It was exciting but it wasn’t pretty.
The Detroit Lions improved their record to 4-0 on the season with a road victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Lions erased a third quarter, 24-point deficient to extend their regular-season winning streak to eight games.
The fact that the Lions came back from a 24-point hole proves that they have the ability to compete in any game, in any circumstance. Yet the fact that they were down by 24 points in the third quarter proves that they have many areas they can improve in.
Below are the game grades for the offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
The Lions had their worst offensive performance of the season against the Cowboys..
Putting the defense in a difficult position, the offense scored only three first-half points, possessing the ball for only 11:20, while registering a less-than-impressive 118 yards.
Matthew Stafford completed only nine of 23 pass attempts – for 88 yards and an interception – in the first half. He finished the game with 240 yards and added two second-half touchdown passes (including the game winner).
Stafford was under frequent pressure, constantly being flushed out of the pocket. He led the offense when he needed to but Calvin Johnson was the true story for the offense.
Johnson finished with two touchdown catches (for the fourth consecutive game) and has scored the only offensive touchdowns for the Lions over the last two games. He also added eight catches for 96 yards.
Johnson’s stat line – although impressive – does not pay proper testament to the impact he had. Both of his touchdowns were leaping grabs that would not have been made by most other receivers. His blend of size, strength, speed and leaping ability was essential to the victory.
The Lions rushing game was ineffective, once again, finishing the game with 63 rushing yards. They opened the game with a 19-yard rush by Jahvid Best, and with that run subtracted (that drive ended in an interception) the Lions finished with 44 rushing yards and a 2.8 yards-per-carry average.
Another issue was third down conversions. The offense converted on only four of 13 opportunities (31%), and just two of eight in the first half.
The offensive line did not have a strong outing but did not allow a sack. The frequent pressure on Stafford shouldn’t be surprising considering the strength of the Cowboys front seven.
The bottom line is, the Lions struggled on offense. They did enough to win but much of their success on offense can be attributed directly to Johnson.
They have the talent to be significantly better than they showed and much credit should go to the Cowboys defense. But they need to be better if they want to continue to win games with consistency.
The Lions defense allowed 434 yards and 30 points and there were moments where they had no answer for Tony Romo and the Cowboys passing attack. They also kept the Lions in the game.
Detroit's defense scored two touchdowns themselves, while producing three interceptions.
Also, in the first quarter, there was one play that had a significant impact on the game.
There was less than two minutes left in the first quarter, the Cowboys had an early 7-0 lead and had moved the ball with relative ease. It was fourth down and the ball was on the Detroit one-yard line. The Cowboys elected to go for the touchdown, ran the ball up the middle and were stopped (sound familiar?). Had the Cowboys scored, the Lions four-point victory may not have been possible.
There is no doubt that the defense struggled at times. The Dallas receivers – mostly allowed to release from the line of scrimmage without contact – did a lot of damage early in the contest (195 passing yards against in the first half).
The defense surrendered 260 first-half yards and allowed the Cowboys to convert on 63 percent of their third-down attempts. But the improvements they made in the second half paid dividends.
They didn’t allow the Cowboys to convert any second-half third downs. They also leveraged a more effective pass rush en route to three interceptions – including two touchdowns.
Despite the mistakes, the defense deserves the most credit for the victory.
Jason Hanson was the bright spot for a mediocre performance for the special teams unit.
Hanson was successful on both of his field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder in the final quarter, finishing with 10 points.
Ryan Donahue had a good performance, averaging 43.7 yards per punt, with one punt downed inside the five. He dropped another punt inside the 20 but Maurice Stovall was not successful in downing the ball before it bounced into the end zone.
The punt coverage unit allowed 18 yards on three punts while the kickoff coverage unit yielded 94 yards on three returns.
The Lions were plagued by some of the same issues that hurt them last week.
A slow start by the offense as well as some coverage deficiencies on special teams hurt the Lions in this game, as they did last week.
Allowing 93 yards on three kickoffs as well as producing only 118 yards in the first half cannot be tolerated and must be corrected.
The Lions had two delay of game penalties that followed offensive penalties. There is no reason for that to happen and that must fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
When the offense struggled, there was good adjustments giving Stafford short passes, allowing him to develop more of a rhythm while somewhat neutralizing the Cowboys pass rush.
Head coach Jim Schwartz also was successful in winning a challenge in the third quarter, overturning a 34-yard completion.