Detroit — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 34-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Jared Goff’s day didn’t start out great, with the Lions going three-and-out to open the contest, and the quarterback firing behind his intended target, DJ Chark, on a fourth down the next series. But Goff settled down and performed at a Pro Bowl level the rest of the way, leading the Lions to a victory.
Goff connected on not one, but two deep shots, with the second a perfect ball to Chark for a 48-yard touchdown. And whenever the Lions needed a counterpunch in the second half, Goff delivered chain-moving pass after chain-moving pass, including a couple of huge third-down throws on possessions that ended in the end zone.
Goff said earlier this week he’s playing the best football of his career and this outing rubber stamped that sentiment. Grade: A
Detroit’s ground game never really got on track in the contest, with the team’s backfield trio averaging 3.0 yards per carry. But the overall grade gets a bump from Justin Jackson’s second-half efforts. The third man in that rotation converted a third down with a 12-yard reception, two plays before getting the corner on a 15-yard touchdown run. Grade: B-
Wide receivers/tight ends
The entire receiving room contributed in the victory, with Chark pacing the Lions with 94 yards on six catches. Amon-Ra St. Brown chipped in another six catches, helping sustain some of Detroit’s scoring drives, while Josh Reynolds added 51 yards, more than doubling his production since Week 7 and finding the end zone for the first time since Week 4.
But the most memorable catch belongs to rookie Jameson Williams, who got wide, wide open on a play-action pass, leading to a 41-yard score for his first NFL reception.
The tight ends had a relatively quiet day, but Brock Wright provided the key block, pulling from right to left, to spring Jackson on his touchdown run. Grade: A-
Jonah Jackson had a shaky start, getting flagged for holding, giving up a quarterback pressure and failing to get to his second-level assignment on a Jamaal Williams’ run that was stopped behind the line. But overall, the unit held its own, particularly in pass protection. Goff dropped back more than 40 times, but wasn’t sacked and absorbed just three hits. Grade: B+
Detroit’s defensive front offered no breathing room for running back Dalvin Cook, even if it meant eating up blocks so the second-level defenders could make the plays. The three-time Pro Bowler finished with a season-low 1.5 yards per carry. Most importantly, defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs forced Cook to fumble in the red zone at the end of the first half, squashing a scoring threat.
In terms of the pass rush, the Lions got a healthy amount of pressure, translating it into a trio of sacks from the line. Rookies Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston continued to provide a spark, each dropping quarterback Kirk Cousins behind the line. Grade: A
Chris Board drew a tough assignment, having to cover T.J. Hockenson one-on-one much of the afternoon. There were high moments, including a third-down pass breakup early in the game, and also some struggles with the tight end making some third-down grabs after getting separation against the linebacker.
Alex Anzalone had another assignment-sound day, leading the Lions with nine tackles, including six solo stops. Rookie Malcolm Rodriguez chipped in five tackles, including a quick read-and-react that resulted in a negative play for the Vikings. Grade: B+
Detroit’s secondary played an understated role in helping bottle up Cook, with one of the best plays coming from Jeff Okudah. He dropped the back at the line on a failed fourth-down run.
In coverage, Detroit’s DBs made some plays, but they got worked over by Justin Jefferson, who racked up 223 yards and had several explosive gains. Adam Thielen added seven catches, juking past slot corner Mike Hughes on his way to a 23-yard score.
Penalties were also a bit of an issue. Okudah was flagged twice, with an unnecessary roughness in the red zone and a pass interference in the end zone. Earlier in that possession, a defensive holding by Kerby Joseph on third down extended the drive and negated a sack by John Cominsky. Grade: C+
The Lions pulled off another fake punt, as C.J. Moore took a direct snap and ran more than 30 yards behind the blocks of Jason Cabinda and Rodriguez.
Jack Fox actually did get a chance to punt in this one and made the most of his opportunities, bombing his first effort 66 yards and pinning the Vikings inside the 10-yard on the second. Elsewhere, Michael Badgley went 2-of-3 on field goals, missing a 47-yarder at the end of the half, while Kalif Raymond provided another big return, bringing a punt back 35 yards to set up the Chark touchdown.
Penalties hurt here, as well, with Board going offside on a punt and practice squader Jarren Williams getting called for taunting. Grade: B+
It didn’t come into play, but coach Dan Campbell let nearly a minute run off the clock late in the first half, giving his offense less time to operate on the drive that ended in Badgley’s missed field goal.
But in terms of preparation and play-calling, the Lions executed at a high level on both sides of the ball. The team has rounded a corner with its poise and the moment never feels too big for them, which is a credit to the coaching staff.
Campbell also gets credit for the fake punt call, which came at a time and in a situation where the opponent couldn’t have reasonably anticipated it. It was unquestionably risky, but when it works out, you tip the cap. That conversion was one of the key moments in the victory. Grade: A-