Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: D-line, secondary shine
Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in Sunday’s 35-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Matthew Stafford’s start was something out of a nightmare, throwing his first pass directly into the arms of Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel, who turned the mistake into six points. Stafford was throwing to a spot, not realizing his receiver had been knocked from his path. It’s an easy mistake to make, but one Stafford can’t afford. After that blunder, there was a handful of off-target throws through the first half, until he settled down and found his grove. He completed 12-of-17 down the stretch, including three touchdowns tosses, capping the 26th fourth-quarter comeback of his career. Grade: B+
The Cardinals lived up to their reputation of being stout against the run, limiting Detroit’s backs to 51 yards on 22 carries. But the afternoon wasn’t without it’s positives for the Lions’ backfield. Theo Riddick caught six passes, including a seven-yard touchdown where he stopped on a dime and dove through a maze of four defenders to cross the goal line. And Dwayne Washington emphatically converted a 3rd-and-1 in the red zone, setting up another score. Grade: C-
Golden Tate showed toughness, playing through an injured finger to catch 10 passes for 107 yards, with many of those receptions providing the Lions with a fresh set of downs. Rookie Kenny Golladay shook off some lackluster play in the first half to haul in a pair of touchdown passes, including a jaw-dropping diving grab on a deep throw from Stafford. And TJ Jones made two difficult catches to keep the fourth-quarter drive alive that put the Lions up for good. Grade: A-
Eric Ebron was largely a non-factor after recently returning from practice, but he did make a key third-down conversion on Detroit’s first touchdown drive. Darren Fells, in his Lions’ debut, wasn’t targeted in the passing game, but contributed to a relatively clean pocket for Stafford. Grade: C-
As noted, Stafford didn’t face a ton of inescapable pressure, suffering one sack — which could easily be credited to the Cardinals’ coverage — and three quarterback hits. The lack of lanes in the run game was the bigger concern, as the Cardinals regularly had a defender in the backfield, making life rough on the backs. Guard T.J. Lang picked up the unit’s only two penalties, including a block in the back that negated a 14-yard gain on a Tate end around. Grade: C-
Detroit’s front was all kinds of impressive, despite recording only one sack. They put steady pressure on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, contributing to all three to the team’s interceptions. The front four also managed to hit Palmer six times, while completely stifling All-Pro running back David Johnson. Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson even forced Johnson to fumble. And out on the edge, defensive end Anthony Zettel stood out as a potential solution to the team’s pass-rush concerns. Grade: A
Rookie Jarrad Davis led the Lions with nine tackles, recovered a fumble and showed no issues communicating the calls to the defense. He also had some coverage lapses and was whistled for a pair of penalties, including a personal foul. More positives than negatives, no question, but plenty to clean up. Tahir Whitehead was solid on the weakside and did a nice job filling his run gaps, while Paul Worrilow broke up a pass in limited playing time. Grade: B
What a coming-out party for the defensive backfield. The group played fast and got their hands on nine of Palmer’s 48 throws, intercepting three. Quandre Diggs was phenomenal in the nickel, breaking up a team-high three passes and nearly coming up with an incredible interception, only to see it overturned by replay. The Cardinals present all kinds of coverage challenges, between future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald in the slot and speedsters J.J. Nelson and John Brown on the outside, but the Lions’ safeties and corners answered in a big way. Grade: A
Everything went to hell after Kasey Redfern dropped a punt in the back of the end zone, was forced to scramble and suffered an injury that knocked him from the game. That forced the Lions to lean on kicker Matt Prater to punt, and he wasn’t very good at it. The team also had to go to a backup holder, which led to a botched extra point. Other negatives included a pair of dumb penalties, including Zettel leaping on a field-goal attempt and giving the Cardinals a fresh set of downs in the red zone, and Washington taking an ill-advised bouncing ball out of the end zone during a kickoff return.
The offsetting good came from Prater’s field-goal kicking. He knocked home a 58-yarder to end the first half. Rookie Jamal Agnew also showed some promise returning punts. Grade: D
After slow starts the past couple seasons, Teryl Austin had Detroit’s defense coming hot out the gate against the Cardinals. The offense was a little more sluggish, but got it together in the second half. And you have to appreciate coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s creativity, using defensive end Alex Barrett at fullback on Washington’s aforementioned third-down conversion.
As for Jim Caldwell, he used his timeouts well in the first half, allowing Prater to kick the 58-yarder as time expired. He also had his unit well prepared to rush a snap after TJ Jones made an impressive grab near the sidelines, but could have been potentially ruled out of bounds had the Cardinals challenged it.
The worst you can say about Caldwell is he went for a two-point conversion a little early, looking to tie the score in the third quarter. It didn’t hurt the team and the look, Golladay on Bethel, was a solid option. Grade: B+