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Detroit Lions Week 11 report card: Coaching scared vs. Browns didn’t work

The Lions offense isn’t good, but at this point, it seems coaching is only holding them back.

Detroit Lions v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions fell to the Cleveland Browns in another disappointing game. It was another opportunity for the Lions to get their first win, as the Browns did not play a very good ballgame. However, Detroit failed to capitalize on several opportunities afforded to them, especially on offense. A mixture of poor quarterback play and an extremely conservative game plan are to blame for the Lions’ ninth loss of the season.

Let’s get into the details with our Week 11 report card.

Quarterback: D

It’s hard to give a full assessment of Tim Boyle considering the game plan seemed to handcuff him quite a bit. He only threw the ball 23 times and barely threw the ball downfield—as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing with Jared Goff.

That said, Boyle was not very accurate on the day. He threw the ball three times to Josh Reynolds and all made the wide receiver’s job tougher than it needed to be. On the deep-ball interception, Reynolds had inside leverage and Boyle threw him outside. On the drop, Boyle overthrew Reynolds, forcing him to leap, erasing all of the separation he had gotten.

It’s hard to blame him on the other interception considering it was just an unfortunate bit of miscommunication with running back D’Andre Swift.

The one positive from Boyle’s game is that he looked comfortable in the pocket. He did not take a single sack in this game, and his mobility proved useful on a handful of occasions.

Running back: A-

D’Andre Swift is becoming a well-rounded back in front of our eyes. While he dominated as a receiver earlier in the year, he’s really come into his own as a runner out of the bye week. While he was a workhorse back last week, he proved against the Browns he can also make the most out of limited opportunities. Nine carries into this game, he managed to already cross the 100-yard mark, becoming the first Lions rusher to hit 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games in almost two decades.

Unfortunately, it was an underwhelming day for the rest of the group, as Jamaal Williams struggled in his return from injury (7 carries, 11 yards), and Godwin Igwebuike only got one touch for -4 yards.

But, hey, SUPERBACK Jason Cabinda hit on a 20-yard run. Unfortunately, he also failed to convert a third-and-1.

Tight ends: B-

Boyle appeared to have good chemistry with T.J. Hockenson, who saw eight of the quarterback’s 23 targets. The veteran hauled in six catches for 51 yards, including a 24-yard gain—the team’s longest passing play by a significant margin.

Brock Wright also got involved early with a 12-yard gain on the very first offensive play of the game.

Wide receivers: F

Reynolds wasn’t helped out by Boyle at all in this game, but he’s going to need to do more than he did in his Lions debut. On that interception, it wasn’t a good pass, but even head coach Dan Campbell said he wanted better effort from Reynolds.

”You got to get inside just a little more, just a tick more. But there again, man, I would just love for Josh, if you don’t come down with it, you knock it down,” Campbell said.

Meanwhile, everyone other than Amon-Ra St. Brown was kept off the box score completely. Since his 100-yard game against the Rams, Kalif Raymond has disappeared:

Offensive line: A

Despite injuries to Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Evan Brown in this game, the Lions' offensive line held up tremendously against a great Browns defensive front. Prior to Sunday, the Browns had given up over 150 rushing yards just once all season, and they were ceding an average of 3.8 yards per carry. The Lions rushed for 168 yards and 7.3 yards per carry.

Pass protection was solid, too. The Browns were credited with zero sacks and just two quarterback hits the entire game. Jadeveon Clowney was completely neutralized by rookie Penei Sewell, and it’s time to start talking about Sewell as a dominant force in this game:

Defensive line: D-

The only time the Lions were able to generate any pressure was when they sent blitzes, as the Lions were clearly missing both Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara in this game. They also lost contain on the outside several times against the Browns running game—something that Flowers excels at doing.

Detroit’s rookies Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike flashed at times, but the defensive line continues to be a disappointing unit. Nick Chubb is a tough running back to stop, but this was supposed to be a strength on Detroit’s roster.

Linebackers: D+

I continue to be impressed by the coverage abilities of this linebacking corps. Alex Anzalone had two pass breakups—a tight man-coverage play, and a beautiful drop into zone coverage that resulted in an interception from AJ Parker.

But everything else from this unit was rough. Tackling was an issue, getting off blocks was an even bigger issue, and at times, it looked like they were completely fooled by misdirection. Just watch the linebacker play during Jarvis Landry’s wildcat touchdown.

Secondary: C+

This is one of the tougher grades to give out because, on one hand, the gritty play of Detroit’s cornerbacks resulted in three pass breakups and two interceptions. On the other hand, the unit was called for several killer drive-extending penalties. And if Baker Mayfield was more accurate on this day, they would have been exposed a bit more. Truth be told, there were a lot of open receivers in this game, and that was with an injury-riddled roster on Cleveland’s end.

Still, this unit made a fair amount of plays on Sunday. Will Harris got a half-sack, Tracy Walker blew up a screen on a huge play late in the game, and the two interceptions by this unit kept the entire team in the game. Cleveland’s scoreless second half was largely due to the secondary’s play, in my opinion.

Special teams: C-

Nothing much from this unit on Sunday. Good to see Aldrick Rosas convert on a 43-yard field goal, but Jack Fox had two touchbacks in this game. Kick return and coverage units were average.

Coaching: F

There is no way to sugarcoat this: the Lions coaching staff is operating under fear right now. Against a team like the Rams, the fear of getting blown out by a clearly better team led them to get creative and aggressive. But in these past two weeks, that fear has resulted in the opposite strategy. Detroit knew they had a good chance to win both of these games, and they were going to do everything they could to not lose the game. To Dan Campbell, it appears more important to not make a mistake in these opportunities than to go out and try to make a play.

I understand the offense is limited by personnel, but this is the NFL. There’s enough talent on this team to at least pretend you’re interested in throwing the ball downfield. Previously, we’ve heard Campbell blame pass protection. If you can’t pass protect, you don’t have enough time to throw the ball down the field. Well, Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker are two of your best players right now. They’re weapons, use them. Detroit has basically neutralized the likes of T.J. Watt, Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett, and Jadeveon Clowney this year. That excuse no longer flies.

At some point, the Lions need to show a little bit of trust in their passing offense. I know they haven’t earned it yet, but this coaching staff isn’t even giving them the chance to earn it.

The decision to kick a field goal down six points with nine minutes to go on a fourth-and-1 was bad. What happened on the next offensive possession was worse. Facing a third-and-14, the Lions decided to run yet another frustrating draw play. It gained 5 yards, and bled over 30 seconds off the clock, leaving Detroit with a fourth-and-9 with 2:36 left at their own 41-yard line. Detroit decided to punt and never got the ball back.

I know the Lions' defense was playing well, but at some point, Detroit needed to give their offense a chance to win the game. By failing to go for it on fourth down in back-to-back possessions, and not even giving Boyle or this receiving corps a chance to make a play downfield, the Lions basically just asked the defense to score for them, and it never happened. Even if the Lions were to get a defensive stop after punting, would the offense really have produced a better opportunity for a score than the previous two drives?

It’s the job of the coaching staff to put their players in the best position to win, and Campbell chose the opposite route several times in this game. If they refuse to take any risks on offense, they are simply not going to win any football games. For the past two weeks, Lions opponents have tried to hand the football game to them, but Detroit was more scared of making their own mistakes than capitalizing on the opportunities handed to them.

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