Report card: Solid defensive performance spoiled by broken pass offense

Pride of Detroit

The Detroit Lions suffered another heartbreak on Sunday, as their incredible comeback was spoiled by yet another last-second field goal. At some point, the Lions are going to win one of these coin flip games, and we won’t have to hang our hat on yet another “gritty” loss.

But let’s put the wins and losses aside for a second and take a closer look at the team’s performance against the Minnesota Vikings. There were a lot of things to like about the game Detroit played and plenty of areas that need to be cleaned up considerably.

Here is my Week 5 report card for the Lions.

Quarterback: D

It wasn’t like Sunday was a particularly inaccurate day for Jared Goff. And it wasn’t plagued by bad decisions, either (outside of the interception). But, to put bluntly, nothing about this pass offense is working right now, and a lot of that falls on Goff’s shoulders. He’s not testing defenses deep, save for one wobbly throw that didn’t give his receiver a chance to make a play in double coverage. And so defenses are starting to take away the short stuff, leaving Goff with no plan B.

The problem is multifaceted, as we’ll get into, but it all starts up front. If Goff is unwilling to take shots—and he clearly is—then the pass offense becomes one dimensional, and there’s no chance for success.

And the turnovers just have to stop. Goff leads the league in fumbles lost (3) and while protection hasn’t helped him, his latest fumble happened before contact even got there.

Running backs: B

Jamaal Williams continues to be Detroit’s most consistent player on offense. Despite a limited amount of playing time, Williams chalked up 57 yards on 13 carries (4.4 YPC), and nearly broke a big one that would’ve resulted in Detroit’s first true explosive play on the ground for the entire season.

D’Andre Swift also had one of his better games. totalling 104 scrimmage yards (51 rushing, 53 receiving). Swift’s 7-yard touchdown was the offense’s only trip to the end zone and it was a nice, rare display of him running through the tackles.

I do still think this set of backs is still leaving big plays on the table—the longest run for Swift and Williams on the season is 20 yards—but the run game is still being consistently efficient, so it’s hard to complain too much.

Tight ends: D+

With the offensive struggling like it is right now, T.J. Hockenson simply has to be better. I know he can only catch what is thrown his way—and he was only targeted three times on Sunday—but he simply needs to command the ball by getting open more often. As we saw in training camp, no one has drawn Goff’s trust more than Hockenson, so if he’s not getting the looks, then Hockenson must be getting blanketed.

And there’s no doubt that defenses are honing in on him. But the great players in this league—and expectations are for Hockenson to be great, not good—can succeed despite the extra attention. You think the likes of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle don’t draw extra attention? Hockenson has to rise above.

Wide receivers: D+

When Quintez Cephus left this game in the second quarter, the Lions just ran out of options at wide receiver. The short game to Amon-Ra St. Brown worked early, but was taken away by the Vikings defense late, and no one stepped up to make plays in the second half.

In order for Goff to test defenses deep, he needs a receiver that can at least look the part. But Kalif Raymond was held catchless. Trinity Benson had a few drops and a couple lapses in blocking. KhaDarel Hodge took Cephus’ snaps in the second half, but only had a 17-yard catch and a two-point conversion to show for it on six targets.

Truth be told, this game was a perfect display of how badly this team needs someone like Tyrell Williams to simply keep defenses honest deep. Hopefully he’s starting to feel better from the Week 1 concussion.

Offensive line: C-

This is a tricky one to grade, because once again, the Lions’ run blocking was very, very good in this game. I think Evan Brown is doing a fantastic job in replacement of Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow. Detroit didn’t have a single negative play in the running game and only two of 24 rushing attempts were stopped at the line of scrimmage.

But the pass blocking in this game was not good. Penei Sewell and Matt Nelson both struggled against the Vikings’ edge rushers and it resulted in four sacks and a turnover. As each week goes by, it becomes more and more apparent that this team needs Taylor Decker back.

Defensive line: B

The Lions’ interior defensive line had its best game of the season. Minnesota’s running game was held in check for largely the entire game. Save the 48-yard run (not the defensive line’s fault), the Vikings had just 72 rushing yards on 27 carries (2.7 YPC).

