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Detroit Lions Week 17 report card: Defense thoroughly dominated by Seahawks

It was an ugly, unforgivable day for the Lions’ overmatched defense.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has received a lot of praise for what he’s been able to do with a ragtag roster full of undrafted rookies, practice squad players, and journeymen. He had brilliant game plans against the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals, among a few others.

But after Sunday’s 51-29 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Glenn may want to make some room next to the buried game tape from the Cincinnati Bengals blowout. The Lions defense was worked up and down the field by Seattle on Sunday afternoon, and Detroit never recovered.

Going into the game, the Seahawks were averaging 20.4 points per game and 5.5 yards per play. On Sunday against the Lions, the Seahawks put up 51 points, 7.0 yards per play, and punted just a single time all game. Well, maybe he was just trying to spoil his own head coaching chances because he loves the Lions so much. Yeah, that must be it!

Anyway, let’s get into this week’s Detroit Lions report card.

Quarterback: D

In the first half, when the Lions defense desperately needed Detroit’s offense to stay on the field and keep pace with Seattle, Tim Boyle was inaccurate, completing just 7-of-13 passes. Despite starting the second half with a really bad interception, Boyle was actually pretty good in the third quarter, completing 9-of-13 for 134 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was back to Bad Boyle in the fourth quarter, just as the Lions were starting to make their comeback.

In other words, Boyle was good only when the Seahawks were likely playing their most conservative defense. The Lions backup quarterback didn’t have a great supporting cast on Sunday, but he didn’t do himself any favors, either.

Running backs: D

Lions running backs combined for 19 carries and 58 yards. More than half of that came on end-of-half draw play from D’Andre Swift (31 yards). The ground game was completely ineffective all game, despite the misleading final statline (22 carries, 95 yards, 4.3 YPC).

Jamaal Williams had a tough time grinding out gains in short-yardage situations, including a failed fourth-down conversion, and Swift was curiously not a big part of the game plan, with only six touches on the day.

Tight ends: F

To be fair, the Lions’ tight end group consisted of two players who were added earlier in the week: Jared Pinkney and Ross Travis. They didn’t play a lot, but they didn’t warrant a single target in the passing game and they were a liability as blockers. It’s hard to fault this unit, but I’m not trying to grade on a curve here. They held the Lions offense back.

Wide receivers: A-

Detroit was down two of their top three receivers on Sunday, and you’d hardly know it from the wideout performances on Sunday.

The crown jewel, of course, was Amon-Ra St. Brown, who set a career high with 111 receiving yards. He also added two touchdowns, including an impressive 26-yard touchdown run.

But KhaDarel Hodge also set a career high with 76 receiving yards. He had the best catch of the day with a diving 42-yard grab. Even Trinity Benson set a career high with 31 receiving yards, but he did have a bad drop go right through his hands.

Offensive line: D+

Let’s start off with the good. Tim Boyle was not sacked on Sunday, as pass protection held up pretty well all game, despite the Lions being in obvious passing downs all day. Taylor Decker also caught a touchdown pass.

But that’s pretty much the end of the positives. For as mediocre as the running backs were, the Lions offensive line was manhandled pretty thoroughly in the running game. That was made all the more obvious on short-yardage runs, which Detroit struggled on against the Seahawks. Penei Sewell had a couple holding penalties, and there was yet another false start in a key moment.

Defensive line: F

While I thought the Lions got a positive performance out of Austin Bryant, that’s about it from this unit. They, too, were dominated in the trenches by a mediocre Seahawks offensive line that was missing two starters. Detroit was particularly vulnerable right up the middle of the defense, where John Penisini, Alim McNeill, and Levi Onwuzurike struggled in particular. Perhaps Michael Brockers was a bigger key to this unit than I previously thought.

Linebackers: D

I thought Jalen Reeves-Maybin had another solid game, racking up eight tackles, including two for loss. But it was not a good day from the two linebackers who played aside him: Derrick Barnes and Anthony Pittman were consistently getting blocked out of their gaps, allowing 5-10-yard runs turn into 15+ yard runs. In total, the Seahawks eight rushes of over 10 yards in this game, which is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Secondary: F

Outside of one early pass breakup from Ifeatu Melifonwu, there wasn’t anything positive to say from this unit. Melifonwu allowed two touchdowns to D.K. Metcalf, Will Harris allowed another. Tackling wasn’t particularly good, save for Tracy Walker’s 12 total tackles. In short, Russell Wilson was able to do whatever he wanted against an overmatched Lions secondary.

Special teams: C+

The good: Godwin Igwebuike had a really nice 47-yard return that helped spark a bit of a comeback for Detroit. The Lions also recovered yet another onside kick.

The bad: Jack Fox had two punts of under 40 yards, and Riley Patterson’s first NFL field goal attempt of over 50 yards was not even close.

Coaching: D

Let’s start with some in-game decisions. I was fully in favor of the Lions going for it on their first offensive drive, though I’m not a big fan of running from the shotgun in those opportunities. The bigger mistake came when Dan Campbell challenged the play. Here’s Campbell after the game explaining why he did so:

“They weren’t showing it upstairs. I felt like it was one of those critical ones. I’m like, ‘You know what? I want to challenge it and we’re not getting a viewing of it.’ And I think there was a real late, I had gotten a, ‘Hey, look, I don’t know if you’re going to win this.’ So it wasn’t like somebody is telling me upstairs. I took a shot on it. I’m like, ‘This is too big of a play not to challenge.’”

While that sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation as to what happened, it doesn’t hold up to what actually happened. In reality, we immediately got a very clear look from FOX that Williams was short. And because there was a TV timeout after the turnover on downs, Campbell and his coaching crew had plenty of time to see it before challenging. My best guess is that Campbell got a little trigger happy with the challenge flag and threw it before he had to, perhaps not realizing they were in a TV timeout. Not a huge deal, but losing a challenge that early in the game could be dangerous in the future.

I also thought the Lions could’ve used their timeouts better at the end of the first half to give them a better opportunity to score, but that’s admittedly nitpicky.

As for gameplanning, obviously the Lions were outcoached there. Things like this are hard to hear from your quarterback.

“On offense, we kind of went into the game thinking we were going to lean on them up front a little bit. But they had a good game plan. They put five bigs on our five bigs and kind of matched us up front. We had a tough time running the ball early.”

Boyle admitted the Seahawks threw some “weird looks” at them, and it’s clear Detroit didn’t have an answer early.

Defensively, the situation was even worse. Sure, the personnel on that side of the ball is worse than Detroit’s offense, but Aaron Glenn had been doing a great job turning lemons into lemonade this season. Not this week, though. It’s hard to point to a single thing the Lions defense did well in this game.

You can give the Lions coaches some style points for the trick plays and utilizing St. Brown in every way imaginable. But I’m not really going to give them much credit for sporting a team that doesn’t quit. Many of the individuals out there were handed a rare opportunity to showcase their talents. Those players had plenty of motivation on their own to compete and impress. They were literally fighting for their careers.

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