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MINNEAPOLIS — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after Sunday’s 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Turnovers have been an issue for Matthew Stafford all season and Sunday was no exception as Stafford threw bad interceptions on back-to-back second half possessions in the red zone. Stafford said he did not see linebacker Eric Wilson on his first pick, and he tried to squeeze a pass into a non-existent window on the second when he should have thrown the ball higher to his intended receiver. Things weren’t all bad for Stafford. He completed 16 straight passes at one point in the first half, a fairly impressive accomplishment considering he missed practice all week while in COVID-19 protocols. But the turnovers were too costly to ignore and backup Chase Daniel had an ugly pick while filling in for Stafford late in the fourth quarter. Grade: D-plus
Adrian Peterson fell to 0-3 in games against his old team, and he had another quiet day Sunday with 29 yards rushing on eight carries. D’Andre Swift started the second half and the Lions appear to be giving the rookie a larger share of the backfield work. Swift ran for 64 yards on 13 carries and had another 33 yards receiving, but he dropped one pass that hit him in the arms and was stopped at the 1-yard line on another play when he should have got in the end zone. Kerryon Johnson had an important blitz pickup early when the Lions converted a third-and-6, and fullback Jason Cabinda made a nice leaping catch on the only pass thrown his way. Grade: B-minus
Wide receivers/tight ends
Nine players caught passes Sunday as the Lions spread the ball around without leading receiver Kenny Golladay. T.J. Hockenson made a nice catch on a pass thrown behind him (and that may have been tipped) to convert a third-and-6 early in the game, and he worked to get open on a third-and-10 conversion in the third quarter. But he was the intended target on all three Lions interceptions and appeared to catch some grief from Stafford on the sideline after the first turnover. Danny Amendola (seven catches, 77 yards) had a drop in the third quarter and ran too shallow a route on a third-down catch on the Lions’ opening drive. Marvin Jones made a nice move to shake loose from Kris Boyd on his 15-yard touchdown catch, and Jesse James had the block of the day, taking out two defenders to free up Amendola for a 13-yard gain on a bubble screen in the first quarter. Grade: B-minus
The Lions had three bad turnovers and struggled in the red zone, but I thought they played fairly well up front most of the game. One exception: Halapoulivaati Vaitai got trucked by a Vikings defender (and Frank Ragnow ended up on the ground, too) when Peterson was thrown for a 4-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 1 early in the second quarter. Vaitai, who left late in the game because of his nagging foot injury, was out front blocking on Swift’s 16-yard run in the first quarter, one play after a pulling Jonah Jackson opened a big hole for an 8-yard Swfit gain (but failed to sustain his block to get him in the end zone). Stafford deserves blame for the first of the Lions’ two sacks, and both of Detroit’s tackles, Taylor Decker and Tyrell Crosby, had solid days. Grade: B
The Lions flat out aren’t good enough up front, and that was evident by Dalvin Cook’s huge day. Cook ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and typically had gaping holes to run through. Cook scored on a 70-yard run when the Lions appeared to be missing a right defensive end, either Romeo Okwara or Everson Griffen. Griffen had a quiet day in his return to Minnesota, but got his fingertips on one third-and-2 pass that fell incomplete. Nick Williams and linebacker Christian Jones teamed to make a second-down stop on the goal line, and Romeo Okwara hit Kirk Cousins to force an incompletion. But Danny Shelton missed a tackle on an 11-yard run by Cook and he and John Penisini seemed generally overwhelmed up front. Grade: F
As usual, the Lions’ linebackers were just as culpable for Cook’s monster day. Jamie Collins led the Lions with nine tackles, but he struggled in pass coverage. Collins got beat for a 17-yard gain on third-and-10 in the first half, when he could not stay with Cook in the open field. He allowed a 29-yard pass to Cook on Minnesota’s two-minute drive late in the second quarter. And he appeared to be late diagnosing the screen pass on Ameer Abdullah’s touchdown. Jones had five tackles, including one stop on Cook for no gain, but the unit as a whole makes almost no impact plays. Grade: F
A turnover machine in the Vikings’ first seven games, Kirk Cousins posted a perfect quarterback rating in the first half Sunday. Desmond Trufant played well in his return from a hamstring injury. He had a sack on a cornerback blitz and broke up a pass on a comeback to Adam Thielen on the opening drive of the second half, but there weren’t many other highlights in the secondary. Jeff Okudah missed an open-field tackle on Thielen on the Vikings’ second drive, taking out Duron Harmon in the process, then got beat by Irv Smith for a touchdown. Amani Oruwariye took over after Okudah suffered a hamstring injury, got beat in press coverage for 35-yard pass by Justin Jefferson in third quarter and then drew a flag for pass interference on a third-and-6 play near the goal line. Jayron Kearse had eight tackles at safety but was a tad late identifying the play-action on Smith’s second touchdown catch. Grade: D-plus
Okwara and Austin Bryant blocked punts Sunday, giving the Lions three punt blocks in the last two weeks. As rare as punt blocks are, that’s an astounding feat. The punt rush aside, the Lions have had better days on special teams. Matt Prater’s inconsistent season continued with a missed 46-yard field goal, Mike Ford was called for a false start on a punt, and Harmon lost his cool in drawing a personal foul on another. Jack Fox did not get a great hit on his first punt, 37 yards, but he bombed a 55-yarder later in the game and the Lions were lights out in coverage. Grade: A-minus
The Lions don’t have any blue chip players on defense, but there’s still no reason they should be this bad. Head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin share blame for the Lions’ continued struggles against the run, and the fact that the defense had another substitution error — its third in two weeks — reflects poorly on their communication, preparation or both. I liked Darrell Bevell’s aggressive opening play call, a deep shot to Marvin Hall off the play-action to Peterson, even though it fell incomplete, and Brayden Coombs is pushing the right buttons on the punt rush team. But with five losses in eight games, including blowout defeats the last two weeks, Patricia should probably be down to his final two months as head coach. Grade: F
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