
Special teams: C
The fake punt could have been very costly, but the Raiders luckily missed a field goal on the ensuing drive. Other than that, there weren’t really many notable plays in either direction. Detroit’s kick coverage was a little worse than normal, but not devastatingly so. Matt Prater was perfect, but his longest kick was his three extra points. Sam Martin had a touchback, but it was a great kick that was lost due to an unfortunate circumstances with gunner C.J. Moore, who was in perfect position to down it inside the Raiders’ 5-yard line, but had stepped out of bounds and couldn’t be the first to touch it.
The only thing keeping this from an F was Matt Patricia’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line on Detroit’s second possession of the game. It was an out-of-character move for Patricia, but one that was certainly welcome in my eyes.
However, Detroit’s continued insistence on trying to establish a running game late in the game when it wasn’t working is frustrating as hell to watch. And the last offensive play of the game was just inexcusable.
This is a team that thinks they’re capable of running the ball in short-yardage situations when everyone else knows they’re not. And so when Detroit lines up in a goal-line situation, no one is buying that they’re going to run it.
This was a near-identical situation to Detroit’s fourth-and-2 play against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks earlier. In both scenarios, the Lions brought in extra tight ends and a fullback to show run. In both instances, the defense didn’t buy it and Detroit’s limited passing options were completely blanketed. Just read Patricia’s explanation for both plays:
“I mean, they played it well. You know, they played it well.
“We thought that play had a good chance in practice, and thought we had a good chance with it today. We just didn’t execute it very well, and they played it very well.”
“They played it well,” is essentially admitting that the play-action design was completely ineffective. This team can’t run the ball in short-yardage situations, so pretending like you’re going to isn’t going to fool anyone.
The Lions are a team that just isn’t good enough to overcome their own coaching hubris. This coaching staff needs to just accept that they aren’t good at running the ball in these situations and fully embrace just throwing it. No play action. Nothing fancy. Just get the ball in your playmakers’ hands. Don’t make them spectators to your own mistakes.
Oh, and the three-man rush isn’t working anymore—was it ever in the first place?