Game Grades: Lions Blow Opportunities

Two late scores and a recovered onside kick gave the Detroit Lions a chance on Sunday. However, it was the follies and missed opportunities earlier in the contest that led to a 35-32 defeat, and an 0-2 mark that has plagued them for three consecutive seasons. Game grades inside ...

Two late scores and a recovered onside kick gave the Detroit Lions a chance on Sunday. However, it was the follies and missed opportunities earlier in the contest that led to a 35-32 defeat, and an 0-2 mark that has plagued them for three consecutive seasons.

OFFENSE: The Lions can clamor all they'd like about the veteran leadership of Shaun Hill, but the fact is, he doesn't have near the potency of injured starter Matthew Stafford. Hill tossed for 335 yards, but his inaccuracy led to an interception, and his soft arm seemed disproportionate to the timing of the team's offense. The loss of Nate Burleson (and lack of replacement Derrick Williams) reverted the team to 2009, where coverage rolled to Calvin Johnson, daring the Lions to go anywhere else with the ball.

Jahvid Best was nothing short of exceptional, but once the Eagles' diagrammed to slow him in the second half, Detroit couldn't respond. The ultra-conservative playcalling of Scott Linehan is partly to blame, but again, a short-handed offense limits playbook options.

Calvin Johnson goes up for the ball against
Philadelphia. His production was limited to
just four catches for 50 yards.
AP Photo

In short, there aren't many teams in the NFL that will win with a back-up quarterback -- unless that back-up quarterback is former All Pro Michael Vick. Detroit's offense was rightfully built around Stafford's cannon arm, and without him, and without a bonafied No. 2 receiver like Burleson (or any adequate replacement), the offense is only shell of itself.

It's tough to grade the Lions, but they still managed to put 32 points on the board. In today's NFL that should be plenty, and it wasn't.


DEFENSE: The Lions had an entire week to prepare for Michael Vick, and although the big play is inevitable at some point, they simply failed at containing him -- or any other facet of Philadelphia's offense.

Vick tossed for 284 yards, used eight different receivers and his legs on several occasions to keep a play -- and, in some cases, a drive -- alive. Detroit defenders had their opportunities, however, but took poor angles that the former Falcons' standout turned to his advantage. The Lions reached Vick five times, but it wasn't nearly enough.

Philadelphia's running attack wasn't even led by Vick, but LeSean McCoy, who torched Detroit for 120 yards on 16 carries, and three touchdowns -- including a 46-yard gallop in the fourth quarter.

"We don't want to have to put our offense in those situations," said rookie Ndamukong Suh after the loss. "It could've been a whole different game if we didn't allow that last touchdown. We could've been up, it would've been a different story."

It wasn't. Bottom line is that the Lions' defense allowed the Eagles to put 35 points on the scoreboard, something that will rarely result in a victory.


COACHING: Hindsight is 20/20, especially when you see the result of a decision. If Jim Schwartz could do it over again, he probably would have allowed Jason Hanson to net a field goal early in the fourth quarter, closing the Philadelphia lead to just one touchdown, but his choice to go for it on fourth down proved fateful.

On third and fourth down, Detroit's "big" package failed to garner the needed yard to sustain what turned out to be a critical drive.

"We need to be able to get a yard on 2 downs," explained Schwartz. "In that case, thinking about going for the field goal there, to go for the field goal and we still need a touchdown and a two-point, I weighed that, it would have been a 48- or 49-yarder, I weighed that against our ability to get a yard, and that's something we have to do."

An argument could be made either way. But given Hanson's accuracy, Schwartz should have probably just taken the points.

As noted earlier, Linehan's playcalling as conservative at best. However, a decent chunk of the gameplan and team's playbook was unavailable without Stafford and Burleson. The team went away from Jahvid Best in the second half, and for the second consecutive week Calvin Johnson seemed underutilized until it was too late. If they have to remain without the starting quarterback and No. 2 receiver, Linehan needs to be better prepared.

Defensively, Gunther Cunningham went back to what he knows how to do best: blitz. He had a tried-and-true game-plan for stopping Vick, one he had used successfully in the past, but his players didn't seem equipped to get the job done.

Overall, the Eagles seemed better prepared than the Lions, and that's a testament to coaching, and not much else.


OVERALL: A shorthanded Lions team ran into Michael Vick's career-revival at perhaps the most inopportune time. But if that seems familiar somehow, it's because should: it's an excuse, something that has been created and reproduced to explain away Detroit's historical ineptitude the past few years. It cannot be accepted any longer, least of all by the team and the coaching staff. Despite all of their faults on Sunday, they had a chance to win, and still came up empty-handed. Winning teams, especially at home, walk away with a victory. It's time for the Lions to mature and do the same.


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