Detroit Lions: 1st-Quarter Grades for Every Position

John Weeast@@johnweeastContributor IIIOctober 2, 2012

Detroit Lions: 1st-Quarter Grades for Every Position

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    Since I graduated from high school over 20 years ago, it's been awhile since I've had to even think about report cards. I just remember I hated them. 

    Progress reports don't tell you everything, but they can tell you about the direction you're heading. If the Detroit Lions were students, they'd be heading for catastrophic failure. 

    Only 14.7 percent of teams reach the playoffs after starting 1-3. That's an 85.3 percent chance of failure. 

    When faced with failure, students can either hunker down and do the work necessary to excel, or they can give up. 

    It's almost a gift that Detroit faces a bye this week. Let it stew in failure in a week and see how it comes out against the Philadelphia Eagles

    But that is the future. 

    It's time to look back and see how it actually did. Overall grades can be misleading. I'd give it a solid D. A stuttering offense, a lackluster defense and an atrocious special teams could be graded even worse. 

    But are they? 


    All statistics courtesy of


1 of 10

    Matthew Stafford is hard to grade this year. He's actually doing much better than a 1-3 record would indicate. 

    Only Drew Brees has dropped back to pass more than Stafford. No one has completed more passes than him. 

    The Lions are the No. 1 passing offense with 322 yards per game. 

    The biggest difference has been the lack of the big play and drops. Sixteen drops in four games and almost half (seven) coming against the Minnesota Vikings

    Matthew Stafford isn't the problem, but his decisions might be. Ever since the three-interception game against the Rams, Stafford hasn't been the gunslinger that we're used too. 

    He isn't taking the risks that made last year so special. He's playing tentative.

    He's playing not to lose. 

    That's not him, and that's not the Detroit Lions offense. Stretching a defense involves taking risks. He needs to stop being afraid to fail, like he was in 2011. 


    Grade: B

    He gets a little bit of a reprieve for the drops, but his decision-making is going to bring him down in future grading. 

    The dink-and-dunk style of football doesn't suit him or the team. 

Running Backs

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    The running backs have been consistent. They haven't bust out any long runs, but they've found the holes when the holes are actually there. 

    The enigma of the Detroit Lions running game is how much is on the backs and how much is on the offensive line. And despite the headlines, you might be surprised by who's been the most effective back. 


    Mikel Leshoure

    He's finally on the field after an injury kept him out last year, and a suspension sidelined him for the first two games this season. 

    His performance has had its ups and downs. He's shown greater speed at times than expected, but also has shown that he'll punish defenders that get in his way. 

    He's missed some holes due to lack of patience, but that comes with experience, so hopefully, he improves in that regard. 

    He's been surprisingly good in the passing game, which is something he wasn't involved in back at Illinois. He's actually forced more missed tackles after a reception than he has while carrying the ball. 

    Hopefully, that changes if he can get some daylight out of the backfield. 


    Joique Bell

    He's the local kid who finally got a chance. And he's making every bit of that chance. 

    Bell has been just as effective in the passing game as he has in the running game. He's forced more missed tackles after a reception than the rest of the backs combined. 

    He's getting far less snaps than Leshoure, but proving to be more elusive so far in those limited snaps. 


    Kevin Smith

    The question on everyone's mind is, where did he go? He was relegated to third-down back when Leshoure came back from his suspension after doing an admirable job as the starting running back. 

    But it wasn't that admirable. 

    Smith is OK when there's a hole in front of him. But so are the other backs. His problem comes with contact. He's always getting pushed back, whereas Leshoure and Bell always fall forwards. 

    Smith's upside was the passing game, but Bell has proven to be even more effective and that leaves Smith as one of the odd men out. 


    Keiland Williams

    Just a waste of a roster spot right now.  He's only seen 18 snaps out of the 309 the offense has run, and all of those have been pass-blocking or in the passing game. With only one rush, the writing's on the wall. 


    Grade: C-

    They are only average right now. Some blame can be placed on the offensive line, but when they have seen holes, they haven't taken full advantage of it. Something's just missing.

    They've gone 6-10 since losing Best last season. Maybe he really did draw more attention from defenses then we realized. Hopefully, he can be included and improve this grade at the half-point mark.

Wide Receivers

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    Defenses figured the Detroit Lions out. Play the safeties deep and force them to run or pass underneath. 

