The Detroit Lions looked much more like the team we saw in the first two weeks of the season than the one that provided a glimmer of hope against the Cardinals. The defense was nonexistent for the majority of the game, while the offense sputtered against a beat-up defense when they absolutely couldn’t afford to.
Now that the Lions are 1-3, the calls for a change in regime are only getting louder. Players, fans, and coaches alike will have to dwell on this disappointing performance for two weeks, as the Lions enter the bye.
It’s a dark situation, and I’m not sure there will be any solutions at the other end of the bye week. But before we get into any big-picture questions, let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s performance. Here are my Lions positional grades for their Week 4 loss against the New Orleans Saints.
I’ve been tough on Matthew Stafford all year, but this may have been his worst performance yet. Against a Saints defense missing its top two cornerbacks and one of its best pass rushers, Stafford could not get anything going after the first quarter. His accuracy was off, his decision making continued to be slow and questionable, and again there were too many negative plays. Turning the ball over in the red zone was bad enough, but his interception was made even worse by the fact that it was thrown on first down.
All in all, this was his lowest completion percentage in two years (54.8), his lowest yards per attempt in a year, and at some point we need to talk about the sacks. The Lions offensive line didn’t have their best game, but pass protection has looked good overall this year. Due to Stafford’s mismanagement in the pocket, he’s been sacked 11 times in the past three games.
If we’re being completely honest about Stafford’s performance on Sunday, it’s harder to point out the good than it was the bad. We haven’t been able to say that in a long time for the Lions quarterback.
Running backs: C
D’Andre Swift looked like a real weapon on Sunday. He turned eight touches into 52 yards and a touchdown and for the first time looked like a legitimate rushing threat (four rushes, 22 yards).
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Adrian Peterson. The veteran running back underwhelmed, rushing for 36 yards on 11 carries.
Tight ends: B-
Despite all the hype about a Saints defense that was horrible against tight ends, Jesse James and T.J. Hockenson combined for just three catches and 40 yards.
I’ll have to check the all-22 to see if this was an issue of them getting open or not being targeted, but you have to give Hockenson and James a little credit for the catches they did make. James made the play of his Lions career, pulling an interception away from a Saints defender for a big 31-yard gain. Meanwhile, Hockenson had a touchdown and a strong catch on Detroit’s two-point conversion.
Wide receivers: D
Again, this grade is subject to change based on the all-22 camera angles, but for a team hyped around their skill position player talent, this was a wholly disappointing performance against a bunch of backup corners. Marvin Jones Jr. had just a single catch for 9 yards, Kenny Golladay only had two catches in the first half, and aside from one big play from Danny Amendola, he had an otherwise quiet day.
None of these players are known for their ability to create separation, but against a beat-up secondary, the expectation was for a much better day.
Offensive line: D
A Stafford scramble aside, the Lions didn’t have a single running play longer than 10 yards. Stafford was sacked three times and Halapoulivaati Vaitai continues to struggle as a guard in replacement of Joe Dahl. Even the left side of the offensive line—which has been very reliable through three games—didn’t look up to the task on Sunday.
Defensive line: D
Romeo Okwara appeared to create a couple of nice pressures (credited with three quarterback hits), especially early on. Danny Shelton had the batted pass that led to the first quarter interception.
But for the fourth straight week, this defense got gashed up the middle on the ground. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries (4.5 YPC). On the goal line, the Saints—beaten up on the offensive line, too—just out-physicaled the Lions defensive front, leading to three goal-line rushing touchdowns.
Tackling was simply atrocious from the Lions’ back seven. Even with Jarrad Davis hardly seeing the field, Jamie Collins Sr. couldn’t build upon a great Week 3 performance. Jahlani Tavai lost contain several times on the edge, and Christian Jones—despite his seven tackles on the day—didn’t stand out as a positive.
Detroit managed to improve and create some stops late in the game, but by then the damage had been done.
Drew Brees completed 76 percent of his passes for 9.8 yards per attempt. Darryl Roberts may have notched an interception, but that was more about the efforts of Shelton deflecting the pass.
Again, tackling was bad. Desmond Trufant provided no spark to a struggling cornerback unit. Even Amani Oruwariye, who had looked passable through three games, struggled in this one.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Emmanuel Sanders (six catches, 93 yards) and Tre’Quan Smith (four catches, 54 yards, 2 TDs), but if there was a chance Detroit’s secondary could bounce back, this was the perfect scenario with Michael Thomas and Jared Cook injured. They didn’t get it done, and hope is slipping away.
Special teams: B
MVP Jack Fox had another fine game (54.5 average), but punt coverage wasn’t as good as it had been in the past. Otherwise a quiet day in the kicking game, as not a single field goal was attempted on Sunday from either team.
I’ll start with the things I liked to get them out of the way. I thought the offensive game plan was actually sound early in the game. They came out aggressive, throwing the ball early and often. Had Stafford not hit a mid-game slump, they may have been able to actually keep pace with the Saints offense.
I also liked Detroit going for two late. I know it seems counterintuitive, but there’s an analytical base to that strategy, and it would’ve worked had the Lions gotten the ball back late.
Here’s what I didn’t like: The Defense. It’s still awful, and it continues to look worse than it has ever been. They knew Alvin Kamara and the running game was going to be the focal point of this offense, and they still couldn’t stop it. The Lions’ fundamentals look awful, and we’re getting to a point in the season where that is no longer acceptable.
The early-game challenge was bad, and it likely caused the Lions to be more conservative with their challenges late in the game. The Lions also decided to run the ball a ton in the fourth quarter when the situation dictated no-huddle action.
Detroit’s final drive of the game—a 12-play, 43 yards touchdown drive that bled over four minutes off the clock was one of the clunkiest, poorly managed touchdown drives I’ve seen. Also, a good case could’ve been made for an onside kick given all the defense’s struggles (even though they were coming off two straight stops). That one is admittedly a little ticky-tacky, but I would’ve rather had this game in the offense’s hands than the defense’s.
Big picture, it’s hard to look at this team as a well-coached organization. Many players aren’t performing at levels we’ve seen them play before (or elsewhere). Again, we saw this team spiral out of control in the middle of the game. There just doesn’t seem to be improvement anywhere right now. The seat is hot.