They say in the NFL the game is never as good or as bad as you thought it was during the emotions of the game. I’m sure that will eventually ring true for the Detroit Lions’ 29-0 loss to the New England Patriots, but on this Monday morning, it certainly doesn’t feel like there are many positives to pull from this game.
Sure, it was a close game in the first half, and if the Lions offense capitalizes on just one of their many opportunities in those opening two quarters, the rest of the game likely plays out completely differently.
But the fact of the matter is they didn’t make those plays, and the blame should be spread around to just about everyone. There is not a single unit on the team that I would argue had a “good” game, and as you’ll see, that’s reflected in this week’s Detroit Lions report card.
For the first few weeks of the season, Jared Goff was praised for taking good care of the ball and handling the occasional pressure well—even creating some plays out of the pocket with his feet, which is something we hadn’t seen in Detroit
On Sunday, those issues resurfaced and with a vengeance. Though he was not helped by his offensive line, Goff showed himself completely incapable of handling pressure, oftentimes just barely finding enough room to throw the ball away. He took two sacks in this game, and both were absolutely devastating. The first took the Lions out of field goal range. And the second turned a six-point game into a 13-point game after Goff not only struggled to escape the pressure but did not protect the ball, leading to a strip sack returned for a touchdown.
He also blew Detroit’s second possession when the Lions had a legitimate chance to take an early 7-3 lead. On a first-and-10 play from New England’s 18-yard line, Goff stared down T.J. Hockenson, giving safety Kyle Dugger all the time he needed to jump in front of the pass and end the Lions’ possession.
... and that was all just in the first half.
While Goff’s inaccuracy was not a problem in this game, his vision sure was. The pressure clearly got to Goff’s head and he frequently overlooked open receivers.
Running backs: C+
Jamaal Williams and Justin Jackson both failed to convert fourth-and-1s in this game—though that can be blamed on both play-calling and offensive line play. Jamaal Williams was fine in this game but failed to produce an explosive play like last week.
The unit gets a slightly above-average mark simply from the play of Craig Reynolds. He turned nine touches (six rushes, three catches) into 92 yards, including Detroit’s biggest play of the day—a 36-yard screen play. He continues to show why he’s the team’s RB3 and it’s not particularly close.
Wide receivers: C
There weren’t a lot of positive or negative plays from the receiver group. Josh Reynolds continues to be Detroit’s most reliable option, pulling in six catches for 92 yards on Sunday. Amon-Ra St. Brown did drop a late fourth-down target but it seems tough to put much blame on this unit when they were rarely given an opportunity to actually make a play.
Tight ends: F
After his breakout, career game last week against the Seahawks, T.J. Hockenson was invisible this game, as the Patriots completely took him out of the game. He finished with more yards to the negative (-10 yards on a holding penalty) than positive (one catch, 6 yards), and was also a liability in pass protection. Although, it’s fair to wonder why they would leave Hockenson on someone like Matthew Judon.
Offensive line: D
By far the biggest disappointment of the game, the Lions offensive line allowed a total of six quarterback hits and two sacks in this game. Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, and Frank Ragnow are supposed to be the pillars of this entire team, and PFF credited them with three, three, and four hurries, respectively.
Run blocking was mostly good for this game, except when it came to short-yardage situations, which the Lions still inexcusably suck at.
Defensive line: D
Again, the Lions seemed okay up the middle of the defense, as Alim McNeill had possibly his most disruptive game as a Lion.
However, Detroit tallied zero quarterback hits, zero sacks, and just a handful of pressures. Aidan Hutchinson’s failure to corral Bailey Zappe after winning his pass rushing rep is a pretty good recap of the kind of day this unit had.
Missed tackles were a huge problem, as 113 of Rhamondre Stevenson’s 161 rushing yards came after first contact.
It was a better-than-average day for Alex Anzalone, who not only tallied eight tackles but had a nice pass defense on a perfectly guarded play. Malcolm Rodriguez pitched in with five tackles of his own, including a tackle for loss.
Still, anytime a running back sets a career-high in rushing yards, a fair amount of the blame will fall on the second level.
It’s tough to grade a secondary that dealt with so many injuries on Sunday, but the fact is Zappe saw almost zero resistance from Detroit’s defensive backs. While DeShon Elliott has a positive game, and I thought Mike Hughes actually looked a little better on the outside than he has in the nickel, the truth is Zappe completed over 80 percent of his passes for 9.0 yards per attempt.
Jeff Okudah took a step back with two pass interference penalties (although one was a bad call). Bobby Price and Chase Lucas miscommunicated for an easy touchdown pass for the Patriots. And, outside of Elliott on his interception, not a single defensive back got a hand on the ball.
Special teams: B
Maurice Alexander did his best to try to help the offense out with a 47-yard kickoff return. Jack Fox had a decent day punting, including one that should’ve pinned New England inside their own 10-yard line had the Lions’ special teams unit deflected it a few yards forward.
It would’ve been nice to see what new kicker Michael Badgley had to offer on Sunday, but...
Much of the focus after the game was on Dan Campbell’s decision to go for it in the first half on fourth-and-9, passing up an opportunity for a 50-yard field goal in a game that was just 6-0 at the time. Here’s Campbell’s explanation for his decision.
“I had a yard marker I knew that we needed to get inside of to feel good about (a field goal),” Campbell said. “Otherwise, take your chances with the offense.”
Plainly put, fourth-and-9 is an extremely low percentage play, and if you don’t trust your kicker to try a 50-yard field goal, he does not belong on your team. Obviously, the bigger problem than the decision to go for it was the fact that Penei Sewell gave up a pressure, Jared Goff failed to escape, and then fumbled the ball. However, Campbell didn’t do his job either, because he put them in a worse position to win.
Beyond that, I didn’t have any issues with the choice to go for it on the other five fourth-down attempts, but I sure have a problem with the play calls. You’re not fooling anyone by trying to sneak Jamaal Williams in at fullback. And you’re basically telegraphing the play when Amon-Ra St. Brown is in the backfield.
Much like last week, the Lions absolutely failed on critical downs. They were 4-of-12 on third downs and 0-for-6 on fourth down. Some of that is execution, but a large majority of it is simply getting outcoached when it comes to play-calling.