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Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Secondary outstanding

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

New Orleans — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions' performance in Sunday's 28-13 New Orleans Saints.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford was brilliant in a tough road environment. He didn’t make every throw, but you can count the misfires on one hand. He completed 30-of-42 passes for 341 yards — his most since Week 3 — while connecting for two touchdowns and no turnovers. Stafford made his biggest throws on third down, getting it to Golden Tate for a 66-yard score despite being hit and effectively using a shoulder fake to clear space for a 36-yard gain to T.J. Jones to convert a third-and-16. Grade: A

Running backs

Theo Riddick is clearly not at full strength, but rookie Dwayne Washington did a nice job shouldering the load early before an ankle injury took him out in the third quarter. Zach Zenner seamlessly stepped in and helped the Lions grind out important yards down the stretch to seal the win. He finished with 40 yards on nine carries.  Grade: B+

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Wide receivers

The Saints played a lot of man coverage and Detroit’s receivers made them pay. Tate led the way with eight grabs for 145 yards, including the long touchdown, but it was the production of Andre Roberts and T.J. Jones, in place of Marvin Jones, that provided the lift the offense needed. The tandem combined for seven catches for 84 yards. Grade: A-

Tight ends

Eric Ebron didn’t have a huge day, catching four passes for 38 yards, but he came up with one of the most important receptions, hauling in a 12-yard bullet from Stafford to convert a third-and-11 on the Lions’ first touchdown drive.  Grade: B

Offensive line

The running backs had some of their best holes of the season, but still averaged 3.2 yards per carry. The line did a solid job protecting Stafford, with most of the Saints’ pressure coming only after the quarterback scanned the field and couldn’t find an open receiver.  Grade: B

Defensive line

Sure, the sacks weren’t there, but there was a steady stream of pressure on Drew Brees when he wasn’t getting rid of it quickly, resulting in five quarterback hits. The Lions also did a nice job limiting the Saints to 50-yards rushing and were effective in short-yardage situations.  Grade: B+

Linebackers

No DeAndre Levy, no Tahir Whitehead, but the trio of Josh Bynes, Antiwone Williams and Thurston Armbrister stepped up in a big way, contributing to the ineffectiveness of the Saints ground game and allowing few completions over the middle to an offense that typically feasts on play-action and misdirection.  Grade: A-

Secondary

Detroit’s safeties were outstanding, picking off Brees three times and snapping his NFL record of games with a touchdown pass at home at 60. The quarterback still managed to complete better than 70 percent of his passes for 324 yards, but the numbers are inflated by a meaningless late-game drive.  Grade: A

Special teams

It was essentially a day off for punter Sam Martin with how effectively the offense moved the ball, but when that unit repeatedly stalled in the red zone, kicker Matt Prater had no problem putting points on the board, making all five of his field goal attempts. Kickoff coverage was top shelf, but the punt coverage did surrender a 24-yard return that sparked a scoring drive for the Saints. Grade: A-

Coaches

The Lions offense was impressive, but the play-calling sputtered a the bit in the red zone, leading to the team settling for four field goals in five trips. That would typically doom you against the Saints, but the defense saved the day.  
Give defensive coordinator Teryl Austin a round of applause for shutting down the prolific Saints offense that had been rolling coming into this game. He put his guys in the right position all day and they rewarded him by making plays.
Grade: A-