The Detroit Lions won a game that feels a bit too familiar. After jumping out to a 24-3 lead, even some of the most cynical Lions fans were feeling pretty comfortable against a bad Washington Football Team. Then the offense froze up and the all-too-familiar leaky defense allowed Alex Smith to drag his team right back into the game.
Thankfully, a last-second comeback changed the narrative in Detroit’s favor, as they squeaked by with a 30-27 win.
While the game played out in familiar fashion, the offense deserves real recognition for a mostly solid game against a good defense. Detroit’s defense, however, continues to look so bad that there is little reason to hope they’ll turn it around in the final seven games of the season.
Here are my Week 10 grades for the Lions’ performance against Washington.
Matthew Stafford had one of his best games of the season—and against literally the best pass defense in the league. While he didn’t throw the ball down field too much, he connected on the ones he threw—two of his touchdowns: a 55-yard bomb to Marvin Hall and a 27-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr.
Stafford finished Sunday with the third-highest QBR rating and the highest passer rating of all Week 10 quarterbacks. Again, this was against the best pass defense in the league.
Running backs: A
This was a game plan specifically designed for D’Andre Swift, and he made the absolute most out of it: 21 touches, 149 yards, one touchdown. He was patient and elusive as a rusher, and an absolute nightmare of an assignment in coverage. Just look what he did to the poor Washington linebacker on his touchdown.
Hell, even Adrian Peterson had 30 yards on five touches.
Tight ends: C
Another quiet day from the tight ends, as T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James combined for just four catches and 22 yards. That being said, it wasn’t like they blew too many opportunities, and while I don’t think they were great blocking in this game, they didn’t make any egregious errors, either.
Wide receivers: B
Danny Amendola made another weird mental mistake that resulted in a penalty, albeit a strange one. Quintez Cephus looked shaky and had one really bad drop.
However, Marvin Jones Jr. alone raises the grade of this group to a B. Jones had eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. And let’s not forget Marvin Hall for his patented splash play per game, giving the Lions an early 7-0 lead.
This unit still clearly misses Kenny Golladay, but they kept their head well above water against a fairly good Washington secondary.
Offensive line: A-
I nearly gave the offensive line an A, but two holding penalties—one by Oday Aboushi at a critical time—takes them down a notch.
Otherwise, I don’t think you could have realistically expected a better game from this unit. With no Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Joe Dahl being replaced by Aboushi, the Lions kept Stafford clean for the majority of the game against one of the best defensive lines in football. Washington had just one sack... and no quarterback hits the rest of the entire game. (By comparison, the Lions had eight).
Throw in 105 rushing yards at 5.0 yards per carry, and this was just a phenomenal game from the Lions’ front five.
Defensive line: B-
Detroit looked much better against the run after last week’s disaster against the Vikings. Washington managed just 89 rushing yards on 26 carries (3.4 YPC). However, they did allow three rushing touchdowns.
It was also a mixed bag in terms of pass rush. The Lions’ edge rushers—mainly, Everson Griffen (five QB hits) and Romeo Okwara (one sack)—did a good job getting to Alex Smith and often seemed a half second away from a strip sack. But Detroit wasn’t getting any push from the middle, only sacked Smith twice, and gave up contain a few times on the mobile quarterback.
Overall, there was still more good than bad. When Washington was in throw-only mode in the second half, though, you would’ve like to see the Lions pick up a few more sacks.
Tackling was a huge issue for this unit even though Jamie Collins Sr. finished with 13 tackles. Reggie Ragland had a decent game, including one tackle for loss that eventually led to pushing Washington out of field goal range.
Still, though, it feels like this linebacking corps is lacking in talent, and it’s the reason a lot of Alex Smith’s short passes ended up going for 10-15 yards instead of 5-10.
I have no answers for this unit. Alex Smith threw the ball 55 times, and the Lions managed to get their hands on two of them. As the game rolled on, Smith got more and more aggressive against this defense, and they had no answers. Terry McLaurin was regularly beating whoever was on him (typically, Desmond Trufant), and even Isaiah Wright had a solid game (six catches, 59 yards).
In the past four weeks, the Lions have zero interceptions and the secondary has been responsible for just three passes defended.
Special teams: B+
Lions lose a couple marks for not getting a blocked punt for a third week in a row.
Okay, not really.
However, Matt Prater was perfect, including a 59-yard game winner. Jack Fox dropped three of his four punts inside the 20 while maintaining a solid 47.8 average (with no return yards). The only blip of the day was a 46 yard kickoff return allowed, and that ended up resulting in zero points for Washington.
Matt Patricia is catching a lot of flak for the team blowing a 21-point lead, but I’m not sure I can really point to any coaching decision responsible for that. The offense didn’t get conservative. In fact, in the two three-and-out possessions that helped the Washington comeback, the Lions threw the ball on five of six of those plays, including both first downs. There were just clear execution problems.
Defensively, you could certainly make an argument that the team got a little conservative. I didn’t see them send a single blitz in the second half, despite the fact they knew Washington was going to throw the ball the rest of the game. The Lions felt comfortable with the pressure they were getting from a four-man rush and were hoping seven in coverage would prevent quick scores. That didn’t work.
In terms of in-game management, I’m still a little annoyed the team isn’t just taking touchbacks on kickoffs and Sunday was a good reminder why. Patricia also faced a tough decision late, either accepting a penalty and forcing a third-and-13 for the Football Team or declining it and making Washington convert a fourth-and-2. They accepted the penalty and immediately gave up a first down, but I think that’s probably what I would’ve done in the moment, too.
But give the Lions credit for an extremely solid offensive game plan. Centering the offense around Swift—although a few weeks later than we all would’ve liked—was perfect against a good Washington defense.