Without a doubt, Sunday’s game was the Detroit Lions’ worst of the Dan Campbell era. For much of this winless season, the Lions have been able to hang their hat on a spirited performance from one of their units or a fight that lasted until the final seconds drew off the clock. If one play went in their favor in plenty of those games, we wouldn’t be looking at an 0-6 team.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. That performance at Ford Field was beyond a failure, and that’s why Campbell was furious in a way he hadn’t seen before. By the end of the game, nothing was working from offense to defense to special teams.
So it will probably not come as much of a surprise that this will also be the team’s ugliest looking report card of the year. Let’s get into it.
Let’s start with the good things because some are getting overlooked in an otherwise rough performance from Jared Goff. He actually had a couple of really nice throws in this game, including two passes up the seam—at 33-yard gain to the T.J. Hockenson and what should have been another splash play to Amon-Ra St. Brown that turned into an interception. Despite that interception that wasn’t his fault, Goff took care of the ball and didn’t (really) turn it over.
Unfortunately, his day will more rightfully be remembered for the missed opportunities. For failing to connect to Hockenson on a third-and-4 wheel route (regardless of whose fault it was). For holding onto the ball far too long and failing to see open receivers.
As always, it’s important to point out that Goff is getting little help. His receiving corps is bad, his offensive line is bad, and in this game, he didn’t have the benefit of a running game. Detroit was consistently behind in the downs, and that’s a tough place to put a quarterback. Regardless, Goff is part of the problem. I mean this:
Jared Goff admitted he made a mental error on fourth-and-4. Saw the holding penalty and thought it would be accepted, so he threw it away, thinking they’d just punt.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) October 17, 2021
is just unacceptable for a professional quarterback.
Running back: D+
D’Andre Swift averaged 1.8 yards per carry on 13 rushes. Jamaal Williams had just four rushes and 11 yards. The offensive line didn’t open up many gaps for either player, but both continue to struggle to create any extra yards after contact. Neither player was credited with a broken tackle in the run game, while Swift created just one in the receiving game. But, hey, Swift had 53 receiving yards and a garbage time touchdown, so all is not lost.
Tight end: C-
Hockenson was the main feature of the Lions' offense again on Sunday, but it’s hard to say he made the most of his opportunities. Targeted 11 times, Hockenson caught eight for 74 yards. But he, too, is struggling to create yards after the catch. On one third-and-long, the Lions designed a play for him to create some separation and get some necessary YAC to earn the first down. Despite being a few steps ahead of the defender, Hockenson failed to turn it up field beyond the sticks.
Additionally, based on comments from Goff, it appears he may have been partially to blame for the failed wheel route on third down.
Wide receivers: F
Kalif Raymond: 6 catches, 37 yards
KhaDarel Hodge: 2 catches, 9 yards
Tom Kennedy: 1 catch, 15 yards
Amon-Ra St. Brown: 5 catches, 26 yards
That’s not anywhere close to good enough. Now watch what happens when I take out the fourth quarter—where even Campbell admitted shouldn’t count because it was against prevent defense:
Kalif Raymond: 4 catches, 20 yards
KhaDarel Hodge: 1 catch, 2 yards
Tom Kennedy: 0 catches
Amon-Ra St. Brown: 0 catches
Throw in the fact that St. Brown was essentially responsible for the interception, and Campbell said there were far too many receivers not in the right place, and this sort of performance was as bad as it gets. The injuries suck, but this is the NFL. Someone needs to step up. They already benched Trinity Benson, but that only works if someone can step up in his place.
Offensive line: D
Penei Sewell’s made a handful of mental errors, allowing two pressures per PFF and was responsible for two penalties. Evan Brown had a false start. Matt Nelson had a holding penalty and allowed six pressures. There were no rushing lanes all day and Goff absorbed four quarterback hits.
I know this unit is missing its two best players—and emotional leaders—but if this team is even going to have a chance to put up points, they need better out of the guys they have.
