Arlington, Texas — Justin Rogers of The Detroit News grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The Lions built out a game plan predicated on running the ball and quick passes, and although the offense failed to get into the end zone in the first half, quarterback Jared Goff was doing a good job executing the calls.
But when the team finally took a deep shot early in the third quarter, Goff badly underthrew the ball from a clean pocket, starting an avalanche of turnovers. Of the five second-half giveaways, the quarterback was responsible for four, including another interception near midfield in the fourth quarter, when the Lions were still within striking distance, followed up by a pair of fumbles as things slipped away.
Goff isn’t the type of quarterback you ask to carry the team and this game shows why. When trying to orchestrate a desperate comeback, his mistake-prone nature gets magnified. This one epitomized that flaw. Grade: F
In terms of yards per carry, Detroit’s backfield was solid, rushing for 93 yards on 22 attempts, while adding another 22 yards on four receptions. But ball security was an issue, in the most unpredictable of ways.
The typically sure-handed Jamaal Williams, who had never fumbled in his career until late last season, put the ball on the ground twice, losing the second on a first-and-goal carry from the 1-yard line where the Lions were set to take the lead.
Williams also blew a protection earlier in the game, resulting in a sack that killed a drive before it ever got started. Grade: D+
Wide receivers/tight ends
Without DJ Chark, who landed on injured reserve this week, and Amon-Ra St. Brown, who exited with a concussion in the first quarter, Detroit’s pass-catchers caught most everything their direction, hauling in 17 of 21 targets.
Kalif Raymond led the way with 75 yards on five catches, while tight end Brock Wright chipped in 57 yards, reeling in all four balls thrown his way, including one to the 1-yard line prior to Williams’ fumble.
The receivers also did good work blocking for each other, allowing the quick passing game to be successful. Grade: B+
The Lions came into the game having allowed just seven sacks in five games, but Goff was dropped five times in this one, losing a pair of fumbles in the process. Obviously Williams was at fault for one of those sacks, but the line struggled to protect in clear passing situations, including the usually steady Penei Sewell getting beat for a strip-sack late in the game.
Additionally, Evan Brown’s holding infraction in the first half negated a first down run by Williams into the red zone, halting one of Detroit’s best chances to score a touchdown and leaving the offense to settle for a long field goal. Grade: D+
After struggling to make an impact as a pass-rusher the previous three games, a freed up Aidan Hutchinson found some success, recording a sack in both the first and second halves and earning the success with a strong individual effort on both plays.
In addition to Hutchinson, second-round draft pick Josh Paschal flashed some real promise in his debut, particularly as a run defender, recording a couple of stops and stringing out a third-down run, which allowed a teammate to drop the running back short of the marker. Grade: B+
Detroit’s second level was quiet in the play-making department, outside of a sack Alex Anzalone shared with Hutchinson off a blitz. Otherwise, the tandem of Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez quietly contributed 11 tackles while largely fulfilling their assignments against both the run and pass.
It is worth noting the veteran got popped for a drive-extending defensive holding on third down on the drive Dallas extended its lead to two scores. Grade: B–
Jeff Okudah looked like a star, flying to the ball in run support and playing tight coverage on the outside. He finished with a staggering 15 tackles, including 12 solo stops, while also knocking away a third-down pass in the first half.
The play of the safeties was more hit-and-miss, but none of those hits were bigger than the fumble-causing pop delivered by rookie Kerby Joseph late in the first half that prevented a Cowboys touchdown. DeShon Elliott and Joseph combined for 13 tackles, but both missed one on a pair of long runs that led to Dallas’ first touchdown of the afternoon. Elliott was also flagged for a defensive holding that took away a sack for Julian Okwara.
AJ Parker had some struggles in the slot, giving up a couple long grabs when he got caught in a mismatch against CeeDee Lamb. Finally, Jerry Jacobs, in limited snaps making his season debut, got flagged for pass interference in the end zone ahead of a short touchdown run. Grade: B
Michael Badgley attempted his first kicks in a Detroit uniform and made both of his field goal attempts, drilling a 53-yarder down the middle with plenty of distance.
But Detroit’s punt unit had a rough day with long snapper Scott Daly coming up short on one effort, leading to a subpar boot and touchback for Jack Fox. And the coverage unit had a breakdown on a latter punt, resulting in a long return for the Cowboys’ KaVontae Turpin.
In total, Fox had a net average of 19.3 yards on his three punts, which is ugly. Grade: C-
Honestly, despite the final score, I can’t kill the coaches for this one. The game plan made sense and was well executed, outside of the turnovers, which falls more on execution than play calls.
Defensively, coordinator Aaron Glenn had his guys ready to play, generating three-and-outs on multiple drives in the first half, as well as a turnover, as Dallas was limited to three points through two quarters. The decision to bench veteran Michael Brockers in favor of Paschal, and giving Hutchinson more freedom with his rush approach, breathed some life into the team’s defensive front, and the secondary effectively took away the deep ball much of the afternoon.
Offensively, the game plan effectively countered the Cowboys’ talented pass rush until the Lions were forced to throw while in comeback mode during the fourth quarter.
And while some will find fault in it, the decision to run out the clock at the end of the first half, after taking over on the fumble forced by Kerby, was the right decision for an offense lacking its best weapons and a quarterback that proved his struggles in high-pressure situations. It showed growth from coach Dan Campbell to pump the brakes with his aggressiveness when the situation called for a more conservative approach. Grade: B+