You could make a solid argument that the Detroit Lions played their best game of the season on Sunday afternoon against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs. It just so happened to be their first loss of the season, too. The NFL is funny that way. You are not judged by your average performance per play, or whether you looked like the dominant team or not. You are based on one thing and one thing only: points at the end of the game.
It’s a crude reality to face on a Monday morning in which the Lions have a lot to be proud about, but the NFL is not for the weak-hearted.
Still, let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s performance and hand out some grades.
This was as close to an A+ performance as Matthew Stafford could have possibly gotten with his red zone fumble. That play proved to be too costly not to affect Stafford’s grade a little, but otherwise, the Lions’ franchise quarterback was electric. His downfield passes had accuracy and touch. His decision making was mostly on point.
Oh, and he still has a fastball to make throws that 90 percent of the league’s quarterbacks are too frightened to even try:
This is the best throw in the NFL this year. Stafford fit it between 4 defenders pic.twitter.com/lnbENIwilB— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) September 29, 2019
Running backs: B
Again, you take the good with the one, really bad. Kerryon Johnson’s goal line fumble was inexcusable, and you can blame the refs all you want, but this 14-point swing is ultimately on Johnson.
That being said, Johnson also had his best game of the season a career-high 26 carries. 157 total yards from scrimmage is up there with one of his best career games. He still had too many carries go for 2 yards or fewer, but the explosive plays were finally back: Johnson had rushes of 11, 12, 13 and 14 yards. Prior to Sunday, he only had a single rush of over 10 yards.
And let’s not forget J.D. McKissic in this section, who had a couple of big plays including a fantastic 26-yard run and an impressive 11-yard catch.
The one costly mistake will overshadow a lot here, but it was still a step in the right direction.
Tight ends: B-
I still have some serious questions about the blocking skills of this tight end unit, but their receiving value is miles beyond where it was last year. Logan Thomas made another few big plays, including one where he trucked a dude. T.J. Hockenson was coming along nicely before his second-half injury (although he had one bad drop).
It wasn’t the tight ends’ best day, but it’s still nice to see a pretty talented group of players play moderately well.
Wide receivers: A
It helps when your quarterback is dealing, but Detroit got big plays from just about every receiver that took the field. Marvin Jones averaged 25.7 yards per catch in this game. Kenny Golladay had two—nearly three—scores. And even Marvin Hall, playing in his first game with Matthew Stafford—pulled in a contested deep ball that set up the Lions’ go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
Offensive line: B-
There were plenty of rushing lanes on Sunday, which was nice to finally see, but there were some all-too-familiar breakdowns in pass protection. The Chiefs often had free rushers, and that seemed to be a direct result of some miscommunication issues from reading the defensive front.
After allowing zero sacks in back-to-back games, the Chiefs got to Stafford four times, three of which came on crucial third downs.
Defensive line: B-
Trey Flowers had his best game as a Detroit Lion, and A’Shawn Robinson continues to make plays in the running game. But Detroit’s overall run defense continues to be a big disappointment and part of that is the surprisingly slow start to the season for Damon Harrison Sr.
The Lions have now given up over 100 yards rushing in all four games and at least 4.2 yards per carry in each. In this one, the Chiefs ran for 123 yards on 25 carries (4.9 YPC).
Part of the run support issues are coming at the second level, where Jarrad Davis continues to struggle. Christian Jones and Devon Kennard have both played better than expectations, but it’s still not good enough. The fourth-and-8 play was a perfect example of linebackers not having the kind of awareness the team needs from that second line of defense.
Here’s a look at Patrick Mahomes’ stats and how they rank compared to the rest of his career starts:
- Yards per attempt: 7.5 (fifth worst)
- Completion percentage: 57.1% (second worst)
- Passer rating: 81.0 (third worst)
- Touchdowns: 0 (only second time ever)
That’s a huge win for a shorthanded group. On top of that, Justin Coleman single-handedly stopped a touchdown and forced a turnover. Mike Ford was solid as a Darius Slay replacement. And rookie safety Will Harris did just fine in his first significant amount of playing time as a Quandre Diggs replacement
I have a few nitpicky things with Matt Patricia’s in-game management (as I always do). His early challenge for a half yard was pretty ill-advised and could have turned out to be costly. Additionally, after the Lions got an offsides penalty, I thought the right move was to go for it on fourth-and-5 instead of opting to kick a 53-yard field goal with Detroit already down seven, but, again, this is nitpicky.
In reality, the Lions had a solid defensive game plan and they successfully eliminated the long ball from the Chiefs’ arsenal. Offensively, they did exactly what they wanted, too, running the ball effectively, chewing up clock, and scoring a good amount of points. The Lions came up just short, but it’s hard to put much of any of that on the coaching staff.