For a few segments of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions looked like a dominant team. They jumped out to a 14-point lead early on the back of their efficient offense and opportunistic defense. And when Minnesota eventually countered, the Lions struck back in the second half, quickly building another two-score lead heading into the fourth quarter.
But with the game on the line, the coaching staff got in the way. I wish there was room for a more nuanced way to put it, but some of the game-management decisions made in the final 15 minutes of Sunday’s game undoubtedly hurt the players on the field in a way they could not overcome.
Let’s break it all down in our Week 3 Detroit Lions report card.
Two things that have frustrated me about Jared Goff as an overall quarterback has been his inability to handle pressure and his overall accuracy. Goff didn’t have a problem with either on Sunday against the Vikings. Several times, he got himself out of trouble with pressure coming out of his way, and I can really only think of maybe one of his 41 passing attempts being a true misfire.
Goff’s best play came in the third quarter, facing a fourth-and-2. The Vikings ran a stunt that had Za’Darius Smith running free right up the a-gap. Goff casually sidestepped the pressure, calmly kept his eyes downfield, rolled to his left, and found a wide-open Josh Reynolds for the conversion.
Unfortunately, the coaching staff essentially took the ball out of his hands in the fourth quarter. Prior to the final desperation drive, Goff threw the ball just four times in the final quarter, choosing to try to put the game away on the ground with 14 rushing attempts that went for a total of 47 yards.
Running backs: B
Jamaal Williams played valiantly as the feature back ahead of the beat-up D’Andre Swift. Not only did he find the end zone twice and average a solid 4.4 yards per carry, but he turned two receiving targets into two catches for 20 yards, including a big 17-yard gain.
However, the Lions’ running game was defined by its explosiveness in the first two weeks of the season, and that was clearly missing on Sunday without a healthy Swift. Their longest run of the game was 15 yards.
Craig Reynolds did not make a particularly good case for RB3, averaging a paltry 2.2 yards per carry on six attempts. If Swift remains out, the Lions should seriously consider giving Justin Jackson—a far more explosive back—some looks.
Tight ends: C+
T.J. Hockenson scored a touchdown in this game, but continues to underwhelm overall. He came up short on a third-and-8 attempt early in the game, and on the ensuing fourth-and-1, he created zero separation from linebacker Eric Kendricks, who batted the ball away. He would add just one other reception for the day.
That said, I thought this was one of the better blocking games for the entire tight end crew, and that showed up both in pass protection and in the run game.
Wide receivers: B
There weren’t any noticeable drops from this group, and Goff did a good job spreading the ball around to feed each of his receivers. Amon-Ra St. Brown had six catches, as did Josh Reynolds. DJ Chark added three, including two on the opening drive for 40 yards.
However, St. Brown’s lower-body injury in the second quarter clearly deflated this entire position group. When Detroit needed someone to seriously step up in the second half, no one did. Reynolds did have three catches for 67 yards in the second half, but DJ Chark and Kalif Raymond were shut out.
Offensive line: A-
Zero sacks and just two quarterback hits for the Vikings on Sunday. That alone is an impressive feat against a Vikings team that had racked up seven sacks and 11 QB hits in the first two games of the season. Goff deserves some of that credit, but the offensive line certainly deserves a fair share, too.
While the run blocking wasn’t quite as dominant as it was in the first two weeks, it certainly opened up opportunities for the backs to have a somewhat successful game against Minnesota.
Defensive line: F
Last week, the defensive line was arguably the star of the defense. Aidan Hutchinson put up three sacks, and the interior defenders earned the game ball from the coaching staff for their gritty work in the run game.
On Sunday, they took a huge step back. Detroit could not create any pressure with their four-man fronts, and the Vikings ran wild on Detroit. While oftentimes the defensive line did their job on the playside of Vikings runs, they were completely undisciplined on the backside, allowing Dalvin Cook to reverse field or cut back for big gains.
Alex Anzalone led the team with 10 tackles, two quarterback hits, and the team’s only sack of the game. Malcolm Rodriguez wasn’t far behind with his eight tackles.
But there were a lot of missed tackles from this unit, and Rodriguez again gave up a big play in the passing game when Irv Smith Jr. slipped behind him.
Jeff Okudah deserves a ton of praise from shutting down Justin Jefferson to the tune of three catches for 14 yards on six targets. Sure, he had help over the top most of the time, but he put up a heck of a fight on his own.
However, it’s hard to celebrate his performance when it meant little in terms of how the game played out. With Jefferson blanketed, Kirk Cousins opted to target his other two primary receivers, and no one else in the Lions secondary could stop K.J. Osborn or Adam Thielen. Those two combined for 11 catches on 16 attempts for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Another way to put that is to say that when targeting those two, Cousins put up a passer rating of 133.9. And that’s not even factoring in the six penalties on Amani Oruwariye.
Unfortunately, despite all of that, the Lions secondary still had a chance to win the game at the end, and, instead, they left Osborn wide open on back-to-back plays, resulting in the game-winning score.
Special teams: D
Let’s run down the rap sheet here:
- Missed a 48-yard field goal
- Missed a critical 54-yard field goal
- 39-yard punt from Jack Fox, resulting in the Vikings starting at their own 43-yard line (MIN would score a TD on that drive)
- Kalif Raymond lets a punt bounce at the 31-yard line and it rolls all the way to the 9, costing Detroit at least 22 yards of field position
There was some good mixed in there, too. Fox pinned the Vikings at their own 8-yard line. Detroit’s kick coverage remains excellent, holding Minnesota inside their own 25-yard line on three of four kicks from normal distance (not including the kickoff after the bogus Jamaal Williams penalty).
But that good was overshadowed by the kicking mistakes.
It would be easy to give the coaching staff an F—and pretty justified, too—after Campbell’s awful decisions undoubtedly hurt the team at the end of the game. There is no defending his decision to attempt a 54-yard field goal at the end of the game when both punting and going for it were far better options.
However, we do also have to point out that Campbell’s aggression is what got the Lions a two-score lead in the first place. All four of the team’s fourth-down conversions eventually led to points. Going for it on fourth-and-5 early in the game led to Detroit’s first touchdown drive. They scored again after back-to-back, fourth-and-1 conversions. Some of those were obvious decisions to go for, but many other coaches would’ve opted to punt. Without those decisions, the Lions may have never led in this game to begin with.
Of course, that’s what makes Campbell’s decision to kick a field goal in the game’s most important moment all that more frustrating. He reverted to a shell in the worst moment and put the game on one of the team’s most unreliable players’ hands. Sorry, Seibert, but the kicking game has been bad since training camp. That miss was not a surprise.
There are other gripes in this game, too. Campbell’s decision to call a timeout in the middle of the Vikings’ go-ahead drive is hard to explain. The Lions head coach defended that decision, saying he wanted to give the team’s pass rush a breather, but that was literally two plays into the drive. Instead, he gave the Vikings time to settle down, call a good play, and score the game-winner right out of the timeout.
There was also some questionable offensive play calling on critical downs, specifically two in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-1, the Lions opted to take a deep shot to Josh Reynolds. On a failed fourth-and-1 conversion, Detroit ran a slow-developing counter to Jamaal Williams rather than just trying to run power and use their biggest strength—their offensive line—to just overpower the Vikings.
Those were moments the Lions could have put the game away, but coaching got in the way, squandering yet another solid performance from the offense.