Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Porous defense can’t stop 49ers’ attack

Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance after the team’s 41-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Quarterback

Through the better part of the afternoon, Jared Goff’s performance was maddening. He misfired on a throw to rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown deep down the sideline where an accurate ball likely results in a touchdown. Instead, the team ended up with no points on the drive. And with things still close near the end of the the first half, Goff made an ill-advised throw into triple coverage that was picked and returned for a touchdown.

At one point, Goff had thrown the ball 40 times and barely had more than 200 yards. Much as it was reported all offseason, he struggled to work the ball downfield. But he does get some credit for leading a pair of touchdown drives in the final two minutes, giving the Lions a shot to tie it. Unfortunately, his final pass, a fourth-down throw, ended nowhere near a potential target, ending the game. Grade: D

Running backs

From start to finish, the running backs had a positive impact on the game. Jamaal Williams ran decisively, gaining 54 yards on nine carries. And D’Andre Swift ran well, as well, including back-to-back gains of 15 and 16 yards.

In the passing game, both Williams and Swift were highly involved, combining for 16 receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. Swift showed off his electric open-field ability on the 43-yard score, easily besting the deep safety he had to beat one-on-one.

About the only bad thing we can say about the tandem is Williams lost his footing on a fourth-down carry, failing to convert. Grade: A-

Wide receivers/tight ends

As you might have expected if you’ve been following this team through the preseason, T.J. Hockenson paced Detroit’s passing attack with eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets.

The receivers struggled to get involved early, but that appeared more to do with the game plan and Goff’s comfort level than their ability to get separation. Kalif Raymond led the group with 50 yards on three grabs, including an impressive 20-yarder on a back-shoulder fade late in the game. Quintez Cephus, getting some extra work due to an in-game injury to Tyrell Williams, scored a late touchdown and added a two-point conversion. Grade: C+

Offensive line

Without Taylor Decker, who was lost to injury during the week of practice, the offensive front held their own against a quality 49ers front four. Rookie Penei Sewell, debuting in place of Decker on the blindside, did a solid job slowing up Joey Bosa outside of one misstep on a run play that resulted in a tackle for a loss. Right tackle Matt Nelson didn’t have as smooth of an afternoon, including a disastrous drive in the first half, where he allowed pressure on back-to-back plays before getting flagged for holding on third down.

The middle of the line did a good job opening lanes for the back. Swift specifically praised Jonah Jackson’s block on the back’s long touchdown reception. Grade: B-

Defensive front

Detroit’s front struggled to generate meaningful pass-rush pressure and the edge protection against the run was equally shoddy, resulting in the 49ers averaging an impressive 9.3 yards per snap in the first half, playing a key role in the team’s 21-point advantage at the break.

Romeo Okwara recorded the lone quarterback pressure, but he also jumped offside and got pancaked by George Kittle on a 38-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter. Grade: D

Linebackers

When you give up yards and points at the kind of clip the Lions did, the entire unit is culpable. While the 49ers didn’t do a tremendous amount of damage across the middle, linebacker Alex Anzalone overcommitted on a run fake and was spun around on one of  Kittle’s longer catches of the day.

On the positive side of things, Jamie Collins fell on a fumbled snap early in the first quarter and Trey Flowers chased down receiver Deebo Samuel from behind to force a fumble in the closing minutes, giving the Lions a chance to complete an improbable comeback. Grade: D+

Secondary

Well, there’s plenty of room for improvement from Detroit’s young secondary. Starting cornerbacks Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah each broke up a pass, but gave up several long completions.

Okudah most notably got beaten on a 79-yard touchdown by Samuel after failing to get his head around and locate the underthrown deep pass. Oruwariye, meanwhile, struggled all day with his various assignments, giving up a pair of long catches to Samuel and a touchdown to Trent Sherfield.

More: Okudah’s ‘up-and-down’ game ends with injury to Lions cornerback

The safeties weren’t much better, particularly Will Harris, who twice took bad angles as the last line of Detroit’s defense, resulting in a pair of long touchdowns. He also got hit with a face mask penalty that helped get the 49ers in field goal range at the end of the first half.

Defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant has his work cut out for him this season. Grade: F

Special teams

There was more good than bad on special teams. Punter Jack Fox looked like his Pro Bowl self and kicker Austin Seibert flashed good leg strength, nailing a 49-yard field goal and just missing one from 51 that had plenty of distance.

Both kickoff and punt coverage units were solid and the Lions also managed to recover an onside kick, which has become nearly impossible since the league changed the rules on those plays a couple years back.

The biggest area of concern is the return game. Godwin Igwebuike struggled to get much going when handling kickoffs. He didn’t help himself, putting two on the ground. Grade: B

Coaches

Leading up the game, Dan Campbell expressed concern about whether he had done enough to have his guys ready for the challenge. Through 58 minutes, it certainty didn’t appear to be the case as the Lions were thoroughly outplayed before embarking on their comeback attempt.

That comeback does speak to the character and fight Campbell has managed to instill from the onset. It would have been easy for the Lions to roll over once down 28, but they didn’t.

Defensively, the Lions didn’t look any better than the franchise-worst performance they put forth a year ago. Offensively, the Lions showed some positive growth running the ball. That’s something they can build off, but, as Campbell noted in his postgame comments, they have to find a way to push the ball down the field more often.

It’s easy to like Campbell’s decision to go for it on fourth down twice. That kind of aggression and faith will resonate with players.  Grade: D

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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