Detroit Lions grades: Matt Patricia’s coaching tenure is cooked; Stafford struggles

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after Thursday’s 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans at Ford Field:

Quarterback

The numbers weren’t terrible — 28 of 42 passing for 295 yards with one touchdown and one interception — but Matthew Stafford had another game where he committed a costly mistake and did not do enough to elevate the Lions against a subpar defense. J.J. Watt returned Stafford’s first quarter pick for a touchdown, after Stafford did not get enough air under the ball on a pass to Adrian Peterson. Many of Stafford’s completions came in dink-and-dunk situations with the game out of reach, but as usual he was not the biggest reason for the Lions’ struggles. Still, and it may be a tad unfair, he needs to do more to give his flailing offense a chance in these winnable games. Grade: D-plus

[ Opinion:  Why this should be Stafford’s final Thanksgiving start for Lions ]

Running backs

Adrian Peterson had his best game since early in the season, rushing for 55 yards on 15 carries and scoring two touchdowns. That’s not a great yards-per-carry average (3.7 yards), but he showed patience on his second touchdown, waiting for a hole to emerge after a nice 4-yard run one play earlier, when he avoided a tackle for no gain in the backfield, and he ran with power on the opening drive of the second half, when the Lions called nine straight running plays. Jonathan Williams lost a fumble on his first carry as a Lion that led to a Houston touchdown, and Kerryon Johnson lost a fumble one series later. Johnson showed great effort to pick up a first down on a third-and-12 pass, when he made a defender miss on his way to the sticks. But the turnover problems drag down this grade, too. Grade: D

Wide receivers/tight ends

The impact of Kenny Golladay’s absence has been well documented, and it was on display again Thursday as the Lions got nothing going deep. Stafford did not see Marvin Jones on one over route early in the game, and Jones finished with six catches for a modest 48 yards. Marvin Hall could not track a bomb late in the first half that would have gone for a big gain, when the Lions were bailed out on a defensive holding penalty by Eric Murray. T.J. Hockenson (five catches, 89 yards) made a great catch on a tight end screen, when Stafford had to sidearm a ball around a defender. Hockenson had the presence of mind to pop to his feet and run for a first down after the play, but he did have one drop in the second half and an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a Mohamed Sanu catch. Grade: D

How Lions drove Joey Harrington into depression; Thanksgiving revenge memories ]

Offensive line

Stafford took four sacks Thursday, running his total to 31 on the year, but several of those came late in the game in tough pass blocking situations. I thought the offensive line held up well overall. It  did a good job blocking on a 51-yard flea-flicker to Hockenson, a play that took a long time to develop, and helped pave the way for 109 yards rushing, though a good chunk of that came right after halftime. Corey Liuget overpowered Jonah Jackson to stop Peterson for a 2-yard loss on one second quarter run, and Matt Nelson, playing as the sixth lineman, missed a block on Watt on Peterson’s first goal-to-go carry of the Lions’ opening drive. One issue with the line: It did not do a good enough job getting to second-level blocks, as linebacker Tyrell Adams made 17 tackles. Grade: C

Defensive line

The Lions threw an array of pressures at Deshaun Watson early, but too many of those blitzes did not get home. Everson Griffen split a first quarter sack with Jarrad Davis on the opening drive and deflected a Watson pass on Houston’s second series. Outside of Griffen, the Lions got little pressure out of their defensive front. Danny Shelton did have a tackle for loss on the goal line, when Nick Williams beat Nick Martin to provide pressure on the play. Williams also had his first sack of the season in the second quarter, and Shelton deserves credit for fighting through a knee injury to stay on the field. Overall, though, the Lions did not make enough impact plays up front for what feels like the 11th time in 11 games this season. Grade: D-plus

GAME OVER: It’s time for Lions to fire Matt Patricia — and Bob Quinn

TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE? Why firing Matt Patricia on Friday might not make sense

SCHEDULE: Here’s who remains on Lions’ schedule this season

Linebackers

Davis got low to beat Tytus Howard and force Watson to step up on his half-sack on Houston’s opening drive, but his linebacker cohort, Christian Jones, missed two sacks on the elusive Watson. On the first, Watson left Jones grasping at air on a 12-yard scramble, and on the second, Watson threw incomplete to avoid a big loss. Jamie Collins forced a fumble on C.J. Prosise and broke up a pass to Jordan Akins late in the first half, but he also gave up a 33-yard touchdown to Duke Johnson as the Texans seemed to target him early. Reggie Ragland was flagged for pass interference in the end zone to set up Houston’s second score and appeared out of position on several pass plays, including a 19-yard gain by Brandin Cooks on the first play of the fourth quarter and on a third quarter pass that sailed through Akins’ hands in the end zone. Grade: F

Defensive backs

Desmond Trufant had a rough first half before he left with a hamstring injury, which left the Lions’ already shorthanded secondary in a bind. He was flagged for pass interference on Will Fuller early in the second quarter and got beat badly by Keke Coutee on the second play from scrimmage, though Watson’s pass was just out of Coutee’s reach. Trufant did have a diving pass breakup on a third-and-12 play early in the game. Fuller torched Amani Oruwariye off the line of scrimmage on a 38-yard gain that flipped the field just after halftime, and Oruwariye got beat on Fuller’s first touchdown. Safety Tracy Walker played some as the Lions’ third corner after Trufant’s injury, but Watson shredded the Lions’ passive secondary for 318 yards, four touchdowns and a near perfect rating. Grade: F

Special teams

For only the second time this season, Jack Fox had a disappointing day. Fox sent a kickoff out of bounds early to give the Texans good field position, and he had a touchback on a punt from near midfield. Matt Prater did make his only field goal try from 29 yards, and the Lions were fine in coverage. C.J. Moore was flagged for running into the kicker while trying to block a punt late in the game. Grade: C-minus

Coaching

Matt Patricia is on his last leg as coach, and certainly his team’s sloppy play Thursday did not help his chances of sticking around to see the end of the season. But this loss was more about the failings of his players than it was a poor game plan. Give Patricia and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin an A for effort for at least trying some different blitz packages early, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell the same for his well-designed flea flicker to Hockenson. The Lions left points on the board late in the first half, however, with a couple questionable play calls when they needed just a few yards to get in field goal range. Patricia lost his only challenge, and while it was going to be a tough one to win – on the throwback pass to Stafford – I did not have a problem with him trying given what an overturned call would have meant for the Lions (having the ball inside the 1). I don’t get the sense players have tuned Patricia out, but they’re certainly not playing their best football in an effort to keep their coach around. Grade: D

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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