    And it's worked. At least it's worked at keeping them from trying. 

    The Lions only have 10 attempts of 20 yards or more. They've completed 50 percent of them, and 60 percent to Calvin Johnson

    Why not try more? 


    Calvin Johnson

    Defenses have done a good job keeping Johnson out of the end zone, but they're still giving up the yardage. Johnson has 423 yards, which is still near the top in the league. 

    With him still so successful, you have to wonder if Stafford's early interceptions are keeping him from trying to test defenses more. The fans would live with more interceptions if they were attempts deep. 

    I'd take a 60 percent to Johnson all day every day. 


    Nate Burleson

    After struggling last season with unneeded penalties and drops, Burleson is playing with new energy. He's laid out for tough catches and put himself in position to take some hits for those. 

    Many thought his time was done due to the size of his contract and another slot receiver being drafted, but it's given him a new life. He's responded to adversity. 

    He needs to create a little more separation, but the drops and problems with the offense aren't to be placed on him. 


    Titus Young, Sr.

    The silly surname is almost as infuriating as his performance. His maturity has infected his play. 

    Not only does he only show occasional effort, he's showing the effort when it doesn't matter. He needs to start showing up when it counts.

    If not for the Hail Mary reception that forced overtime, he'd be drawing the ire of fans much more consistently. He's not living up to his performance from last year. 

    He's the one player that needs to turn around immediately. He's a big key to the offense, and with Johnson drawing so much attention, he should be able to get free. He's not. 


    Ryan Broyles

    Most seem to expect more from him, but he's going to take time.  If Young continues to be ineffective, I'd love to see them move Nate back outside and let Broyles run free in the middle. 

    If there's one thing Broyles can do extremely well, it's creating separation. Running clean routes is something you can teach, but getting open is something that very few receivers can do with a lot of regularity. 

    We saw a glimpse of what he could do in the preseason, and it might be time to let him run. 


    Grade: B

    The receivers can't be blamed for the offensive mishaps in the first four games. They are responsible for six of the 16 drops, but half of those were to Calvin who was shaken up after a helmet-to-helmet hit late in the Vikings game. 

    They need to do a better job of getting open. 

Tight Ends

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    I think this picture sums up the problems of both the offense and the tight ends. 

    The tight ends have the dropsies. They account for half of the teams 16 drops and they've all come at crucial times. Two of those in the end zone. 


    Brandon Pettigrew

    The biggest culprit in the drop gate, Pettigrew has seemed to only get worse. In the past, he'd have a big drop, then come back and make a string of big catches. Now, he's dropping all the big catches. 

    His redeeming grace has always been that's he a dominant blocker, but even that has been dropping off. 

    If he doesn't get things turned around quickly, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lions use a mid-round pick on a TE.

    I can't see the trust level with Stafford sticking around if it continues. 


    Tony Sheffler

    Sheffler has been absent, both from the offense and the touchdown dance floor. 

    He was suffering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Tennessee game, but was only targeted once against the Vikings. 


    Will Heller

    Mr. Consistent. Nothing really to point out here. Doesn't stick out in a good or bad way. 


    Grade: F

    There's no way to sugarcoat this. This has been the worst group on offense. Half of the drops with such a small percentage of the targets is just sad and frustrating. 

    All three have been responsible for drive-ending drops. 

    If they don't improve, I think they need to get out of the two WR and two TE offensive sets and try some four wide receiver formations utilizing Broyles to try to create a spark. 

Offensive Line

5 of 10

    This is a group that is surprisingly good in one area and absolutely terrible in another. 

    In pass protection, the offensive line has shined. Only Buffalo, Cincinnati and Denver have been better. 

    But when it comes to the running game, the offensive line has been downright offensive. Opposing defenses are dropping eight men into coverage consistently. 

    Even with so few defenders at the line, they can't consistently open running lanes, and when they do, they can't effectively block at the next level. 


    Grade: C

    I can't even grade the players individually because it would be nothing but expletives. I will say that Stephen Peterman has been the worst of the bunch. In both aspects. 

    This is the unit that will see the most change next season. Raiola and Peterman need to go if this team wants to run the ball. Reiff will eventually replace Backus, but he's performing good enough to justify his playtime. 

    This is still a team that's throwing 75 percent of the time. 

Defensive Line

6 of 10

    The defensive line has been under a lot of fire for lack of pressure this season. In reality, they aren't doing that bad.  

