We’ve seen the wheels come off of the Detroit Lions before. We all remember the season opener against the Jets in 2018 or the 2015 massacre at the hands of the Chiefs in London. But I’m not so sure I’ve seen such a full-blown failure from this team since the Matt Millen era.
On Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, the Lions looked completely inept in just about every single phase of the game. In a game they absolutely needed to have against an opponent that was very beatable, the Lions didn’t look like they belonged in the same league as the Panthers.
The game plan was doomed from the beginning, the players made mental error after mental error, and in the end you’ve got a Lions team that is once more the laughing stock of the NFL.
Here’s their Week 11 report card.
This was one of the least efficient games of Matthew Stafford’s entire career. But it’s hard to point to him for any specific blame of the offense’s failures. His receivers were consistently dropping passes. The run game was inefficient, which allowed the Panthers to drop eight into coverage. And Stafford was still somehow under pressure most of the game.
Still, Stafford just never looked comfortable in this game. He held onto the ball far too long, often going to second and third reads before eventually getting sacked. Obviously, he was dealing with a receiving corps stripped of its primary parts, but at some point Stafford needed to give his receivers a chance to make plays. If you happen to turn the ball over, at least you can say you went down swinging.
Maybe Stafford was playing conservative because of his thumb injury, but nothing I saw on Sunday suggested that was limiting his accuracy or power, so I don’t buy that excuse.
Running backs: F
13 combines rushes for 35 yards from Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson with just 21 combined receiving yards. But that only tells part of the story. Peterson also dropped an easy pass that could have kept a drive alive. Kerryon Johnson blew a blitz assignment with Taylor Decker.
There was just nothing positive to say about this unit, and it only makes the heart grow fonder for D’Andre Swift.
Tight ends: D
T.J. Hockenson led the Lions with 68 receiving yards on Sunday, but he also had a bad drop and really, really struggled in his blocking assignments. The most memorable play from Hockenson in this game was his blown block on a third-and-2 pitch to Johnson that ended a promising drive when the game was still just 7-0.
Wide receivers: D-
With Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola out, the Lions desperately needed someone to step up in the receiving corps. That decided did not happen. Jamal Agnew: three catches, 10 yards. Quintez Cephus: one catch, 9 yards. Marvin Hall: three catches, 16 yards.
It’s now clear that all the training camp hype for Detroit’s deep receiver room was more about the Lions defense than it was about the actual receivers themselves.
Offensive line: D
After the game, Matthew Stafford said this of the Panthers’ game plan (per Kyle Meinke of MLive):
“They were going to play three-down, drop-eight coverages and fire zones until we got them out of it and we never did.”
If that was the case, then the offensive line deserves a ton of blame for Sunday’s failures. There were no running lanes for the backs, and therefore, the Panthers never had to commit more men into the box.
Pass protection was fine in the first half, but once the Panthers pinned their ears back in the final two quarters, the Lions offensive line didn’t have any answers. The Panthers, who entered the game with 11 sacks in 10 games, tallied five against Detroit.
Defensive line: D+
If there was one good performance from anyone in this game, it was the Lions’ run defense. They held Mike Davis to just 64 yards rushing on 3.4 yards per attempt. The only true success Carolina found on the ground was via DJ Moore on an end around.
However, up against a beat-up Panthers offensive line, the Lions couldn’t amount any pressure against a quarterback in his first start. Detroit had just two quarterback hits on the day, and Everson Griffen was kept off the box score entirely outside of a pass defended.
I can’t really say too many bad things about the linebackers in this game. Jamie Collins Sr. was pretty solid against the run in this game and added a pass defended, too. Jarrad Davis even played a little more and looked much more sound as a tackler than normal.
That being said, coverage continues to be a big issue with this unit, and there just aren’t any big-time plays coming from the linebackers. It was a better day than normal for the linebackers, but it was still just an average performance.
Yes, Amani Oruwariye and Desmond Trufant tallied interceptions, but for the rest of the day it was easy pickings for P.J. Walker. Jeff Okudah continues to look like a wide-eyed rookie, Trufant got burned horribly for a touchdown, and there just does not seem to be any sort of cohesiveness between this unit.
Tracy Walker was caught running the wrong way on the aforementioned end around, as he continues his befuddling downward slide.
Special teams: C+
Jack Fox continues to be a godsend, but there wasn’t much else happening with special teams on Sunday. Matt Prater missed on Detroit’s only chance at points, the Lions committed a few special teams penalties that hurt—including one that gave Carolina three free points after a missed field goal. And while coverage units continue to be elite, the Lions return game has been dormant for some time now.
The offensive gameplan was a complete joke. For whatever reason, the Lions made Adrian Peterson the focus of the offense early (five touches in the first eight plays), and it ended with predictable results. If the run game isn’t working, Detroit simply does not have a workable gameplan in mind. The injuries hurt, sure, but Stafford still has a cannon for an arm and has made lesser receivers look good in the past.
Just about everything about this team was overly conservative against the Panthers. The Lions had THREE opportunities to go for it on fourth-and-medium on Carolina’s side of the field, and all three times they chose to punt.
Defensively, the Lions chose not to blitz and rattle a quarterback in his first NFL start, instead relying on their unreliable secondary. Offensively, I’m not sure what the gameplan was, but it certainly wasn’t aggressive. I don’t want to keep hearing the same excuse from Stafford or Darrell Bevell: The defense dropped eight into coverage. They had two high safeties to take away the deep stuff. You’re the ones with all the weapons. You should be dictating what they do, not the other way around. You’ve got a franchise quarterback, a top-10 tight end, a solid deep-ball threat in Marvin Hall, a great contested catch receiver in Marvin Jones. You’ve got to do better than whatever that was.
On Sunday, the Lions put up their worst performance of the season, but nothing about their issues were new. All of their worst qualities were just turned up to 11 against the Panthers, and we all know what this means for the coaching staff.