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Detroit Lions Week 1 report card: Poor coaching overshadows solid debut

We grade out the Lions’ performance after their Week 1 tie to Arizona.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions lost to tied the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, 27-27. While there is plenty to be upset about—mainly, blowing a 18-point fourth quarter lead—there were plenty of performances to keep fans somewhat encouraged for the rest of the season.

Let’s take a look at the ups and downs from Sunday with our Week 1 report card.

Quarterbacks: B+

Matthew Stafford was well on his way to a great start to the year. At one point, Stafford had a perfect passer rating in the game, and after what should have been his game-sealing touchdown to T.J. Hockenson, here’s what his statline looked like:

20-of-29 for 301 yards, three touchdowns, 137.3 passer rating

But when the Lions needed him the most, he—and the entire offense was ineffective. Nevermind, that the Lions took the ball out of his hand before the Cardinals tied it up. Stafford had three potential game-winning drives late in the fourth or in overtime, and got three points to show for it.

It’s impossible to put all the blame on him for that—or even much at all—but if we’re going to give credit to Stafford for all the game-winning drives, there has to be at least a little accountability when he fails to create one.

Running backs: C

Detroit’s running game was basically non-existent on Sunday, but it’s hard to know how much of the blame goes on the backs. I thought C.J. Anderson ran pretty well, but he also failed to convert two third-and-1 plays. Kerryon Johnson was a complete non-factor.

All that being said, I think the backs deserve some credit for some pretty key blocks in pass protection.

Tight ends: A+

T.J. Hockenson’s debut somehow incredibly matched all the offseason hype he was getting out of training camp and the preseason. He broke records. He blocked fairly well. He had four plays of 20+ yards and made clear he is going to be a huge focus of this offense and a major mismatch for opposing defenses.

Even Jesse James pulled in a key 15-yard catch on third down.

If there’s one positive to take from Sunday, it’s that the TE room has been completely revamped and drastically improved from last year.

Wide receivers: C

The final statline looks pretty good. Danny Amendola broke 100 yards for just the ninth time in his entire career. Kenny Golladay had a touchdown. Marvin Jones Jr. was absolutely key in Detroit’s game-tying drive in overtime.

But when you’re going up against a mediocre Cardinals defense missing its top two cornerbacks, you’d expect more out of this group of receivers. Separation was at a minimum, and if Kenny Golladay is truly going to emerge as a No. 1 receiver, a four-catch day against a depleted secondary isn’t going to do it.

Offensive line: D-

I didn’t quite give the offensive line an F grade, because at times Matthew Stafford actually had all day to pass.

But far too often he did not. Taylor Decker’s disaster of a day has already been well documented, but Rick Wagner didn’t fare too much better on the other side.

That was disappointing, but perhaps not as disappointing as how bad the Lions offensive line was in run blocking. The two failed third-and-1 conversions on the ground were perfect examples of just how bad this team was at creating holes in the run game.

This is a team that will try to run the ball with a lead, and if they can’t successfully do that, we’re going to see a lot of games like the one on Sunday.

Defensive line: C

Much like everyone else, the defensive line started out on fire. They got an early third-and-1 stop, they had Kyler Murray on the run, Devon Kennard (who I mostly consider a defensive lineman) walked out of the first half with 3.0 sacks, and the defensive front had at least three batted balls on the day.

But they completely disappeared in the second half. The run defense wasn’t where it needed to be, and the pressure was virtually gone. Trey Flowers’ debut was completely muted, Mike Daniels had a grand total of one tackle, and even Damon Harrison Sr. was blaming himself after the loss:

The defensive line remains one of the Lions’ lesser worries, but it wasn’t a great day for the unit, either.

Linebackers: C+

Jahlani Tavai had an up-and-down debut. On one hand, he looked ferocious at times in the run game and he notched his first NFL sack. However, there were times in which he got turned around badly in coverage, including an overtime play that nearly turned into a touchdown because he was facing the wrong direction.

Christian Jones added a pass defended and a sack, while Jalen Reeves-Maybin was great on special teams and decent in coverage—aside from the touchdown he allowed, letting the Cardinals back in the game.

Secondary: B+

This unit would have gotten an A+ after three quarters. Early on, Rashaan Melvin eased fan’s anxieties about the CB2 job with three passes defended on the day. Justin Coleman, too, looked sticky in coverage. Darius Slay was so good, we barely even saw him get targeted.

Throw in a Tracy Walker interception and five tackles from Quandre Diggs, and this unit was off and running for the 2019 season.

Unfortunately, coverage softened up late, and Kyler Murray picked apart the defense in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime. The Lions couldn’t get a single stop the rest of the way, and just could not defend a rub-route for the life of them.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, Kyler Murray was 20-of-29 for 238 yards and two scores. Yeah, that ain’t going to cut.

Special teams: F

I don’t know what happened to Jamal Agnew’s confidence, but it looks completely shot. His muffed punt didn’t turn out to be too costly, but his bad performance went well beyond that. He averaged -0.4 yards per punt return on five attempts. That is not a typo. He had negative return yards, and he wasn’t much better as a kick returner.

Meanwhile, Dee Virgin had two special teams penalties and the Lions had a punt blocked at the worst possible time. A Matt Prater 55-yard field goal couldn’t even save this unit from failing.

Coaching: F

I’m not going to bother complaining about going conservative at the end of the game. It’s already been tackled by just about everyone in Detroit.

I’m not even going to sit here and get mad about The Timeout. Weird things like that sometimes just happen. Darrell Bevell or Matt Patricia or whoever it was that actually called the timeout was fearful that a key third-and-5 was about to turn into a third-and-10. I can, at least, understand what happened there. Should the Lions have trusted Stafford in that moment? Of course, but I still can understand what happened.

What I want to focus on is the play directly after The Timeout. Good teams overcome unfortunate events. The Timeout was an unfortunate event, but the Lions were still in a brilliant position to win the game. Get a first down and the game is over.

But if you rewatch the next play, you can see the chaos on the side of the field. Coaches are literally jumping up and down in anger, the offense—yet again—barely gets to the line in time before the playclock runs out, and then this is the play they run:

This, to me, shows the Lions were completely unprepared for the biggest play of the game. The Timeout threw the Lions sideline into chaos, and everyone forgot the game was still happening. They drew up a half-assed play in a hurry, and Stafford just desperately heaved up a ball that had no chance of being complete.

This whole series of plays felt oddly familiar, and then it hit me. Lions-Cowboys playoff game.

The Lions get hit with an unfortunate event: the pass interference flag pickup. Instead of overcoming something that is just part of the game, Jim Caldwell fails to keep his foot on the gas, opting to punt on fourth-and-1 at Dallas’ 46-yard line.

And what happens next in both scenarios? Blocked/shanked punt, other team goes on to score game-winning/game-tying drive.

Being a good coaching staff isn’t about calling a perfect game. There is no such thing. Bad things are going to happen to your team on a weekly basis. But a good coaching staff remains calm and collective during those moments and overcomes them.

The Lions failed to do that on Sunday and it completely overshadowed what was actually a pretty solid debut from Darrell Bevell and much of the rest of the team.

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