The Detroit Lions’ Offense Secured a Vital Win While the Defense Faltered
In a thrilling back and forth game that might have been exciting for some of the wrong reasons, the Lions pulled out their second home win in a row 31-28 over the Los Angeles Rams. The game featured an unlikely quarterback duel royale between the elite Matthew Stafford and lukewarm backup option Case Keenum as the pair combined for just under 600 yards and 7 touchdowns through the air while their opposition’s pass defenses faltered. Things moved quickly all day with long drives, a mere 13 combined incompletions, and few stoppages as the two teams traded scores throughout the contest. With no true breakaway by either team even after a late fourth quarter Matt Prater field goal, the game was finally sealed with a Rafael Bush interception on Case Keenum’s first major mistake of the day. The Lions reached .500 at a 3-3 record, and hope was revived ever so slightly across the motor city.
Keys to the game:
Efficient Lions’ Offense
Stafford had potentially his best game of the season, as the Lions’ offense moved up and down the field all day with ease. While it is true the Rams top corner Trumaine Johnson and several key defensive line players were out or limited on the day, and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was doing everything he could with his scheme for some reason to make things easy on the Lions’ offense, Stafford’s performance still stands out. He led scoring drives on five out of seven chances with the ball with four of those resulting in passing touchdowns, ended the day with a 139.8 passer rating, and was a strong leader throughout.
The only thing that could possibly slow him down quite frankly was drops from his receiving corps who are among the league worst in drops through six games. The statisticians by my math are being very generous to the receivers in their definition of a drop based upon current numbers, as I have Detroit as far and away the team with the most drops in the league after reviewing the film. You could easily argue at least four clear drops, including two more bad ones by Golden Tate. As opposed to some major failures seen this season though, these issues were relatively few and far between, and the effort was balanced with a lot of great play.
On top of this the O-line held strong against Aaron Donald and co. allowing little in the way of pressure and only one sack all day giving Stafford plenty of time to throw the ball into generally poor coverage. With now multiple solid performances against two talented defensive units, the Lions’ offense is in a very good place heading toward the mid-point of the season.
Run Game Questions Answered
A lot of concerns were flying around entering Sunday surrounding the run game with the Lions’ top three running backs, top two tight ends, and top interior o-lineman Larry Warford out injured against the Rams, leaving Zach Zenner and new signing Justin Forsett as the only rostered running backs. While it was far from a master class performance though, the Lions’ run game was moderately effective in a limited capacity, and that played an important role in keeping the passing offense rolling. While Zach Zenner had a much improved all around game this was not a running back-driven effort especially considering Forsett’s terrible 5 yards on 5 attempts outing. The fuel for almost all of the day’s rushing yardage was from the blocking. Corey Robinson again got a significant amount of playing time in the jumbo TE role and did a very good job, Michael Burton was great as always with some huge run breaking blocks, and Riley Reiff was an absolute monster in space. Yes, I realize a total of 83 rushing yards with twenty of those coming from QB’s and WR’s is far from impressive, but based on the injury-related circumstances and playing a beast on the inside in Aaron Donald, that’s a good result and something that was key to the Lions winning this week.
Emptying the Doghouse
More of a theme over the last two matchups but especially true today, guys that were taking some of the most heat from fans had great performances against the Rams. Jim Caldwell first and foremost has taken the biggest portion of that criticism. He was being discussed as the first coach in the league to get fired after the Bears game, and needed to do something to at least keep his job until the end of the season if he couldn’t save it long term. Since that point he has completely changed his decision making, persona, and basically everything else about himself outside of that sweet luscious moustache. He went to extend drives on fourth down multiple times and bet right every time, he had to throw the challenge flag on the ridiculous Kenny Britt circus catch and outside of that has been smart with timeouts and clock management, and has been the leader of men on Sundays that all the players have praised about seeing away from the eyes of the public. It is fundamentally clear his resurgence has had a massive impact on the team.
The other guy that quickly went from the bottom to the top is Andre Roberts. Does he still make the occasional ill-advised run out of the end-zone? Sure. At the same time though he’s done some great work on punt returns and his timing seems to be improving on the kickoffs as well, perhaps finally adjusting to the new rules. On top of that he’s been a sneaky nice rotational receiver in the number four slot topping things off with that phenomenal touchdown grab in the second quarter. Being a solid to borderline really good return man while providing yet another weapon in Matthew Stafford’s back pocket is more then some Lions fans could have ever dreamed for Roberts to be, so his going from many folks’ doghouse to this level of play is certainly worth noting.
While Laken Tomlinson didn’t quite exit my doghouse he snuck his head out a little while and took a look around with a decent performance against a tough matchup. That in and of itself is worth a kudos despite playing at his more natural position on the Lions’ offense. If there are more turnaround performances like these as the season progresses and the team inevitably gets healthier that can only bode well for the Lions this season.
Washington coming up next week on the last game of the three game home stand represent one of those games that was originally a borderline matchup that now becomes far more important after underperforming against weaker teams early on. Getting back to .500 and playing good football at home should breathe some life into the fanbase and get the crowd pumped up. While Washington is on a bit of a run of late, they really aren’t that good a team when you get down to it, and are definitely a beatable opponent – especially when they’re away from home. The biggest key to winning that game would be having the defense finally step up and be a positive factor. Teryl Austin continues to go to zone when it’s clear that the Lions defense is getting abused in it. “Big Play” Slay came off badly a couple of times against Kenny Britt which does not bode well for his matchup against Pierre Garcon or DeShawn Jackson, and the pressure just wasn’t getting home against a horrendous Rams o-line. If the defense can find a way to be a factor and disrupt the ever-so-shaky Kirk Cousins then I believe that they have a good chance of heading off to Houston 4-3. With Ziggy Ansah another week healthier, hopefully the pressure will be a little more consistent going forward.