The Detroit Lions played undeniably their most complete game of the season in Week 15, resulting in an impressive 30-12 victory over a really good Arizona Cardinals team. The offense capitalized on several opportunities and had two touchdown drives of over 90 yards. The defense held Kyler Murray and a strong Cardinals offense touchdown-less for the first 55 minutes of the game. And special teams were there when they needed it.
But given where the Lions were in terms of their roster—still impacted by COVID, and decimated on both sides of the ball by injury—this game was an absolutely showcase from the coaching staff.
Let’s get more into it with our Detroit Lions Week 15 report card.
This was Jared Goff’s best game as a Detroit Lion and it may not be close. Goff wasn’t just good for one quarter or one half. He put together a full game where he got his one bad sack out of the way on the very first offensive snap, and was nearly perfect the rest of the way.
Goff finished the day 21-of-26 for 216 yards (8.1 Y/A), 3 touchdowns, a season-high passer rating of 139.7, and a QBR of 93.9—the highest of any quarterback in Week 15. No play was bigger than this:
Goff displayed excellent pocket presence here and laid a perfect ball to Amon-Ra St. Brown. His ability to navigate the pocket was overall much better in this game, and he showcased some serious toughness by taking some shots from the Cardinals' defense and playing through the pain.
Running backs: B+
Craig Reynolds was even better than he was in his breakout game last week. As if crossing over the 100-yard threshold wasn’t enough, check out this ridiculous stat from PFF:
Reynolds took full advantage of that opportunity on the ground with 92 rushing yards after contact and nine missed tackles forced as a runner.
Unfortunately, Reynolds was the only effective back. Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson combined for 9 yards on seven carries and another bad fumble from Igwebuike.
Tight ends: D
It wasn’t a particularly good day from the Lions’ tight end. Not only were they a minimal factor in the passing game (one catch, 16 yards), but they were also struggling mightily in both run and pass blocking. Throw a bad false start on Brock Wright (that looked like a poor call) and a holding on Wright, and it was a day to forget from the tight ends.
Then again, we are talking about two undrafted rookies here...
Wide receivers: A-
St. Brown is becoming such a weapon that the league has to be entirely sure he isn’t cheating:
Meanwhile, Josh Reynolds’ touchdown catch displayed some serious ball skills, as the defender was all over him, and he still held onto the ball going to the ground.
Just look at the production from both St. Brown and Reynolds over the last three games:
St. Brown: 26 catches, 249 yards, 2 TDs
Reynolds: 13 catches, 189 yards
Offensive line: B+
Even though Goff took some big hits, the offensive line kept him clean for most of the game. Arizona’s best pass rusher, Chandler Jones, had no sacks nor QB hits. Detroit’s running game continues to hum along nicely, even if Reynolds was responsible for a lot of his own yards.
I’d like to see the offensive line help put the game away with some late running game success, but this is a good time to remind you that the Lions were missing two of their starters.
Defensive line: B
Charles Harris had just a phenomenal game. Though the box score only shows 1.5 sacks, he really had 2.5, but an aborted snap doesn’t count as one. Perhaps more impressively, Harris finished with 12 tackles, which is nearly unheard of for an edge defender. He had never had more than six in a single game.
It was a somewhat quiet game for everyone else, but Harris’ performance was dominant enough to elevate the entire group’s grade to an above-average level.
Following an injury to Alex Anzalone, Jalen Reeves-Maybin stepped in and played admirably. Reeves-Maybin tallied five tackles, two passes defended, and three pressures.
It wasn’t as good of a day for Derrick Barnes, who struggled with some tackling and appeared to be out of position on more than one occasion in coverage.
Defensive backs: A-
Starting cornerback AJ Parker, Amani Oruwariye, and Will Harris combined for five passes defended.
Kyler Murray averaged just 6.3 yards per pass attempt against the Lions.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 20, 2021
That's his lowest average of the season.
He was averaging 8.7 Y/A on the season and hadn't been below 7.6 in a single game this year.
We have to appreciate Will Harris for being versatile. Playing outside corner was not something the Lions wanted to do, but out of necessity, they did it and Harris just wanted to do whatever he could to help the team. He undoubtedly helped them on Sunday.
But the star was Oruwariye, who had perhaps the most important play of the game. After the Lions turned the ball over, the Cardinals had the ball with the opportunity to make it a one-score game in the second half. Oruwariye jumped a Murray pass and nearly took it to the house, essentially giving the Lions a three-touchdown lead.
Special teams: B+
Nothing too interesting or important from the Lions’ kick/punt return and coverage teams. The Lions did fail to convert a surprise onside kick, but the big story here is that rookie kicker Riley Patterson continues to be perfect. He had his best game of the season on Sunday, going 3-for-3 on field goals, with makes from 35, 45 and 47.
The Lions had every right to get blown out of this game. Sure, the Cardinals were missing DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt, but look at this for the Lions:
Remember the Lions (1-10-1) beat the Cardinals (10-2) and were without:— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) December 19, 2021
All under contract next season.
It’s time to start giving Dan Campbell and tight ends coach Ben Johnson some credit for turning this offense around. They’re starting to add some complexity in the passing game, and they’re leaning into the team’s strength in the running game.
But perhaps more impressively, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn continues to show why he’s a potential head coach candidate. His game plan worked to perfection, rattling Kyler Murray to a point where the MVP candidate was unrecognizable. Detroit sent a ton of pressure, and yet somehow never got burned by Murray’s legs. That’s both fantastic game-planning, and extremely disciplined behavior from Detroit’s young defensive roster. Both are the result of fantastic coaching.
In Campbell’s post-game speech in the locker room, he said something that stuck with me.
“We did everything we said we need to do to that team.”
That means the Lions developed and executed the game plan they wanted to perfection. That’s a huge W for the coaching staff.
Just ask Kliff Kingsbury, who went into this game with Coach of the Year hype: