It was a strange turn of events on Sunday for the Detroit Lions. After the defense had been in free-fall for the past two months, it was the team’s offensive effort that sank them in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Vikings held the Lions scoreless for the first 58 minutes of the game, as it seems like the Lions’ parade of backup quarterbacks is finally catching up with them.
Here’s a look at our grades for the Lions’ Week 14 loss to the Vikings.
There’s really not a lot of positives to take from David Blough’s second career start. He’s certainly excused from a bad game, given that he’s an undrafted rookie with minimal practice going against one of the best NFL defenses in a hostile environment that makes communication damn-near impossible.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that Blough held onto the ball too long, didn’t see the field particularly well, took sacks that cost Detroit points, and threw two interceptions.
Running backs: D
While I do like Bo Scarbrough’s running style and think it works well under this offense, at some point we’re going to have to address his inability to make big splash plays. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed to do much beyond the second level of the defense and his longest run of the game was 7 yards. He’s almost certainly best served as a complement to a starting back than as a feature back.
That being said, he was much better than the other backs on the field Sunday. Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic combined for 5 yards on three carries. McKissic added just 16 yards on four receptions.
Tight ends: D-
Jesse James is still struggling as a blocker and while he and Logan Thomas combined for 44 receiving yards, their impact was mostly negative against the Vikings. With T.J. Hockenson out for the rest of the year, James has the opportunity to show why he is worth the hefty contract the Lions handed him, but if Sunday’s game was any indication, I don’t think the Lions are going to get their desired results.
Wide receivers: C+
Mike Hughes effectively shut down Marvin Jones Jr. to the tune of just three catches for 38 yards. However, Danny Amendola and Kenny Golladay combined for 11 catches, 92 yards and a score. Those aren’t exactly electric numbers, but they can only do so much when their quarterback isn’t throwing them catchable balls.
Offensive line: C-
The five sacks look particularly bad for this unit, but I would put at least half of those on the quarterback himself. That being said, Detroit failed to convert a couple of third-and-shorts thanks to no push against a Vikings defensive front, and there were a couple of bad miscommunications that results in a free rusher.
I think the offensive line will be unfairly graded by most. And while they weren’t exactly good against the Vikings, they were far from the biggest problem on Sunday.
Defensive line: C
A quick glance at the box score, and you’d think the defensive line had a horrible game. They only had one sack and two quarterback hits on Kirk Cousins’ 31 dropbacks. However, Mike Daniels finally looked productive as a pass rusher, and the Lions were able to get Cousins out of the pocket a lot more often than they usually do.
Additionally, the Lions’ run defense appears to finally be back. The Vikings averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. They also stopped a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-2 in the running game.
The team is still in desperate need of a consistent pass rush threat, but this was a small step in the right direction.
Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones were both tagged for personal foul penalties in the first half, as the Lions’ linebacking corps fell back on bad habits. Cousins did most of his damage on Sunday on passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Kirk Cousins finished 14/16 for 127 yards & TD on play action in the @Vikings win, tied for the most completions on play action by any QB in a game over the last 4 seasons.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 8, 2019
The Vikings called a run play OR play action on 79% of offensive plays.#DETvsMIN | #Skol pic.twitter.com/lqhGBC0Gq1
That’s linebacker territory and whether it was busted coverages or missed tackles, it was the Lions’ linebacking corps that cost Detroit yardage on defense. Cousins was especially lethal on play action, which is all predicated on getting the Lions linebackers to bite. They did.
Darius Slay and Amani Oruwariye both gave up a big play through the air, but their overall coverage wasn’t too bad for most of the game. And I thought the play of the safeties—Tavon Wilson and Tracy Walker, in particular—was very good in this game, especially when it came to open-field tackles (Walker had 13 tackles, Wilson had 11).
Cousins’ statline doesn’t look too pretty, but, again, most of his damage was done in short-yardage plays, which isn’t the fault of the secondary.
Special teams: D
Another missed field goal from Matt Prater plus some shaky punt coverage equals another subpar game from the special teams units. At least Sam Martin was booming the hell out of the ball.
The defense took a big enough step to keep Detroit in this game throughout the entire first half. And it’s hard to fault coaching on the offensive side of the ball, when an undrafted rookie quarterback is put in such an impossible situation and was personally responsible for a lot of the team’s failings on that side of the ball.
However, this game got out of reach at the end of the first half after the team. Head coach Matt Patricia always stresses the importance of situational football like two-minute drills, yet it has been a weakness for this team since he’s arrived. In the final two minutes of the half, the Lions managed to:
- Fail to convert a third-and-2, which would have likely burned the rest of the clock and given Detroit a serious chance at a touchdown
- Take a 12-yard sack, pushing a chip-shot 33-yard field goal into a 45-yard field goal
- Miss a 45-yard field goal
- Give up a 44-yard pass with under 40 seconds to go
- Give up a TD
While a ton of that goes on the players for failing to execute in those moments, this is becoming a habit for the team. When a team is failing to perform in crunch time, whether it’s a two-minute drill or the fourth quarter, that ultimately falls on lack of preparation, AKA coaching.