Minneapolis — For the third time in three games, the Detroit Lions had a different starting five along the offensive line. And while injuries continue to play a role up front, this marked the first time the Lions benched a lineman in favor of another.
After starting the first two games at right guard in place of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Lions opted to sit Logan Stenberg in favor of backup center Evan Brown on Sunday against the Vikings.
“Once we felt like Frank (Ragnow) was going to be a go, we just felt like Evan would give us the best shot at right guard,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the 28-24 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium. “Knowing that Frank was going, Evan is another guy who’s pretty smart and he works well with those guys. He understands what we’re doing, obviously playing the center position.”
Obviously a deeper look at the film will be required to provide a comprehensive evaluation of Brown’s performance, but it’s notable the Lions didn’t allow any sacks and just two quarterback hits, one week after quarterback Jared Goff was hit 13 times in a victory over Washington.
“Evan did good,” Goff said. “I’ve got a lot of experience with Evan. He stepped up and played well. I don’t know how many times he’s played guard, but I felt like he did a good job out there.”
Stenberg had notably struggled in pass protection through two games, allowing two sacks, five hits and 10 total pressures in those contests.
Brown, who started 12 games for the Lions in place of Ragnow last season, last logged snaps at guard during Week 17 of the 2020 season and hadn’t played right guard since late in the 2019 campaign.
Brown was joined in the starting lineup by traditional starters Taylor Decker, Ragnow and Penei Sewell, as well as Dan Skipper, who was making his second consecutive start in place of injured left guard Jonah Jackson.
Regretting not saying more
When the Lions opted to kick a 54-yard field goal in the closing minutes — a decision that cost them the game — Goff didn’t push to keep the offense out on the field to attempt converting the fourth-and-4 play, which is a decision he acknowledged regretting after the contest.
“I wish I would have,” Goff said. “I didn’t, as much as I wish I would have. That was a tough spot, man. It was a tough decision. Obviously, we make the field goal and stop them on defense, there’s no question about it. It’s tough. It was fourth-and-4. You’re kind of in that tweener zone. You can even discuss to punt it in some scenarios. Ultimately, I think, I wish I would have said something to Dan, and I didn’t. I’m sure he would have let us have it if I had done that.”
Goff’s power of persuasion with Campbell played out in the preseason when the quarterback convinced his coach to let him play in a game where he was supposed to be held out of the lineup. And the team has made it a clear point of emphasis since acquiring Goff in a trade to give him a sense of ownership of the offense, so it’s easy to see a scenario where Goff fighting to go for it changes Campbell’s thinking.
Prior to the failed field goal, the Lions went for it on fourth down six times in the game, converting on four, with successful attempts contributing to two of the team’s touchdown drives.
The loss to the Vikings saw the snapping of three impressive streaks the Lions had going on offense, including two for wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Despite catching six passes for 73 yards, St. Brown’s streak of games with eight or more receptions was ended at eight, leaving him tied with Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown for the longest such stretch in NFL history. Additionally, St. Brown was held of the end zone for the first time in seven games, leaving him tied for the longest scoring streak in franchise history.
Finally, the Lions failed to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Minnesota, ending a franchise record 18-quarter streak with a TD. It had been the longest active streak in the league and fell one short of matching the NFL record by the 1942 Green Bay Packers.