Ash Thompson Gives His Grades For The Detroit Lions’ Performance In 2016.
Stage two of the inaugural season of Bob Quinn‘s tenure as the GM of the Detroit Lions is complete. The Lions posted a 9-7 record when many pundits predicted they would challenge for the first pick in the upcoming draft. The Lions had players that exceeded fan expectations significantly as well as many that fell short.
The vast majority of the Lions players however are exactly what we thought they were. I will go position by position and rate the performance of each group during the regular season, giving them a letter grade. First the offense today, I shall do my best to provide background for my opinion where I feel it is required.
Jim Bob Cooter had good moments and bad over the course of the season, but the offense failed to put together a full game performance in most cases. Even when healthy, the Lions offense struggled to start many games, and were unable to consistently move the ball against most of their opponents.
The loss of Ameer Abdullah undoubtedly limited the Lions skill level in the running game. The Lions running backs showed that they were not going to be successful in the offensive scheme running the ball repeatedly, but changes were few and short lived. In the passing game, Cooter failed to get players involved in many games and showed a tendency to over-think things at times. The Lions abandoned aspects of the offense that had been successful in the first half before the opposition’s adjustments had proven effective in stopping them.
This is really a grade for Matthew Stafford, as no other Lions QB was particularly involved in the 2016 regular season. There were two Staffords this year, before and after an injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand. Obviously an injury is not the player’s fault, but this is a performance grade. This is not a gauge of how hard he tried.
This team will go as far as Matthew Stafford can drag them in the playoffs. If the final games of the regular season are any indication, it will not be very far. There was a time when Stafford was spoken of as a possible MVP candidate in 2016. Such talk relied on late game heroics and swinging above his weight class more than actual merit.
Stafford threw five of his ten interceptions in the final three and a half games of the season. Increased quality of competition and the injury contributed to his late season drop off. Stafford had an up and down season, but it was mostly up.
Running Backs: D
The Lions had only a single running back average over four yards per carry and he was on IR after week two. The loss of Ameer Abdullah ended the Lion’s hopes for a credible threat on the ground. The remaining running backs were unable to consistently find holes when they were available. They were unable to create yardage for themselves when holes were not there.
Even with Zach Zenner’s performance in the final two games he still managed only 3.8 yards per cary. Theo Riddick posted a career high of 3.9 yards per carry but was unable to stay healthy, missing several games during the regular season and going on IR before week sixteen. Rookie Dwayne Washington had only two fewer carries than Riddick but gained 94 fewer yards.
Each running back failed to perform consistently when given the opportunity. The only thing preventing the position group from getting an F is that they did well as outlets for Stafford in the passing game. Lions running backs had 89 receptions for 699 yards on the year. Because of their positive role in the passing game, the Lions running backs receive a D.
Wide Reveivers: A
The Lions were ninth in the NFL in passing attempts, spreading the ball around to multiple targets this season. Each of their receivers played a specific role in the offense and met reasonable expectations for their pay grade. The entire group costs less than Calvin Johnson would have were he to have played in 2016, making their individual performances more than adequate and their performance as a group exceptional.
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones lived up to their billing as 1a and 1b receivers. Anquan Boldin reminded us that he is a future Hall of Famer. Jones and Boldin essentially split the situational role Johnson had filled previously for the Lions. Jones primarily filled the role of deep threat and Boldin was the Lion’s primary possession receiver. Golden Tate led the team in receptions and was second among NFL receivers in yards after the catch, having been the Lion’s primary weapon in the very short passing game.
The Lions WR corp was one of the best in the NFL.
Tight Ends: C –
The tight end position group had their positives and negatives. Bob Quinn constantly churned through players on the active roster of the Lions at this position. No player made their presence felt other than Ebron.
Their collective run blocking was bad enough at times that the offense utilized Corey Robinson and Cornelius Lucas at times rather than a tight end to block. Ebron recorded career highs in receptions (10th among tight ends), yards (eighth), and yards per catch (9th among tight ends with 30+ catches) but completely disappeared in the red zone, catching only a single touchdown pass.
Ebron’s individual grade would be higher than this but the complete inability of the rest of the revolving cast to make a positive impact over the course of the season leads to a minimal passing grade.
Offensive line: D
The Detroit Lions were the 21st ranked offense in the NFL. They ranked 17th in yards per play, 11th in passing yardage. However, they were 30th in rushing yardage and 27th in yards per rushing attempt. They allowed the 11th most sacks despite an offense that specialized in short passes.
The Lions have an incredibly young offensive line, without a single player having more than four seasons of experience going into the 2016 season. Some players had good years, namely rookie tackle Taylor Decker, and third year center Travis Swanson. Others struggled, each guard the Lions deployed had a few terrible games. Riley Reiff had a solid season overall, with performances ranging from dominant to slightly below average.
In the running game, the Lions were unable to consistently open holes. Both groups were culpable for the Lion’s inability to run the ball. That was the anchor that weighted the team down offensively for the entire season. As a result of poor blocking in the running game and consistent break downs against the pass rush, the offensive line as a whole gets a D for the season.
Overall Offensive Grade: C+
The Lions were an average to slightly above average offense this season. They had ups and downs; they were nothing special in 2016. The team lost its most dynamic runner and never recovered a running game. From drive to drive the team would alternate between dominant and horrendous. The offense has young depth at most positions and is well set up to improve in the future.
The picture remains incomplete for now however. Coaches and players are discovering what they are going to be as a unit. Jim Bob Cooter’s offense took a step back in 2016 from the heights it reached in the second half of 2015. A step forward will require additions to the running back, tight end, and offensive line groups.