Detroit Lions grades: Defense gets high marks all around in win over Packers

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 15-9 win over the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field.


Jared Goff’s play has tailed off since a hot start to the season. He threw his seventh interception of the year in Sunday’s third quarter and easily could have had three more turnovers. He nearly was picked off twice on the Lions’ second possession and had 88 yards passing late in the third quarter. Goff finished a pedestrian 14 for 26 for 137 yards, but he made two important throws on the Lions’ final touchdown drive, lacing a third-down conversion to Amon-Ra St. Brown and looking off his first read to find James Mitchell for a TD. Statistically, the Packers have one of the NFL’s best pass defenses, but Goff needs to be more accurate with his throws and quicker with his decision making. Grade: C

Running backs

Jamaal Williams needed 24 carries to get 81 yards rushing, but he wore a hole in the Packers defense with his physical play. Williams carried eight times on the Lions’ second touchdown drive, and he and Justin Jackson had their biggest runs on no-huddle plays when the Lions caught the Packers in favorable personnel packages. D’Andre Swift played sparingly. He had only five touches, including two carries for 10 yards, but he showed great hands on a Texas route, catching a pass thrown behind him on third-and-4 just before halftime. Jackson had 27 yards rushing on four carries and showed promise as a change-of-pack back in Swift’s absence. Grade: B-plus

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Receivers/tight ends

Playing with a depleted receiving corps and in their first game without T.J. Hockenson, the Lions did not attempt a pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. Amon-Ra St. Brown caught just four of the nine passes thrown his way for 55 yards. He had one kind-of drop, on a bootleg pass that glanced off his hands, but was a low throw by Goff. Tom Kennedy had a holding penalty that wiped out a short Swift run. He also drew a defensive holding penalty in the third quarter. Tight ends Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell caught their first career touchdowns on busted coverages. And while Lions coach Dan Campbell complimented the blocking of his tight ends, Brock Wright was called for a holding penalty that wiped out a Jackson run and was bounced aside by Rashan Gary on a Williams run for no gain. Grade: D-plus

Offensive line

The Lions finished with a hard-fought 117 yards rushing and relied heavily on their offensive line in key moments Sunday. Jonah Jackson made the block that created the crease Williams ran through on his two-point conversion, and the Lions ran eight times in a nine-play span on their second touchdown drive. Taylor Decker had a holding penalty on the Lions’ second possession, was flagged for a false start in the second quarter and got beat for a sack by Kingsley Enagbare that was nullified by penalty. The did have a near-costly hiccup late, when Quay Walker came unblocked on a run blitz to throw Williams for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1. Grade: B-minus

Defensive line

Isaiah Buggs doesn’t put up big statistics as a nose tackle, but he keyed a good day by the Lions run defense. Buggs overpowered Zach Tom on Derrick Barnes’ third-and-goal stop and had the pressure that led to Aidan Hutchinson’s interception. Buggs also had a near sack on the same play Josh Paschal drew a holding penalty. Hutchinson showed great recognition on his INT, which came on a tackle-eligible pass, though Aaron Rodgers severely underthrew David Bakhtiari on the play. Rodgers did scramble for 16 yards on a third-and-10 when the Lions left a big hole in their rush lanes, and the defensive line will look back at some missed pass rushing opportunities, though Rodgers is one of the best at extending plays in NFL history. Grade: A-minus

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Barnes played the best game of his young career. He had 12 tackles, including a big goal line stick on AJ Dillon on the final play of the first quarter, one sack and his helmet was in the right place to deflect a Rodgers pass that was intercepted on the goal line. Barnes’ sack came on a second-and-10 play in the second quarter, when he bounced off a block by Dillon and ran by center Josh Myers to get to Rodgers. Malcolm Rodriguez (four tackles) was in and out of the lineup because of what appeared to be an elbow injury, while Alex Anzalone (seven tackles) had a strong day against the run. Rodgers did break a 20-yard run on third-and-17, when he juked Anzalone and Barnes with a pump fake as he took off downfield. Grade: A

Defensive backs

The Lions’ much-maligned secondary played its best game of the season. Kerby Joseph had 10 tackles and two interceptions before leaving with a brain injury in the fourth quarter, and the unit played lockdown coverage on four stops from the 17-yard line on Green Bay’s final possession. Joseph has shown excellent ball skills since replacing Tracy Walker in the starting lineup. He made a heads-up interception on the deflection off Barnes’ helmet, had a pass breakup on an underthrown Rodgers pass early in the third quarter and made a nice play on his second pick down the middle of the field. Jeff Okudah gave up a few long catches to Allen Lazard, including on Green Bay’s lone touchdown, but he broke up Rodgers’ two-point attempt on the next play and was his usual active self in run support. Jerry Jacobs had a pass breakup and a pass interference penalty in his most significant defensive action since tearing his ACL last December, and he and Will Harris combined to throw Aaron Jones for a 6-yard loss on Green Bay’s opening possession of the third quarter. Grade: A-minus

Special teams

It was quiet day for the special teams units on both sides as the Lions and Packers combined for four punts and the Lions did not attempt a field goal. The Lions got good all-around play on Jack Fox’s first punt, when Fox dropped it inside the 10, Stanley Berryhill resisted the urge to down it after one bounce and Anthony Pittman touched it dead at the 1. Scott Daly had a bad snap on Michael Badgley’s first extra point, when the Lions were bailed out by a running into the kicker penalty. And Fox kicked a low line drive on his second half kickoff, which the Packers returned for good field position. Grade: C


The Lions had a tumultuous week with the trade of T.J. Hockenson and the firing of Aubrey Pleasant, but Campbell and his staff deserve credit for holding the team together in tough times. I did not like Campbell’s decision to go for a fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 7-yard line on the opening drive. I thought the Lions needed to get some points out of that possession after their week, though the analytics were clearly in Campbell’s favor. Campbell made the right decision to challenge a fourth-and-3 catch that was overturned on the field, and his aggressive approach paid off when he opted to go for two after the running into the kicker penalty. The Lions’ conversion there was key in a game between two struggling offenses. I would have punted on the Lions’ second failed fourth-down attempt, though the analytics again supported Campbell’s decision to try and convert on fourth-and-3 late in the fourth quarter. Give embattled defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn credit, too, for coming up with a game plan that exposed how much Rodgers’ play has fallen off. Grade: B

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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