Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Offense sparkles, defense falters
Arlington, Texas — Justin Rogers of The Detroit News grades the Detroit Lions' performance in Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Matthew Stafford missed wide on his first pass, a third-down throw to Luke Willson. After that, Detroit's quarterback was nearly flawless. He went on to complete 24 of his next 29, including some tight-window gems to Kenny Golladay and Golden Tate. Stafford’s second touchdown throw, a go-ahead deep ball to Tate was perfectly placed. Grade: A
Rookie Kerryon Johnson started and ended on high notes, busting free for 32 yards on the game’s first snap. In the fourth quarter, he scored his first touchdown, an 8-yard effort where he plowed over Dallas safety Jeff Heath to get across the goal line. Outside of those plays, Johnson was relatively quiet, gaining 15 yards on his remaining seven carries. LeGarrette Blount wasn’t much better, gaining a paltry 12 yards on seven touches. Grade: B
Wide receivers/tight ends
Tate was spectacular, coming up with eight grabs for 132 yards, including two long touchdowns. He coasted untouched across the goal line on the second, but had to deke Heath in the open field to score the first. Meanwhile, Golladay continued to stack good performances on top of each other with 74 yards receiving, including two 22-yard receptions on a fourth-quarter scoring drive. Marvin Jones rounded things out with 56 yards on three catches, but he did drop one pass and let the ground jar another free.
The tight ends didn’t make big contributions, but the team’s trio did catch four passes for 24 yards. Grade: A-
Stopping Dallas’ best edge rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, proved problematic. He recorded three sacks, which is all the more outlandish given the Lions had allowed three in the first three games. In addition to the pass-rush pressure, the run lanes weren’t great. Finally, there were some bad penalties, namely a false start in the red zone by left tackle Taylor Decker. Grade: C-
Ezekiel Elliott ran roughshod on Detroit’s front seven. After a relatively slow start, the seas parted up front and he blasted through for 152 yards on 25 carries. And the pass-rush pressure from the line was anything but consistent. Romeo Okwara got home for a sack (although he was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play) and Da’Shawn Hand forced quarterback Dak Prescott to fumble late in the game, although the QB managed to recover. Grade: D-
The linebackers are also culpable in Elliott’s performance. And the game’s biggest play, a 34-yard pass to the bruising back, was surrendered by Jarrad Davis, magnifying his career-long struggles in coverage. Davis was also easily eliminated by a block on a 39-yard scoring screen pass to Elliott earlier in the game.
The group was hit with multiple penalties, with the worst being Eli Harold lining up in the neutral zone on a snap where the Lions got a stop. Grade: F
Darius Slay was solid all night, finishing with three pass breakups and not allowing either target into the end zone against him to be completed. Quandre Diggs, Nevin Lawson and Glover Quin also netted PBUs. Lawson should have come up with the interception, given how well he jumped the throw on his breakup.
On the downside, Lawson and slot corner Jamal Agnew both got beat for gains longer than 30 yards on a first-quarter scoring drive. Grade: B
The Lions finally solved their coverage woes, not surrendering anything of consequence against the Cowboys. That performance would have been even better had cornerback Dee Virgin been able to keep his toes off the goal line when trying to down a punt inside the 1-yard line. Matt Prater made his lone field goal attempt and Sam Martin was solid punting the ball and kicking off. Grade: B+
Honestly, I’m not sure what the Lions could have schemed better to stop Elliott. They just don’t have the personnel and that’s becoming more evident by the week. Offensively, the play-calling was pretty good and the team did better than others have done against Dallas’ defense this year. If anything merits second-guessing, it’s the usage of Johnson, who started the game, but only had 10 touches in the loss. Grade: B-