Detroit Lions grades in loss to Vikings: Defense plays well, Jared Goff must be better

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 19-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Quarterback

Turnovers have killed the Lions this season, and Jared Goff has been the primary culprit. Goff committed his sixth and seventh turnovers of the season Sunday, losing a fumble on a sack by Everson Griffen and throwing an interception on a pass he tried to squeeze between two defenders. Goff acknowledged he was too loose with the ball on his fumble, and while Eric Kendricks made a great one-handed play on the interception, that’s a pass Goff can’t throw. Goff did stare down pressure to convert the two-point try that gave the Lions a brief lead, but he nearly threw a second pick on a bomb to Kalif Raymond in the third quarter and did not make any big-time plays on a day the Lions defense was good enough to win. Grade: D

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Running back

D’Andre Swift had 104 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches and scored the Lions’ only touchdown on a 7-yard run. Swift showed surprising power when he steamrolled a Vikings defensive back late in the game, and he and Jamaal Williams averaged 4.5 yards per carry on a day when the Lions’ clear objective offensively was to establish the run. Williams continues to pick up tough yards between the tackles. On Sunday, the pair played well off each other, leaving the Vikings with no real break no matter who was in the backfield. Grade: A-minus

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Receivers/tight ends

The Lions got good blocking from their offensive line, tight ends, receivers and fullback Jason Cabinda for most of Sunday. Darren Fells made a key block on Everson Griffen on Swift’s 12-yard run on the opening drive, and Trinity Benson had a key block on Swift’s 11-yard gain on the second series. Benson did have a drop in a two-minute drill in the first half, and he couldn’t hold his block on a quick screen to Amon-Ra St. Brown on a third-and-6 play that finished short of the sticks in the fourth quarter. St. Brown (seven catches, 65 yards) was the Lions’ leading receiver on a day they lost Quintez Cephus to a shoulder injury. T.J. Hockenson (two catches, 22 yards) had a drop on another quiet day receiving. Grade: B-minus

Offensive line

Goff took four sacks Sunday, on two sets of back-to-back plays. Rookie left tackle Penei Sewell was victimized twice by Everson Griffen late in the first quarter and allowed a sack that caused a fumble for the second straight week. Danielle Hunter beat Matt Nelson for a second in the second half, and nearly met Griffen in the backfield on his sack-fumble. Sewell has had a rough couple games, but he did make a nice second-level block on Nick Vigil on Swift’s 12-yard run. Fill-in center Evan Brown and Jonah Jackson made the key blocks on Williams’ 13-yard run, though Jackson had a holding penalty on a third-and-3 play that preceded the Vikings’ second set of back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter. Grade: C

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Defensive line

Outside of Alexander Mattison’s 48-yard run late in the third quarter, when Derrick Barnes missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage, the Lions did a good job stopping Minnesota’s rushing attack. Levi Onwuzurike played his best game as a pro. He blew up one rushing play on Minnesota’s opening drive, when he yanked his way past center Garrett Bradbury, and he shoved aside Rashod Hill for another stop for no gain. Alim McNeill and Trey Flowers hemmed Mattison in the backfield on another play early, and McNeill had his best day rushing the passer. He beat Bradbury to force a Kirk Cousins check down early in the second quarter and pressured Cousins into an incompletion in the second half. Flowers, who plays as hard as anyone in the NFL, had five tackles and a diving sack in his return from injury. Charles Harris had a sack for the fourth straight game, beating tight end Ben Ellefson, but he also drew a roughing-the-passer penalty for hitting Cousins in the helmet. Grade: A-minus

Linebackers

Jalen Reeves-Maybin made the defensive play of the game when he ripped a fumble from Mattison’s grasp to set up the Lions’ lone touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Reeves-Maybin finished with five tackles, but he did get beat on a circle route by Mattison for Minnesota’s only touchdown. Alex Anzalone was one of three other Lions defenders who had a chance to stop Mattison short of the goal line on that play. Anzalone made the heads-up interception after Tracy Walker deflected a pass to get the Lions off the field after Mattison’s long run, and he recognized a direct snap to Mattison, stringing the play out for Will Harris to make a big hit. Barnes (five tackles) made a thunderous tackle late in the game, but he missed the tackle on Mattison’s long gain and got put on skates on another Mattison cutback. Grade: B

Defensive backs

Amani Oruwariye had a rough day in coverage against Justin Jefferson, who beat Oruwariye for most of his seven catches and 124 yards. He caught a 37-yard pass on Minnesota’s third offensive play, snagged an easy 17-yard comeback on a third-and-10, and got Oruwariye for another 22-yard gain on an over route. Communication appeared to be an issue on an early third-and-12 conversion, when Oruwariye and Dean Marlowe both trailed an inside receiver, leaving Jefferson open on a crossing pattern. Jerry Jacobs, making his first career start, made a nice tackle on Mattison in run support, when John Penisini forced the play outside, and Walker (nine tackles) make a key third-down stop on a receiver screen on the opening drive of the second half. A.J. Parker bounced off Mattison on the Vikings’ touchdown, when he didn’t failed to wrap up the Vikings running back, and Jacobs was a spectator on the goal line for the play. Jacobs also appeared to get beat in coverage on the pass that set up Minnesota’s game-winning field goal. Grade: D-plus

Special teams

The Lions had a stellar day on special teams. Jack Fox had his first touchback of the season, but he bombed a 67-yard punt in the third quarter that basically stopped dead in its tracks. Austin Seibert, in his return from COVID-19, made all three of his field goal attempts on tries of 39, 40 and 52 yards. Bobby Price made a nice tackle in punt coverage in the second half. And Kalif Raymond slithered his way to a 14-yard gain on Minnesota’s first punt. I don’t know if the Lions are getting enough push on their opponents’ long field goal tries, but it’s tough to blame that unit for Greg Joseph’s game-winning kick. Grade: A-minus

Coaching

I seem to say this every week, but Dan Campbell has his team playing hard and fighting till the end of games, which isn’t always the case in the NFL. Campbell played a little more conservative than usual Sunday. He opted for a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the first half, but with the Lions in desperate need of points, that turned out to be the right move. The Surrender Index, a Twitter bot that analyzes punt attempts, ranked his decision to punt on fourth-and-4 from the 42 early in the fourth quarter one of the most cowardly punts since 1999.

But Campbell showed his gambler mentality after the Lions scored with 37 seconds left, dialing up a gutsy two-point conversion that gave the Lions a temporary lead. Aaron Glenn opted for a three-man rush on another key late-game defensive call. I understand the reasoning — the Lions’ have a below-par secondary and need to protect some of their young cornerbacks, but the best way to do that sometimes is to dial up a big pass rush. Campbell showed some genuine emotion after the game, in his news conference and in the locker room, and while that won’t help the record at all, it should endear him to players. Grade: B

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

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