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Detroit Lions: First Quarter Grades

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Detroit Lions: First Quarter Grades
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Average. 

That's the best way I can put it. After four games, the Lions are an average football team. As a fan, I couldn't be happier.

Look, this team starts four, and depending on what happens at linebacker, maybe five rookies. Lining up next to those rookies are second and third year players. Next to those players are veteran immigrants who came to the New World to find a better life. The leader of this new colony: a rookie head coach.

That is not really the recipe for a dynasty.

So with that, patience is in order. Still, here are my grades for the Lions after one quarter of this new season.

Quarterbacks

As one of Daunte Culpepper's biggest supporters to start the season, I am happy to admit I was wrong about Matthew Stafford. I was looking at his college stats and was thinking, if this is what he did in college, how can he improve in the NFL

Well, somehow, he did improve. Quickly.

He has been more accurate then I could have predicted. Sure the Saints game was a nightmare, but each week he has proven he can bounce back. He showed good improvement the following week, reducing his picks while increasing his completion percentage and throwing his first career touchdown pass. As a rookie quarterback, what more can you ask for considering he is playing against top notch defenses?

I look forward to seeing more improvement because I dont see this knee injury as that big of a setback.

Grade: B

Running backs

This unit has to be the biggest question mark besides the offensive line, but you could also say they go hand-in-hand. Every other week the running game makes you think they are turning the corner, but they take a step back the following week. 

Kevin Smith, who is averaging a mediocre 3.2 ypc, is not having the type of season he was expecting. Against the Vikings, he fought for 83 yards and followed that up with 101 yards on 16 carries against Washington before going out with a shoulder injury.  Unfortunately, he only managed 30 yards on 19 carries against a very determined Chicago defensive front (we will get you for this Rod Marinelli.)

Maurice Morris, who was aquired this off-season, seems to be nothing more than a change-of-pace back that defenses ignore when he comes into the game. He didn't get a carry in week one and averages nine yards/carry in games with two carries or less.

But, after Smith went out with an injury against Washington and he became the feature back, he only managed 10 yards on eight attempts. And that's after Smith carved them up for 6.3 yards/carry. So, as long as the defense doesn't think he will get the ball, he will be fine.

Detroit's sixth round pick, Aaron Brown, has been just as non-productive. As a third-string player, not much is expected of him, but his speed makes it hard to keep him off the field.  Somehow, however, he has managed to give the coaches a reason because he has been benched as the team's starting kick returner. 

The verdict is still out.

Grade: C

Wide Recievers/Tight Ends

This might be one of the strongest units on the team.  We all know Calvin Johnson is a monster.  He is currently averaging 15.5 yards/catch , while Bryant Johnson, Will Heller and Brandon Pettigrew each have over 13 yards/catch; Heller and the Johnsons each also have a touchdown apiece.

I was expecting Dennis Northcutt to make more of an impact in a Wes Welker type role, but we'll see how much he will contribute as the season progresses.

After a sluggish start, Pettigrew has grown into Stafford security blanket, and why not? He stands 6'5" and weighs in at 263 pounds; all that and he still displays amazing athleticism. 

Again, as the season progresses, I can see him becoming a household name.  Well, at least in Michigan.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

I have tried all preseason and so far this season to give this unit the benefit of the doubt, but now I just doubt they can get it done on a consistent basis.  Maybe, and I hope this is the case, the Chicago game was an aberration.  I really do not see that as a stretch when you consider the line is pretty much the same as last year and Rod Marinelli is a defensive line guru. 

I'm sure he is very familiar with the players on the Lions roster and understood how to exploit them.

If I'm wrong, then this offense is in trouble.  We have already discussed how the Lions running backs are suspect—with the exception of Kevin Smith—so the play of the line is paramount. So far, not so good.

Grade: C

Defense

Since each group relies on the other and has to be a cohesive unit, and they have pretty much been the same I will just lump them together for one grade. 

The line has been okay at best.  They held Adrian Peterson to 92 yards and Clinton Portis to 42 in consecutive weeks, but gave up 143 yards to Mike Bell of New Orleans and another 121 to Chicago's Matt Forte.  Neither back is of elite level but looked the part against the Detroit defense. 

The linebacking unit has been pretty average as well.  They haven't been bad, but nothing really outstanding, either. Julian Peterson has been silent all season with no real impact in either game.  Larry Foote has been solid and looks like a real leader on defense, but its DeAndre Levy who looks to be making a name for himself.  After two good showings in his first starts, he is making waves about replacing Ernie Sims, while making it hard for the coaches to leave him off the field.

The secondary, however, has been abysmal. The defense ranks 21st in pass defense and the unit as a whole gives up 33.5 points per game. Now, the New Orleans and Chicago games skew those numbers a little, but for the most part numbers don't lie. And 11 touchdown passes in four games is terrible. 

I admit however, that the team has been pretty good in getting teams off the field on third down, with opposing offenses only converting 33 percent of their attempts.

Grade: C-

Not too bad for a mid-term report, but definitely room for improvement. After all, we're talking about the Lions here.

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