Detroit Lions grades in loss to Green Bay Packers: LBs completely fail; DBs not much better

Detroit Free Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 35-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night:

Quarterback

Jared Goff got off to an excellent start, completing 13 of his first 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Goff threw a beautiful touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson in the back of the end zone and could have had another one just before halftime had Amon-Ra St. Brown better timed his jump. But Goff had two turnovers in the second half, another fumble slip out of his hands on third down, and appeared to have issues with clock management. He said he thought the play clock started too early on a couple occasions, but whatever the case the Lions had to take a second-half timeout from the sideline and Goff had a delay-of-game penalty. Goff was efficient passing the ball early, but I’d like to see him uncork more shots downfield. Grade: C-plus.

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Running backs

The Lions got just modest rushing production from tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams (a combined 62 yards), but Swift showed snippets of the playmaking ability that made him one of the top backs in last year’s draft. Swift finished with 78 yards from scrimmage, including 41 on four receptions. Williams (seven carries, 25 yards) made a key block in pass protection to give Goff enough time on his 46-yard pass to Quintez Cephus on the game’s opening drive, but was not as impactful a part of the offense as he was against the 49ers last week. Grade: B-minus.

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Receivers/tight ends

Hockenson had his second straight eight-catch game, the highlight of which was a lunging touchdown grab to beat good coverage from De’Vondre Campbell. Hockenson did have a false start as a part of a penalty-marred drive in the second quarter, but he is the Lions’ most impactful receiving option. Cephus made three of his four catches in the first half and did a good job uncovering from his defender on his long grab in the first quarter. He almost made the play of the game, when he narrowly missed a one-handed touchdown catch just before halftime. Cephus was quiet in the second half, though, and Kali Raymond (two catches, 18 yards) did not have much of an impact as the Lions’ other starting receiver. Grade: C

Offensive line

Even without Taylor Decker, the Lions’ offensive line has been as good as advertised through two weeks. Green Bay had one official sack (when the ball slipped out of Goff’s hands) and the line allowed one other meaningful pressure, when Preston Smith beat Matt Nelson to force Goff into an intentional grounding penalty. Halapoulivaati Vaitai had the key block on Williams’ 8-yard run on the second touchdown drive, and rookie Penei Sewell held up well in his second career start at left tackle. The line could be a little more overpowering in the run game — Swift and Williams averaged 4.1 yards per carry — but overall the group had another solid day. Grade: A-minus

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Defensive line

The Packers had success running the ball on their opening drive, but the Lions did a better job overall of setting firm edges than they did in last week’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Nose tackle Alim McNeill (three tackles) overpowered Packers center Josh Myers to stop A.J. Dillon on the opening drive and was a big reason the Lions held the Packers to 3.5 yards per carry (before Jordan Love’s three kneel-downs). Nick Williams and Trey Flowers were the beneficiaries of a coverage sack that ended the Packers’ second offensive series, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spun into a Michael Brockers sack in the second half. Williams (five tackles) did overrun Robert Tonyan on a tight end screen in the first quarter, but hustle plays like that can be overlooked. Grade: B

Linebackers

The Lions have major issues at linebacker. Alex Anzalone made a team-high 10 tackles, but he got beat on Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Tonyan in the third quarter and was called for a defensive holding penalty. Jamie Collins got beat on another touchdown, when he was a step slow reacting to Rodgers’ 11-yard pass to Jones, and Rodgers completed a third-and-14 pass to Randall Cobb between both linebackers. Even when Collins showed good recognition on a misdirection toss to Jones on the opening drive, he wasn’t able to make a timely stop on the play. Flowers was effective rushing as a down lineman, but he couldn’t get off a block by receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the 13-yard screen to Jones that set up the Packers’ second touchdown. Grade: F

Secondary

The season is two weeks old and the Lions already have reached a critical mass at cornerback. A week after losing Jeff Okudah to a torn Achilles, his replacement, Ifeatu Melifonwu, suffered a thigh injury that likely will keep him out multiple weeks. Melifonwu did not look out of place in his first career start. He had good coverage on Valdes-Scantling when Rodgers challenged him early (though he didn’t turn his head and the pass hit the back of his helmet), but he did get beat for a 50-yard gain on third-and-12. Lions coach Dan Campbell said he was pleased with how Bobby Price played as Melifonwu’s replacement. Tracy Walker couldn’t hold onto an interception and got caught on a pick on Jones’ second touchdown catch. Jerry Jacobs had a costly pass interference penalty on a first-and-20 pass to Tonyan. And Amani Oruwariye got pinned inside on a block by Allen Lazard on Jones’ first touchdown and was called for two penalties, including a shaky pass interference call in the fourth quarter. Grade: D-plus

Special teams

Jack Fox netted a hefty 53.5 yards on his two punts, in part because Jalen Reeves-Maybin made a great tackle on Amari Rodgers on the first punt of the game. Price was called for one false start penalty, but the Lions were mostly solid in the few special teams reps they had. Austin Seibert made his only field goal try from 43 yards, Raymond had a 10-yard punt return and scooped up another bouncing ball to give the Lions an extra yard or two of field position, and Godwin Igwebuike’s 33-yard return just before halftime helped set up Seibert’s kick. One negative: The kickoff coverage was below par. Grade: B

Coaching

Dan Campbell rolled the dice and failed trying to convert a fourth-and-short for the second straight week, but I like the aggressiveness regardless of the outcome. The Lions weren’t going to win with field goals. I know some people are critical of the play call — a shotgun pass rather than a run. But this wasn’t a Baltimore Ravens’ situation where momentum was on the Lions’ side and Goff had options on the play. Anthony Lynn did a good job calling plays in the first half, dialing up some shots that Goff did not take and mixing in different looks in the run game. The Lions had to abandon the run after they fell behind in the second half, so the play calling skewed heavily pass for the second straight week. I do think the Lions should have showed more urgency just before halftime, but overall the Lions came out sharp against a good Packers team and simply fell victim to their own mistakes. Grade: B

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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