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Detroit Lions report card: Offense bordering on greatness, defense takes big step vs. Commanders

The Lions offense continues to put defenses on notice, while Detroit’s defense took a huge step forward.

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Washington Commanders v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

After last week’s disappointing game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions put together one of the best halves of football we’ve ever seen. They jumped to a 22-0 lead over the Washington Commanders at halftime, and it probably should have been an even bigger lead for Detroit the way that they were controlling all three phases of the game.

And even though Washington made a valiant effort to come back and nearly tie the game, the Lions have a lot to be happy about in Sunday’s performance, and that’s reflected in this week’s Detroit Lions report card.

Let’s get to the grades.

Quarterback: B+

It’s okay to say that Jared Goff wasn’t very good in the first half despite the team putting up 22 points. He missed out on back-to-back touchdown throws, causing the Lions’ first red-zone drive to go scoreless. He took at least one unnecessary sack, almost threw a horrible interception, and missed a prime opportunity to hit DJ Chark on a deep play before the end of the half.

But here’s the thing: Goff was nearly perfect in the second half. When the Lions needed to keep pace with a surging Commanders offense, Goff always seemed to have the answer. Goff’s finest moment came right after Washington scored to make it a 29-21 game with just under 11 minutes remaining. The Lions quarterback went 4-for-4 on the ensuing drive for 51 yards and a touchdown. He threw a great pass to a diving T.J. Hockenson for 18 yards, followed it up with a safe play to Amon-Ra St. Brown, converted a third-and-2 with a laser to Brock Wright up the seam, and capped the drive with a perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to St. Brown.

Goff’s final statline (20-of-34, 256 yards, 4 TDs, 121.7 passer rating) is probably a little better than his overall performance was, but I’ll take this kind of game from him nine times out of 10.

Running backs: A-

D’Andre Swift touched the ball seven times and turned that into 87 yards and a touchdown. That’s efficiency. Yes, he did have a drop he’ll regret, but for a guy with a bum ankle, that’s a gutsy effort.

Elsewhere, Jamaal Williams had a very productive 53 yards on 12 carries (4.4 YPC) and even Craig Reynolds filled in nicely with 16 yards on three carries.

Tight ends: C-

T.J. Hockenson had another drop or two in this game, and he wasn’t as big of factor as you’d hope against a Washington team that struggles to cover over the middle of the field. Hockenson only had 26 yards on three catches. In fact, fellow tight end Brock Wright nearly outgained Hockenson on one play for 25 yards.

Wide receivers: B+

St. Brown is just absolutely ridiculous. He’s a big play machine, and one of the most reliable players on the entire team. Not only did St. Brown extend his streak of eight-catch games with a touchdown, but he was also a huge weapon in the running game, leading the team with 68 rushing yards.

“He’s as steady as they come,” coach Dan Campbell said. “I mean, he is as steady as a rock, now. You can always depend on what he is going to bring every day, not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.”

It was a much quieter day for the rest of the receiving corps. DJ Chark was shut out from the box score, while Josh Reynolds had just three catches for 38 yards, but he did have this impressive toe-tap touchdown.

Also, this group should continue to get praise for the gritty work they put in as run blockers. This week, it was reserve Quintez Cephus getting a ton of praise for his block on St. Brown’s end around.

“Let me say this, that one long run, Cephus made a hell of a block now,” Dan Campbell said after the game. “And that was one of those you circle and say – ‘Hey, Q this is your play.’ And he went in there and I mean it was outstanding and get a traveler, he blocks a traveler, now we’re off to the races and St. Brown does the rest.”

Offensive line: B+

What an absolute gutsy performance by this entire group. With the three interior starters all out with injury, Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg, and freakin’ Dan Skipper handled their own in the run game against a formidable Commanders defensive front. Detroit racked up 191 rushing yards at 8.0 yards per carry—and while half of that was gained on two plays, even if you remove those rushes, the Lions still managed a somewhat respectable 83 yards on 22 carries (3.7 YPC).

