Detroit Lions’ grades: Offense shines, but coaching hiccups helped Washington come back

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after Sunday’s 30-27 win over Washington.


Matthew Stafford did not put up video game passing numbers Sunday, though he could have with a little help from his teammates. Stafford completed 24 of 33 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his incompletions were drops, and he would have hit a walk-off bomb of a touchdown pass to Quintez Cephus had the rookie tracked the ball better. Stafford played turnover-free football for just the third time this season and he showed his clutch genes again with another late-game rally. Yes, the Lions’ game-winning drive would not have been possible without Chase Young’s roughing-the-passer penalty, but Stafford and Marvin Jones were on the same page with their adjustment on the final pass, and Stafford played most of the day with an injured thumb that he said was in need of X-rays after the game. Grade: A

Running backs

After weeks of clamoring for more D’Andre Swift, the Lions finally obliged and saw the rookie deliver his best performance of the season. Swift had 149 yards from scrimmage and showed off an array of moves. He hurdled one defender, ran over another for a touchdown and spun away from a few more. Swift’s play keyed three Lions scoring drives, their touchdown drives to start each half and their first go-ahead field goal drive. He made two tacklers miss on a 25-yard screen pass in the third quarter, when he was a shoestring tackle away from a long touchdown, and I thought his best run was a simple 9-yard gain on the game’s second series, when he showed exceptional patience at the line of scrimmage then accelerated through the hole for a first down. Adrian Peterson had 21 yards on four carries off the bench and one 9-yard catch. If the Lions are smart, they’ll keep their running backs in these roles going forward. Grade: A

Lions’ Swift looks like the next Alvin Kamara in win over Washington ]

Wide receivers/tight ends

Playing without top receiver Kenny Golladay for the second straight week, it was a mixed bag for the Lions receivers. Jones had a huge day with eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown and he made a savvy read on his 9-yard catch to set up Matt Prater’s winning field goal, getting the yards in front of him and diving to the turf to stop the clock. Marvin Hall had a quiet day after running by Kendall Fuller for a 55-yard touchdown to open the game, and Jesse James had a big block to give Peterson the edge on his 13-yard run. Cephus and T.J. Hockenson both dropped passes, though, and Cephus has to show better awareness on the bomb Stafford threw his direction late. Danny Amendola also was called for a forward lateral when he tried to hand the ball off after making a catch on a two-minute drive in the first half. That’s a play the veteran receiver has to know better than to even risk. Grade: B

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Offensive line

The Lions had a solid day rushing (105 yards on 21 carries) and an even better day in pass protection (one sack) while playing against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. They had few mental lapses upfront, and the only sack they allowed came against a safety blitz. Oday Aboushi started at right guard in place of the injured Hal Vaitai and opened holes on two sizable Swift runs on the Lions’ opening drive. Aboushi did miss a blitz pickup on Jon Bostic in the first quarter – Washington had a sack on that play that was nullified by a Kevin Pierre-Louis penalty — and was called for a holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Taylor Decker drew his first holding penalty of the season as well, but largely dominated his matchups on the edge. And Frank Ragnow had a nice overall day at center, though Jonathan Allen did drive him into the backfield once to stop Swift for no gain. Grade: A-minus

Defensive line

Alex Smith made things look easy during Washington’s second half comeback, when he extended a number of plays against the Lions’ passive pass rush. Everson Griffen had five quarterback hits and one sack that was due to good coverage in the secondary. Griffen did not set a firm enough edge on Antonio Gibson’s game-tying touchdown, but he did snuff out a reverse to J.D. McKissic that helped knock Washington out of field goal range on its opening drive. Romeo Okwara followed that play with his sixth sack of the season and had another pressure in the fourth quarter. The interior line pairing of Danny Shelton and John Penisini had a bounce-back day after a poor performance against the Vikings as Washington got just 58 yards rushing on 23 carries from its running backs. Grade: B


Jamie Collins, likewise, had a bounce-back performance after a tough day against the Vikings. Collins had 13 tackles, including nine solo, and punched loose two fumbles in a four-play span in the second half. Washington recovered the first, but Collins pounced on the second to keep Washington from getting what would have been a crucial score. Reggie Ragland had a tackle for loss and pressured Smith into a third down incompletion on the game’s third series while Jahlani Tavai saw his snaps reduced, and Christian Jones was slow reacting to an end around to McLaurin that went 27 yards setting up Washington’s first field goal. Grade: B

Detroit Lions blow lead but hold off Washington, 30-27 ]

Defensive backs

The Lions seemed content to let Washington nickel-and-dime its way downfield rather than give up big plays, but even recognizing the coaching decisions that were at play in the second half, the secondary was not good enough during Washington’s comeback. Shoddy tackling was an issue as Washington faced just three third downs (and one fourth down) on its three second half touchdown drives. Rookie Jeff Okudah made a good diagnosis on a misdirection pitch to Gibson in the second quarter, but he missed tackles on Gibson on back-to-back plays in the second half. Tracy Walker was lucky not to give up a touchdown to McKissic when he got beat badly on a double move only to have Smith’s pass sail too far out of reach. Justin Coleman made a good open-field tackle on a third-and-3 play, but also had a missed tackle on Steven Sims. And Desmond Trufant was called for two penalties on Washington’s final drive, including a questionable pass interference, and Jayron Kearse drew a defensive holding flag. Grade: D-plus

Special teams

What a season for Prater, who’s had some uncharacteristic misses to go along with a handful of clutch kicks. On Sunday, he made field goals of 53, 37 and 59 yards, the last coming as time expired to give the Lions the win. Prater is a prime candidate for NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. The Lions got nothing out of their return game — Washington foolishly kicked a touchback on its last kickoff rather than force the Lions to run a few seconds off the clock — but Jack Fox had his usual strong day punting, netting 47.8 yards on four kicks. The Lions did have one kickoff coverage breakdown, when Miles Killebrew missed a tackle on a 46-yard return, but Prater’s heroics outweigh everything else. Grade: A

Matt Prater’s bomb keeps Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions tenure alive another day ]


In the better-late-than-never category, give the Lions credit for finally making a change at running back. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been advocating for more Swift, and he made good use of the rookie on run and pass plays Sunday. The Lions did get too complacent on both sides of the ball in the second half, nearly blowing a double-digit lead for the fourth time this season. I would have liked to have seen Lions go for a fourth-and-4 on the Washington side of the field late in the first quarter, and I thought Matt Patricia could have challenged a bad spot on a McKissic first down in the second quarter. Those are quibbles, but walking away from Sunday’s game, the Lions felt lucky to win a game they should have run away with. Grade: C-minus

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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