The Detroit Lions had no margin of error against a team like the Tennessee Titans. They’re one of the best in the NFL, and clearly outmatch the Lions in talent. And while Detroit went toe-to-toe with them through two-and-a-half quarters, the mistakes eventually piled up for Detroit, and the Titans quickly made it a rout.
Here’s what went right and what went wrong in our Week 15 report card.
I may be grading on a curve here based on degree of difficulty, but rib injury or not, I thought Stafford was fantastic in this game. Early in the game, he took what the defense was giving him, and it was working. Then he started taking deep shots, and that was working, too.
He was accurate (+7.3% in completion above average). He was aggressive (28.1% aggressive metric per NextGenStats—second highest of the day). And if it weren’t for the turnovers from his teammates, the Lions would’ve easily hung 30 on the Titans and maybe even could’ve made a game of this in the fourth quarter.
Heck, even Chase Daniel looked pretty good until his desperation interception at the end.
Running backs: C-
Finally the centerpiece of the running game again, D’Andre Swift was mostly very good. He finished with a more-than-respectable 4.5 yards per carry on 15 carries, and he found the end zone twice. There wasn’t much else to say about the other two backs and Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson combined for six touches—all from Peterson.
Unfortunately, though, this unit still gets a below average grade because of Swift’s extremely costly fumble. Detroit was already down two touchdowns in the first half at that point, and absolutely needed a score to keep pace there. There’s no excuse for it, and it unfortunately overshadows what was really actually a solid day from Swift.
Wide receivers: B+
After a slow start to the season, Marvin Jones Jr. is starting to make a case for sticking around in 2021, especially as Kenny Golladay continues to collect dust on the sideline. His 10 catches for 112 yards (on just 12 targets) kept this offense alive drive after drive.
Detroit also got another big play from Quintez Cephus, and Mohamed Sanu looks extremely comfortable in this offense despite only being around for a month or two.
Tight ends: D-
T.J. Hockenson, too, had an extremely costly fumble, and he only managed two catches for 18 yards on the rest of the day.
Hunter Bryant did come in and have a nice 44-yard catch to prevent this unit from failing, but this still has to be one of the most disappointing games from a tight end crew that the Lions have been investing in heavily for years now.
Offensive line: A-
Considering they were dealing with a center making his first career start at that position and had more shenanigans at right tackle with Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning and leaving in the same game, I thought the offensive line held up extremely well. Sure, Joe Dahl had one really bad snap that led to a sack (technically marked as a -7 yard fumble recovery), but otherwise, Stafford was kept relatively clean and there were some clear rushing lanes all day.
Defensive line: D
Early on, it looked like the Lions may be able to hold Derrick Henry in check. He had just 24 yards on his first seven carries (3.4). Of course, the next 17 carries went for 123 yards (7.2 YPC).
Combine that with a complete lack of pass rush (just one QB hit on the day) and it’s hard to say anything nice about this completely depleted defensive line. Romeo Okwara continues to be the only standout, as he tallied a sack, a safety and two tackles for loss.
They tackled poorly. Their pass coverage was even worse. This position group is just a disaster right now.
Duron Harmon has been the one steady player in this group, but this was his worst performance of the year. He was thoroughly beaten on Corey Davis’ 75-yard touchdown, and took a horrible angle on a third-down play later in the game.
Detroit’s injuries have piled up so high that they had to play Alex Myres for 28 defensive snaps. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that Myres has 1) never played a single snap of NFL football prior to Sunday and 2) he was added to the Lions’ practice squad two weeks ago.
And on one of his very first NFL snaps, this happened:
Special teams: C
Jamal Agnew had a couple of good kick returns. Jack Fox only had to punt the ball once on Sunday, but he successfully pinned the Titans at their own 7-yard line. Matt Prater made and 53-yard field goal, but missed an extra point. That alone would’ve given the Lions a solid B, B+, but we have to talk about the fake punt. Actually, let’s just drop them a grade, and save that discussion for...
I thought this was Darrell Bevell’s worst game as the Lions interim coach, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Things got off to a worrisome start when Detroit opted to punt on the second possession of the game facing a fourht-and-6 from the Titans 43-yard line. Sure, it was early in the game. Sure, this isn’t an obvious go-for-it situation, but we all knew the Lions were in for a shootout, and playing the field position game was never going to working out. Instead of giving the team a chance to tie it at 14-14, they were down 21-7 three minutes after this decision.
---> DET (7) @ TEN (14) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) December 20, 2020
DET has 4th & 6 at the TEN 43
Recommendation (MEDIUM): Go for it (+1.9 WP)
Actual play: https://t.co/6siL7TrJwp punts 36 yards to TEN 7, Center-D.Muhlbach, fair catch by C.Batson. pic.twitter.com/uRFV2XVwqw
Then there’s the Hockenson fumble play. Bevell has a tendency to overthink it on third-and-1. We saw it with the Jamal Agnew end around a couple weeks ago, and the Lions ran a similar play with Hockenson this week. Sure, I’m using the unfair power of hindsight, but in got-to-have-it moments, do you really want to run the ball with these guys, and not the players who have been traditionally much more safe and effective with the ball?
Speaking of which, the fake punt was just a disaster of a decision. The entire advantage of a fake punt relies on the element of surprise. There’s not much element of a surprise when you’re down 14 points with 12 minutes remaining in the game. It’s fourth-and-4. Just go for it. Put the ball in Matthew Stafford’s hands, not C.J. Moore’s.
And while Bevell said he was told review showed he was clearly short of converting, I think you risk a challenge there anyways. You’re about to go down three scores with 10 minute remaining, maybe you get gifted a review or a different camera angle shows a closer play.
Either way, I think Bevell’s in-game decisions hurt the Lions’ chances of winning on a day in which they absolutely couldn’t afford it.