But the point is this team has now consistently created big plays on the ground, and the front five has a lot to do with it. In fact, take this nugget from PFF’s postgame recap:

“The line allowed two sacks, each from backups starting in place of injured starters, and the Lions rushed for 137 yards before contact.”

Or this nugget:

Pass protection is a bit of a different story, though. Stenberg, in particular, continues to struggle as a pass blocker, and Goff took three sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

Defensive line: A-

Speaking of hitting the quarterback, the Lions defensive line made Carson Wentz’s day a living hell. Detroit countered with 11 quarterback hits of their own, including four sacks—three from rookie Aidan Hutchinson. I’d still like to see the defensive front win a little more one-on-ones, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn deserves a lot of credit for scheming up pressure, and the players deserve credit for executing.

It was even better in the run game, where the Commanders had absolutely no push up the middle of the field. Washington’s primary running back, Antonio Gibson, finished with just 28 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Linebackers: B

Malcolm Rodriguez continues to play at a ridiculously high level given everything. The linebacking corps was huge in Detroit’s solid run defense this week, but their contributions didn’t end there. Rodriguez had a big quarterback hit, while both he and Alex Anzalone looked decisive and assignment sound in coverage.

There are still too many missed tackles amongst this group, but the improvement this unit has seen—especially compared to preseason expectations—is staggering.

Defensive backs: C+

Jeff Okudah continues to provide more optimism than pessimism. It was largely a quiet day for Terry McLaurin (four catches, 75 yards) thanks, in part, to Okudah. He continues to keep the offense in front of him, and aside from one missed tackle that nearly turned into a big play, it’s hard to get upset over anything Okudah did on Sunday. Let’s just get those cramps under control.

It wasn’t as good of a story for the rest of the Lions secondary. Will Harris was occasionally getting picked on throughout the game, but credit goes to the converted safety for picking up a huge interception to slow Washington’s aggressive second-half counterattack.

Special teams: A

All that you can really ask on special teams is to make your kicks, prevent any big plays in coverage, and try to create one explosive play in the return game. Check, check and check.

Austin Seibert was perfect on Sunday, including an important, early 48-yarder. Their coverage teams were almost 100 percent clean again—outside of one kick return to the 36-yard line (not a big deal).

Then there was Kalif Raymond, who had the longest punt return of his career, His 52-yard return led to Detroit’s first touchdown of the game.

Coaching: A

The Lions went 0-for-2 on fourth down this week, but I approve of Campbell’s decision to go for it on both occasions. The first was a fourth-and-goal for the 3-yard line, and it probably should’ve been a touchdown. What ended up happening is just another reason to go for it, though. The Lions didn’t convert, but with Washington up in their own end zone, the Lions were able to get a safety and score on the ensuing drive.

The second was a unique situation. Up nine with 1:38 left and no timeouts for the Commanders, Campbell had three options:

  • Attempt a 51-yard field goal
  • Pooch punt it and make Washington go a longer distance
  • Go for it on fourth-and-3 and put away the game with a conversion

Either of the final two options would have been acceptable to me, but I like the idea of ending the game on your own terms via offense—and they very nearly did.

I also really liked the fact that the Lions never truly took the foot off the gas against the Commanders. That was made clear when the Lions, already up 22-0 in the first half, tried to squeeze one more possession before the half by calling a timeout when the Commanders were on offense and taking some deep shots when they got the ball back. They also dialed up some aggressive plays in the second half that ended up being the explosive plays they needed to outpace Washington.

Just about everyone had nice things to say about offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, including Washington players:

But I believe defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn deserves more love, too. The Lions’ game plan out of the gate worked to perfection, with pressure packages getting Wentz uncomfortable and the run defense doing its job. While the defense slipped in the second half—and you can blame at least part of that on softer coverages—they did what they needed to do at the end of the day.