Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Special teams helped pave way for Vikings’ comeback

Detroit News

Minneapolis — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in the team’s 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Quarterbacks

Even in the loss, it was probably Jared Goff’s best performance of the year. He cut down on the missed throws, bought himself time with some elusiveness from the pocket and avoided making any turnover-worthy throws until the closing seconds of the game, when he was tasked with leading an improbable drive with 45 seconds remaining. Grade: B+

Running backs

With D’Andre Swift coming into the day banged up, and adding a shoulder injury to his list of concerns, Jamaal Williams picked up the slack for Detroit’s backfield, churning up 87 yards on 20 carries, keeping Minnesota honest up front and opening up the play-action passing attack.

Swift does get some credit for fighting through his ailments to give the Lions 46 yards from scrimmage, including averaging 4.4 yards per carry, while backup Craig Reynolds was less effective, netting 18 yards with his seven total touches. Grade: B+

Wide receivers/tight ends

Amon-Ra St. Brown’s remarkable streak of games with eight or more catches came to an end at eight, but he still had a productive day with six grabs for 73 yards, including a 30-yard gain on fourth down early in the contest that set up a short touchdown for Williams.

Josh Reynolds paced the Lions with six catches for 96 yards, although he could have had an even bigger day had he not lost track of a deep ball that sailed over his head as he gave up on the route.

On top of it all for that duo, both fought through injury after getting banged up during the game.

T.J. Hockenson had a relatively quiet day, with three receptions for 18 yards, but he hauled in the lone Goff touchdown on the afternoon. Grade: B

Offensive line

For the third consecutive game, the Lions trotted out a new starting lineup with Evan Brown replacing Logan Stenberg at right guard. And while this might not be the Vikings pass rush of old that used to beat up Matthew Stafford regularly, it’s still a good front. Therefore, the fact the Lions allowed zero sacks and just two quarterback hits is impressive. On top of that, the running attack racked up a hearty 139 yards on 35 carries (4.0 YPC), so all in all, a pretty good showing for the patchwork crew. Grade: A-

Defensive line

A successful defensive game plan starts with stopping the run and the Lions struggled to bottle up Vikings running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry, routinely getting around the edges of Detroit’s formation. In terms of rushing the passer, the front didn’t record a single sack, although they did get five hits on Kirk Cousins, disrupting a handful of throws. Grade: D+

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone missed a handful of tackles in the second level, but still managed to lead the Lions with 10 stops. His biggest impact came as a pass rusher, where he recorded an early hit on Cousins that forced an incompletion, before getting home for the team’s only sack late in the fourth quarter.

Malcolm Rodriguez chipped in eight stops, but none behind the line, while getting beat for a long completion by tight end Irv Smith on third down that put the Vikings into the red zone on a drive that ended in a touchdown. Grade: C-

Secondary

If the primary goal of the secondary was to take away superstar receiver Justin Jefferson, they succeeded, holding him to three receptions for 14 yards. But that tells only a fraction of the story as Adam Thielen made several big grabs for 61 yards and a touchdown and K.J. Osborn was able to get open twice in the final minutes, including getting behind the defense for a game-winning touchdown.

Penalties were an issue, particularly for Amani Oruwariye, who was flagged six times in the contest. Jeff Okudah, meanwhile, continues to be a bright spot in the second level, only giving up a handful of short receptions. Grade: D

Special teams

Special teams contributed to the Vikings’ comeback with Jack Fox providing a pair of subpar punts in the second half that cost the Lions valuable field position and Austin Seibert missing two field goals, including a 54-yarder that might have put the game out of reach in the closing minutes. Yeah, that’s a much tougher kick than the 48-yarder he missed in the first half, but if you’re going to be put in that situation, you’re expected to convert.

Detroit also continues to get minimal production from its return game with Justin Jackson failing to get back to the 25-yard line on any of the three kickoffs he brought back.  Grade: F

Coaches

Honestly, I’m almost always going to be lenient in favor of aggressiveness, and I appreciate the Lions continuing to take it to opponents, particularly on fourth downs, but there comes a point where aggression crosses the line into poor decision-making.

The first questionable decision the Lions made was going for it on fourth-and-one at their own 49-yard line late in the first half, topped by a play call that didn’t have Hockenson going beyond the sticks with his route. That turnover on downs gave the Vikings a short field, which they turned into seven points.

And while you can make a convincing argument that call wasn’t egregious, Campbell’s management at the end of the game cost the Lions a win. Putting Seibert out there for a 54-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-four from Minnesota’s 36, or even pooch punting and trying to bury the Vikings deep with a little more than a minute remaining and no timeouts was malpractice and the paid the price for it.

It’s also troubling that after a timeout to reset the defense, the Lions still had a communication breakdown in the secondary on the game-winning touchdown. The coaches failed to get the players on the same page in the game’s most-critical moment.

Campbell lamented the decision to kick the field goal after the game, but that doesn’t change the outcome. You should hope for continued aggressiveness from Detroit’s coach, with some situational adjustments to maximize the chances to finish with the win going forward. Grade: D-

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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