Detroit Lions grades: Sterling defensive effort from front seven brings win over Jets

Detroit Free Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions after their 20-17 win vs. the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Quarterback

Jared Goff said he did not play his best game Sunday, completing 23 of 38 passes for 252 yards. Goff underthrew an open Jameson Williams on a deep ball in the second quarter and was late on a third-and-11 pass to Kalif Raymond on the opening drive of the second half, but he played the type of safe game the Lions needed against an anemic Jets offense. Goff ran his interception-free streak to 219 pass attempts, slithered out of one sack in the shadows of his own end zone and did not take any ill-advised chances with the ball. On the Lions’ game-winning drive, he scanned to his second read, tight end Brock Wright, for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Grade: B

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Running backs

Goff’s completion percentage would have been better if not for a handful of drops, including one each by D’Andre Swift and Justin Jackson. Swift made a nice cutback on his first run of the game, a 9-yard toss play, but his vision betrayed him when he veered back towards the middle of the field on a screen in the fourth quarter when he had a block from Penei Sewell and probably a first down had he kept towards the sideline. Jamaal Williams (33 yards) led the Lions with 13 carries and had a touchdown called back on penalty, but both he and Jackson averaged less than 3 yards per carry. Jackson did have a 15-yard catch in the second quarter on the Lions’ first field goal drive. Grade: B-minus

Receivers/tight ends

Wright faked like he was blocking on his touchdown catch, then leaked out into the left flat and turned on burners few knew he had on his way to the end zone. The Lions did not have another pass longer than 18 yards as they struggled to get separation from a good Jets secondary all afternoon. Josh Reynolds made a key block on Wright’s touchdown catch but was not targeted on a pass all day. Amon-Ra St. Brown (seven catches, 76 yards) and Kalif Raymond had third down conversions on the Lions’ opening drive, and St. Brown had a 10-yard catch on third-and-2 to set up Wright’s touchdown. Wright did drop a pass at the start of the Lions’ last offensive series. Grade: B

Offensive line

Three Lions were flagged a combined five times for holding, with Frank Ragnow and Evan Brown drawing two penalties each. One Brown penalty wiped out a Williams touchdown, and two plays later, he drew another flag that nullified a run inside the Jets’ 5-yard line. He also allowed a pressure from Sheldon Rankins on a near-sack of Goff late in the third quarter. Ragnow’s holding penalty against Nathan Shepherd cost the Lions a third-down conversion as it offset a Jets penalty. The line did not allow a sack for the second straight game, and Sewell (on the second level) and a pulling Jonah Jackson had the key blocks on Swift’s 16-yard run. Wright, Jackson and Taylor Decker collapsed the right side of the Jets defensive line on Williams’ longest run of the day, a 10-yard gain. Grade: B-minus

Defensive line

The Lions had another dominant effort against the run, holding the Jets to 50 yards on 22 carries with a long of 6 yards. Isaiah Buggs shed two blocks to stop Bam Knight on one short run in the second quarter, and Aidan Hutchinson disengaged from a George Fant block to bottle up Knight on another short gain. Hutchinson also drew a holding penalty, but he and Romeo Okwara failed to hold the edge on a couple of the Jets’ long plays, when Zach Wilson slipped outside the pocket. Okwara had two sacks in his second game back from a torn Achilles, James Houston came unblocked off the edge for a sack on the Jets’ second offensive series, when he did not bite on a play-action fake, and John Cominsky had a sack on the game’s final series, when the line buried Zach Wilson in third-and-19 and fourth-and-18 situations. Grade: A

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone (five tackles) and Malcolm Rodriguez (two) did not do much that stood out in the box score, but as usual, the Lions’ success stopping the run was a team effort. Anzalone had a tackle-for-loss on Knight late in the third quarter, when Will Harris forced the play outside on a run blitz, and he pressured Wilson into throwing a ball up for grabs that the Jets were fortunate to complete on a third-and-10. Rodriguez had penetration on the first play of the Jets’ second offensive series, when Hutchinson had a tackle for loss, and Jarrad Davis shot a gap on the first play of a third-quarter drive when Harris made a tackle for no gain. Grade: A

Defensive backs

Jerry Jacobs had the game’s only takeaway when he intercepted a terrible Wilson pass along the sideline, but Jacobs left a few yards on the field on his return. Wilson finished with 317 yards passing and would have had 400 if he were a competent quarterback. Jeff Okudah got beat on two long passes at the end of the first half. He allowed a 50-yard completion to Jeff Smith when he veered too far outside in an effort to take away the sideline — though he probably should have had safety help from DeShon Elliott over top — then got beat off the line on the next snap on an out by Smith. Okudah was lucky to avoid a pass interference penalty on the end zone on the same series, though both Elliott and Harris were flagged for DPI. Elliott had a tackle for loss that nearly went for a safety on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage, but the Lions secondary gave up long conversions on the final drive. Grade: C-plus

Special teams

Kalif Raymond had a clear path to the end zone on the first punt return touchdown of his career Sunday. He split the Jets gunners to get up field then got a good block from Houston near the goal line. Raymond only had one return, but he made key blocks on the Jets’ gunners to help two more punts end in touchbacks. The Lions had two penalties on special teams — a delay of game before an extra point and an illegal formation on a kickoff — Jack Fox netted 38 yards on his four punts with one touchback and Michael Badgley missed a 54-yard field goal, so things weren’t perfect. But Raymond’s return was a big enough play in a low-scoring game to boost this grade overall. Grade: A-minus

Coaching

The Lions put together the type of complementary plan they needed to beat a solid but one-dimensional Jets team. They did not put the ball in harm’s way on offense against a good Jets defense and trusted their defense would hold up against one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. I liked Campbell’s decision to try and convert on fourth-and-goal on the opening drive, even though Jamaal Williams was stopped for a 1-yard loss. I wasn’t as big a fan of Campbell’s decision to try a 54-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Badgley’s miss gave the struggling Jets offense life. The Lions would have been better served punting or trying to convert on fourth-and-5, though they wouldn’t have needed to kick had they been better on third down. The Lions could have been more aggressive with their timeout usage and play selection at the end of the first half, but Wright’s game-winning touchdown came on a creative play design by Ben Johnson. Grade: B

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

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