The Detroit Lions are heading into their BYE week high on adrenaline after two thrilling comeback victories, advancing to 6-2, and maintaining their grip on the NFC North Division. The Lions are impressively different than last year, displaying discipline, resiliency, and a quiet confidence that mows through their obstacles. While Detroit has impressed, they’ve left a lot to be desired. The Lions are in good shape, but have much to improve upon to continue this needed success.
Here’s a look at the grades each position has received halfway through the season.
Without a doubt, the most important position. Matthew Stafford has had some remarkable moments — quickly followed by some lackluster moments. Stafford has become a much better decision maker, taking better care of the football, maintaining his gunslinger mentality, which often caused mistakes. While Stafford still slings the ball around, he’s maintained a controlled mentality. Stafford has orchestrated some impressive drives, including a 14-play, 90-yard drive against the New York Jets which proved to be a winner, and two come-from-behind drives to defeat both the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons — without receiver Calvin Johnson. However, Stafford still desires some growth in his game; he hangs onto the football quite a bit, taking sacks, and has accuracy issues. On many occasions, Stafford missed open receivers, crucially ending drives near scoring range, or resulting in tipped interceptions. While he hasn’t been a major problem, he can grow and continue to become better.
Offensive Line: D+
This has been the most shocking element of Detroit’s game. A unit that was extremely dominant last season, is struggling immensely this season, allowing Stafford to be sacked 24 times, with 43 hits — surpassing the pressure he faced all of last season. The group also hasn’t imposed their will in the run game, ranking 31st in rushing. The holes haven’t been there; the offensive line has been tossed around. However, there has been points where the line was able to hold late in games, allowing key passing plays and run plays to drain the clock. They need to be much better in the second half of the season; otherwise, Detroit’s offense will remain confined to subpar performances.
Wide Receivers: B
Detroit’s receiving game hasn’t been particularly bad this season, ranking in the top ten, averaging 277 yards per game, with 26 plays over 20 yards, and 8 plays over 40 yards — which is especially impressive, considering the receiving core has been plagued with injuries. Golden Tate has been an absolute Machine, racking up 800 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 55 receptions. Calvin Johnson has been hurt, and the core has still managed to make plays. Receiver Corey Fuller has been developing nicely. Drops and bad routes need to be cleaned up, but the core has done a respectable job nonetheless.
Running Backs: C-
This group hasn’t been very grand at all. For starters, the positives: they’ve drained the clock in some games, maintaining wins for the Lions, have picked up some tough yards through tailback Joique Bell, and helped punch the ball in the endzone on occasions. However, the Lions need much, much more than the inconsistent and inefficient performances this unit has provided. Detroit’s rushing attack is at the very bottom of the food chain; Reggie Bush, and Bell are averaging under 4 yards per carry, while having some key drops in situations. Tailback Theo Riddick has really excelled this season. In the second half, more explosive plays are needed from this group; the passing attack can’t do it all.
Defensive Line: B+
This unit, the bread and better of Detroit’s defense, has been outstanding for most part halfway through. The front four allow their presence to be felt, and their pressure to yield results. The unit ranks in the top ten for sacks, having 23 of them, while impressively forcing eight fumbles. Teams aren’t rushing the ball well, either; Detroit holds a stellar second-ranked status against the run, averaging 74 rushing yards per game. The unit’s pressure has forced many interceptions, like the pick Drew Brees threw when Darryl Tapp invaded his space. There were some points, late in games, where the line struggled to reach opposing quarterbacks — particularly the game against the Buffalo Bills. Still, they are a dominating force. Detroit’s defense wouldn’t hold the number one ranking without this stellar unit.
Another fantastic unit for Detroit’s defense. Detroit hasn’t only been tough to run on because of their defensive line; even when middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch went down, DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, and Ashlee Palmer asserted the unit as no joke. They’ve made huge plays, accumulating 128 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has gotten unique with the defense, allowing the linebacking core to blitz — which has rattled some quarterbacks. All in all, this unit is brilliant; Detroit has something special in them.
Coming into the season, Detroit’s secondary was a frightening topic; many believed they were the Achilles Heel. However, they’ve been quite sharp, averaging nearly 216 yards per game against them. They’ve even held their positions long enough to allow the front four to feast for sacks. Darius Slay is grooming into a nice, solid player, having nine passes defensed, and an interception. Veterans Rashean Mathis, James Ihedigbo, and Glover Quin have been quite Savvy. Mathis has kept up with his side of the field, and has been a good role model for the younger players. His best play was an interception returned for a touchdown against the Bills. Quin and Ihedigbo have also mentored the younger players, while developing a great chemistry together, allowing them to tie up the last line of defense. The best move by the two was when they collaborated for a shift that confused Brees into a game-changing interception.
For the most part, the team has done an exceptional job, converting plays when it mattered the most. The Lions, at 6-2, are in a great position. However, they still have a long way to go with eight games left. Hopefully, the team unity and gritty play continues; Detroit would be a scary team in the playoffs.