Is there any one particular word that describes what this season has been like for the Detroit Lions?
There have been some epic highs and some painful lows, that’s for certain. Yes, this is the Detroit Lions team that beat the New England Patriots. Actually, “annihilated” might be a more accurate description of how that game went. But, it’s also the same Detroit Lions team that was completely and utterly humiliated by the New York Jets to open the season. The same team that went on to beat the Green Bay Packers, and the same team that then went on to be again humiliated by the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.
As is the case with every season, some players have been better than expected, while others have greatly under-performed. But, being that we’ve reached the halfway point of the season, it’s time for a position-by-position mid-season report card.
This category, obviously, is all about one Matthew Stafford. His backup, Matt Cassel, has thrown the ball just six times this season. Stafford on the other hand, has completed 196 of his 289 passes this season. He has thrown 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Once dubbed “Captain Comeback”, he has not been able to steer the ship in the right direction often enough this season. Stafford continues to be good, but it’s hard to say that he’s been great. Another average to just-above-average season for the Lions’ quarterback.
This area has certainly been a breath of fresh air! Kerryon Johnson has burst onto the scene, and has been quite spectacular overall. He’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and has rushed for 507 yards through eight games (including two 100+ yard games). He’s also caught 24 passes for 165 yards. LeGarrette Blount has played a role, but has hardly been outstanding. Considering that he was primarily brought in to improve the team’s short-yardage ability, he’s not expected to have eye-popping numbers. Theo Riddick has rushed for a total of only 30 yards, but has also caught 30 passes for 174 yards. He has also missed time with injury recently. Overall, the running backs have been a strength of the offense.
This is a tough area to navigate, now with the departure of Golden Tate. In the team’s first game without Tate, Detroit wide receivers were held to just 199 receiving yards. It’s probably not fair to judge to harshly after just one game, but that one game was not good. Overall, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay have combined for 976 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on the season. To help replace some of the production lost from the Tate move, the team did sign Bruce Ellington, and TJ Jones is also a candidate to step up given a new opportunity.
Not a whole lot of production to speak of here. Outside of a single game in which Michael Roberts caught two touchdowns, Luke WIllson, Levine Toilolo, and Roberts have combined for 20 catches for 181 yards. Roberts has shown flashes, but nothing consistent.
Until the team’s trip to Minnesota last weekend, the offensive line had actually been quite respectable. Stafford had only been sacked a total of 13 times, and the running game had shown flashes of greatness. Not that one game tells the story of an entire season, but Stafford was sacked a whopping 10 times on Sunday, and the running game was completely stifled. Looking at the big picture, the improvements that have been made cannot be overlooked. The offensive line (for the most part) has been a true strength of this team.
Here’s where it gets dicey. The Lions have allowed 142.5 rushing yards per game (third worst mark in the league), and a lot of that responsibility falls on the defensive line. Rookie Da’Shawn Hand and waiver wire pickup Romeo Okwara have been a bright spots, however. Hand has racked up 18 tackles and two sacks so far this season, while Okwara has five sacks of his own, but they seem to be the only bright spots on the defensive line. A’Shawn Robinson has lost playing time, and Ziggy Ansah can’t seem to stay healthy. But, even those two might not be able to fix the problems at this position.
Jarrad Davis has been good. Better this year than last. Christian Jones and Devon Kennard, both of whom signed in Detroit in the offseason, have also been good (combined for six sacks). Coverage at the linebacker position is still a concern though, and seemingly has been for a long time for the Lions. A portion of the blame for the terrible numbers in the run defense department has to be put on the linebackers as well, but all things considered, this is a position of relative strength for Detroit’s defense.
Overall, Detroit’s pass defense has been really good, only allowing 214.6 yards through the air per game (fourth best in the league). Considering the fact that the defensive line is not producing a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it shows that the defensive backs are sustaining coverage, even for large chunks of time. While there haven’t been many interceptions this season (one for Quandre Diggs, two for Darius Slay), the unit has been getting the job done for the most part.