Game Grades: Confident Lions upend Panthers

The Detroit Lions again overcame their own miscues, resulting in another memorable win.

The Detroit Lions overcame a slow start prior to a 35-point second half en route to outshooting the Carolina Panthers, 49-35, improving their record to 7-3. The victory kept the team's playoff aspirations alive, allowing them to maintain control of their own destiny.

Offense

The offense stumbled out of the gate.

On the first drive, the Lions called two deep routes down the sideline; Matthew Stafford under threw Calvin Johnson on the first attempt and then over threw Tony Scheffler on the next play.  The third-down play resulted in an interception as Stafford forced a pass to Titus Young.

On the next possession, the Lions successfully moved the ball, gaining 54 yards on nine plays (they were also aided by a personal foul penalty called on a failed third-down attempt) before Stafford threw his second interception.  

The two interceptions, coupled with a Keiland Williams fumble, highlighted a disastrous first quarter.

There were two major changes in the game after the first quarter that enabled the Lions offense to be successful: improved play from Stafford and strong running from Kevin Smith.

Stafford finished the game with 335 yards, five touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 121.9.  After a first quarter that saw Stafford throw two interceptions and no touchdowns, the third-year quarterback completed 78.8 percent of his passes (26-for33) for 280 yards and five touchdowns passes to five different receivers the rest of the way.

Smith, who had only one touch in the first quarter, also came on strong in the game’s final three quarters.   Smith had 186 yards from scrimmage (140 on the ground) and three touchdowns in three quarters. 

In all, the Lions offense rolled up 495 yards, converted on 55 percent of their third downs, were six-for-six in the red zone and scored 49 points.

The offensive line also had a very strong performance.  Stafford was sacked twice but both sacks were a product of the defensive pass coverage, not poor line play

Grade: B+

Defense

Detroit's defense was under pressure early after the offense turned the ball over on each of its first three drives. They allowed the Panthers offense to score on four consecutive drives in the first half, allowing 229 yards and 20 points before half time.

The team was able to make some adjustments, the most notable of which featured benching starting safety Amari Spievey in favor of veteran Chris Harris, and performed significantly better in the second half.  

The defense only allowed 180 yards after half time, forcing three punts and three interceptions on seven drives, while only allowing seven points.

The Lions were shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball, playing without nickel back Aaron Berry and defensive ends Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson.

The Lions featured Andre Fluellen at defensive end – mostly in running situations – in an effort to keep regular starters Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril fresh throughout the game.

Eric Wright had a strong game at cornerback, knocking two passes down and also recording an interception along with six tackles. 

The unit also held the Panthers to 30 percent efficiency on third down conversions (three-for-10).

This was not among the team's better defensive outings, but they kept the squad in the game, especially in the third quarter as they attempted to mount a comeback.  

Grade B-

Special Teams

The Lions offense kept the special teams out of this game as much as possible.

Hanson never attempted a field goal, going seven-for-seven on extra points.

Ben Graham had only two punts and averaged a solid 48 yards per kick.

The coverage units were the bigger issue, however.

The Lions allowed 25 yards on their two punts and 140 yards on three kickoffs – including a 101-yard return for a touchdown.

Grade: D

Coaching

The coaching staff must receive some credit for the comeback.

Detroit had turned the ball over nine times between last weekend's disastrous loss at Chicago and the first half against Carolina. Six of those turnovers were interceptions, and if there was any doubt the fans had grown restless, the loud boos that rained down from the stands were enough to prove the frustration.

This coaching staff is proving that they believe in themselves and their team, with apparent unwavering confidence.

The special team's struggles will need to be rectified against an improved Green Bay return game on Thursday.

Grade: B+


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