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Lions vs. Panthers, notes: Defense gets coal in their socks

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Last week, Detroit Lions fans begged for a Christmas miracle. After a 1-6 start to the season, the Lions could be in for a playoff berth when the schedule rolls around Dec. 25. Everyone else did their job: the Giants lost, the Commanders lost, the Seahawks lost. Heck, even the Eagles lost!

But the Lions failed to mind their own business. In fact, they barely showed up for work. The Carolina Panthers took it for them from the kickoff in what was…in Dan Campbell’s own words– “an absolute ass kick”.

While there were some highlights on Saturday, I mostly agree with Campbell’s assessment. This was a complete beating. Let’s take a look at our Week 16 newsletter.

Quarterback: B+

Hard to place much blame on Jared Goff for this one. With no rushing game to help take the pressure off him, Goff completed 25 of 42 passes for 355 yards and three scores. He was able to push the ball downfield effectively and hit some deep shots. His 8.45-yard passing attempt was the seventh-highest of the week and third-highest among quarterbacks who have thrown 25+ times.

That said, the poorly made snap turned out to be extremely expensive. The Lions had the opportunity to open an advantage early on, which certainly could have changed the trajectory of the rest of the game. Whether it was Goff or center Frank Ragnow’s fault is up for debate, but it’s still up to Goff to make sure the ball doesn’t hit the ground.

Still, overall this was a very solid game from Goff, who showed resilience as he took some big hits, continued to have a solid pocket presence, and achieved all of this while weathering the cold weather narrative.

Runners back 😀

Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for 23 yards on 11 carries and both were essentially non-factors in the receiving game.

The Lions’ quick offense has been, more or less, dead for several weeks now, and while the offensive line certainly isn’t helping the situation, Detroit’s backs aren’t running confidently, nor are they breaking. any approaches. In fact, for the entire season, the Lions rank tied for 26th in yards after contact per rush (1.4) in rushing play.

Simply put, Lions need more of their back – a lot more.

Tight ends: B+

Shane Zylstra is one of perhaps two or three players who can hold their heads high with their performance on Saturday. In just 29 snaps, Zylstra caught five passes for 26 yards and three touchdowns – becoming only the second Lions tight end ever to catch three goals in one game (Joe Fauria). Rookie James Mitchell also threw for a career-high 31 yards, including a good 22-yard catch-and-run.

But tight ends struggled mightily to block, which remains a huge problem with this unit.

wide receivers: B

DJ Chark made several explosive plays, but Josh Reynolds’ takedown (and pass interference) late in the game basically sealed the Lions’ loss. Amun-Ra St. Brown continues to resist, getting some big hits but still holding the ball. Even Kalif Raymond broke loose on the Panthers’ secondary for a massive 56-yard gain.

However, one has to wonder when the Lions will actually drop Jameson Williams in the first round. He’s been active for a month but has only played 11 snaps this game, despite the Lions needing explosive plays to keep pace with Carolina. I understand taking it slow, but those are big games right now. If he’s as good as the amount of capital spent on him suggests, start building a game plan around the guy. Perhaps this deserves to go to the training section.

Offensive line 😀

Considering all the obvious passing the Lions found themselves on, I actually thought the pass protection worked well despite the two sacks and seven quarterback hits (many of which came on the final drive of the game). That said, the Panthers also had four passes hit the line.

Of course, the main failure of the offensive line of the Lions was another game where they were physically dominated in the running game. Detroit’s longest run by a back was 4 yards.

For a unit that has been talking all week about being snubbed in the Pro Bowl and using that as motivation, this was a hugely disappointing performance.

Defensive line: D-

In the first half alone, the Panthers rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns. At the end of the game, Carolina set a franchise record for total yards and rushing yards in a single contest with 570 total yards and 320 rushing yards.

According to the PFF, the Panthers had 139 yards before contact, meaning the Lions defensive line wasn’t even laying a hand on these guys until it was too late.

The only reason this isn’t an F is because things calmed down a bit in the second half. The Panthers “only” rushed for 80 yards on 21 carries (3.8 YPC) in the final two quarters.

Linebackers + Secondary: F

Let’s just lump these two together because it was up to them to hold off 5-10 yard runs rather than allow 15+ yard explosive plays on the ground. Mission failed. The Panthers had eight carries for 15+ yards over the course of the game.

The seven defenders were consistently out of position due to poor targeting, and on the rare occasions they played gap-sounding football, they missed tackles left and right. Even players who are normally good tacklers, like cornerback Jeff Okudah, were some of the biggest culprits on Saturday.

Per PFF, D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard combined for nine broken tackles on 39 carries — or one every 4.3 carries or more.

It didn’t get much better in coverage. Sam Darnold chewed up the secondary for 250 yards on just 22 passes (11.4 yards per attempt). The Lions were, once again, vulnerable to deep kicks, allowing completions from 47, 43 and 36 yards.

Special teams: B

Nothing really noteworthy happened on special teams, which is fine when it comes to punt and kick coverage.

Justin Jackson was good as a kick returner, averaging a solid 28.0 yards per return on four occasions. Michael Badgley had both kicks. But Kalif Raymond didn’t even have the opportunity to return the punt because of the Lions’ poor defense.

Coach: F

Nothing about what the Panthers did on Saturday came as a surprise. In fact, all week the coaching staff talked about exactly what they needed to do.

Campbell on Tuesday:

“They run after the ball and, offensively, they have an identity. They want to run football. They want an action pass. This (Panthers T Ikem Ekwonu) left tackle comes off the rock. This O line comes out of the rock. They have a stable of backs that are aggressive, downhill.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn on Wednesday:

“This is something we talk about every week as far as stopping the race. I know it’s a cliché, everyone says it, but it’s true of who we are and who we are. I’ve talked about our identity over the last few weeks, so we know what they want to do, they know who we are and what we want to do. And boy, is this going to be a good battle, this is going to be a good test of the men’s will on that field. And our guys will be up for the challenge.”

It’s fair to say that the Lions weren’t up for the challenge. Of course, part of the blame goes to the players themselves, because the coaches knew what the Panthers would be throwing at them. But at the same time, the Lions’ game plan wasn’t up to par defensively either.

The Panthers threw the Lions a lot of heavy looks, but Detroit stubbornly stayed on too many nickel packs, hoping their secondary would step up and help run support. But with Okudah not at his best, and DeShon Elliott replaced by an inexperienced (and ineffective) Ifeatu Melifonwu, that clearly wasn’t this week’s play.

Offensively speaking, I could throw a few criticisms here and there, but the biggest issue this side of the ball has faced has been the unit’s inability to keep the game going for a full two months. Personnel shouldn’t be the problem with a decent offensive line and somewhat capable runners. However, Detroit has not seen any progress here and seems to be getting worse.

If this team really wants to compete in December and January football, displays like this are completely unacceptable.

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