Lions grades: High marks all the way around
Josh Katzenstein grades the Lions' victory over the Bears on Thursday at Ford Field:
Matthew Stafford had his best game of the season, consistently making the right reads and zipping the ball around the field. He was accurate, completing 34 of 45 passes. He was aggressive, fitting balls into tight spaces for two touchdowns to Calvin Johnson. And he moved the offense down the field with 390 yards.
Joique Bell had the best rushing performance by a Lions player this season with 23 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns and ran especially well late in the game to help seal the victory. Theo Riddick added six catches for 54 yards, three of which went for 10-plus yards. The Lions proved they could be effective on the ground without Reggie Bush.
The Bears really didn't do anything to contain Calvin Johnson, and he made them pay throughout the game, finishing with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Play after play, Johnson faced single coverage and made big catches against the porous Chicago secondary. Golden Tate wasn't bad either with eight catches for 89 yards. Jeremy Ross had a 31-yard catch and Corey Fuller had a 21-yarder, giving the Lions plenty of options all game.
Considering Lions tight ends were averaging 2.5 catches per game, their five total was a good sign for the group Thursday. Eric Ebron had three catches for 23 yards, all in the first half, and impressively hurdled cornerback Kyle Fuller on a 13-yard gain. Joseph Fauria had an 8-yard catch and was inches from crossing the ball over the goal line, and Brandon Pettigrew added a 2-yard catch.
The Lions allowed some pressure early, and the Bears had two sacks. But the line, which had two rookies starting, settled in and blocked well on a few long scoring drives to give Matthew Stafford time to find receivers down the field. The front also did well run blocking to help the Lions kill time in the second half.
It felt like the Lions should've had more than three sacks, but considering how quickly Jay Cutler tried to pass, that was an impressive feat. The Bears mostly double-teamed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and his teammates made plays around him. Plus, Chicago ran just eight times for 13 yards, a big credit to the front four.
DeAndre Levy uncharacteristically missed a couple tackles, though made plenty of other plays, and Ashlee Palmer missed a big one on the Bears' first touchdown drive. The linebackers also deserve the brunt of the blame for tight end Martellus Bennett having eight catches for 109 yards and Matt Forte having six catches for 52 yards.
The Bears beat the Lions early with quick passes, but once they tried to go downfield, cornerbacks Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis locked down Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Glover Quin had an impressive diving interception, and James Ihedgibo snagged one on the final play.
Jeremy Ross had some rough returns and averaged just 21.7 yards on kickoffs, giving the Lions bad field position early in the game. Otherwise the third unit was great as Sam Martin averaged 51 yards per punt and downed one at the Chicago 3. Matt Prater added field goals from 46 and 40 yards and seems to have found his groove.
Jim Caldwell ignored his typically conservative instincts, and his decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter completely changed the game as Joique Bell's touchdown gave the Lions a 17-14 lead. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also showed that he can get his unit in a rhythm even if the start of the game looked much like the last two.