Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Offense shows signs of life; pass rush produces

Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 29-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Quarterback

It was largely a tale of two halves for Jared Goff, who was exceptional through two quarters, completing 13-of-17 for 185 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were aggressive throws fit into tight windows. It was arguably the best half of football he’s played all season, even better than the first half against Green Bay in Week 2.

Goff came back to earth in the second half, including a critical error, where he tossed an interception throwing into double coverage while missing an open man on a crossing route. But unlike many games this season, the error didn’t end up coming back to haunt the quarterback, who remained poised while leading a 14-play, game-winning touchdown drive that culminated with a touchdown pass as time expired. Grade: B+

Running backs

Without D’Andre Swift, who was out with an injured shoulder, Jamaal Williams shouldered the bulk of the load with a workmanlike 71 yards on 17 carries. Backfield complements Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike chimed in with another 26 yards on seven carries.

Igwebuike had a far bigger moment during the game-winning drive, catching a pass on third-and-10, gaining enough for the first down and navigating to the sideline to stop the clock. Grade: B

Wide receivers/tight ends

Goff was willing to push the ball down the field and his weapons were able to capitalize with four different targets having a grab of 20 or more yards. Hockenson made the most impressive of the catches, hanging on to a throw across the middle despite absorbing a big hit that drew a 15-yard penalty.

Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t have one of those long gains, but obviously no catch was bigger than the 11-yard touchdown as the clock hit zero. He ended up pacing the team with 10 receptions for 86 yards, both season-highs. Grade: A-

Offensive line

For the most part, Goff had time to operate in the pocket. He was sacked three times, including once where the protection call clearly didn’t account for all of Minnesota’s rushers, leading to an unblocked attacker. That’s a pre-snap breakdown, not a physical error.

Just as important as protecting the QB, Detroit’s blocking didn’t commit a single penalty, which allowed the offense to stay ahead of the sticks. The run lanes weren’t anything to write home about, but the ground game largely avoided negative plays. Grade: B

Defensive line

The Lions didn’t shut down the Minnesota ground game, but they made Alexander Mattison work for every yard. Overall, the Vikings averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

And for once, the pass rush produced. Taking advantage of Kirk Cousins’ limited mobility, Detroit generated eight hits on the passer, with six coming from the defensive front. Charles Harris led the charge with two sacks, a forced fumble (recovered by lineman Julian Okwara, who also had a sack) and two more quarterback hits.  Grade: B+

Linebackers

There were a few missed tackles in the second level, and some blown coverage assignments across the middle with Mattison and the Vikings tight ends, but those were countered by some big plays by the ‘backers, particularly rookie Derrick Barnes. He came up with a huge tackle for loss in the red zone that helped stall out a drive in the first half. He also came through with a stop for no gain on a two-point conversion attempt, which proved to be the difference. Grade: B-

Secondary

Jerry Jacobs came out on fire, making third-down stops to end each of Minnesota’s first two possessions. The rookie corner plays with infectious energy and is at his best coming forward. But he still has some work to do in the deep parts of the field, as he showed when he failed to turn and locate a deep pass to Justin Jefferson that went for 48 yards.

Jefferson torched the Lions for the second time this season, catching 11 balls for 182 yards. It didn’t matter whether it was zone or man, he found a way to beat Detroit’s coverage over and over again.  Grade: C

Special teams

Rookie Riley Patterson made all three of his field goal attempts, including one from 49 yards. He’s helping stabilize the position following a season-ending injury to Austin Seibert, while also stating a case to be the guy in 2022.

Punter Jack Fox also had his best game in a month, booming his three boots an average of 55.3 yards with a net average of 47.6 yards.

The only notable error by the unit was letting Minnesota’s red-hot return man, Kene Nwangwu get free for 44 yards on a kickoff in the first half.  Grade: B+

Coaches

The Lions unlocked the downfield passing game in the first half, but couldn’t sustain it through the final two quarters. Similarly, the Vikings did a better job adjusting in the second half and breaking through Detroit’s defense, which had held them to six points at the break.

Coach Dan Campbell seemingly called a controversial timeout at the end of that first half, trying to save time for his offense to get some late points. It almost backfired when the Vikings moved to midfield, but after the Vikings stalled, the plan played out as envisioned with Patterson tacking on a field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

The biggest problem with coaching was the pendulum swinging from too conservative to overaggressive. Campbell twice opted to go for it on fourth down in Lions territory, including once late in the fourth quarter. The Lions failed on both, with a particularly bad play call on the second that nearly cost them the game. Grade: C-

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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