That win was everything the Detroit Lions want to be. For nearly 20 months, we have heard coach Dan Campbell say that he wants the identity of this team to be one that can stop the run on defense and establish it on offense.
Well, Saquon Barkley had just 22 yards on 15 carries, and the Lions tallied 160 yards on 37 carries on offense (34 carries for 163 yards—an impressive 4.8 YPC—when you take away kneel downs).
Or, as Campbell put in his postgame locker room speech:
“We’re playing some pretty clean, physical football, man.”
Let’s take a closer look at their performance with our Week 11 report card.
Pretty quiet day for Jared Goff, who only attempted 26 passes in the game—tied for the lowest amount he’s thrown all season. He didn’t have a touchdown pass and he only completed two passes more than 10 yards downfield, but he avoided negative plays. He didn’t throw an interception (though he came close twice) and he didn’t take a sack.
Combine that with a couple of clutch third-down completions—Detroit was a steady 6-for-13 on third downs against one of the best third-down defenses in the league—and it was a perfectly fine day for Goff.
Running backs: A-
Jamaal Williams continues make the Lions one of the more efficient teams in the red zone—even against one of the best red zone defenses in the league. The Lions running back now leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and almost seems automatic from the 2-yard line or closer.
Meanwhile, it was a breakout performance from Justin Jackson, who ran with the kind of vision and decisiveness that the team has been lacking from D’Andre Swift since he came back from injury. Jackson also threw in a great 36-yard kick return that helped set up Detroit with good field position before they scored a touchdown to open the second half.
Which brings us to Swift, who drags the running back crew down a half grade. Not only did Swift fumble deep in the team’s own zone—which could’ve changed the entire trajectory of the game had he not recovered it—but he also ran with horrible vision on the ensuing third-and-1:
Swift has been an issue as of late. Though he found the end zone late on an important score, three of his eight touches went for negative yardage.
Throwing fullback Jason Cabinda into this group, he had a couple of rough drops, but his physicality in the run game was more than enough to make up for it.
Tight ends: A-
Speaking of physicality in the run game, Detroit’s tight ends really showed up in this one. Brock Wright has become Detroit’s TE1, and it was just what the doctor ordered for a struggling run game over the past couple weeks. And because he’s primarily a blocker, the Lions have been able to sneak him out for passing routes to a high level of efficiency. Wright caught both of his two targets, and one was a critical third-down conversion in the red zone that led to a touchdown.
Wide receivers: B
Quiet day for the receivers, as they weren’t getting a ton of separation from a below-average New York Giants secondary. That said, they were able to extend drives with some clutch catches. Kalif Raymond had the wherewithal to get up after falling down on a screen and scrambled to pick up a third-and-12. Tom Kennedy picked up a third-and-9 in the second half. Amon-Ra St. Brown converted a critical fourth quarter third-and-6 to bleed more clock out. And Raymond had a nice end around on third-and-6 that sealed the game.
Not a standout day from this unit, but they came up big in big moments.
Offensive line: A
There were a couple of bad penalties on this unit, including a questionable block in the back on Penei Sewell and an unnecessary roughness on Jonah Jackson, but that’s about it in terms of bad things.
The Giants bolstered a strong defensive front, including quite possibly the best nose tackle in football, and they ran the ball all game and kept Goff clean. Or, as NFL.com put it:
“Jared Goff was blitzed 16 times and took zero sacks in Week 11.”
Goff took just three quarterback hits on the day, too, and that was with right guard Evan Brown leaving the game early with an ankle injury.
Defensive line: A-
“The Lions’ defensive line has been much maligned this season, but the unit showed up in a big way to shut down the Giants’ run game. Chief among them was second-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill. He led all players in the game with three run stops. That paled in comparison to his production as a pass-rusher. McNeil also led all players in the game with seven pressures in a dominant performance.”
“The Giants’ interior offensive line got manhandled on Sunday. They combined to let up 11 pressures between the three.”
McNeill was an absolute stud. Aidan Hutchinson continues to make huge plays—this time one of the more impressive interceptions you’ll see from a defensive lineman—and Isaiah Buggs continues to be one of the more underrated players on this team.
I took a half-grade off because Detroit’s edge defenders—particularly Austin Bryant in this game—continue to lose contain on QB read options.
Really the only unit all day I thought had a bad game. When the Lions had the Giants on the ropes, Daniel Jones nearly brought them back into this game by exposing Detroit’s linebackers in coverage. The middle of the field was wide open all game, and Jones set a season high with 341 passing yards (his previous high was only 217). Yes, he also attempted seven more passes than in any other game, but he already had 149 yards passing in the first half when the game was still competitive.
Up and down day for the Lions secondary. Again, Jones had nearly a career game through the air. However, Jerry Jacobs continues to battle well, Kerby Joseph got another interception, and DeShon Elliott’s physical presence continues to be important both in the pass and run game.
That said, it was a particularly rough games for Mike Hughes, and Amani Oruwariye gave up a couple of catches after coming in for Jeff Okudah.
Special teams: A
The Lions got a blocked extra point, a big kick return, and Michael Badgley was perfect on his four kicks during a windy day. I’ll even forgive Jack Fox’s touchback on a short punt, because he was excellent the rest of the day, too.
I’ll start with my one, ticky-tacky quibble. Early in the game, Campbell chose to decline a holding penalty that would’ve pushed the Giants back on their side of the field for a second-and-19, giving New York a third-and-7, instead. Campbell said he preferred one less down to make a stop, which is understandable. However, I personally would’ve taken the penalty because it would’ve pushed them beyond field goal position and this is not an offense that is very capable of making 12 yards on a play. Unfortunately, the Giants converted the third-and-7 and would later score a touchdown on the drive. It was a non-obvious decision, though, so I’ll give it a pass.
I want to spend the rest of this column giving praise to the Lions coordinators. First, I thought this was one of offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s best performances. The Lions pulled out a couple of funky three-running back formations, lined up Sewell as a wide receiver, and Johnson was great on (most) critical downs. The end around to Raymond was a fantastic call to seal the game, and they finally converted on a third-and-1 with a smart QB sneak.
But Johnson’s best contribution to the game plan was how he combatted the Giants’ aggressive third-down defense. On those downs, the Giants love to send blitzes, so here’s how the Lions countered: the quick snap. On just about every third down, the Lions wasted no time snapping the ball once they got to the line. It was a brilliant idea because it gave New York no time to adjust to their formation. It gave no opportunities for the Giants to fake pressure. The Lions just got to the line and WENT, and it absolutely worked.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn continues to show why Campbell has never wavered in his support of him. Out of the bye week, the Lions have been a much better team at defending the run, holding four of their five opponents below 4.4 yards per carry (the league average is 4.5 YPC this year).
Detroit, like most teams, knew that shutting down Saquon Barkley was the key to victory, but that has been much easier said than done. Barkley’s 1.5 yards per carry against the Lions was the third-lowest output of Barkley’s career (minimum 10 carries).