Detroit Lions grades: Jared Goff playing B-level football, which is an improvement

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 29-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field.

Quarterback

Jared Goff played some of his best football this season in the first half, then committed two costly turnovers in the fourth quarter before redeeming himself with a game-winning touchdown drive. Goff was more aggressive throwing downfield than he had been all year – four Lions had catches of 20-plus yards in the first half. He completed 13 of his first 17 passes (with one drop and three throwaways on his incompletions) and he threw two well-placed touchdowns before halftime. His ball placement was off in the second half, though. He forced an interception into double coverage on a play that Amon-Ra St. Brown was wide open streaking across the field, and he lost a fumble trying to extend a play on fourth-and-1 when the Vikings had his first option covered. In the end, though, he was masterful when it mattered most, completing 9 of 14 passes (with two spikes) for 80 yards to help the Lions get their first win. Grade: B

How in the world did Lions get their first win of season? Thank Jared Goff ]

Running backs

Jamaal Williams had a tone-setting run, stiff-arming one Vikings defender and lowering his shoulder on another for a 10-yard gain. Williams was solid but unspectacular as the lead back in D’Andre Swift’s absence. He had 71 yards on 17 carries, but no gain longer than 11 yards. He fumbled once, though the Lions recovered. Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson played sparingly in backup roles, though Igwebuike made a huge play on the winning drive, when he caught a 13-yard pass over the middle of the field and outraced a Vikings defender to the sideline to stop the clock. Grade: B

Receivers/tight ends

T.J. Hockenson bounced back from an early drop to have a strong game. He made a nice catch on a post route on the first play of the second quarter, when he held onto the ball despite a big hit from Xavier Woods, then beat Bashaud Breeland on another post route for his first touchdown since Week 2. St. Brown caught 10 of the 12 passes thrown his way and was wide open in the end zone on the winning score. Rookie Brock Wright made a nice catch in traffic for his first career touchdown. Josh Reynolds (four catches, 69 yards) could not hold a block on an early third-down crossing pass when Kalif Raymond was stopped short of the sticks. Lions receivers still need to do a better job separating from coverage downfield. Grade: B-plus

Offensive line

The Lions had some forgettable moments blocking early in the game. The interior of the line, center Evan Brown and right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, in particular, got no push on an early fourth-and-1 when Goff was stopped on a quarterback sneak, and there was an assignment breakdown when the Lions let defensive end D.J. Wonnum run free for a sack on a four-man rush. Brown struggled at times with the Vikings’ size up front. Michael Pierce drove Brown into the backfield on Williams’ third-quarter fumble and Dalvin Tomlinson knocked him back on a Jefferson run for no gain. Penei Sewell allowed a third-quarter sack to Blake Lynch when he did not recognize a stunt quick enough. Grade: C-plus

JEFF SEIDEL: Lions top off amazing weekend of football in the state with first win of season

Defensive line

Charles Harris had two sacks, his first since Week 5. He beat Oli Udoh for a sack-fumble that Julian Okwara recovered early in the second quarter, then beat tight end Tyler Conklin for a sack on the next series. Harris was flagged for roughing the passer, and drew a holding penalty in the second half. Okwara had the Lions’ third sack, when he beat Conklin and Alexander Mattison on a fourth-and-10 rush just before halftime. Alim McNeill got away with a facemask penalty on Harris’ first sack, but the Vikings had only modest success running, finishing with 100 yards on 27 carries. Grade: B-plus

Linebackers

Linebackers Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes and Josh Woods deserve credit for the performance against the run, too, as the Vikings did not have a carry longer than 11 yards. Woods finished with eight tackles, but let Mattison slip out of his hands on an 11-yard run. Barnes and Anzalone made big run stops on two-point conversions. Barnes had a tackle-for-loss when he weaved through traffic and split blocks by Brian O’Neill and Luke Stocker to throw Mattison for a 4-yard loss in the red zone, and Anzalone made a nice read to tip a goal-line pass to K.J. Osborn two plays after he could not close quick enough on a 16-yard checkdown to Mattison that included 11 yards after the catch. Grade: B

Defensive backs

Jerry Jacobs continues to impress as an undrafted rookie with seven tackles Sunday, including two for loss. He jumped a bubble screen to Adam Thielen on the opening drive, when he hauled the Vikings receiver down at the line of scrimmage, and he made a big stop in space on a quick pass to Kene Nwangwu with about 6 minutes to play. Amani Oruwariye got beat on a 34-yard pass to Justin Jefferson and dropped an interception in the third quarter, but he sniffed out a screen pass to Conklin that went for a 2-yard loss. Will Harris was too soft in coverage on Kirk Cousins’ touchdown pass to Osborn, and I don’t know exactly where the coverage breakdown was, but safeties Tracy Walker (11 tackles) and Dean Marlowe both followed Conklin when Jefferson got loose deep for a 48-yard gain. Grade: B-minus

Special teams

Riley Patterson made all three of his field-goal attempts, from 31, 41 and 49 yards, in his second NFL game. Jack Fox had a relatively quiet day with only three punts, and Minnesota opted for touchbacks on most of its kickoffs. Nwangwu has two kick return touchdowns this season, so the Lions probably should have played it safe in the kickoff department, too. He had one long return Sunday, when he followed good blocking for a 44-yard gain. Grade: B

Coaching

The aggressive Dan Campbell was back, and that’s a good thing. You can quibble with his decision to try and convert a late fourth-and-1 from the 28-yard line with 4:08 to play, but Minnesota had scored on three of its previous four drives and an NFL team should be able to pick up 1 yard to win a game. Campbell dialed up more shots downfield as offensive play caller, which was good to see. I didn’t particularly like his fourth-and-1 sneak call early in the game, though, as the Lions had a full yard to get, not just a few inches. The Lions got a little too conservative late in the first half, when they ran the ball twice after the two-minute warning to get Minnesota to burn its timeouts. One problem that keeps popping up: The Lions had two crucial delay-of-game penalties coming after stopped-clock situations. It was an emotional week for everyone, though, and the Lions were dialed in to start the game and when they needed to be most, on their winning final drive. Grade: B

BIRKETT MAILBAG: Deciphering Dan Campbell’s options at offensive coordinator; needs in free agency, NFL draft

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

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