We are officially half way through the Detroit Lions 2019 season. Four weeks ago this team looked prepped for a playoff run after beating the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers, then taking the Kansas City Chiefs the distance.
Things have fallen apart since then. Detroit has lost three of their last four, including two divisional matchups. Players that were overperforming in the opening weeks have come back down to earth. The team is in a rough spot at the moment, but there are at least a few players having good seasons.
Here is how everyone graded out over the last four games:
Matthew Stafford has quietly been one of the best players in the NFL this season. The quarterback leads the league in yards per game coming out of Week 9, and is towards the top of every major passing efficiency metric.
updating this for week 9:— mansur shaheen (@mansurshaheen) November 5, 2019
312.4 yards/game (1st in NFL)
8.6 ypa (4th)
7.6 net ypa (4th)
8.15 any/a (4th)
6.5 td% (2nd)
matt stafford would be an mvp favorite if the defense wasnt a disaster https://t.co/RG363v3mi6
He has not been perfect — he was poor in the second half against the Raiders — but he has been close enough. After a down year in 2018, it’s nice to see Stafford return to form.
Running Backs: D
Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson, Paul Perkins
The injury to Kerryon Johnson and constant roster churning at the position have made it hard to grade the running back corps over the past 4 games. While the 2018 second-round pick was great when healthy, he only rushed the ball 18 times in the last four games before a knee injury landed him on the injured reserve list. Rookie Ty Johnson has been great when the Lions moved him out to receiver, but bad vision and indecisiveness as a runner leave him unviable as a runner out of the backfield. Tra Carson is the opposite, where he has high football IQ and can make great decisions, but is too slow to be a real threat. Paul Perkins is not an NFL quality running back and this experiment makes no sense.
J.D. McKissic has arguably been the best of the remaining backs. He has been decent between the tackles and popped up in big moments as a receiver. Even McKissic has not been particularly great either, though. Detroit’s running back room is in a really tough spot and it does not look like it will get any better.
Wide Receivers: A+++++
Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola, Marvin Jones Jr., Marvin Hall Jr.
It is impossible to overstate how great Detroit’s receivers have been. It feels like every week one of either Marvin Jones Jr. or Kenny Golladay are absolutely going off — if not both. Golladay is among the league leaders in touchdown catches, and Marvin Jones had an incredible four touchdown performance against the Vikings. Detroit once again has a top receiving duo.
Danny Amendola has been a welcome surprise as well. He has been a consistent outlet for Stafford underneath, getting more separation than any other receiver on the roster. He has been one of the best additions the team made this offseason.
Marvin Hall, a deep threat the team nabbed off the scrap heap, is averaging 40.2 yards per reception this year, with majority of that coming in the recent weeks.
The Lions have a lot of problems right now, but they seem set at receiver for the near future.
Tight Ends: D
T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Once again, this tight end group is a disaster. Rookie first round pick T.J. Hockenson has virtually disappeared after a hot start to the season. Jesse James is starting to look like a free agent bust. The tight end who arrived from Pittsburgh has been unable to contribute at all as a receiver and might be even worse as a blocker.
Logan Thomas may be the best blocker of the three — he is not very good either — and has at least performed when called upon. Thomas being your most reliable tight end is a problem, though.
Detroit revamped their tight end room this offseason after an abysmal 2018. They invested a lot to fix a problem position, and right now it does not look like it has paid off.
Offensive Line: D
Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Frank Ragnow, Rick Wagner
The offensive line has been a mess, particularly in the run game. They have not been able to open anything for the Lions stable of running backs. As a group, they have been about average at pass blocking, but Stafford throws under duress more often than the Lions should be comfortable with.
Frank Ragnow has been disappointing in in recent games after a hot start to year 2. Rick Wagner looks like he’s washed out. Neither Joe Dahl nor Kenny Wiggins have looked any good in their new rotation system. Things could be worse for this unit, but they should absolutely be better than where they are right now.
