Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Defense bends, doesn’t break

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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The Lions' Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs bring down Washington running back Chris Thompson in the second quarter.

Detroit -- Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions' performance in Sunday's 20-17 win over Washington.


Matthew Stafford wasn’t at his sharpest, especially early, forcing some throws into coverage. But when the game was on the line, he did what he often does in those situations and led the Lions on a game-winning drive. Stafford also made a couple plays with his feet in the victory, something that’s become a trend this season.  Grade: B+

Running backs

The tandem of Zach Zenner and Justin Forsett was efficient, gaining 62 yards on 17 carries. Zenner’s early success helped open up the wide receiver screen game and Forsett was at his best during a second-quarter scoring drive, gaining 35 yards on four carries and a catch. Zenner got dropped behind the line on a third-and-1 at the end of that series, but made up for it with his first career touchdown run in the third quarter. Grade: B-

Wide receivers

The receivers didn’t get off to a great start, with Andre Roberts and Golden Tate both dropping passes and Anquan Boldin getting flagged for a hold, but the group kept grinding and made big plays down the stretch. Marvin Jones, after being shut out in the first half, beat All-Pro corner Josh Norman for a 52-yard completion in the third quarter, setting up Zenner’s touchdown. And Roberts made up for his drop with a bailout grab on the game-winning drive where the errant throw might have otherwise been intercepted. Boldin had a quiet day, but came up with the game-winner with 16 seconds remaining. Grade: B+

What a finish! Stafford rallies Lions in final minute

Tight ends

Clay Harbor, a midseason addition, gets a little more on his plate each week. A sound blocker, Harbor was the designed target on two passing plays, catching both for 16 yards.  Grade: B

Offensive line

The unit did a decent job keeping Stafford upright, allowing three sacks and one additional quarterback hit. They also opened some nice holes for the backs, especially up the middle, although they did lose the trench battle on Zenner’s failed third-down run deep in Washington territory. Left tackle Taylor Decker got hit with a holding call that drove the Lions back out of the red zone on another drive, leading to the team settling for a field goal.  Grade: B

Defensive line

While the front gave up a little too much breathing room in the run game, this was the most pass-rush pressure we’ve seen this season. The front four only recorded one sack, but popped Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins six other plays. Most importantly, the group forced a pair of fumbles with Brandon Copeland stripping running back Matt Jones just shy of the end zone and Khyri Thornton driving a lineman back into Cousins, forcing the QB to trip and cough it up trying to hand the ball off.  Grade: B-


The pursuit angles weren’t the best, leading to bigger gains by the Washington backs and receivers in the second level. Tahir Whitehead led the team with 12 tackles, including five in coverage, but none were for a loss. Washington’s tight ends and running backs combined to catch 15 passes in the loss. Grade: D+


The secondary managed to survive a second-quarter injury to cornerback Darius Slay and didn’t give up any big plays until the fourth quarter, when the safeties let Jamison Crowder and Vernon Davis get free for back-to-back gains of 26 and 27 yards during a touchdown drive.  Grade: C-

Special teams

Matt Prater made two of his three field-goal attempts. The miss went wide left after the timing of the kick was thrown off by a high and wide snap. Punter Sam Martin was excellent, as usual, but the coverage unit did allow a 16-yard return, keeping Martin’s net just below his season average. Roberts didn’t return a kickoff or a punt. Grade: B-


The defense gave up a lot of yards, but navigated well around their injuries, keeping the big play in check much of the day. The offense wasn’t as efficient or explosive as it had been in recent weeks, but the big play calls were well-timed, especially the deep ball to Jones. You also have to appreciate the creativity, with Zenner as the up back in the I-formation, which resulted in a touchdown. And although the Lions didn’t need them all, the conservation of timeouts was helpful on the game-winning drive. Grade: B

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