MIDSEASON REPORT CARD
--PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus - Matthew Stafford has played some of the best football of his career over the last two months, to the point that he's an extended winning streak away from being a legitimate MVP candidate. Stafford's late-game heroics are well documented, but the Lions have struggled to move the ball at times against mediocre defenses like Chicago, Washington and Tennessee. Their receivers have had too many drops, and as Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans proved, they still have trouble getting separation against good cornerbacks. Marvin Jones was one of the best free-agent pickups of the offseason and Anquan Boldin has a couple big touchdowns, but injuries have cut into tight end Eric Ebron's production and Golden Tate was a ghost in the season's first four games.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - Running the football has been a chore for the Lions since Ameer Abdullah was lost to a foot injury in Week 2. Abdullah looked poised for a big year before he got hurt, but the Lions rank 27th in the NFL in rushing offense (85.5 yards per game) overall. Theo Riddick, when healthy, has handled the bulk of the backfield load with Abdullah out. He's flashed his big-play potential at times, but hasn't gotten a ton of volume. The Lions' offensive line is partly to blame for the struggles in the run game. Center Travis Swanson and left tackle Taylor Decker have played well overall, but left guard Laken Tomlinson was benched in favor of rookie Graham Glasgow and Riley Reiff has been inconsistent at right tackle. Backup running backs Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner haven't done enough to make an impact.
--PASS DEFENSE: D - The Lions have been atrocious against the pass this year, allowing a league-high-tying 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Their opposing passer rating is an NFL worst 113.7, they can't figure out how to cover tight ends and their pass rush has been spotty thanks in part to three-game injury-related absences of Ziggy Ansah and Haloti Ngata up front. Darius Slay did have a game-clinching interception against the Philadelphia Eagles, Glover Quin is one of the more underappreciated free safeties in the league and Kerry Hyder (five sacks) and Armonty Bryant (three sacks) have been surprise finds at defensive end. But the Lions are giving up too many yards through the air and can't seem to get off the field on third down. Plus, Bryant was suspended Tuesday for the next three games of the season.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus - While the Lions have mediocre numbers against the run - they rank 17th in the NFL at 110.6 yards per game allowed - that's definitely been the strong suit of their defense. The Lions held Todd Gurley to just 58 yards on 14 carries in a Week 6 win over the Rams and they've allowed just three rushing touchdowns this year. Defensive tackles Khyri Thornton and Stefan Charles have made big stops in short-yardage situations and Slay forced a crucial fumble late against the Eagles. But overall the Lions have had too many performances like Sunday, when they couldn't stop Lamar Miller and get off the field when they needed to most.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - Sam Martin is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season punting the ball. He averages 45.2 net yards per punt and is one of the better kickoff specialists in the league. Matt Prater hasn't been as consistent with field goals, missing three attempts (one on a bad snap) and one extra point. The Lions have been mostly excellent in punt coverage, with Martin and gunners Don Carey and Johnson Bademosi shining in their roles. Return man Andre Roberts has one punt-return touchdown and had a good day returning against the Texans, but the Lions have had far too many penalties on special teams.
--COACHING: C-minus - Jim Caldwell caught plenty of heat for two coaching decisions Sunday against the Texans, when he opted not to challenge a potential fumble by DeAndre Hopkins and tried a failed onside kick with just under three minutes to play and all three of his timeouts. Caldwell also missed a challenge in a loss to the Titans, when the team played its sloppiest game of the year with 17 penalties. He has taken more calculated risks on fourth downs, converting five of six attempts, and he once again kept the team together after a slow start. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter made creative use of his personnel when Riddick and Ebron were out with injuries, and he's tailored his offense well to Stafford's strengths and weaknesses. On defense, Teryl Austin's shine as a head-coaching candidate has tumbled with another tough season. He's been handicapped some by personnel issues, but the Lions' continued struggles against tight ends and their inability to stop mediocre quarterbacks is a concern.
Most Valuable Player: Quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford caught fire after Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator midway through last season, and he's continued his fine play this year. Through eight games, Stafford has 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, and is completing a career-best 67.7 percent of his passes. Most important, he's delivered in clutch situations, leading the Lions to three come-from-behind wins in October. He's the biggest reason the Lions are still in the playoff hunt.
Most Disappointing Player: Linebacker DeAndre Levy. This was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Levy, who missed all but one game last season because of a hip injury. Instead, the Lions' best linebacker has battled a knee injury all season and has once again barely played. With Levy out of the lineup, the Lions have struggled to cover tight ends in the pass game and are allowing 110 yards per game on the ground. Levy is expected back after the bye, but given his rust, there's no telling how effective he'll be when he returns.
Most Surprising Rookie: Left guard Graham Glasgow. This was supposed to be a learning year for Glasgow, a third-round pick out of Michigan who the Lions drafted to be their center of the future. But with last year's No. 1 pick, Laken Tomlinson, struggling at left guard, Glasgow was inserted into the starting lineup for a Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams and hasn't looked back. Glasgow hasn't been perfect, but he's an athletic blocker who can get to the second level in the run game and has held his own in pass protection. Whether he stays at guard or eventually moves back to center remains to be seen, but he's an important part of the Lions' offensive line.