Detroit Lions Week 4 report card: Failing grades for every defensive unit vs. Seahawks

Pride of Detroit

In an alternate dimension, this Monday morning we’d be talking about Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and quarterback Jared Goff. The Lions have the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, and Goff has bucked expectations—ranking seventh in passer rating (99.9) and first in passing touchdowns (11).

Alas, when your team is 1-3, the focus tends to be on the negative. And, unfortunately, the Lions have a perfect yin to their offense’s yang. The defense is just as bad as the offense is good right now, and that couldn’t have been any more clear than in Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Let’s further analyze the team’s performance with this very lopsided Week 4 report card.

Quarterback: B

It’s hard to give Goff an A on a day in which he threw a pick six and two other passes that probably should’ve been picked off.

But it’s also hard to complain about anything else. Goff continues to navigate the pocket—an offseason focus—very well, his accuracy is getting better, and with a set of cast-off receivers, he kept Detroit’s offense chugging.

Goff isn’t the type of player that is going to wow you like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but if he can continue to be very efficient in Johnson’s offense, then there will be little reason to complain about his play.

Running backs: A-

Sure, Jamaal Williams had a drop or two, but in the grand scheme of things, those were almost completely negligible to his overall performance. In back-to-back weeks now, Williams has proven he can be a work-horse back, carrying the ball 20 times last week and 19 this week. More importantly, though, Williams proved he’s more than just a short yardage back who will get you three or four yards every touch. Williams’ 51-yard touchdown showed not only his ability to throw a vicious stiffarm, but his speed is also a bit underrated.

Even the Lions’ reserves made some plays. Craig Reynolds added an explosive 21-yard run, while Justin Jackson caught a late touchdown to give Detroit one more opportunity to win.

Tight ends: A

T.J. Hockenson heard y’all. He heard y’all talking about moving on from him and not giving him an extension. He heard y’all calling him replacement level and no longer a top-10 tight end.

And with Amon-Ra St. Brown on the sideline, Hockenson re-assumed his identity as the team’s most potent weapon over the middle. Hockenson’s 179 receiving yards not only led the team on Sunday, he currently leads every NFL receiver in Week 4—oh, and he also had two scores and a two-point conversion.

Hockenson was consistently getting open, added a couple of contested catches, and most shockingly, he was able to pick up a ton of YAC on his 81-yard catch.

Wide receivers: B

Kalif Raymond had a costly turnover early in the game, so I can’t give this rag-tag group an A, but there were certainly a lot of positives to take from this performance. Josh Reynolds continues to be a sure-handed receiver and a solid red zone threat.

For the first time Tom Kennedy proved that his preseason production could possibly carry over into the regular season. His 54 receiving yards on three catches—all of which gained first downs—doubled his career yardage total.

That said, it was a disappointingly quiet day from both Quintez Cephus, who suffered a game-ending injury and Raymond, who proved to be a somewhat ineffective option when the Lions used him much like Amon-Ra St. Brown in the backfield.

Offensive line: B

The Lions offensive line was called for four holding penalties and a false start, which didn’t do the offense any favors. However, the offense doesn’t see the level of success it ultimately had without a mostly-stellar performance from that front.

Again, there were gaping holes for the running backs to scamper through, and Seattle managed just three quarterback hits and a single sack on the day.

It did look like there were occasional miscommunications, leaving a free Seahawks blitzer to crash down on Goff, but overall, this was still a very solid performance from Detroit’s best overall unit.

Defensive line: F

The Lions defensive line wins the Most Disappointing Unit through the first four weeks of the season. Despite having undeniable talent on the defensive line, Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Harris and Alim McNeill have been relatively unimpactful. That doesn’t even necessarily mean they’ve been playing badly—although….—but their efforts aren’t making an tangible difference on gameday. The Lions are still getting beat around the edge in the run game, they can’t generate any pressure without bringing extra players, and they aren’t staying true to their pass rush lanes, allowing quarterback Geno Smith to rush for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Linebackers: F

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn tried to warn Malcolm Rodriguez and company.

