The ball club remains in the thick of the playoff hunt but failed to capitalize on an opportunity to put distance between them and their main competitors (Chicago, Dallas, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons), who all lost on Sunday.
Game grades below ...
The Lions were effective in moving the ball – finishing with 466 yards of total offense – but failed to put significant points on the board.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 408 yards and seemed to be able to move the ball at ease during some stretches but costly offensive penalties and mental mistakes proved to be key factors in stalled drivers, as the Lions were only able to put 17 points on the board.
A major factor in the team's low point total was the inability to convert third downs. Faced with several third-and-long situations, the team converted only two third-down opportunities.
The Saints focused on limiting receiver Calvin Johnson’s impact on the game and the Lions did a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities created for other offensive players. While Johnson made six catches for 69 yards, he drew frequent attention, allowing Stafford to find nine other players to make at least one catch, totaling 25 receptions and 339 yards.
The Lions continue to show that they have a talented offense but need to eliminate mental mistakes and needless penalties in order to become an elite unit.
Detroit's defense surrendered 438 yards and 31 points to the explosive Saints offense. It would have been unrealistic to expect a short-handed defensive unit to contain New Orleans, and they should be graded on a slight curve.
With that said, the Lions failed to get enough pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, allowing him to methodically move the ball, as he racked up 342 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The Lions rushed only four on most plays and the defensive line struggled to disrupt the offense’s rhythm. The interior line, without the services of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, struggled to win their matchup with the interior of the Saints offensive line, while pressure from the defensive ends was absent for much of the game (no sacks from the team’s defensive ends while the group itself combined for only two tackles).
Kicker Jason Hanson missed two field goals, connecting on only one of this three attempts. Those numbers aren’t as poor as they sound, however.
Hanson had one of his field goal attempts blocked at the end of the first half while he missed a 55-yard attempt in the second half.
Punter Ben Graham had a solid night, averaging 42.5 yards per punt and also having two of his four punts downed inside the 20 – including one inside the five.
Also, the coverage units held dangerous return man Darren Sproles in check on both punt and kick returns.
Lions returner Stefan Logan averaged 26 yards on two kick returns and six yards on two punt returns – pedestrian numbers.
The Lions proved that – from a talent and schematic stand point – they can compete with the Saints.
They also proved that they have not yet developed the mental toughness and resolve that most elite teams posses.
The Lions were penalized 11 times for 107 yards, many of the them a direct result of mental errors that simply cannot happen during a game.
Considering the amount of costly penalties the team took against the Green Bay Packers a week ago, this week’s penalties are inexcusable.
The coaching staff should be held accountable for discipline and are responsible for correcting the mistakes.