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Detroit Lions report card: Trenches lead the way in gritty win over Jets

Handing out positional grades for the Detroit Lions’ win over the New York Jets.

NFL: DEC 18 Lions at Jets Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Lions proved they don’t have to be an offensive juggernaut to win every game this season. They can win with their defense. They can win with their special teams. They can win with a perfectly-timed pass to frickin’ Brock Wright.

Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy, and that’s certainly true against a team as worthy of respect as this New York Jets team, which coach Robert Saleh has playing competitively every single week.

So while the individual position grades this week may be worse than normal, it’s actually a tremendous sign of growth that the Lions no longer need to play “perfect’ or even “good” games to win. They can win ugly games, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no “style points” column in the standings.

And with that, let’s hand out some grades.

Quarterback: B-

It has clearly been a focus for Jared Goff to avoid the negative plays and turnovers. And if that’s the standard for this game, Goff succeeded. He avoided a couple sacks, didn’t throw an interceptable pass, and walked away with the win.

That said, in the second half, you could see Goff getting a little jittery and going back to some old habits. The pressure was starting to get to him, and he flung a couple of inaccurate, panicked throws.

I’m eager to watch the all-22 of this game because it seems like the Lions dialed up a couple of deep shots, yet Goff chose the checkdown option on all but one play.

That one play was the severely underthrown ball to Jameson Williams. And while I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill—it was just one play—it is also true that a team like the Jets is not going to give you many chances to beat them over the top. So when you get a golden opportunity like that, you just can’t miss.

Still, 252 yards and a touchdown is just about as good as any quarterback has done against this Jets defense.

Running backs: C-

It was an improved day from D’Andre Swift, whose 52 rushing yards is the fourth-most he’s had all season. He’s still not running north-south enough, as evidenced by a fourth-quarter catch that should have been an easy first-down pickup, but instead forced the Lions into a third-and-inches situation—which they thankfully converted.

Jamaal Williams continues to struggle, as well. His hesitation on the early fourth-and-goal caused an easy stop for the Jets defense, and he finished under 3.0 yards per carry for the second consecutive game. His best run of the game was sadly overturned by a questionable holding call.

That said, I still think Justin Jackson is doing his best grinding it out, and his block on the game-winning play still deserves more recognition:

Tight ends: B

Brock Wright had an incredibly frustrating drop to start the Lions’ game-winning drive, but I think it’s fair to say he more than made up for it with his game-winning score.

And don’t get it twisted, Wright may have been wide open, but he deserves a ton of credit for that play’s success. He sold the block extremely well, was able to fight through the traffic, and then displayed his athleticism by scampering 50 yards downfield and outrunning half the Jets defense.

“He’s a lot faster than people know,” Goff said after the game. “I think he ran like a 4.6 40 or something, but he can roll and so when I got to him in open space right there, I’m like, ‘He may score.’ And he did.”

Wide receivers: D+

Amon-Ra St. Brown had some big, early catches, and Kalif Raymond continues to be one of the most underrated players on offense. However, it was a disappearing act from both DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds, who combined for a total of one catch for 18 yards.

The Jets secondary absolutely shut down the Lions’ receivers on Sunday, and that was going to be the story of the entire game had Brock Wright not changed the narrative.

This is an elite secondary, so there’s no shame in losing this battle. However, it does display Detroit’s need for a true No. 1 receiver who cannot be defended by anyone. Hopefully, Jameson Williams grows into that guy.

Offensive line: B-

Five holding calls on the offensive line overshadow what was actually a pretty impressive performance from the offensive line against a really good, deep Jets defensive front. Goff didn’t take a sack, only saw five quarterback hits, and had plenty of time to scan the field—especially early in the game. Detroit’s offensive tackles, in particular, continue to dominate, but it was a shaky return for right guard Evan Brown.

In the run game, the offensive line really started to impose their will at the end of the game, as you could tell they were starting to wear down the Jets defense. In the fourth quarter alone, the Lions rushed for 36 yards on seven carries—a solid 5.1 yards per carry average.

Defensive line: A

Four sacks. Ten quarterback hits. A run defense that allowed just 2.3 yards per carry on the ground. That is a near-dominant performance from the Lions defensive line, and it took the entire crew to get the job done. James Houston, John Cominsky, and Romeo Okwara pitched in sacks. Aidan Hutchinson was dominant in the run game and picked up a tackle for loss. It seemed like Alim McNeill didn’t allow a single run to go by him, as he picked up a season-high five tackles.

You couldn’t ask much more of this defense, as they made Zach Wilson uncomfortable all day.

Linebackers: B+

The linebacking crew deserves just as much credit in the run game, as Alex Anzalone continues to play at a level many didn’t think he was capable of. He pitched in a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, and five total tackles.

Secondary: F

Hard to say much positive about the secondary this week. It’s now the second-straight week they’ve been torched, but it’s a lot worse when Zach Wilson and a Jets receiving corps missing their No. 2 receiver are the ones doing it to you.

Jeff Okudah didn’t really look like himself in this game, getting worked by Jeff Smith in the second quarter. Kerby Joseph got turned around on a big 40-yard touchdown to tight end C.J. Uzomah. And no one seemed capable of stopping Garrett Wilson.

The Lions gave up seven passing plays of 20+ yards against the Jets, and it nearly cost them dearly. Even on the final drive of the game, the Lions defense allowed the Jets to convert a third-and-19 and a fourth-and-18. That got the Jets a chance at a game-tying field goal that would have been back-breaking.

Special teams: B

Let’s get it out of the way. The Michael Badgley miss on the 54-yard field goal was an absolute game-changer, and for a lesser Lions team, it would have been the turning point Detroit would have never recovered from. Badgley has made some big kicks this year, but he’s also missed quite a few, and it’s getting hard to trust him in big moments.

However, his struggles are overshadowed today by Kalif Raymond, who continues to make a case for best punt returner in the game right now. His 51-yard touchdown return was a great play and an awesome story. If you haven’t read Justin Rogers’ well-timed story on Raymond, here’s the long and short of it: He was cut by the Jets for muffing a couple punts back in 2017 and feared his career was over. Look at him now.

Raymond now ranks second in the NFL in punt return average (14.6) only behind the Falcons’ Avery Williams (16.2).

Coaching: B-

This wasn’t offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s best performance. Detroit was 0-for-2 in the red zone, they failed to figure out a way to open up the Jets defense for the majority of the game, and—my personal pet peeve—they threw away a lot of possessions by getting into third-and-longs because of Johnson’s insistence on running on second-and-long. While I love what Johnson is doing in Detroit, this has been a season-long issue with him:

That said, this was a fantastic Jets defense that has made many an offensive coordinator look foolish. And, fortunately for the Lions, it was Johnson who got the last laugh with the Wright play.

As for Dan Campbell, I think it’s fair to criticize him for the decision to kick the field goal with the team already up three points on a fourth-and-5. Analytics slightly favored going for it, but I even would’ve chosen a punt over the field goal given the weather conditions and the fact that Badgley hasn’t successfully made a kick of 54 yards or longer since 2018.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it sure was a costly one. According to ESPN, the Lions’ win probability went from 65.8% before the kick to 57.4% after.

I didn’t have really any other game management issues with Campbell during this game. I know some wanted him to call a timeout after a defensive sack late in the first half, but that seems nitpicky since the Jets were still on the Lions side of the field and it was only second down for them.

Again, though, we have to credit Campbell and company for keeping this team’s morale afloat. It is something special to go from 1-6 to 6-1, and feel like every win from this team has been truthfully earned.

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