Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Skill positions shine; big plays buoy secondary

Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 37-30 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterback

Playing behind a banged-up offensive line, Jared Goff returned to the lineup after a two-game absence and capped his strong finish to the season, completing 21 of his 30 throws for 238 yards and two scores.

He showed poise under pressure on multiple snaps, stepping into the pocket and delivering accurate throw after accurate throw. He did have a couple of misfires in the second half, but was clutch when needing a touchdown drive in the closing minutes, completing all three of his passes on the go-ahead drive. Grade: A-

Running backs

Detroit’s running backs didn’t find a lot of breathing room much of the contest. The trio of Jamaal WIlliams, D’Andre Swift and Craig Reynolds combined for 75 yards on 23 carries, but Swift came up big in the closing minutes of the game, bouncing a handoff around the left edge for a 14-yard touchdown in the closing minutes to put Detroit ahead for good.  Grade: B-

Wide receivers/tight ends

Amon-Ra St. Brown once again led the way, catching eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. On the possession he scored, he hauled in three other passes, all for first downs. And he also added a long grab on the game-winning drive.

More: Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown sets franchise’s rookie record for receiving yards

But St. Brown’s biggest impact doesn’t show up on the box score. He touched the ball on both of Detroit’s successful trick-play touchdowns, and the Packers defense was forced to funnel to him because of the rookie’s success as a ball carrier in previous games.

The overall execution of those long-developing trick plays was impressive, from Tom Kennedy’s throw to Kalif Raymond and Brock Wright getting open and finishing the deals.  Grade: A

Offensive line

The offensive front was dealing with major injury issues. Penei Sewell was inactive due to COVID, backup center Evan Brown went out in the first series with an ankle injury and Taylor Decker missed a chunk of the second half with a foot issue. It got to the point where Jonah Jackson was playing center down the stretch, despite almost no previous experience snapping the ball with Goff.

From that perspective, allowing just one sack — you can blame third-string center Ryan McCollum for that one — is remarkable. Yeah, the run blocking left plenty to be desired, but given the moving pieces, it could also be described as expected. Grade: B

Defensive front

Detroit’s edge rushers got home for four sacks, with Julian Okwara recording his first multi-sack game. Jessie Lemonier also found his way into the backfield on a third down, dropping Aaron Rodgers and knocking the Packers beyond the fringes of field-goal range to help Detroit recover from turning it over on downs in their own territory.

The run defense was so-so. The Packers managed to average 4.5 yards per carry and Detroit didn’t have any answers on an ugly second-half drive where backup running back Patrick Taylor gained 40 yards and scored a touchdown. Grade: B-

Linebackers

Jalen Reeves-Maybin closed out the year with seven more tackles, bringing his career-high total to 82 as he heads toward free agency. Rookie Derrick Barnes played plenty and chipped in five stops, including his second sack of the year. But coverage continues to be an issue needing attention as he prepares for his second season.

It’s difficult to fault Barnes too much for getting beat deep after getting trapped in a mismatch against wide receiver Allen Lazard, but there were other examples of the young linebacker pulled himself out of position to make a play, but getting loose with his zone responsibilities. Grade: C-

Secondary

Detroit’s back end defenders made plenty of critical errors, but also plenty of big plays. Nickel corner AJ Parker missed a third-down tackle and got beat for another conversion on a slant pass during the game-opening touchdown drive. But the rookie responded by forcing a fumble the Lions recovered early in the second half.

And Tracy Walker had a career-best 13 tackles, including a fourth-down stop that gave the ball back to his team’s offense. Walker also missed a tackle on a screen pass to tight end Josiah Deguara that resulted in a long touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But it was the defensive backs who sealed the victory with C.J. Moore and Walker intercepting passes on back-to-back drives in the closing minutes. Grade: B

Special teams

Jack Fox’s completion percentage took a hit, but it was not his fault. The Lions punter nearly executed his third successful fake of the season, dropping a dime over a Packers defender, but running back Godwin Igwebuike allowed the throw to slip through his hands, resulting in a turnover.

It was just one of those days for Fox, who had another punt partially blocked and a booming 67-yard effort that sailed too far for his coverage, leading to a sizeable return for the Packers.

Riley Patterson didn’t experience similar struggles. The rookie kicker made all three of his field goals, although he was never asked to kick from beyond 36 yards. Grade: D+

Coaches

The game might not have meant much for either the Lions or the Packers, given the opposition rested a good chuck of their team in the second half, but the home team clearly wanted to go out on a high note after a frustrating season.

Dan Campbell was consistently aggressive, repeatedly going for it on fourth down, faking the punt and calling two game-changing trick plays, predicated on some stuff the Lions had been doing offensively leading into the game. It was a bold game plan that resulted in a season-high 37 points.

The defense was a bit more inconsistent, but came up with the stops they needed when they needed them, particularly in the closing minutes. Even if the trio turnovers came against the Packers backups, the unit sacked Aaron Rodgers three times in the first half, limiting Green Bay’s starters to 13 points through two quarters. Grade: B+

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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