Grading Detroit Lions’ 16-14 loss to Chicago Bears: OL struggles too much to overcome

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after their 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on Thursday.

Quarterback

Jared Goff was effective in his return from a strained oblique Thursday, completing 21 of 25 passes, but he mostly lived off checkdowns and short throws to the flat. Goff completed 12 straight passes to open the game, including a well-placed 39-yard touchdown to Josh Reynolds. The Lions appeared to have a few more deep shots dialed up, but most were foiled by protection problems or their receivers’ inability to get open downfield. Goff was off target on a couple early throws to running back D’Andre Swift, and he has a tendency to drift into pressure. He did not have enough urgency getting a snap off when the Bears challenged his fumble late in the first half, but the Lions had bigger issues than quarterback play. Grade: B-minus

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Running backs

Swift sprained his shoulder in the second quarter and left after carrying the ball three times for no yards. He had a nice catch on a misplaced Goff pass for a first down on the Lions’ opening drive, but he was lucky not to lose a fumble when he had the ball jarred loose along the Lions sideline on the same series. Jamaal Williams (15 carries, 65 yards) played well in Swift’s absence, but he lacks Swift’s explosive ability. Godwin Igwebuike broke an 11-yard run on his only carry of the game. If Swift misses time with his injury, it might be time to get Igwebuike more involved. Grade: C-minus

Receivers/tight ends

Reynolds ran a nice route on his touchdown catch, beating Artie Burns on a slant and go. He finished with three catches for 70 yards and seemed to be in sync with Goff, his former teammate with the Los Angeles Rams. Tight end T.J. Hockenson was called for a false start that started a string of three straight penalties that moved the Lions from field goal range to first-and-30 at midfield. Hockenson had another quiet game receiving (three catches, 35 yards), though he did manage a 17-yard touchdown catch. Amon-Ra St. Brown picked up a first down on an 11-yard catch and run when he dove past the first down marker, but as a group, the Lions receivers struggle to get separation in the secondary. Grade: C-minus

Offensive line

Goff was sacked just once and the Lions averaged 4 yards per carry, but I thought the offensive line played its worst game of the season. The unit drew eight penalties, including six holding flags. Taylor Decker got beat for a tackle for loss by Robert Quinn on the Lions’ opening series and gave up a pressure late in the second quarter that led to Goff’s fumble. Penei Sewell also got beat on that play, and kicked out too wide on a bubble screen to Kalif Raymond that was stopped for a 1-yard loss in the third quarter. Sewell did have a huge block on Williams’ 19-yard run, when he came off a double team to take out a free defender. Decker and Tommy Kraemer each drew two holding calls, and Sewell and Evan Brown had one. Grade: D

Defensive line

Generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a problem all year, and the Lions struggled in that department again Thursday. Levi Onwuzurike had the Lions’ only sack, when he overpowered James Daniels and drove him into quarterback Andy Dalton’s lap. Charles Harris made a nice play early to string out an end-around to Jakeem Grant that went for no gain, and Harris did have a pressure that forced an Andy Dalton throw-away on the same series. The Lions defense appeared to misalign on Jimmy Graham’s 17-yard touchdown catch, when Austin Bryant was waving wildly at Harris from across the field. Harris got out of his rush lane on Dalton’s 12-yard shovel pass to David Montgomery on third-and-7, and in another highlight, Alim McNeill shrugged off a double team to stop Montgomery for no gain in the third quarter. Grade: B-minus

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone played his best game as a Lion, with nine tackles and two pass breakups on a day when injuries knocked Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Derrick Barnes out of the game. Anzalone was called for a defensive holding penalty that was declined and he did miss a tackle on Cole Kmet, but he was a heat-seeking missile on a third-and-2 misdirection handoff to Montgomery that he kept from being a first down. Reeves-Maybin’s best play came on the opening drive, when he knifed through traffic to stop Montgomery for a 2-yard gain. Barnes had a tackle-for-loss in the fourth quarter on Montgomery, when he sorted through traffic to get the ball. But he gave Kmet too much cushion on a 12-yard pass on the next play. Grade: B-plus

Defensive backs

Will Harris had a rough day playing as the Lions’ primary slot defender in A.J. Parker’s absence. He broke up a third-and-8 pass early in the game, but also got beat for a 52-yard catch by Darnell Mooney on an over route that set up the Bears’ first touchdown. Tracy Walker appeared to get caught leaning the wrong way on Jimmy Graham’s TD catch, when he was in single-high safety coverage. And Lions coach Dan Campbell was forced to take a 5-yard penalty for calling back-to-back timeouts on the game’s final series when the Lions had a miscommunication in their secondary. Amani Oruwariye had his fifth interception of the season in the end zone just before halftime. Oruwariye played well in the red zone, where he forced an incompletion to Graham with physical press coverage, then jumped a pass and nearly intercepted another ball thrown to Jesse James. Grade: C-minus

Special teams

Jack Fox flipped the field on his first punt, a 70-yarder that took a fortunate bounce off Bobby Price’s helmet (on a play where the Bears also were called for holding). Igwebuike has made huge strides as a kick returner since the beginning of the season. He had about 15 yards after contact on his 36-yard kick return in the second quarter. The Lions did miss a pair of tackles on Jakeem Grant’s 22-yard punt return in the second quarter, KhaDarel Hodge couldn’t find the ball on Fox’s touchback early in the second half, and they were called for having too many men on the field on an extra point in the second half. Overall, it was an uncharacteristically sloppy day on special teams. Grade: C-minus

Coaching

Campbell was in a no-win position on the Bears’ final drive, when the Lions’ coverage gaffe forced him to burn a timeout. Had he let the play run, he said the Bears likely would have scored a touchdown. Ultimately, the decision backfired. Campbell’s conservative play-calling deserves scrutiny as the Lions had their starting quarterback in the lineup and were playing at home in dome conditions. It’s defeatist for Campbell to say the Lions are not built to overcome penalties and mistakes, when it seems like they turtle up every time they encounter trouble. Defensively, the Lions shut down Chicago’s running game, but somehow they had no answer for Mooney, the Bears’ only receiver of note. This was the third time the Lions have lost on the final play this season, and that falls at least somewhat the feet of the coaches. Grade: C-minus

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

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