Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Detroit struggles in trenches in loss to Buffalo

Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 28-25 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Quarterbacks

People are going to fixated on Goff’s final throw. Whether you want to classify it as a miscommunication or an underthrown ball, the incompletion left enough time on the clock for the Bills to get into position for a game-winning kick. Still, it’s unreasonable to suggest that one play negates a relatively good game from the QB, playing behind a patchwork offensive line and lacking a reliable running game.

Goff was sharp in other key moments, converting multiple third-and-long situations and connecting on two touchdown passes, including one on fourth-and-one and another threaded into an extremely tight window to his third read. And Goff also protected the football, even if we acknowledge he got away with an interception thanks to a heads-up play by running back Justin Jackson. Grade: B

Running backs

Justin Jackson had an underrated day, not accurately depicted by the box score. He had a hardnosed 11-yard run into the red zone on a drive that ended in a touchdown, hauled in a screen pass with one hand and turned it into a 15-yard gain, and cleanly picked up a blitz on a third-down conversion. He also had an uncredited PBU that saved a turnover.

The lead tandem of Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift had highs and lows. Williams scored his 13th touchdown and had a 27-yard run for a third-down conversion, but also lost his second fumble this season. Swift showed some toughness as a runner, although a 9-yard TD run was scrapped when the replay showed his knee touched before the goal line. He also dropped a likely scoring pass on a well-placed ball from Goff near the sideline. Grade: C+

Wide receivers/tight ends

Amon-Ra St. Brown is clearly back to full strength and back to being Goff’s favorite target. He hauled in nine passes on 10 targets for a team-high 122 yards, while also snagging a touchdown on a well-run route on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

DJ Chark also snagged a touchdown, making a full-extension grab along the back of the end zone to beat tight coverage. In the closing moments, he was the target on the failed third down. There, he appeared to have a step on the defender, only for his quarterback to throw a short, back-shoulder ball.

The blocking from the group was less stellar, although it’s tough to blame Brock Wright for struggling with Von Miller in one-on-one situations. Wright also dropped a pass where Goff patiently drew in a defender while rolling from the pocket before flicking the ball to the tight end. Grade: B+

Offensive line

It was a rough day for Detroit’s makeshift line, starting two backups at guard. Kayode Awosika got beat for an early sack, while Dan Skipper gave up multiple tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also got driven back into the pocket and stepped on Goff’s foot, resulting in a safety.

Overall, the protection was far shakier than normal with the Bills logging 10 hits on Goff. And outside of Williams’ 27-yarder, which was largely the result of schematic misdirection, Detroit’s backs averaged 2.3 yards per carry.

One notable bright spot was backup offensive tackle Matt Nelson returning to action after a six-game absence. He delivered a key block on Williams’ touchdown early in the game. Grade: D+

Defensive line

The Lions struggled with their contain assignments up front as Bills quarterback Josh Allen was able to run for 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. And running back Devin Singletary also had an efficient day on the ground, averaging 5.1 yards with his 14 carries, including two explosive gains.

In terms of pressure on Allen, the Lions got plenty, but struggled to consistently finish. Rookie James Houston recorded two of Detroit’s three sacks, but far too often Allen escaped, extended plays and did damage with both his feet and his arm.

Maybe that caused some frustration because there’s little explanation for Austin Bryant’s unnecessary and costly decision to toss the QB to the ground after he threw the ball, giving the Bills a fresh set of downs on a critical fourth-quarter drive. Grade: D+

Linebackers

Malcolm Rodriguez didn’t get the start, but certainly made an impact. The rookie linebacker blew up a screen early in the game, and in the third quarter, he dropped into the passing lane and deflected a pass that was intercepted by Alex Anzalone.

On top of the takeaway, Anzalone played with good instincts and reaction time, leading the team with nine tackles. Derrick Barnes, who started alongside Anzalone, had a much quieter day, netting just three stops. Grade: B

Secondary

It was an up-and-down day for the secondary. They did a good job keeping Stefon Diggs in check until the closing minutes of the contest, when the star receiver hauled in a touchdown, followed by a 36-yard gain on the following drive that helped get Buffalo in position for the game-winning kick.

Mike Hughes played well in a spot start in place of Jeff Okudah, but Will Harris had some issues defending the slot. He got beat for a 19-yard touchdown to Isaiah McKenzie in the first half and was the man in coverage of Diggs on the long completion at the end. Grade: C

Special teams

Michael Badgley made a 51-yard field goal to tie the game in the final minute, but that only partially negates the 29-yarder he sent wide left earlier in the second half.

Other than that, it was a pretty solid day for Detroit’s special teams. Kalif Raymond had an electric punt return in the second half, making multiple tacklers miss, gaining 41 yards. And punter Jack Fox, despite a low trajectory on his first effort, pinning the Bills inside the 20 twice and posted an excellent 51.5-yard net average. Grade: B+

Coaching

The coaching evaluation isn’t easy this week. The clock management at the end of both halves was debatable. The team didn’t do enough to kill the clock with its play-calling, providing opportunities for the Bills to get scores both at the end of the second quarter and the game-winning kick.

Even before stalling out and settling for the game-tying Badgley field goal, the Lions were overly conservative on the series, repeatedly running the ball and making it feel like they were playing for the tie. Then they swung to the opposite end of the spectrum on a third-down deep shot, which isn’t playing to Goff’s strengths.

Beyond the clock management concerns, Campbell was characteristically aggressive, going for it on fourth down three times, including once deep in his own territory and twice in the red zone, instead of settling for short field goals. Since the Lions converted all three times, it’s tough to criticize those choices, although the one at their own 33 is an uncomfortable risk.

The coordinators largely called good games, particularly OC Ben Johnson, who utilized some creative calls to cover for the deficiencies the team was facing with the injury situations up front. Grade: B-

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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