Despite only 20 defensive snaps, rookie Levi Onwuzurike recorded a career-high four tackles. Nick Williams was equally disruptive, and Alim McNeill held his own, as well.

Unfortunately, the Lions edge play wasn’t nearly as effective. When they got beat on the ground, it was typically to the outside because someone lost contain. Additionally, the Lions’ pass rush just wasn’t there on Sunday. The only two quarterback hits they tallied against the Vikings were the two sacks on the day.

Overall, I thought Trey Flowers was good in his return for injury, but it’s also clear this team is missing Romeo Okwara right now.

Linebackers: A-

Man, what a turn of events for this group. Alex Anzalone continues to be the emotional leader of this defense, and he backed it up with solid play against the Vikings. While he only finished with four tackles and an interception, it seemed like he was constantly in the backfield disrupting the Vikings offense.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin also played at a high level in this game, tallying five tackles, but more importantly, he ripped the ball out of Alexander Mattison’s hands to give the Lions a chance at tieing (or taking the lead) late in the game.

Obviously, Derrick Barnes’ missed tackle on Mattison’s 48-yard run sticks out like a sore thumb among this linebacker group, but overall, I though tackling was much better in this game, and even when the Vikings threw some misdirection their way, the linebacking crew was all over it.

Secondary: D

The Lions had no answer for Justin Jefferson in this one, as the second-year Vikings receiver caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 124 yards. Amani Oruwariye continues to show that while he’s a capable No. 2 cornerback, he probably can’t hang with some of the best receivers in the league.

Unfortunately, every time the Vikings needed a big play from their passing offense, they seemed to get it, and that was painfully obvious on the final drive of the game. Kirk Cousins connected with Adam Thielen for 19 and 21 yards with little resistance. Maybe the soft coverage calls were to blame there, but head coach Dan Campbell even said the execution wasn’t where it needed to be.

But it wasn’t all bad from the secondary, though. Safety Tracy Walker had, quite possibly, the greatest game of his career. He was crashing down hard in the run game, laying down some serious hits. His instincts were impeccable in this game, as evidenced by the play he made on the Vikings interception. Just watch as he closes in on the receiver with lightning speed and times his hit perfectly:

Special teams: B+

Jack Fox remains a wizard, despite a bit a bad luck on his first touchback of the season. Austin Seibert was perfect on the day, including a 52 yarder. The Lions kick and punt coverage were very good in this game, while their return squad only had two opportunities all day and Kalif Raymond was just fine.

But if these teams are going to try long field goals all season, can someone, anyone get a fingertip on at least one of them?

Coaching: B-

Man, this is a tough one to grade this week. The Lions got considerably more conservative this week, which I’m never really going to be a fan of, but at the same time, it’s hard to blame them.

With a normal team, punting from the Vikings’ 42-yard line on a fourth-and-4 down 10 points with under 10 minutes remaining would be completely unacceptable in my mind. But with an offense that proved last week they can’t execute in moments like that—not to mention the offense was horrible for most of Sunday, too—I can see why they made that call.

I didn’t particularly like kicking a 52-yard field goal towards the end of the half instead of trying a fourth-and-2, either. Given Seibert hasn’t been particularly accurate from 50+ yards in his career, converting that field goal felt like similar odds to converting a fourth-and-2. But is that really the case with this offense?

I also didn’t like passing on the onside kick late in the game. With only one timeout and the two minute warning, under most normal circumstances, the best-case scenario is getting the ball back with a minute left, no timeouts, and a full field to drive. An onside kick at least gives you the chance to shorten that field and give your offense more time.

Of course, despite my own feelings, every single one of these decisions turned out to be the right one—or at least the one that worked this time around. And Campbell ramped up the aggression on the two-point conversion, which I was a huge fan of.

There are other axes to grind, for sure. Detroit’s insistence on the short-passing game caused the offense to come up a few yards short on several third-down attempts. And the Lions dropping eight into coverage on the final defensive play proved a poor decision (again). Although it’s worth noting that they rushed four on the two previous plays and it didn’t go too well, either.

Overall, the Lions are still playing better than the sum of their parts, and I think that speaks loudest about this coaching staff’s performance thus far.

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