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Detroit Lions Week 2 report card: A few, key coaching decision make the difference vs. Chargers

Credit where credit is due.

Los Angeles Chargers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions eked out a win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. It wasn’t pretty, but football isn’t pretty—especially in September.

There were so good performances and some bad ones. So here’s a look at our grades for Week 2.

Quarterback: B

I thought Matthew Stafford had a phenomenal game. His free-play deep ball to Kenny Golladay was perfect, as was his game-winning score to Golladay. He also made two huge plays with his fourth-down conversion throw, which Matt Patricia called “a laser.”

But Stafford also made two critical errors in the second half on passes resulting in interceptions. The first was simply a bad throw while trying to exploit a favorable matchup. The second was a horrible decision and Stafford admitted as much after the game.

“I can’t turn that ball over there, running back sitting in the flat for a probably a 15-yard gain, I got a little too aggressive there,” Stafford said.

Running backs: B+

In terms of stats, it was another underwhelming day from the Lions tailbacks, but Kerryon Johnson did just about everything he could to maximize the potential of every rush. Plus, he threw in the team’s first score of the day with his bobbled reception on a screen pass.

Perhaps more noteworthy were the contributions from sixth-round pick Ty Johnson, who tallied 30 rushing yards on just five carries. Johnson looks the part for the Theo Riddick role, but with the vision needed to run between the tackles. He could have a much bigger role than originally expected.

Wide receivers: B

Kenny Golladay balled out on Sunday. His 117 yards on the day was the second highest total of his entire career. The game-winning score was a perfect example of how the big-bodied receiver can physically dominate the game when he wants to.

Unfortunately, it was an underwhelming day for the rest of the Lions receivers, which had to be a mild disappointment considering the Chargers’ banged up secondary. Still, receivers are finally getting open, and I don’t recall any true drops on the day. Overall, this was a solid but unspectacular performance from the receivers thanks to Golladay.

Tight ends: B-

It was a forgettable night on the stat sheet for the Lions tight ends. After his record-setting debut, T.J. Hockenson followed it up with just a single catch against the Chargers. Jesse James added three of his own—one was the game-sealing first down—but those receptions produced a paltry 18 total yards.

However, it was the tight ends’ job on Sunday to help a seemingly overmatched offensive line in pass protection. To that end, they were wildly successful: Matthew Stafford didn’t get sacked a single time and was only hit once.

I still think the tight ends need a lot of work in the run blocking department, but overall this was a promising day for the tight ends, even if it wasn’t as noticeable as last week.

Offensive line: C+

Yes, the offensive line deserves a ton of credit for keep Stafford clean, but they also deserve a lot of blame for the lack of a running game. Remember, this is a Chargers team that allowed over 200 yards rushing to the Colts in Week 1, and Detroit couldn’t muster more than 3.4 yards per carry.

For a team that harps on establishing the run, they have certainly done a poor job of gaining yards on the ground through two weeks.

Defensive line: D-

Trey Flowers came up big in a couple of huge moments with some third down pressures. But aside from that, the defensive line remains a huge disappointment through two games.

Philip Rivers had all day to pass the ball, despite having a turnstile at left tackle and no receivers outside of Keenan Allen to throw to. The Chargers could design plays that took minutes to develop because nobody was even getting in Rivers’ zip code on Sunday.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that this once-dominant run defense was giving up massive holes for opposing ball-carriers to run through. For the second straight week, the Lions allowed over 100 yards rushing at more than 4.8 yards per carry to each opponent.

Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., and Mike Daniels may still be gaining their footing after missing most of training camp, but they had better figure it out soon, because this unit hasn’t been nearly as good as it was advertised in the offseason.

Linebackers: D+

Kudos to rookie Jahlani Tavai for the huge forced fumble, but there isn’t much else positive I can say about this unit. They looked slow at times and poor tackling left plenty to be desired. They played a big part in Detroit’s atrocious run defense, and it was really the safeties who seemed to make any plays in the backfield.

Jarrad Davis has his faults, but it looks like this unit needs him back as soon as possible.

Secondary: B-

This is an extremely tough grade to give. With the Chargers short on options, the Lions should have expected to win this matchup thoroughly. But Keenan Allen is that dude, and Darius Slay had his hands full with an assignment the Lions needed their star cornerback to win. Slay obviously got the last laugh, but through the first three quarters, Allen could not be stopped.

Tracy Walker gave up a huge early pass to Ekeler, and Quandre Diggs inexcusably gave up a 45-yard bomb at the end of the first half. But both were stellar in run support, and the Lions continue to look like they got a free agency steal in Rashaan Melvin, who added another two passes defended to his three from Week 1.

Overall, there were too many big plays allowed by this unit. Thankfully, they’re making plenty of their own to balance the ledger somewhat.

Special teams: D

The Lions didn’t have any catastrophic special teams plays like they did last week with the Jamal Agnew fumble, but they sure tried.

Agnew got bailed out this week with offsetting penalties on another fumble against the Chargers, but he didn’t go completely unpunished. He lost his job to Danny Amendola, who immediately took the re-kick for a decent return and looked like he gave the team a spark there.

The ball security issues in the punt return game were compounded by another week of special teams penalties and an uncharacteristically horrible game from Matt Prater—who missed a short field goal and an extra point.

The good news is the coverage units seem fine and Sam Martin is still doing a great job pinning opponents deep.

Coaching: B

I’m going to go ahead and kindly disagree with my buddy Kent Lee Platte and say this was a huge step in the right direction after last week’s failures.

Of course, there were still one decision I vehemently disagreed with. Patricia’s choice to not call a timeout near the end of the first half with the Chargers backed up inside the 5-yard line is mind-boggling to me. I know in the end it looked like Patricia made the right call, but that’s only because the team failed at stopping a third-and-8 and inexplicably allowed a 47-yard pass.

Aside from that, the Lions played aggressively and smart. Facing a fourth-and-1 with over eight minutes remaining, Patricia decided to go for it instead of settling for a field goal to reduce the lead to one. On the very next play, that gamble paid off with what would eventually be the game-winning score.

And then, with the game on the line, Darrell Bevell drew up a fine, aggressive play call on third-and-6 to put the game away. And perhaps most overlooked—probably because you couldn’t see it on the TV feed—the Lions smartly hurried to the line on that play to get the Chargers off balance.

“Broke the huddle quick, caught them sleeping,” Stafford said after the game.

Those are exactly the kind of subtle coaching decisions that can be the difference between a win and a loss.

And for those that have missed an aggressive Stafford in the Jim Caldwell era, check out this quote from Stafford on Sunday night.

“I’m aggressive. I’m going to keep giving our guys chances because they are great players. You know, the second (interception), I can’t turn that ball over there, running back sitting in the flat for a probably a 15-yard gain, I got a little too aggressive there. But I think, just, that rubs off, confidence. If you have an aggressive play caller, you got a guy back there throwing the ball aggressively, giving you chances. I have confidence in those guys to go make the plays, and that rubs off and helps.”

The deep ball is back, baby.