Detroit Lions grades: Dan Campbell, Jared Goff get As after throttling Minnesota Vikings

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 34-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field.

Quarterback

Jared Goff said this week he is playing the best football of his career, and that’s hard to argue after he had another strong game Sunday. Goff completed 27 of 39 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He hit deep TD passes to Jameson Williams and DJ Chark and was sharp on timing throws off play-action. Goff had one bad throw that sailed behind Chark on a fourth-and-4, but he showed great pocket awareness, shoveling a pass (that fell incomplete) to Brock Wright as he escaped pressure and making smart decisions to throw the ball away. His best pass was a 5-yard touchdown throw to Josh Reynolds in the third quarter, when he sold a fake toss to Swift that froze defensive back Camryn Bynum in coverage. Grade: A

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Running backs

The Lions did not have a great day rushing (92 yards on 29 carries, not including C.J. Moore’s fake punt), but Jamaal Williams (16 carries, 37 yards) and D’Andre Swift had 8- and 9-yard runs, respectively, in the fourth quarter while trying to milk the clock. Swift dropped a pass over the middle early in the game, but made a nice play to get out of bounds on a reception on a two-minute drive late in the first half. Justin Jackson did not have have many touches, but he fought through a tackle to pick up a first down with a 12-yard catch on third-and-8 in fourth quarter and followed that up with 15-yard touchdown run. Grade: B

Receivers/tight ends

Nine different players caught passes for the Lions on Sunday (including tackle Penei Sewell), and Chark had another strong game with six receptions for 94 yards. Chark ran by Cam Dantzler on his 48-yard touchdown catch and got great blocking from Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds when he turned a bubble screen into a third-and-9 conversion in the first half. Williams played sparingly as the Lions’ fifth receiver. His touchdown came on a coverage bust by Bynum and he dropped a quick pass of a fake jet sweep in the fourth quarter. Raymond had an important 14-yard catch to convert on third-and-12, and Wright made the key block on Jackson’s touchdown. Grade: A-minus

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Offensive line

The Lions had a couple hiccups with Minnesota’s pressure packages early. Za’Darius Smith beat Frank Ragnow on a stunt to force a Goff incompletion on his first pass attempt of the game, and forced another incompletion later in the half with a pressure against Jonah Jackson. The line had another impressive game overall, though. The Lions did not allow a sack for the third time in six games, Decker had a key pulling block on a 6-yard toss to Swift on the first drive of the second half and Jackson was out front blocking on a sweep to St. Brown. Logan Stenberg was inconsistent in his return to the lineup at right guard. Dalvin Tomlinson knocked Stenberg 2 yards into the backfield before stopping Jackson on a draw on the final play of the first quarter, and Stenberg couldn’t hold a block on Danielle Hunter on a screen to Swift that went for a short gain. Grade: A-minus

Defensive line

The Lions stifled Minnesota’s rushing attack, holding Dalvin Cook to 23 yards on 15 carries as Isaiah Buggs led a dominant effort against the Vikings’ interior line. Buggs forced a fumble in the final minute of the first half and finished with three quarterback hits. Aidan Hutchinson flew past right tackle Brian O’Neill for a fourth quarter sack (on a play where Buggs also got good pressure up the middle), and forced a Kirk Cousins throw-away two plays later off a stunt with John Cominsky. Cominsky came off a block to team with Jarrad Davis to stop a two-point play, and Hutchinson, Anthony Pittman and James Houston got home on a five-man rush on a Hail Mary play at the end of the second quarter for another sack. Grade: A

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone (nine tackles) and the rest of the linebacking unit were key to the Lions’ effort against the run as well. Anzalone made a nice play to track KJ Osborn down the line of scrimmage on a shovel pass, and Malcolm Rodriguez shot past guard Ezra Cleveland to stop Cook for a 1-yard loss with the Vikings pinned at their own 10-yard line in the second quarter. Chris Board showed great closing speed to break up a shallow crossing pass to T.J. Hockenson on third-and-6 on the opening drive. Grade: A

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Defensive backs

Justin Jefferson (11 catches, 223 yards) had his way with a Lions secondary that rotated personnel at cornerback as Jeff Okudah was in and out of the lineup with an illness. Okudah made a big fourth down stop on Cook on the Vikings’ opening drive, after Minnesota accepted a Lions offsides penalty on a punt, but also had two penalties on Minnesota’s first scoring drive. Amani Oruwariye, Okudah’s replacement, got beat badly for a 42-yard gain by Jefferson, and Mike Hughes gave up Adam Thielen’s touchdown grab on fourth-and-4 and got beat on a 47-yard bomb to Jefferson in the fourth quarter. Hughes had a strong game in run support, including a tackle for loss in the second quarter when he beat Osborn to throw Cook for a 4-yard loss. Kerby Joseph had a defensive holding penalty that nullified a sack, while Jerry Jacobs showed off his closing speed when he knocked down a deep pass from Cousins on a play that it looked like he might get beat for a touchdown. Grade: B

Special teams

The Lions had two penalties on special teams — Board was offside on Minnesota’s first punt and Jarren Williams was flagged for taunting after Moore’s 42-yard run on a fake punt — and missed a 47-yard field goal, but made up for those gaffes with several big plays. Jack Fox bombed a 66-yard punt to start the game, then dropped his second like a pin at the 10-yard line. Michael Badgley made kicks of 41 and 48 yards, Moore got huge blocks from Board, Rodriguez and Jason Cabinda on his run, and Josh Woods recovered Minnesota’s late onside kick. Raymond had a big 35-yard punt return in the second quarter, with help from a nice block by Okudah, when the Lions had their safety punt defense on the field and may have foiled a fake by the Vikings. Grade: B-plus

Coaching

Dan Campbell and his staff deserve a ton of credit for the Lions’ turnaround. Both offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn put together winning game plans Sunday, and Campbell signed off on timely calls with the fake punt and a third down pass to Sewell with 2 minutes to play. The Lions put together a productive two-minute drive at the end of the first half (that ended with a missed field goal), and Campbell made the right decision to go for a fourth-and-4 even though that failed early in the game. The Lions are brimming with confidence now, and the fact that never waned during their 1-6 start is a reflection of their faith in their head coach. Grade: A

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

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