Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Backup Tim Boyle better, but mistakes prove costly

Detroit News

Atlanta — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 20-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Quarterback

In his second start, Tim Boyle was far sharper, giving the Lions a chance to win the game. But his lack of experience showed with his patience in the most critical situations, as he rushed throws in both the red zone and during a two-minute drill at the end of each half. And in the game’s biggest moment, Boyle didn’t read the coverage well enough, forcing the ball into traffic, resulting in an interception by an linebacker sitting in the passing lane. Grade: C-

Running backs

Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds combined for a workmanlike 106 yards on 30 carries. That’s not efficiency to get excited about, but the tandem did convert multiple third- and fourth-down plays throughout the contest, with Reynolds also adding three catches for 22 yards, including another third-down conversion. Grade: C

Wide receivers/tight ends

Amon-Ra St. Brown stayed red hot, setting a personal-best for receiving yards for the third time in four weeks with nine catches for 91 yards. He added his third touchdown of the season and also did some damage as a ball carrier, gaining 19 yards on two carries.

Detroit’s other pass-catching options were relatively efficient, outside of Josh Reynolds, who only managed to haul in two of his seven targets. For understandable reasons, the veteran receiver just doesn’t have the same chemistry with the backup quarterback as he does with starter Jared Goff. With Boyle, the connection was often a half-second off here and a yard off there. Grade: B

Offensive line

The pass protection held up well, with Boyle not getting sacked and only eating two hits in the pocket. On the flip side, the run blocking wasn’t quite as dynamic as it’s been in recent weeks, despite the high volume of carries. The worst part of the day was the steady stream of false-start infractions, three of which could be attributed to the offensive front. Grade: C

Defensive front

The Lions did a stellar job bottling up Atlanta’s ground game, particularly Cordarrelle Patterson, who managed just 14 yards on seven carries. He did have a touchdown, but that fell more on bad personnel and the defensive backs on the field not being able to set an edge against Atlanta’s tight ends. The pass rush had some early success, with two sacks in the first quarter, but its effectiveness largely evaporated after that. Grade: B-

Linebackers

Jalen Reeves-Maybin continues to blossom in an expanded role, not only leading the Lions in tackles, but breaking up a pass and forcing a fumble in the closing minutes that gave the offense a final shot to pull off the come-from-behind victory.

Rookie Derrick Barnes and Anthony Pittman — the latter seeing more reps following injuries to Alex Anzalone and Josh Woods — also had better days with their positioning and execution, combining for eight tackles, a pass breakup and a sack for Barnes. Grade: B

Secondary

We don’t grade these games on a curve, but it’s easy to understand some of the issues Detroit is dealing with in the back end. Down their top three cornerbacks after placing Amani Oruwariye on injured reserve this weekend, the Lions were starting safety Will Harris on the outside opposite rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu, who had just 57 defensive snaps under his belt entering the day.

The Falcons picked on both at times, as quarterback Matt Ryan pieced together an efficient day, completing 18-of-24 passes for 215 yards, with much of the damage being done by rookie tight end Kyle Pitts (six catches, 102 yards). Grade: D

Special teams

Outside of allowing a couple of decent returns to the Falcons, the Lions special teams were solid once again. Riley Patterson made all three of his field goal attempts, staying perfect on the year, Jack Fox netted 48 yards on his two punts and Kalif Raymond had one of his best punt returns of the season, bringing his lone effort back 19 yards.

The best play was undoubtedly a perfectly executed fake punt, where Fox delivered a strike to gunner KhaDarel Hodge, who sold his route well before coming back toward the line, resulting in a 21-yard gain and a conversion that set up Detroit’s only touchdown of the day.  Grade: A-

Coaches

Despite personnel shortages on both sides of the ball, worsened by effectively losing two of their three tight ends during the game, the Lions hung tough and had a chance to get the win. Dan Campbell called an aggressive game, going for multiple fourth downs, converting on 3-of-4, including the fake.

Campbell made a questionable decision not going for it on fourth-and-six late in the game, instead counting on his struggling defense to make a stop. The gut decision worked out in his favor, even if it defied the situational probability.

Some of the worst coaching mistakes were subtle communication errors, including a late play call relay from the sideline resulting in one of the the six false start penalties, or getting caught with a bad personnel grouping that created a brutal mismatch on Patterson’s touchdown run. Grade: C

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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