Interior Defensive Line: C
Damon Harrison Sr., Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson, Kevin Strong, John Atkins
Once the strength of this roster, the interior defensive line has taken a step back. Damon Harrison Sr. is not the elite run stuffer he was last season. A’Shawn Robinson has been better than his older companion, but not good enough to make up the difference in Snacks’ play. Da’Shawn Hand looked great in the game and half where he was on the field, but is now injured once again. UDFA Kevin Strong had been a pleasant surprise in his limited use the past few weeks, but he is not on the field often enough to make a real impact on the game.
Detroit has a huge problem in run defense, and while these guys are not the biggest culprits (don’t worry we will get to them), they are not doing nearly enough up front.
Edge Defenders: B
Trey Flowers, Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara
While Detroit’s lack of a pass rush has clearly been a problem for the team, it is hard to watch their edge defenders as individuals this season and see any of them as a particular problem.
Trey Flowers has quietly been great the past few weeks after he was incognito to open the season. While he still has not lived up to his huge contract, he is clearly catching up to speed in Detroit and is starting to look like the absolute terror on the edge the Lions were hoping for.
Devon Kennard has cooled off a bit after a hot start to the season, but he has still been an excellent run defender on a team that truly needs it. Romeo Okwara has been hit or miss week to week, but the good outweighs the bad for the most part.
Detroit’s failure to create pass pressure seems more like scheme than personnel. Asking them to generate consistent pressure when the interior defensive line is filled with nothing but big, slow, run stuffers and rarely any blitzing is unreasonable.
Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai
Every week I go through the all-22 tape of the previous weeks Lions game to get a bunch of clips for Twitter and get an idea for my weekly film breakdown. I am often dumbfounded by how bad these linebackers are playing right now.
One could argue that Christian Jones has been the NFL’s worst player over the past four weeks. Actually, I would make that argument. If you remove Jones from the equation then the honor of the league’s worst player may belong to Jarrad Davis. Neither of them ever know what is going on in coverage. Jones is practically useless against the run, and while Davis makes the occasional play against the run, he gets lost pretty often as well. Davis often goes screeching into the backfield on delayed blitzes to get in the face of opposing quarterbacks, but the occasional pass rush is not nearly enough to make up for all of his failures elsewhere. Neither of the two can tackle, either.
Jahlani Tavai is the best of the group by far, but he is not particularly great either. The rookie linebacker is clearly still catching up to NFL speed. Tavai may be playing better right now than Davis ever has for the Lions — which is definitely more an indictment of Davis than anything.
These linebackers are bad. They have been bad for a while. Now that Detroit has inexplicably given a contract extension to Jones, it looks like they will remain bad for a while.
Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman, Mike Ford
The Lions looked like they had put together one of the best cornerback groups in the league early on in the year, but their level of play has fallen off a cliff.
Darius Slay has still been near perfect, and his elite play might be the only thing Detroit can rely on at corner. Justin Coleman has cooled off a bit and a had a rocky few games after his hot start to the season.
The real culprit is Rashaan Melvin. Detroit’s CB2 looked like he was having a career renaissance early on in the season, but has been a disaster in recent weeks. He was run roughshod over by both the Vikings and Giants, and was not too good against the Raiders either. What looked like a free agency steal is now looking like a mistake.
This unit still has potential, but it feels like it is all on the verge of falling apart. Slay can only play at this high of a level for so long, and there does not seem to be anyone around to step up in his absence.
Tracy Walker, Tavon Wilson, Will Harris
The loss of Quandre Diggs may not be as big as many think at safety, but this unit still could be better.
Tracy Walker has not taken the next step many hoped he would in year two. While he has made a few stand out plays, and had a great game against the New York Giants, he still has a lot of trouble reading the game and looks incredibly raw in the defensive backfield. Fellow young safety Will Harris has had a rough introduction to the NFL, and has had similar troubles to his partner.
Tavon Wilson has been surprisingly great for the team, though. The safety has been a great run defender in the box. His pass coverage still is not particularly good, but he is not making anywhere near the amount of mistakes he made in the past. Wilson has quietly been one of the more dependable players on Detroit’s defense.
Detroit’s safeties have not been good, but not too bad either. As the two youngsters should get better as the season goes on, and the stability of Wilson means that there is not much to worry about from this unit going forward.