    The main complaint last season was that they couldn't stop the run. They would go full boar at the QB, and that would create the holes that running backs exploited. 

    The solution was to look for the run, then go at the QB. The result has been a much better performance against the run, but average pressure in the passing game. 

    The problem is, being average leaves the depleted secondary exposed. 


    Cliff Avril

    After 11 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season, Avril held out this season for a long-term contract. Turning down a three-year, $30 million contract wasn't looked upon favorably by the fanbase. 

    So far, he's on pace for an eight-sack season if the recent back injury doesn't hamper his playing time. 

    Eight sacks won't make things any easier to receive that long-term contract he's looking for. 


    Ndamukong Suh

    Getting back to being dominant was his goal, and he's on track, but still tracking just slightly above-average. 

    He's still being taken out of plays too easily, and he's not as feared as he was his first year. He needs to get more consistent to live up to his and our expectations. 


    Corey Williams

    I'm not sure if the injuries are hampering his ability or he's just lost a few steps. He was usually the rock on the defensive line that allowed Suh to make an impact. 

    If he continues to play mediocre football, he will lose his starting spot permanently. 


    Sammie Hill

    By far, the best defensive tackle so far this season. He's outperforming both Williams and Fairley and giving Suh someone to take pressure off him on the line. 

    Should be the everyday starter. 


    Nick Fairley

    I'm starting to see why he slipped so far in the draft. He shows a glimpse of his potential, and then disappears. 

    Potential makes you interested in a player, but consistently talking about it means they still haven't reached it. 

    Extremely disappointing. 


    Kyle Vanden Bosh

    The old warrior is still the trucking. On pace for eight sacks, he hasn't shown any sign of slowing down. 

    So far, the neck injury hasn't cropped back up. 


    Lawrence Jackson

    Still one of the most effective defensive ends with limited snaps, he's just waiting for his chance. As long as Kyle stays healthy, Jackson will have to rely on the rotation.

    Seven snaps in four games doesn't make for a lot of opportunities.


    Willie Young

    An immediate fan favorite, Young has yet to flash this season. Only one hurry in 23 snaps doesn't sound like the Young we saw on the field last season.

    Hopefully, he can turn it around. 


    Grade: C-

    If the line were graded on QB pressure alone, it'd be an easy F. One of the main issues the past few seasons has been outside containment.

    Not this season. At least not yet. 

    They're still showing some vulnerability to the trap, but they're recognizing it much more quickly and stopping the big play. 

    QB pressures need to pick up. 

    A lot of the blame is being placed on the line, but the losses aren't their fault.

    When you hold a team to two field goals, how is that on the defense?


7 of 10

    This has to be the most improved unit on the team. They struggled last year against the run and looked sluggish in the passing game. 

    This year is a completely different story. 


    Stephen Tulloch

    He struggled with some missed tackles against the Vikings, but has been similar to the Tulloch most remember from Tennessee. 

    His lapse against the Titans with a personal foul in overtime was uncharacteristic. 


    Justin Durant

    Led the Lions in tackling up to the Minnesota Vikings game. 

    Except for the two chances he missed at Vernon Davis against the 49ers, has looked much improved over last season. 


    DeAndre Levy

    I don't even recognize Levy. The most improved player on the team, he leads the Lions in tackling. 

    He seemed slow in coverage and reaction time last year, but this year, he's showing burst, and his ability to read plays has allowed him to shine. 

    I've been impressed. 


    Grade: B

    While they've improved, they've still struggled. And it seems when this unit struggles, the entire defense gives up more yardage than it should. 

    Should put up tackling totals that we haven't seen in Detroit in more than a decade. 


8 of 10

    The corners have been more scrutinized than any position for the last few seasons. 

    But is it justified this year? 

    The corners have been scorched repeatedly for big scores in the past. This year has been different. Much different. 


    Chris Houston

    Missing the first two games due to injury, Houston returned for the Tennessee game and showed why he was missed. Opposing receivers might catch the ball, but they don't go very far after the catch. 

    He's allowed seven receptions, but only three yards after the catch. 

    Being the experienced corner doesn't scare away opposing quarterbacks, though. He's been targeted as many times as Bill Bentley with one fewer game. 


    Bill Bentley

    A rookie cornerback can make for some interesting moments. You understand they're learning, yet expect them to perform. 

