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Lions grades: WRs, special teams, coaches share blame

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions kicker Matt Prater reacts after missing a field goal in the first quarter.

Houston — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions' performance in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Houston Texans.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford had an efficient day, completing 27 of his 41 throws for 240 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. There were times he forced it into some tight windows, but he didn’t have a choice with his outside receivers struggling to get separation against sticky coverage from the Houston secondary.   Grade: B+

Running backs

The Lions leaned heavily on Theo Riddick in his return to the lineup and the shifty running back made the most of his opportunities, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and catching eight passes for 77 yards, including a one-yard touchdown. Impressively, he didn’t lose yardage on any of his 11 carries, but he did drop a pass. Grade: A-

Wide receivers

Detroit’s dynamic trio of Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin and Golden Tate struggled to get separation throughout the game, combining for 79 yards. Jones did manage to draw two pass interference calls. Grade: D+

Tight ends

Eric Ebron returned to the lineup after a three-game absence and was Stafford’s most reliable weapon.  The third-year tight end caught a career-high seven passes for 79 yards and made key plays on two of the team’s three scoring drives, including drawing a pass interference call in the end zone that set up Riddick’s touchdown. Khari Lee also saw an uptick in playing time and did a nice job as a run blocker, contributing to Riddick’s effectiveness on the ground. Grade: B+

Offensive line

The run blocking was good and the pass protection was effective enough. Stafford was sacked once and hit two other times, although the quarterback deserves some credit for mitigating the damage with his pocket awareness and feet. The line gets knocked for two penalties — a hold against Riley Reiff and a block in the back against Graham Glasgow — which helped kill a pair of drives that ended in punts.  Grade: B-

Defensive line

For three quarters, the group did an outstanding job, particularly against the run. But when the Lions needed one more stop in the fourth quarter, they had no answer for Houston’s backfield tandem of Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. The duo combined for 72 yards on 10 carries in the final frame, salting away the victory. Grade: C

Linebackers

Tahir Whitehead was around the ball all game, finishing with nine tackles. Josh Bynes, making his season debut was less effective. He struggled in coverage early and was bullied by Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on a second-quarter touchdown. Grade: B-

Secondary

On the outside, Johnson Bademosi and Nevin Lawson deserve credit for holding Houston’s talented receiving duo — DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller — in check. Bademosi, starting in place of Darius Slay, recorded his first career interception and nearly forced a fumble, but the pass to Hopkins was ruled incomplete. Safety Tavon Wilson had a rough day. He struggled in coverage, getting repeatedly beat by the Texans tight ends, and he drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness when he hit a defenseless receiver coming across the middle. The Texans would score a touchdown on that drive.  Grade: B

Special teams

Matt Prater missed an early field goal, which gave the Texans a short field they turned into a touchdown, and punter Sam Martin had his first subpar performance of the season, mishitting multiple attempts, hindering the coverages ability to limit the opposing return game. Martin also rushed, and poorly struck, the team’s onside kick attempt at the end of the game. Andre Roberts flashed as a kick returner, although his longest return was negated by a penalty.  Grade: D+

Coaches

The coaching staff didn’t put the Lions in a position to win the game. The defensive game plan and execution was as good as it's been this season, but still couldn’t figure out how to slow the tight end position until the second half. The offensive plan lacked the creativity and calculated shot plays that have helped the unit thrive during its three-game winning streak. And for better or worse, coach Jim Caldwell should have challenged a fumble ruled an incomplete pass. He said they didn’t think they would win the challenge, but a turnover is a game-altering play and it was close enough to merit rolling the dice. Grade: D+