Detroit Lions grades: So many D’s and F’s but one unit was a complete disaster

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after Sunday’s 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:


A week after he played his best game of the season, Matthew Stafford played one of his worst. Stafford completed 24 of 42 passes for 336 yards, but he lost a fumble and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on back-to-back possessions in the second half. Stafford was under duress most of the day as the Lions struggled up front, but he also missed several throws, including back-to-back passes that sailed high of T.J. Hockenson and Kenny Golladay in the second quarter. Stafford did launch a 73-yard bomb to Marvin Hall that traveled 60 yards in the air with the game out of reach in the second half, but outside of that pass and two perfectly placed balls to Marvin Jones for touchdowns, there weren’t many highlights. Grade: D

Running backs

Adrian Peterson had 7 yards rushing on five carries. D’Andre Swift had 1 yard on six carries. Neither back had much room to operate given the Lions’ problems up front, but neither did much to make defenders miss, either. Swift did have a 13-yard catch in the second half with the game out of reach, and Kerryon Johnson scored on a 9-yard pass when he beat Anthony Walker to the end zone. Poor blocking was the biggest reason for the Lions’ struggles on the ground, but it’s impossible to give this group anything but an F when they totaled 8 yards rushing in a 60-minute game. Grade: F

Wide receivers/tight ends

Jones had two touchdowns and Hall finished with a game-high 113 yards receiving on four catches, but it was not a banner day for the Lions’ receivers, either. Kenny Golladay dropped a pass on the opening drive and did not have a catch when he left in the second quarter with a hip injury. Danny Amendola converted a third-and-5 on the opening drive of the second half, when he spun loose from Kenny Moore, and Jesse James had a 23-yard catch on the same drive, but most of the damage the Lions did through the air came with the game far out of reach. T.J. Hockenson has not been as good a blocker as advertised coming out of Iowa, and he had some notable struggles Sunday. He missed a block on a first-and-10 play when Peterson was stuffed for a 3-yard loss and was called for a holding penalty in the first half. Jamal Agnew also was called for a false start. Grade: D

Offensive line

The Lions have been solid up front most of the year, but Sunday was an unmitigated disaster. The Colts dominated the Lions in the trenches, holding them to 29 yards rushing and racking up five sacks. DeForest Buckner knifed past Joe Dahl on the first play from scrimmage to disrupt a Peterson run, and Frank Ragnow appeared to snap the ball early, before his linemates were ready, on the second play. Tyquan Lewis beat Dahl for Indy’s first sack, when Stafford was forced to step up in the pocket and avoid pressure coming from the left guard spot, and Denico Autry beat Dahl for another sack just before halftime. Autry also overpowered Halapoulivaati Vaitai for a sack before Vaitai left with a foot injury, and Lewis beat Vaitai’s replacement, Tyrell Crosby, for a sack late in the game. Outside of a solid couple drives to open the second half, it was an ugly day of football. Grade: F

Defensive line

The Colts put up a season-high 41 points and dominated play on both sides of the ball, but the Lions had at least a few redeeming moments by their defensive line. Romeo Okwara had six tackles, including his fifth sack of the season, and Trey Flowers made a nice play to thwart a tight end screen to Mo Alie-Cox. John Penisini sniffed out a shovel pass to Trey Burton, and Da’Shawn Hand threw Nyheim Hines for a 2-yard loss on a play when he went unblocked. But Danny Shelton also had a costly drive-extending penalty on his second quarter sack of Philip Rivers, and the Lions could not get stops on key plays. The Colts converted a fourth-and-1 just before halftime to keep alive a touchdown drive, and they scored on a third-and-goal play from the 1. Grade: D


Rivers did most of his damage on crossing routes and passes to the flats as the Lions had what looked like a few coverage busts in the middle of the field. Jamie Collins appeared to be responsible for a 24-yard pass play on the opening drive, and he was lucky not to get beat for a long gain when wide receiver Zach Pascal made an errant pass to Hines on a trick play. Collins tied for the team high with 10 tackles, including two for loss, and Reggie Ragland had a pressure on Okwara’s sack, but the Lions got little other production out of their linebacking unit. Jahlani Tavai showed poor recognition on Hines’ first touchdown catch, and Jarrad Davis had one tackle in limited use. Tavai also ran off the field on the Colts’ two-point conversion, leaving the Lions with 10 men on the field. Grade: F

Defensive backs

Rivers has looked old and decrepit for the better part of two seasons, but on Sunday he feasted on the Lions, spreading the ball around to 11 receives. Will Harris missed a tackle on Hines’ first touchdown catch and Tracy Walker could not get over a pick on Rivers’ touchdown pass to Jack Doyle. Amani Oruwariye got lost in coverage trailing Pascal on a 16-yard gain right before Doyle’s TD, and Justin Coleman, in his first game back from injured reserve, was called for pass interference on a third-and-14 play that gift-wrapped the Colts a touchdown. Jeff Okudah did have a timely run blitz on Jordan Wilkins on the Colts’ opening possession of the second half, but Indy moved the ball largely at will on the Lions and held the ball for more than 37 minutes of game time. Grade: F

Special teams

Miles Killebrew had a nice game. He blocked a Rigoberto Sanchez punt in the first quarter to set up the Lions’ first touchdown and made a tackle on the opening kickoff, but there weren’t many bright spots beyond that. Matt Prater’s inconsistent season continued when he pushed a 48-yard field goal wide left just before halftime, and the Lions had two penalties on one punt, a holding call on Jason Cabinda and fair catch interference on Tony McRae. Jack Fox did rip a 55-yard punt on the Lions’ opening drive despite a low snap from Don Muhlbach, but Jamal Agnew fumbled a kick return (that Okwara recovered) before leaving with a rib injury. Grade: C-minus


The Lions looked overwhelmed from the start Sunday and Matt Patricia and his staff did little to get the game under control. Rivers is not a very good quarterback at this stage of his career, yet he had his way with the Lions’ defense. Offensively, the Lions repeatedly found themselves in third-and-long situations, and while the Colts have an excellent defense, the Lions did themselves no favors by changing personnel on their offensive line. I don’t understand the move to play Vaitai at right tackle over Crosby, and Dahl at right guard (after he played exclusively left guard the last two years). It seems like another case of the Lions out-thinking themselves and going away from their best players, something we’ve seen before with Peterson usurping carries from Swift, Harris playing over Walker at safety and even the recent defensive line rotation that has relegated Flowers to a reserve role. Grade: D-minus

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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