    Bentley has performed. 

    Some will point at the two pass interference penalties, but they were both good coverage that he got too aggressive with. 

    I'd rather see a corner be aggressive while playing tight coverage than get beat by a double move. 

    He will struggle at times, but I'm impressed with what i've seen so far.


    Jacob Lacey

    I'm not sure if Lacey's problems have been getting used to the scheme or just lack of self confidence. He's performed relatively well, except for the one touchdown against Tennessee.  


    Drayton Florence

    He's one tough SOB. Playing through a broken forearm against the 49ers, he's earned my respect. 

    He also earned the respect of opposing quarterbacks because he was the lowest targeted cornerback before his injury. 

    He'll be eligible to return to practice by Week 6 and return to the field by Week 8. 


    Jonte Green

    Another rookie that is struggling in all aspects of the game. He has potential, but he's not ready yet. I think the fear of exposing him to waivers is the only reason he wasn't signed to the practice squad. You can't teach speed. 


    Grade: A

    I know this might shock some, but they're performing the best of the three levels of the defense. 

    They've given up the one touchdown to Nate Washington on a crazy catch behind Lacey's back and Green's against the Rams. They've kept everything else in check. 

    Through injuries and a different line up almost every week, they've played more consistently than we've seen in Detroit for some time. 

    When Florence returns from injury, this unit will only get better. 


9 of 10

    If you want to look at the unit that is bringing this defense down, look no further than the safeties. 

    From bad angles to poor tackling, this unit has done it all. 


    Louis Delmas

    I now know how Colts fans felt. Delmas just can't stay healthy. Even when he plays, he isn't consistent. He's the best safety on the team, but that isn't saying much. 

    Hopefully, he doesn't hurt himself again when he returns to the starting lineup. 


    Erik Coleman

    After a promising preseason and first two games, Coleman has completely tanked it. The 61-yard touchdown by Jared Cook was a result of him trying to go for the ball instead of the tackle. 

    He's been decent in run coverage, but not good enough to overlook the rest. 

    Against the 49ers, when Justin Durant pursued Vernon Davis, Coleman should have covered the cutback lane. Instead, he followed the same path and allowed Davis to cut back for an easy touchdown. 


    John Wendling

    He needs to go back to special teams. He's stepped up and filled the role with Delmas out and Spievey underperforming, but some of the mistakes have simply made me scratch my head. 

    Covering Vernon Davis, he didn't start his turn until Davis had already reached him. No one can turn and get up to speed in time. He has to react quicker. 

    On the Nate Washington touchdown, he reacted slowly and actually dove late and in the wrong place. He was trying to anticipate the tip instead of going for the sure tackle. 

    Simply not good enough. 


    Amari Spievey

    After showing promise last season, Spievey got caught in the coach's doghouse for lacking the ability to adapt. Continuing to repeat the same mistakes over and over is unacceptable. 


    Ricardo Silva

    From practice squad to starting lineup, Silva has played better than any of the other safeties this season. He didn't get beat and he just simply did his job. 

    It's actually funny how simple that concept is. Do your job. 


    Grade: F

    By far the worst unit on the team. Even worse than special teams. 

    OK, maybe not that bad. 

Special Teams

10 of 10

    The look that says it all. 

    This unit has been completely embarrassing. When you start pooch kicking on kickoffs, you know there's a problem. 

    Grade: F- - -

    That's not a typo; that's really three minuses. That's how bad this unit has been. 

    To be the first in NFL history to give up both punt and kickoff touchdowns in consecutive weeks is the type of feat that gets head coaches fired. 

    But not in Detroit. 

    Danny Crossman's job is safe somehow. 

    The blame can't be put entirely on Crossman, but it starts there. Players need to stick to their lanes, and again, do their jobs. 

    According to former Lion Zack Follett, it comes down to attitude. 


    Dang. Special teams comes down to attitude and No one on the Lions wants to be on ST and this is the result

    — Zack Follett (@ZakarianFollett) September 30, 2012

    Do the players have the attitude to get it done? 

    Kassim Ossgood thinks so. 


    All the pressure of carrying the load makes me turn into a Special Teams Beast. The door is now unlocked. Be prepared for what comes next...

    — Kassim Osgood (@kassimosgood81) October 2, 2012


    Can that attitude spread to everyone else? 

    I sure hope so.