Minneapolis— Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 19-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s easy to focus on the frantic final moments, but Jared Goff’s performance through the first 55 minutes of the contest wasn’t good enough to get a win. Leaning on an effective ground game, the Lions worked their way into Vikings territory four of their first five possessions, only to come away with six points on two field goals.
Those other two possessions were Goff turnovers. He lost another fumble when hit behind the line of scrimmage. Later, he fired a pass into a tight window that was intercepted by linebacker Eric Kendricks. Coach Dan Campbell has said it repeatedly, the margin of error is thin for this team, and these are plays that cost the team games.
The only thing that saves Goff from a failing grade was his poise on the go-ahead two-point conversion, where he stayed patient and found his receiver in the back of the end zone. Grade: D
Detroit’s running back tandem of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were the most effective part of the team’s offensive game plan. The duo, rotating more frequently than previous weeks, combined to gain 108 yards on 24 carries, capped by a 7-yard touchdown dash between the tackles by Swift late in the fourth quarter.
Swift added another 53 yards on six receptions, including a key 21-yarder in the fourth quarter that put the Lions in field goal range for their first points of the half. Grade: A-
Wide receivers/tight ends
There were more good plays than bad by this group. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown continued his quiet development into a reliable target, catching seven of the eight passes his direction for a team-high 65 yards. And Quintez Cephus and T.J. Hockenson both came up with drive-extending catches in the contest. Cephus’ 21-yarder at the end of the first half led to points, a long field goal, but also ended in injury.
KhaDarel Hodge stepped into a bigger role in the second half and had a 17-yard reception in the fourth quarter, but his crowning moment was getting his number called and executing on the two-point conversion, despite never running the play in practice.
There were a couple drops, one by Hockenson and another by Trinity Benson, but the collective blocking of the group, on both run and pass plays, offset those issues. Grade: B
The offensive line’s run blocking was excellent, helping provide the running backs breathing room and fueling their successful day on the ground. The pass protection was far more shaky, particularly rookie Penei Sewell, who gave up back-to-back sacks in the first half. On the second, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was able to force a fumble his side recovered.
On the penalty front, guard Jonah Jackson got hit with a holding infraction on a third down late in the fourth quarter that killed a drive and nearly ended the Lions’ comeback hopes. Grade: C
It wasn’t a dominant performance by the front, but they did enough in their first game without Romeo Okwara, helping contribute to the overall effectiveness of the defense. Charles Harris kept his sack streak alive, netting one for the fourth consecutive game, while Trey Flowers also had a dominant rush effort result in a sack that forced that led to the Vikings going three-and-out to end the first half.
Harris did get hit with a roughing the quarterback, illegally grazing the helmet of quarterback Kirk Cousins. That drive ended in a touchdown.
Against the run, the gap control was much improved, both on the inside and the edges. Grade: B
Jalen Reeves-Maybin came up with the play of the day, stripping the ball from Vikings running back Alexander Mattison late in the fourth quarter that set the Lions up to take the lead with under a minute remaining. That’s enough to buoy the overall mark, despite some costly errors earlier in the contest.
For example, Reeves-Maybin blew the coverage on Mattison in the second quarter that resulted in the running back’s 15-yard touchdown grab, while rookie Derrick Barnes whiffed on a tackle in the hole that saw Mattison break free for a 48-yard gain.
But another one for the plus column was Alex Anzalone coming up with a second turnover for the group, hauling in a deflected pass. Grade: B+
That pass deflection came courtesy safety Tracy Walker, who read the route of receiver K.J. Osborn and popped Kirk Cousins’ throw into the air. That turnover basically took points away from the Vikings, who were already in field goal range.
In the first half, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was a problem. He was over 100 yards before the break, but on at least a couple of those catches, there wasn’t much more the defender could do; great players are going to make some plays. And credit to the adjustments that were made that held Jefferson in check in the second half.
Of course, the execution got sloppy as the Vikings ripped off 46 quick yards in the closing seconds to get off a game-winning field goal. Undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs, making his first start, got beat twice by Adam Thielen.
Detroit’s special teams continue to be consistently solid. Kicker Austin Seibert, making his return to action after a two-game COVID-related absence, drilled all three of his field goals, including a long of 52 yards.
Punter Jack Fox also played to his typical Pro Bowl level. He had a net average of 45.5 yards even though one of his four efforts bounced into the end zone, resulting in a touchback. That’s because he also had a 67-yarder that was downed at the 5 by Bobby Price.
The coverage groups limited the Vikings to a paltry 17.0 yards on four kickoffs and 2 yards on the lone punt they even attempted a return. On the flip side, Kalif Raymond got free for 14 yards on one of his two punt returns, but the other was shut down on the spot because of subpar blocking on the Vikings gunner. Grade: A-
The Lions defense was far from perfect, but made plenty of progress in the areas where they’ve been struggling. There was still at least one communication breakdown that resulted in a third-down conversion, and there also were still a handful of big plays allowed, but those errors were more the result of execution than poor play calls.
Obviously, the Lions need to do more work on end-game defense. People will criticize the calls to rush three on two long pass plays, but that’s because the staff doesn’t have a lot of faith in their young and inexperienced secondary right now. They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t when it comes to bringing extra pressure in those situations.
Offensively, coordinator Anthony Lynn continues to build out adequate game plans with some really nice play designs, but his group’s inability to consistently come away with points because of execution errors is growing tiring.
As for Campbell’s trademark situational aggression, the willingness to push all-in on that 2-point conversion at the end of the game was gutsy, but the offense rewarded his faith. Grade: B