The Detroit Lions won their first complete game of the year on Sunday, beating the New Orleans Saints 28-13 in the Superdome. For once, the story of the game was the defenses’ ability to create takeaways and hold an explosive offense at bay.
Three out of the four safeties that played significant snaps picked off Drew Brees, who had a dismal day. This is the game that Lions fans have wanted to see all season. The offense started hot, with Stafford completing a team-record 13 passes in a row at one point. The defense forced two key 3rd down stops early to set the tone, and held the 6th ranked DVOA rushing offense to 50 total yards.
The Lions are now 8-4, and have a legitimate shot at a first round playoff bye. Imagine reading this after the loss to the Chicago Bears earlier this season. What a turnaround. Read about the best game the Lions have played this year, with the good, the bad, and the ugly of Sunday.
If I were to single out every player on the defense that played their best game of the year, I would never get out of this section. Haloti Ngata, Kerry Hyder, Devin Taylor, Josh Bynes, Miles Killebrew, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, and A’Shawn Robinson all played outstanding. New Orleans was the 4th best offensive DVOA team in the league before Sunday. The Lions made them look decidedly average.
Credit goes to Teryl Austin as well. For how bad the defense has looked for most of the year, he has found a combination, a solution, to slow down opposing offenses lately. This was by far his best-coached game of the year. If only they could cut out the first half of seasons where they look like they’ve never played together. Also, this is an incredible feat:
For my money, this was Golden Tate’s best game of the season. Early in the day, he made a contested, one-handed catch in perfect coverage for 35 yards. Later in the game, he caught a 66 yard touchdown pass from an absolute beauty of a pass from Stafford. In between, he did his usual Golden Tate things of making defenders look like they are on ice skates. With Marvin Jones being a late scratch, Tate stepped up like the best receiver on the team he is.
Let’s keep it real for a moment. Jim Caldwell coached his ass off this game. He knew he needed to keep Brees off the field. The Lions had more than 13 minutes of possession than the Saints. He knew the offense needed to move the ball methodically, and the team’s first five scoring drives took more than four minutes off the clock. Credit to Jim Caldwell is over due in this article’s series. He’s a coach of the year candidate, and believe me, I’m as shocked as you that I just typed those words.
Anquan Boldin’s 3rd down proficiency
While we’re on the topic of giving credit where credit is due, Brandon Finley’s article on Anquan Boldin was timed to perfection. Boldin made difficult catches look routine, and had a few absolutely key 3rd down catches to keep the offense going. He has been a critical free agent pickup for Bob Quinn this year.
While I am not drinking the amount of spiked kool-aid that Bucky Brooks is, I do believe that, through the first 13 weeks of the season, Matthew Stafford is the MVP of the league. No other player is playing as well as he is, with as little weapons at his disposal, at such a consistent rate.
Another week, another ho-hum 111.3 QB rating for Stafford. What was most impressive though, was that he did all this inside of the gameplan that Caldwell and company set up. Run the clock, keep possession, and score points. Without a running game until Zach Zenner (???) showed up, Stafford was lethal completing passes for positive yards while keeping the clock moving.
And how could anyone forget the touchdown to Tate, a delicately placed touch pass while being pelted by a 300lb lineman in the biggest moment of the game? Before, I have described a few of Stafford’s passes this year as marriage-worthy. Frankly, I want to grow old with this one. Kids, country house with a white picket fence type of growing old. Grand-kids, great-grand kids, forgetting my grand-kids and great-grand kids’ names type of growing old. It looks like Martha Ford feels the same way.
This is my quarterback. He is the MVP.
Matthew Stafford’s touchdown throw to Golden Tate
Yes, I am giving this an entire section. Watch it again, and again, and again, and tell me I am over-zealous. What a perfect throw.
Bob Quinn’s first year’s rookie draft class has been sublime. Taylor Decker has been the best rookie left tackle in the league. A’Shawn Robinson has tipped so many passes that he deserves a nickname from it. Graham Glasgow has been playing better than his right guard counterpart. Miles Killebrew has changed the defense. Antoine Williams has been competent starting games. Anthony Zettel is improving. Dwayne Washington is getting involved. The rookies have been a revelation this year, and are a huge reason for this run of wins the Lions have been on.
Jim Bob Cooter’s use of Theo Riddick
Most fans remember Theo Riddick eviscerating a Saint’s defender last year. Most also thought that Riddick would play a large part in the passing offense today, considering the Saint’s defense and linebackers are below average. However, Riddick was relegated to dump offs in the flat and shotgun draws up the middle for most of the game. Cooter was the mastermind of Riddick being the best receiving back in the league last year, so it is confusing why this year has been below par through 13 weeks.
To be honest, it was tough to find many bad aspects of this game. Rafael Bush did not have a terrible game by any means, but during one drive near the end of the first half, he had a terrible series. Brees found Brandon Cooks with a deep pass that had Bush literally turning around in circles. The next play he missed a tackle on a screen pass that went for an extra 7-8 yards. Not a bad game overall by any means from Bush, but with the other three safeties producing game-changing plays, it was not the best day for Bush.
Stalling in the Redzone
Reiterating my point from above, it was very difficult to come up with anything in this category, so I will keep it brief. For most of the game, the Lions’ offense was moving the ball easily, but stalling in the red zone. At times, it looked like Caldwell was playing conservative there, but I believe it to be a lack of execution more than anything else. Five field goals against one of the league’s top offense often will come back to bite a team. Luckily the defense stepped up in a big way to make sure that did not matter. Still, it is an area of concern going forward.
The Lions are now 8-4, still leading the NFC North over the Green Bay Packers. Their next game is against the Chicago Bears, who frustrated the Lions that last time they played each other. However, the Lions are a different team than the last time these two teams faced off. However to that however, this Lions team is capable of the same lows as highs, but will be keen to not have one of the three worst teams in the league sweep them. Enjoy the ride, Lions fans. This year is special.