EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Detroit Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 31-18 win over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
With temperatures in the 30s and wind gusts up to 21 mph, the conditions Sunday were not great for throwing, so Jared Goff should not be judged on his ho-hum 165-yard passing day. Goff managed the game in the way the Lions needed him to, avoiding turnovers and keeping the offense out of long down-and-distance situations. He missed several throws. He had one interception dropped in the third quarter, made Kalif Raymond go to the ground to catch a bubble screen and sailed a poor throw to Jason Cabinda on a play that should have gone for a long gain. He needs to be more accurate, but he converted four times on third down with his arm and had a nice third down scramble nullified by penalty. Grade: B
Jamaal Williams continues to shine in a lead-back role and the Lions may have found him a new partner Sunday with a strong day from Justin Jackson. Williams carried 17 times for 64 yards and scored three touchdowns on a day that weather necessitated he be a factor. Jackson saw his most extensive action as a Lion, playing in some two-back sets and out-touching D’Andre Swift. Jackson finished with 66 yards on nine carries and the Lions got explosive runs from all three of their backs. Cabinda had the key pulling block on Oshane Ximines to spring Williams for his first touchdown. Grade: A
Raymond also had a key block on Williams’ first touchdown run and another on Swift’s 4-yard TD, and as a group the Lions receivers and tight ends played a big part in the team’s 160-yard rushing day. In the pass game, Raymond converted a third-and-12 on that low Goff bubble screen, when he immediately popped to his feet after making the catch, dodged a tackle by Julian Love and made a beeline for the sticks.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (seven catches, 76 yards) was the only Lion with more than 33 yards receiving. He broke a tackle on a short curl just before halftime to help set up Williams’ second TD and held on to make a juggling catch on a pass late in the game. D.J. Chark was a nonfactor in limited snaps in his first game back from an ankle injury. Grade: A-minus
The Lions got another strong showing from their offensive line. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry, did not allow a sack and the unit made its presence felt early opening a hole for Williams’ 12-yard run on the Lions’ first offensive play. Goff ran behind Jonah Jackson on his third-and-1 sneak and Williams scored his first TD through a hole Jackson created. Jackson and Brock Wright had the key blocks on Williams’ 15-yard run just before halftime.
The Lions had a couple key but questionable penalties up front. Jackson was penalized for shoving Fabian Moreau after a play, and Penei Sewell had a holding penalty that wiped out Goff’s scramble on third-and-9 and a block-in-the-back penalty when he split wide in a trips formation. Dan Skipper got beat by Leonard Williams for a pressure on Goff’s near interception, but he played most of the game at right guard in place of Evan Brown. Grade: A
The Lions got a tone-setting first drive from their defensive line. John Cominsky came unblocked off the edge to stop Saquon Barkley for a 4-yard loss on the Giants’ first play, and Alim McNeill got good pressure on Daniel Jones the next two snaps, including his first sack of the season on third-and-7 to force a three-and-out. McNeill had a dominant performance with four tackles, including three for loss, and three quarterback hits.
Aidan Hutchinson made a phenomenal play on his second interception of the season, when he dropped into coverage on a zone blitz. Hutchinson also recovered a fumble, and Cominsky had a sack on the final play of the first half after a good rush by Julian Okwara. McNeill and Isaiah Buggs led a standout performance against the run as the Lions held Barkley to 22 yards on 15 carries. Grade: A
Barkley had a long gain Sunday of 4 yards as the Lions’ linebackers — really, their entire back seven — did a good job filling holes and crashing to the football. Derrick Barnes saw extended playing time as the Lions’ second linebacker, ahead of Malcolm Rodriguez in some packages, and finished with six tackles, while Alex Anzalone had two quarterback hits and five tackles. Rodriguez took half a false step inside when he just missed stopping Matt Breida on a fourth-and-1 jet sweep, and as fair a tradeoff as it was for ganging up to shutdown Barkley, the unit was victimized on some of the Giants’ short passing game. Grade: A
The Lions’ secondary forced two of New York’s three turnovers Sunday. Kerby Joseph picked off an errant Daniel Jones pass in the second half and Will Harris forced a fumble with a textbook hit on Isaiah Hodgkins. The unit had some struggles in coverage.
Jerry Jacobs had a hard time on crossing routes and may have gotten away with pass interference on his third-and-5 pass defense late in the first half. Mike Hughes got beat for a 24-yard gain by Darius Slayton on third-and-4 in the third quarter, and Harris knocked Jeff Okudah out of the game when the two collided in coverage over the middle. DeShon Elliott led the Lions with eight tackles and teamed with Buggs to make a nice stop on an option toss to Barkley for no gain in the second half. Grade: B
The Lions played one of their best games of the season on special teams Sunday. Cominsky blocked the extra point after the Giants’ first touchdown, St. Brown recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter and Jack Fox punted well after being called out by special teams coordinator Dave Fipp on Thursday. Fox had one touchback, but he boomed punts of 57 and 63 yards into the wind in the second quarter. Jackson’s 36-yard kick return came after he bobbled a snap, and the Lions were solid on kick and punt coverage. Grade: A
Dan Campbell praised his coordinators for putting together great gameplans Sunday and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Aaron Glenn’s defense suffocated Barkley and the Giants’ third-ranked rushing attack and his decision to drop Hutchinson into coverage on his interception was a timely changeup that paid off. Offensively, Ben Johnson continues to draw up creative ways to get his best players open. The Lions had little trouble moving the ball despite the windy conditions and while still being shorthanded at receiver.
I was not a fan of Campbell’s decision to decline two penalties Sunday, especially the holding penalty on a 2-yard run on second-and-9 after the Giants had converted a fourth down earlier on their possession. Campbell said wanted to ensure the Giants had tough passing situations on third down, but both decisions backfired after New York conversions. Still, Campbell has his team believing it can win, and the Lions played their best all-around game of the season Sunday. Grade: A