Here are my grades for the Detroit Lions/Carolina Panthers game this past Sunday.
Despite holding a 10-0 lead early in the contest, the Lions were unable to stop the Panthers' potent rushing attack and ultimately fell 31-22. The Lions dropped to 0-10 for the third time in franchise history, most recently starting 0-12 in 2001.
Listen, I know this grade might seem generous, but the offense scored first for the first time this season, had a 100-yard rusher, and the quarterback scored through the air and on the ground.
If not for a no-call on a two-point conversion try, the Lions could’ve very well been tied with Carolina with six minutes left in the game. Culpepper threw two interceptions, one costly, and fumbled to ice the game, but he wasn’t completely to blame for either mistake and had only 12 days in the offense at game time.
Calvin Johnson altered his route on what he called “a miscommunication,” resulting in the pick and rookie RT Gosder Cherilus let Julius Peppers go untouched to the QB on the fumble.
Overall, the offense moved the ball well against a good defense and scored some points. One negative was that they didn’t stretch the field much, only attempting one long pass to Calvin Johnson, which was overthrown, and another late in the game to John Standeford that was good for 32 yards.
Johnson scored in the first quarter on a beautiful 29-yard grab of a ball that was low and a bit off target. He has scored a touchdown in five of the last six contests, an amazing feat given the unstable QB situation over that stretch. Johnson is quietly posting a Pro-Bowl-worthy season with 45 receptions for 839 yards and seven touchdowns, with six games left to play.
Rookie running back Kevin Smith is also turning in a good rookie season and really seems to be catching his stride. The NCAA's leading rusher from a season ago is averaging an impressive 4.4 yards per carry on 117 attempts for 513 yards and five touchdowns.
He also continues to be an option in the passing game with 27 receptions for 212 yards.
They started out well, forcing two quick three-and-outs, which allowed the Lions to get up 10 points early, but they quickly reverted to their typical ways. The Panthers ran all over them to the tune of a franchise record 264 yards.
It was also the first time in Panthers history with two backs over 100-yards rushing in the same game. The Lions' defense seemingly had no answer for the attack and repeatedly allowed the Panther backs into the second and third level before being touched.
Combined, the Panthers hit the Lions for a staggering 8.3 yards per carry.
The Lions did force one turnover, a strip of Steve Smith after a short reception, but didn’t come up with any big stops when the team really needed them.
Tackling remains to be the biggest issue with this team. I won’t go into it, but it was atrocious again.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Jason Hanson tied his career high and Lions team record with a 56-yard FG in the first half. He also passed Nick Lowery for eighth place on the NFL's career scoring list with 1,714 points. This guy is ageless and tremendous. The special teams get an A on principle this week.
Cason did a pretty good job on KRs and had a big gainer that he almost broke. The coverage team also was solid; however, Anthony Cannon was called for a foolish penalty.
This grade is too low for the offense, but it’s a package deal. Coaching in all facets, not just one or the other.
The offensive gameplan was pretty good and they improved again in balancing the attack. Kevin Smith got a nice number of carries and delivered his first career 100-yard effort. The one issue was that they should’ve went downfield more; however, they may have purposely not done that because of the Panthers great pass rush.
Defensively, it was a completely different story. They knew that the Panthers would be trying to run it all over them and still allowed them to do it. It is inconceivable to the point that the Panthers probably could’ve let the Lions in their huddle and still found success.
This unit has some high draft picks on it that aren’t performing up to snuff. Coach Marinelli, being a defensive coach, needs to take a hard look at some of these guys and figure out how to get more out of them. With even a slightly better performance by these guys, this team would not be winless right now.
*Article photo by AP photographer Rick Havner*