Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Stafford subpar, backs pick up slack
Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions' performance from Thursday's 23-16 loss to the Chicago Bears.
After Matthew Stafford was sacked six times by the Bears less than two weeks ago, the Lions rolled out a more conservative game plan centered around short, quick-hitting passes. Beyond a well-executed design that netted Kenny Golladay 43 yards out of play-action, Stafford averaged 7.1 yards per completion.
That would have been good enough if executed for 60 minutes, but two interceptions in the fourth quarter tank Stafford's mark. I can't put the last one fully on the quarterback, since Michael Roberts allowed himself to be bumped off his route by a smaller corner. But the pick-six a few minutes earlier was a case of seeing the safety crashing down on the route and forcing it anyway.
One play before that game-ending pick, Stafford had a chance to tie it up on a slant to Golladay, but the placement and velocity significantly increased the degree of difficulty for the catch, resulting in an incompletion. Grade: D-
No one expected much from a backfield missing Kerryon Johnson and facing the NFL's top run defense, but LeGarrette Blount quieted his critics — at least for the day — with 88 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
Theo Riddick chipped in 48 yards receiving, including a 17-yard catch that set up Blount's second score, while fullback Nick Bellore had two receptions. His second, a diving effort on a fourth-down deflection, paved the way for Blount's first score. Grade: A-
Wide receivers/tight ends
Golladay led the charge with five receptions for 90 yards. He did have a bad drop early in the game, and while it would have been a tough catch, it would be nice if the team's clear-cut No. 1 option could have hauled in the low-and-away fastball from Stafford late in the contest.
Roberts is absolved of blame for Stafford's first interception, but the 250-pound tight end outweighs Kyle Fuller by 60 pounds and can't allow himself to be knocked off the fade route so easily. Grade: D+
As noted, the Lions went to a quick passing game to negate the pass-rush, but when the Lions needed time, the line largely held up its end of the bargain. A prime example came on a third-and-1 in the first half, when Stafford had all day to find an open receiver, eventually connecting with Bruce Ellington for the conversion.
As for the run blocking, there were a number of minimal gains early. But as the game wore on, the lanes started to open, helping the Lions average a healthy 4.6 yards per carry. Grade: B+
Once again, the run defense was stellar, limiting the Bears to a measly 38 yards on 15 carries. As for the pass rush, Ziggy Ansah continued to be a force, forcing a punt with a third-down sack and causing an incompletion with another QB hit. Nose tackle Damon Harrison had 1.5 sacks, splitting his second with Romeo Okwara.
The biggest downside from the unit was penalties. Harrison allowed himself to lose his footing, falling in quarterback Chase Daniel's legs. That will draw a roughing the passer every time. Meanwhile, Okwara grabbed Daniel's facemask at the end of a trick play. That drive ended in a touchdown. Grade: B+
The linebackers had a nondescript day, with Devon Kennard, Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones combining for 13 tackles, one for a loss, and a quarterback hit. Jones didn't show great awareness on the Bears' first touchdown, allowing himself to get picked while covering third-string running back Taquan Mizzell. Grade: C-
Daniel, who was making his first start in four years, misfired on two throws into tight coverage on Chicago's opening possession before connecting on 26 of his final 34 tosses for 230 yards and two scores.
Running back Tarik Cohen twice got behind a Lions cornerback in man coverage, with Daniel misfiring on the first and connecting in the end zone on the second.
Add a dumb penalty by Glover Quin, for hitting Daniel as the quarterback gave himself up with a slide, and it's another subpar performance from the back end. Grade: D+
The return game remains nonexistent and Matt Prater was only called upon once, to bang home a 20-yard chip shot, so this grade primarily focused on punter Sam Martin and the coverage units.
Martin looked to be booting the ball farther than he has much of the year, but he was out-kicking his coverage that's been shaky all season. The result was a disappointing 36.2-yard net, sacrificing valuable field position throughout the contest. Grade: D+
The game plan was good enough to win. The defense played well, holding the Bears to 16 points, while the offense, although conservative, moved the ball as effectively as you could expect given the absence of Marvin Jones and Johnson from the lineup.
You have to like Matt Patricia's willingness to go for it on fourth-and-1 instead of settling for a field goal. Sure, they needed some luck to convert, but fortune often favors the bold. As for Stafford's second interception, the fade to Roberts, wasn't a great call. You're asking a player to run a route in a situation where he doesn't have a lot of experience against the opposition's best cornerback. There's something to be said about trusting your players to make plays, but that wasn't the right time. Grade: B-