Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Bustling backfield, dominant defense command high marks

Detroit News

Jacksonville, Fla. — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 34-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford wasn’t particularly sharp, placing several throws behind his receivers throughout the contest, but he was good enough to get the job done. His best completions came downfield, including a 48-yard bomb to Kenny Golladay on a free play, after the Jaguars jumped offside. Grade: B+

Running backs

Fans have been clamoring for more touches for second-round pick D’Andre Swift, and those cries only figure to grow louder after the rookie’s breakout performance. He earned a season-high 14 carries against the Jaguars and turned that into the team’s first 100-yard performance in more than a year, fueled by a huge, 54-yard romp at the end of the first quarter.

Adrian Peterson continued to start and contributed an additional 58 yards from scrimmage, including a 1-yard touchdown run. Grade: A

Wide receivers/tight ends

Golladay paced the Lions with 105 yards on four grabs. On the aforementioned 48-yarder, he did his best Calvin Johnson impression, making a late adjustment before going up over a pair of defensive backs in coverage.

The rest of the pass-catching contributions were spread around, with no other receiver or tight end hauling in more than two balls. T.J. Hockenson had an early drop that would have set the Lions up in the red zone, but made up for it with a touchdown catch in the second half. Grade: B-

Offensive line

The downside of the performance were too many penalties, a couple of which killed drives, but given the revolving door due to injuries, Detroit’s front did an impressive job holding things together.

Stafford was hit four times, but wasn’t sacked, and the ground game was highly productive with 180 yards on the day. Not bad considering the team had to use all eight of their dressed linemen. Grade: B

Defensive line

Detroit talked all week about the importance of stopping the run and the group stepped up to the challenge, holding productive rookie James Robinson to a season-low 29 yards on 12 carries.

The effectiveness in that area opened up opportunities for the pass rush. And while the Lions only tallied one sack, they routinely made things uncomfortable for Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew, leading to several errant throws, including one that was intercepted. Grade: A-

Linebackers

The linebackers unquestionably contributed to slowing down Robinson, as well as some of the pressure on Minshew with well-executed blitzes. Tackling angles was one of the spots the Lions still need to clean up. Jahlani Tavai took a bad one on a Minshew scramble that resulted in Jacksonville’s first touchdown. Grade: B

Secondary

There were a couple blown tackles in the secondary as well, from Tracy Walker whiffing on a third-down conversion to Duron Harmon bouncing off a receiver that contributed to a 51-yard gain. Rookie Jeff Okudah also got beat early on a double-move for a 35-yard gain that led to a field goal.

But overall, Detroit’s coverage was solid beyond its mistakes. Harmon perfectly played his center field role to snag his second interception of the year, part of five total pass defenses in the back end.  Grade: B+

Special teams

Matt Prater made two field goals, but missed another long one, sending a 57-yarder with plenty of distance wide left. Punter Jack Fox didn’t see much action, but bounced both of his punts into the end zone. Those touchbacks are going to hurt his league-best net average coming into the game.

Where Detroit’s special teams truly shined was on kickoff coverage. The Jaguars mustered just 14.8 yards on the four they brought back. Grade: B-

Coaches

It can be easily argued jobs were on the line heading into this game. With their backs against the wall, the Lions coaches kept the team focused, dialed up a good game plan and kept their foot on the gas through the fourth quarter, never threatening to surrender another double-digit lead. 

Sure, there are things to nitpick, like the decision not to attempt a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, or to kick a 57-yard field goal, unnecessarily giving the Jaguars good field position. But the Lions defense temporarily fixed many of their season=long problems, Swift was far more involved in the game plan and the team rolled to an easy, 18-point victory.

Let’s give some credit where credit is due.  Grade: A

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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