Grading The Detroit Lions Week 1

By Bret Kenwell

The Detroit Lions had an interesting game in week 1, against the St. Louis Rams. For a minute, things looked great.  Matthew Stafford drove the offense down the field, getting the Lions down to the 2 yard line.  But in the blink of an eye things changed, with Stafford throwing his first of three first half interceptions–one returned for a touchdown–and the Lions trailed going into the half.

Things didn’t seem to turn around for the Lions until their last drive of the fourth quarter. Calvin Johnson recorded his first catch of the second half, as Stafford drove down the field, capping the 80 yard drive by hitting Kevin Smith with a 5 yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds to go.  The stadium collectively released their breathe and erupted into celebration.  It was a close one no doubt, a game that many Detroiters wrote off, as they were looking ahead to next week’s game, against the San Francisco 49erswhile considering this one a gimme. Clearly however, it wasn’t, and this week we’ll go over some grading for the Lions.

Pass Offense: C. Let’s just be blunt here, this was bad for what Lions fans were expecting. Three first half interceptions should have left the Lions trailing, by a lot.  They were lucky to only be going into halftime trailing 10-13. Aside from the first half slump, the Lions looked okay. The pass blocking–which was questionable in past seasons–did well against the Rams, allowing only one sack. Even with several 3-and-outs, Stafford did manage to drive down the field and throw the winning touchdown with 15 seconds left and put up 355 yards through the air.

Run Offense: B.  The Lions run game was only able to post 83 yards rushing, but for a Lions team who have had serious trouble running the ball since the Barry Sanders era, this was good. The Lions averaged 4.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns.

Clearly the Lions were struggling through the air, but the run game–which was in question because of missing Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure–stepped up big.  Kevin Smith was the feature back with 13 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown.  Joique Bell also scored, making his first career touch an important one. It was important to get the run game established, as the Rams knew the pass-happy Lions would be looking to go to the air early.

Overall Offense: B-.  The Lions still came up with a score late in the game when it counted. Despite the first half struggles, the Lions’ offensive line did their job, paving the way for the run game, and keeping Stafford nearly unscathed.  Even for how bad Lions fans thought the performance was, they still managed to put up 27 points.  Without turnovers, the Lions would’ve put up a lot more points than they did Sunday.

Pass Defense: B+.  There were some serious questions–amongst everyone in Detroit–about their defensive backfield.  With Bill Bentley making his first career start at corner back and Drayton Florence starting after only being with the Lions for one week, many were unsure. Chris Houston was unable to make his start at cornerback due to an ongoing ankle injury and Louis Delmas has failed to see the field this year due to knee surgery earlier this off-season.

The front line applied good pressure on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, getting to him three times throughout the game and causing one fumble, though the Rams were able to recover. Despite the plagued backfield, the Lions defense was able to hold Bradford to only 198 yards through the air and only sacrificed 1 touchdown.

Run Defense: A. Not more could be said about the Lions defensive efforts on run support. In previous seasons the run defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays and allowing running backs to flourish. Not this week.

The Lions held the Rams as a team to 2.9 yards per carry and 78 on the day.  The Rams running game failed to pick up steam to help the passing game, despite having all-pro running back Steven Jackson.  Jackson–with a career average of 4.2 yards per carry–was held to a 2.5 yard average Sunday. He had 53 yards on 21 carries, with his longest run only being 9 yards. To no surprise, the Rams weren’t able to score on the ground.

Overall Defense: A-. Despite new Head Coach Jeff Fischer’s game plan, it wasn’t enough to get past the Lions stout defense.  The Lions defensive front was getting to Bradford on pass pressure, while finding Jackson behind the line of scrimmage many times. The secondary stepped up when it needed to and the Lions only succumbed to one touchdown and three field goals.

Special Teams: A-. There weren’t any big plays to be had, but the Lions strived for–and hit–consistency. Jason Hanson nailed two field goals, one from 45 yards out, in his 21st NFL season. Ben Graham, the Lions punter, did well, only appearing three times.  He averaged over 40 yards per punt while pinning two of them inside the twenty yard line.

Stephan Logan was consistent in the return game, averaging over 10 yards per return on the punt and over 18 yards on the kickoff.  With no turnovers, botched snaps, or allowing big plays, the special teams did their job, giving the Lions excellent field position throughout the game.

Lions Overall: B.  Despite the careless first half, the Lions were still able to step up when it mattered and get the win.  It wasn’t pretty, but Stafford was able to complete 67% passing while finding the end zone when it mattered most. The defense bottled up Jackson and did not give up the big plays down the field.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Lions game were penalties.  A team that was very accustomed to seeing a lot of yellow laundry on the field last year, only accounted for 3 penalties and 27 yards Sunday. Assuming Stafford cleans up his accuracy issues, the Lions offense should flourish. The Lions defense only sacrificed 16 points, and the offense’s interceptions didn’t help in terms of field position.  Strong interior play not only relieved pressure on the secondary, but also helped the offense out by keeping the Rams out of the end zone.  The Lions have a lot of pieces to work with, if they can fit them together over the next 16 weeks, they may find themselves in the post-season for a second straight season.



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Note:  The opinion of Matt Kenwell was sought when grading the Detroit Lions on their performance for Week 1.

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