Defensive line: C
This is going to be a theme for the defense, but it was an entirely different performance in the first and second halves. In the first, the Lions' defensive interior was getting run stops and applying pressure. The Bengals rushed for just 46 yards on 12 carries (3.8 YPC) in the first two quarters.
But whether it was because they were gassed or because they were emotionally drained, the floodgates opened in the second half. Mixon had 63 carries on 10 rushes in the final two quarters.
The gang was responsible for all five quarterback hits on the day, though, so Detroit is getting at least some pressure on the quarterback, which undoubtedly helps their backend.
Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin had tough outings. Both struggled with tackling in this game, and Reeves-Maybin got exposed in coverage on the Bengals’ first touchdown of the day.
But the savior of the group was Derrick Barnes. In a career-high 32 snaps (44% of playing time), Barnes managed to lead the team in tackles (nine), he blew up a screen play, and broke up a potential touchdown pass late in the game. It wasn’t a perfect game for Barnes, but he’s getting better—and more importantly, he’s getting more consistent.
The two big plays be damned, I thought Jerry Jacobs played an excellent game. He shut Ja’Marr Chase down for the first 29 minutes of that game and did so by shadowing him nearly the entire half and playing extremely physical against the rookie. On the first big play he gave up, he was a mere step behind and it necessitated a perfect pass to beat him. On the second, he was clearly looking for over-the-top help from Tracy Walker, who had jumped an underneath route. Despite those two plays allowed, Jacobs still managed to break up a pass, force a fumble, and shut down his side of the field for most of the day.
In fact, the Lions' pass defense looked incredible in the first half. Joe Burrow completed just 11 of 18 passes for 113 yards a touchdown and a pick for a passer rating of 74.5.
Unfortunately, all of those good feelings were erased in the second half. Burrow was nearly perfect in the final two quarters, completing 8-of-11 for 158 yards and two touchdowns. To add insult to injury, when the Bengals put their backups in late in the game, they were still able to move the ball thanks to a pair of pass interference calls and a 7-yard touchdown pass.
It was another rough day for Amani Oruwariye, AJ Parker whiffed on a sack attempt, Detroit didn’t get the safety play they needed.
Special teams: D
The Lions’ return unit didn’t get much of a boost from Kennedy as a kick returner, as three of his four returns failed to make it past the 25-yard line. Jack Fox continues to be pretty impressive, though. He pinned one at the 5-yard line, averaged 55.5 yards per punt, but did put one in the end zone, as well. Unfortunately, Kennedy had a bad block-in-the-back penalty that pushed the Lions inside their own 5-yard line and drew the ire of Campbell’s rage in the post-game press conference.
“We need special teams to make a play. We can’t have a block in the back that puts us down inside the 20. Those just crush us.”
I didn’t have a problem with any of the in-game decisions from Dan Campbell. This offense needed some serious push, so going for it on fourth down multiple times—including deep in their own zone—felt necessary.
I still think Aaron Glenn deserves a ton of credit for how his beat-up secondary is playing, despite the final stat sheet. But if we’re going to praise him, we need to seriously look at the job the coaching staff is doing on offense. I’m not trying to point the blame solely on Anthony Lynn here. He’s drawn up some really good plays that the Lions are just failing to execute on. But at some point, the lack of execution needs to be addressed. If this team is consistently messing up plays, then it’s on the coaching staff to find something they can do well. Campbell talked about this after the game.
“I’ve got about a million ideas just floating around up here right now as to what I want to do. How do we create tempo for our offense? More importantly—that’s where I feel like we’re struggling right now. We have no momentum, no rhythm, no tempo offensively and it’s killing us right now and it’s killing us on third down.”
This was also the first game it looked like this team just gave up in the second half. I don’t know what happened at the half, but the defense looked lifeless out there.
At this point in time, Campbell has been given a ton of credit for the grittiness of the team and their never-give-up attitude. But it’s clear the limits of that are being tested right now at 0-6.