Detroit Lions grades vs. Chicago Bears: Dan Campbell’s staff best of bunch in first road win

Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 31-30 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Quarterback

I’ve dinged Jared Goff for his crucial mistakes in crunch time in some of the Lions’ losses this season, so it’s only right to give him credit for delivering with the game on the line Sunday. Goff made a dart of a throw to Tom Kennedy on third-and-8 with a linebacker in his face and just over 3 minutes to play on the go-ahead touchdown drive. He was far from perfect. He got bailed out by a penalty away from the play on a bad interception and made a poor throw to an open Shane Zylstra on third-and-12 in the second half. But Goff finished a respectable 19 of 26 passing for 236 yards and made a key play with his feet, sidestepping a sack and scrambling for a first down on the Lions’ first touchdown drive of the second half. Grade: B-minus

Running backs

The Lions did not run the ball particularly well Sunday against one of the NFL’s worst rushing teams. Both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams scored rushing touchdowns, but they combined for only 65 yards on 22 carries. Williams (16 carries, 59 yards) had his best run on the opening drive, when he slithered through two defenders for a 13-yard gain two plays after he stonewalled Trevis Gipson on a blitz pickup off a play-action fake. Swift’s role continues to languish. He had seven touches Sunday and left yards on the field on his only catch, when he cut across field on a throwback pass in the third quarter but did not get vertical on the play. Justin Jackson was an adequate fill-in for Swift, with 14 yards on four carries. Grade: C-plus

SHAWN WINDSOR:Lions say to Bears: Karma is with us now; it’s about damn time.

Wide receivers/tight ends

The Lions don’t have many weapons in their passing game right now, and it showed in their run-heavy game plan Sunday. Goff did not attempt a pass longer than 20 yards for the second straight week, and Amon-Ra St. Brown was the only Lion with more than three catches. St. Brown was the Lions’ best offensive player. He ran for a first down on a slot trap on the opening drive, got a carry out of the backfield and finished with 10 catches on 11 targets for 119 yards. Zylstra should have caught that third-and-12 throw from Goff; the ball was low and behind him, but he got both hands on the ball as he slid to try and make the catch. Brock Wright missed a block on Gipson on Swift’s 5-yard loss, but he and James Mitchell helped wall off Chicago’s defense on Swift’s touchdown run and he sold his fake well on his touchdown catch, when he leaked out the backside of the formation after feigning a block. Grade: C

Offensive line

The Bears devoted extra personnel to stopping the Lions’ rushing attack Sunday, but the Lions contributed to their own woes on the ground with inconsistent blocking up front. Justin Jones threw Williams for a 2-yard loss in the red zone on the opening drive when he knifed past Evan Brown and beat a pulling Jonah Jackson into the backfield, and Armon Watts crossed Frank Ragnow’s face to stop Swift for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 on the opening drive of the second half. Brown got beat by Jones for what could have been a drive-killing 5-yard loss with about 4 minutes to play, and Penei Sewell gave up a sack in the third quarter. Goff generally had plenty of time to pass, and Jackson and Brown were out front pulling on Swift’s TD run, but the Lions have been better up front this season. Grade: C-plus

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Defensive line

The Lions were fortunate to escape with a win Sunday after allowing a season-high 258 yards rushing. Defensive tackles Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs got pushed around at the point of attack, and the Lions did a poor job containing Fields on designed quarterback runs. Fields slipped out of Buggs’ grasp on his first touchdown run, when Aidan Hutchinson overran the play, and Josh Paschal lost contain on Fields on a 13-yard scamper on the third play of the game. Give the line credit, though, for a well-executed rush plan, choking off escape lanes when Fields dropped back to pass. Paschal hemmed Fields on the pocket on Julian Okwara’s first sack on the final play of the first quarter, Buggs, with an assist from Will Harris, forced Fields’ interception, and Hutchinson had a key sack on Chicago’s final offensive drive. Grade: B-minus

Linebackers

Fields and Bears running backs Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery faced little resistance at the line of scrimmage and seemed to carry Lions’ tacklers for an extra yard or two on most of their runs. Alex Anzalone had 10 tackles, a forced fumble and teamed with Okwara to sack Fields on Chicago’s final offensive play. Anazlone was lucky to avoid a pass interference penalty on a third-and-5 in the fourth quarter, and Fields beat Derrick Barnes to the edge on one bootleg play that went for 13 yards. Jarrad Davis saw time as a nickel defender and made a nice play to string out Fields on a second-and-14 play when Fields threw incomplete after being forced to keep the ball. Okwara had one of his best games as a pro. He got beat on an option keeper on the first play of the game, but had two sacks, drew a holding penalty and mostly set a firm edge against the run. Grade: C-plus

Defensive backs

The Bears’ two longest plays of the day came at the expense of the Lions’ secondary. Fields scored on a 67-yard run when Mike Hughes gave Fields a cutback lane, C.J. Moore crashed too far inside and Kerby Joseph missed an open-field tackle in the secondary. And one of Moore or Hughes was to blame on Fields’ 50-yard touchdown pass to Cole Kmet, when both defenders followed the same underneath receiver. Joseph also was flagged for defensive holding in the fourth quarter and got beat on the Bears’ first touchdown of the second half, when Kmet faked a block then slipped behind the rookie safety. Jeff Okudah played well again in run support, though he had just one tackle, and he returned a terrible Fields pass for a touchdown to spark the Lions comeback. The Bears barely challenged the Lions secondary downfield with their remedial passing game. Grade: C  

Special teams

The Lions were sloppier than usual in the kicking game Sunday. They allowed a 50-yard kick return late in the first quarter and Jack Fox netted just 35.3 yards on his four punts. Scott Daly had a poor snap, his third in as many weeks, on Fox’s short punt at the end of the third quarter, and Fox got poor hangtime on another punt the Bears took back for an 18-yard return. Jackson did have a 39-yard kick return and Michael Badgley made his only field goal from 25 yards and all four of his extra points, which turned out to be the difference in the game as Cairo Santos missed a point-after try. Grade: C-minus

Coaching

The Bears out-Lions’d the Lions in some ways Sunday, committing costly turnovers and late-game penalties to blow a big fourth quarter lead. I’m not sure how big a role the Lions played in some of those mistakes, but it still was good to see Dan Campbell’s team make key plays late in the game. There is no way of knowing if the Lions are turning a corner in that regard, but in a tough road environment they limited their self-inflicted mistakes and gave themselves a chance to win. I thought Campbell managed the game well, taking a field goal early to get on the board and punting late on fourth-and-2 when he might have been tempted to try and convert. Give offensive coordinator Ben Johnson credit for a creative opening game script, too. He found unique ways to get St. Brown the ball, though the offense spent about two quarters stuck in neutral. Grade: B

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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