Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: D-line stars, offense hits the mark in first win

Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 36-27 victory over the Washington Commanders.

Quarterback

At times, Jared Goff looked incredible. During touchdown drives in the second and fourth quarters, he was perfect with his placement, leading the offense efficiently down the field. With the latter series, the moment was critical as the Commanders were knocking on the door of pulling off a three-touchdown comeback.

And Goff overcame some struggles by his teammates, whether inconsistent protection from a makeshift offensive line or a second consecutive week with multiple drops. The quarterback also made some mistakes that limited the potential of an offense that scored 36 points but should have had closer to 50.

In the first half, Goff misfired on three passes into the end zone, leaving the Lions to lose one possession on downs and settle for a field goal on another. He also missed DJ Chark on a deep pass just before the half that would have allowed the Lions to build on their lead. Finally, the QB forced one to Chark into triple coverage early in the third quarter that was nearly picked off.

He acknowledged those mistakes after the game, pledging to build better chemistry as he builds reps with his new weapons in a new offensive scheme. Still, four touchdown passes and 36 points is a pretty darn good day at the office. Grade: B+

Running backs

D’Andre Swift didn’t look too hampered by an ankle injury, breaking free on a 50-yard run in the first half. And his second-half touchdown, getting off the ground after stumbling to make the grab on a ball behind him and scampering 22 yards into the end zone, was a remarkable feat of athleticism. About the only blemish on his day was a dropped pass late in the first half, which cost him between 20-40 yards with a lot of open field in front of him.

Swift was complemented by Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds, who combined to average a healthy 4.6 yards per carry. Grade: A-

Wide receivers/tight ends

Amon-Ra St. Brown never seems to have a bad day. He paced the squad with nine catches for 116 yards and scored twice against tight coverage. He also had a momentum-shifting 58-yard run early in the third quarter after the Commanders had cut the Lions’ lead to a touchdown.

Josh Reynolds also added a touchdown for the Lions, while Chark was shut out on the stat sheet despite being open on a pair of deep balls where Goff just missed him. The blocking from the group also continues to be exceptional, with Chark and Quintez Cephus delivering blocks to spring a pair of long gains.

As for the tight ends, T.J. Hockenson had some issues with his hands, putting a couple balls on the ground, but he did come up with a diving reception during a critical fourth-quarter scoring drive. Brock Wright also hauled in a 25-yard pass on that series. Grade: B+

Offensive line

Listen, the blocking allowed far too much pressure, but we’re willing to make the rare exception and grade on a curve for a unit that was starting three backups on the interior. On top of that, the Lions racked up 191 yards on the ground, with Dan Skipper — who was making his first career start — playing guard for the first time since the 2018 preseason and delivering the second-level block that sprung Swift for his 50-yard romp. Grade: B+

Defensive line

Without the threat of a scrambling quarterback, the Lions were able to showcase the potential of their aggressive defensive front. In as much as it could be for the No. 2 pick in the draft, it was a star-making performance for Aidan Hutchinson, who racked up three sacks, two tackles for loss and three hurries. Simply put, he was relentless.

And edge-rushing mate Charles Harris added a safety, sacking quarterback Carson Wentz and forcing a fumble in the end zone. He gets knocked for getting beat on a wheel route touchdown to Curtis Samuel, but that’s more on coaching for allowing that mismatch to happen.

Against the run, the Lions were also solid, holding Washington’s zone rushing attack in check and limiting Antonio Gibson to 28 yards on 14 carries. Grade: A-

Linebackers

The linebackers were flying all over the field with rookie Malcolm Rodriguez leading the way with eight tackles and Alex Anzalone and Chris Board combining for another 10. The depth chart is starting to become clear, with Board adding a dynamic to the rotation with both his coverage skills and ability to get after the passer. Grade: B+

Secondary

In the first half, the defensive backfield wasn’t giving up any ground, forcing Wentz to hold on to the ball and eat a couple sacks. But in the second half the secondary showed some cracks.

Will Harris, filling in for injured starter Amani Oruwariye, was attacked by the Commanders down the stretch and gave up a couple long completions and a touchdown. To Harris’ credit, he did come away with an interception, diving to haul in a ball deflected by Tracy Walker.

Jeff Okudah was mostly solid, but he missed a tackle and had to leave the game with cramps in the fourth quarter. Bobby Price briefly stepped in and ended up intercepting a two-point conversion try, which proved to be key moment in the contest and eliminated Washington’s chance to come back after missing a late extra point. Grade: C+

Special teams

Outside of surrendering a couple decent returns in the second half, Detroit got a strong performance from its second teams. Kalif Raymond’s 52-yard return off a free kick helped lead to Detroit’s first touchdown and safety JuJu Hughes delivered a pair of open-field tackles covering kicks, which helped punter Jack Fox came away with a solid 48.8 yard net average on five boots.

Kicker Austin Seibert also capitalized on his opportunities, making both field goals with a long of 48. Grade: A-

Coaches

The Lions had plenty of built-in excuses coming into this contest, but they had no interest in playing the victim related to mounting injuries. Instead, they took it to Washington from the start, with an aggressive offensive attack that never took its foot off the gas and a defensive game plan predicated on bringing the heat to Wentz.

The biggest criticisms were the defense struggling to adjust with Washington in the second half and, to a far lesser extent, coach Dan Campbell’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 early, when getting some points seemed to make more sense.

Then again, the defense scored a safety two plays after the offense turned it over on downs, setting up a short field on the ensuing possession that resulted in a touchdown. So the Lions got nine instead of the three the field goal would have provided. Grade: A-

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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