“Sometimes, man, like these O-linemen or these quarterbacks, they’re going to try and do things now since they know how you play, because you’re a fast reactor,” Glenn said a few weeks ago. “They’re going to try things to get your eyes, and that goes with what you were saying with this team. A lot of eye candy. Alright, a lot of eye candy to just run simple plays.”

It took a couple weeks, but teams finally caught on to Detroit’s over-aggressive linebacker play that saw them crashing down on run plays for several tackles for loss. The Seahawks’ counter was simple: a play-action rollout pass that worked over and over and over as the Lions linebackers continually overcommitted or were simply out-ran by Seattle tight ends—who combined for seven catches, 69 yards and two touchdowns.

Rodriguez did have a nice tackle for loss after sniffing out a screen, but that can’t make amends for the rest of the day.

Secondary: F

Geno Smith completed 76.7 percent of his passes (second highest of any QB on Sunday) for 10.7 yards per attempt (first). Jeff Okudah had a nice pass breakup, and Amani Oruwariye was credited with one, too, but the truth of the matter is Smith had way too easy of a day in Detroit, and the secondary had a big reason to do with it.

Special teams: D

The good:

  • Forced a fumble
  • Made a 49-yard field goal
  • Successfully ran a fake punt

The bad:

  • Missed an extra point
  • Missed another extra point
  • Kickoff went out of bounds
  • Maurice Alexander kickoff return average of just 20.7 yards

In the end, Dominik Eberle’s missed kicks didn’t hurt the Lions that much since they simply compensated by going 2-for-2 on two-point conversions. Still, you have to imagine that three significant errors in his Lions debut will have the Lions looking for Eberle’s replacement soon.

Coaching: F

I didn’t have any problems with game management this week, which I suppose is a step in the right direction after last week, but I don’t have much of anything positive to say about the game plan, especially on defense.

The Lions seem wholly unprepared for what the Seahawks were doing on offense. Seattle clearly saw every single weakness the Lions have, and exploited them. Can’t defend a mobile quarterback? We’ll build in some designed draws. Have an over-aggressive linebacking crew? We’ll play action you to death.

But worst of all for Glenn and company was the situational downs. Detroit had several opportunities to get off the field on third down and finally stop the bleeding. But the Seahawks knew the Lions were an extremely aggressively blitzing defense, and the constantly caught the Lions with their pants down.

This unpreparedness on the Lions part shows a lack of self-scouting. Detroit came into the week with the NFL’s highest blitz rate, so—of course—teams were going to start dialing up some third down draws or screens. Linebacker Alex Anzalone basically admitted on Detroit’s third-and-16 failed stop that the play call put them in a no-win situation.

“It’s a zero beater obviously,” Anzalone said. “So, it’s kind of what they got us in and kind of (expletive) out of luck when they run it. It’s just good situational football by them.”

And you can’t make it so easy for opposing quarterbacks to do this.

“They were in a (cover) zero look and when everyone’s at the line of scrimmage, once you break through the line, there’s no one in the backend,” Geno Smith said after the game. “So, got to a good run check and we were able to get that to happen.”

Sometimes that’s going to happen. Play calling is a guessing game, and sometimes you’re going to throw paper when they called scissors. But there are tendencies that can guide your decisions on key downs and help you win that guessing game. The Seahawks knew all of Detroit’s tendencies, leading to a 75 percent conversion rate on third down (nine of 12), while the Lions just kept throwing paper.

I understand that Detroit’s personnel limits some of their decisions. I know the defensive line needs help to generate pressure and without that pressure the secondary is going to get diced up. But sending the farm isn’t working anymore, either. Find other ways to generate pressure without leaving your corners on an island. Mix in more zone. Disguise the pressure better. Do SOMETHING.

Simply put, the Lions got outcoached.

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