There’s no excusing the kind of performance the Detroit Lions had on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. The defense was awful. The offense failed to capitalize on just about every opportunity, and the coaching was downright embarrassing at times.
The Lions climbed their way back to .500 just two weeks ago, and ever since, they’ve proven that record is far too good for this team right now. It would be one thing to get blown out by the likes of the Steelers or Chiefs or Seahawks, but the Colts and Vikings are not high-caliber teams right now. And the Lions just keep proving there is no tier of team this team is not capable of losing to.
And with that depressing intro, let’s get to Detroit’s Week 9 grades.
Given the nightmarish week Matthew Stafford had, I’d be more willing to give him some leeway here. However, Stafford didn’t look rusty at the beginning of this game or overwhelmed by a lack of preparation. He rattled off 16 straight completions after missing on his first one, and had a somewhat good feel for the game through two quarters.
That’s exactly why I can’t let him off the hook for the two horrible third-quarter interceptions. On the first, he threw it straight to a defender he didn’t even see (for the second week in a row). On the second, he forced a throw and put it in a bad spot. That’s at least six points off the board, potentially more.
Stafford wasn’t horrible in this game, but he keeps making huge mistakes the team cannot afford to make. At this point, he’s more part of the problem than the solution, and that can’t be the case with how bad the rest of the team is right now.
Running backs: B
Both D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson ran the ball quite well, and combined with Adrian Peterson, they tallied nine catches for 83 yards. However, Swift had a couple of drops, Peterson continues to be their least efficient running back and it appears this entire running game is incapable of converting in short-yardage situations.
Still, this was easily the team’s best non-special teams unit on Sunday, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Tight ends: C
T.J. Hockenson had a fairly average day by his standards—five catches and a touchdown—but his score came in garbage time. There’s not much else to say about this unit. It was a quiet day from everyone on offense and the tight ends were no exception.
Wide receivers: D
On a day in which the Vikings were playing former Lions practice squad members at cornerback, Detroit receiver completely failed to take advantage. Marvin Jones Jr. had just three catches. Quintez Cephus just two. Marvin Hall just three. All the Lions receiving corps could manage on Sunday were quick 5-yard passes to Danny Amendola.
The loss of Kenny Golladay is big, but for all offseason we praised the depth of these receivers. Where is it? Why can defenses just play two-high safeties and render this receiving corps completely useless? Maybe there’s a coaching issue here, too, but it’s hard not to be disappointed that no one is stepping up here.
Offensive line: C
There were some decent-sized holes in the running game, and pass protection was about average against a poor Vikings defensive line, though seven QB hits is probably too many. Still, it’s concerning that every single time this team needs a short-yardage conversion, it seems like the offensive line completely implodes.
Overall, it was a fine day from the offensive line—especially considering some of the roster shakeups that were necessary due to injury—but the degree of difficulty wasn’t too high this week, and they didn’t play their best when they absolutely needed to.
Defensive line: F
Detroit welcomed Everson Griffen to the team and Austin Bryant back. It didn’t matter. Detroit offered almost zero pressure on the day (just two QB hits and one sack that came on a corner blitz). Even worse, their run defense hit a new low just after it looked like they may turn things around this season.
Again, the loss of Trey Flowers is huge, but it should not make this big of a difference.
Dalvin Cook made Jamie Collins Sr. look foolish on a couple of occasions, as the Lions linebackers proved on Sunday they struggle in both tackling and coverage. Of Kirk Cousins’ 220 passing yards, 118 went to running backs and tight ends. While not all of that is on the linebackers (we’ll get to you in a second, safeties), Detroit’s linebackers were consistently a step or two behind on Sunday.
I didn’t think it was a particularly bad game for the Lions corners. Amani Oruwariye had a bad pass interference on a third down, and Jeff Okudah got burned on at least one occasion. But Desmond Trufant easily had his best game as a Detroit Lion (1.0 sacks, one pass defended), and given how these corners were playing lately, that’s progress.
However, the safety play drags down this entire unit. Again, running backs and tight ends were giving this team hell in the passing game. It’s never a good day when your defensive line (Romeo Okwara and Everson Griffen) has more passes defended than your secondary (Desmond Trufant).
Special teams: A
Sure, Matt Prater missed another field goal he typically makes, but when you get two punt blocks in a single game, you get a freakin’ A. It’s rare you get a single big-time play from the special teams unit in a single game, let alone two.
And credit to those players for giving a damn when it felt like the game may have already been decided. The second punt block came with the Lions down 21 points with just seven minutes left. That’s devotion to the craft right there.
Just an abject failure of a game plan everywhere. Defensively, Matt Patricia always talks about taking away the other team’s best weapon. I know it’s easier said than done, but allowing Dalvin Cook to rack up 252 total yards and two touchdowns is a pretty thorough failure there.
Offensively, the coaching was even worse. The Lions actually had a shot to win that matchup. Personnel-wise, they matched up fairly well. Yet, instead of testing the defense and their banged-up secondary deep, they decided to do this:
The Vikings had no cornerbacks and you did this. pic.twitter.com/tNyc2KYWG1— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) November 8, 2020
Yes, the Vikings have good safeties. Yes, they played two deep for most of this game. But if you don’t have any cover-2 beaters in your playbook, you may as well burn the one you’ve got and start over.
When your defense is this bad, you can’t just run the ball and hope for the best. No matter how hard you try, you are not the Tennessee Titans. You have a franchise quarterback with some decent weapons. DO SOMETHING WITH THEM. Realize you can only slow the tempo of the game down for so long before the defense does something bad and you’re suddenly down three scores.
Play for a shootout for once. Scoring is at record highs all over the league, and you’re still trying to win games 17-13. It’s. Not. Working.
The 10 men on the field stuff is infuriating, but the truth is the problems run much deeper than that—they’re just not as screenshottable. The whole blueprint is wrong, and it’s time to find a new architect.