Ever since the NFL moved to a 17-game schedule, there’s no true thing as the quarter mark. What used to be a nice, symmetrical slate of games is now an awkward, imbalanced mess. I’m with Dan Campbell.
“You wanted to be 3-1 in a quarter and now, we can’t do that. I’m not great at math, but it’s hard to quarter things now with 17 weeks,” Campbell said Friday. “But the point is, it’s good to be 3-1.”
It is good to be 3-1, because the Detroit Lions aren’t just winning, they’re doing it while playing well and taking down good teams in tough environments. Let’s take a closer look at how the Lions are doing it in our “quarterly” report card.
Note: If a PFF stat is referenced, it does not include Week 4 games from Sunday yet.
I am tempted to give Jared Goff a plain A here, because he’s playing the best football he ever has in Detroit—maybe even including his Los Angeles days. The only reason I’ve dinged him a half grade is the three interceptions in three games, including a costly pick-six against the Seahawks.
Otherwise, Goff has been phenomenal. You can just see his level of comfort in the offense with the way he has improved going through his progressions, managing the pocket, and (mostly) avoiding negative plays. While we mainly give credit to the offensive line for limiting sacks, it’s very much a quarterback sack too, and Goff has done a good job avoiding those. His five sacks are fewer than every quarterback short of (minimum 3 starts) Patrick Mahomes, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Baker Mayfield.
He’s also the fourth-best quarterback in the league by PFF grade with their third-best adjusted completion percentage.
Running backs: B+
David Montgomery has been one of the team’s most important players on offense. While the overall stats may look pedestrian—69 carries, 262 yards (3.8 YPC), 5 touchdowns—his physical, grind-it-out style of play has been key in short-yardage situations to keep drives alive. Montgomery currently leads the entire NFL with 19 missed tackles forced and is second in yards after contact (191).
It’s been a more disappointing start for rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. While he has a respectable 4.6 yards per carry on 39 rushes, he’s yet to find the end zone and his involvement in the receiving games (14 catches, 70 yards) has been a bit underwhelming. That said, Detroit is clearly easing him into the offense, and it takes a while to gain chemistry with your quarterback.
Tight ends: B
Sam LaPorta has been among the best tight ends in football through four weeks. He currently leads all tight ends with 242 receiving yards, and among tight ends with at least 100 snaps, he’s PFF’s highest-graded tight end (78.8). That showcases his versatility as both a receiver and a blocker.
Unfortunately, the rest of the group has been a bit of a disappointment. Brock Wright has struggled mightily in the run game, currently holding the team’s worst overall PFF grade (37.9) on offense and worst run blocking grade (39.5). Third year tight end James Mitchell has only played 31 offensive snaps in four games.
Wide receivers: A-
Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be his lethal self, capable of moving the chains at any down or distance. Josh Reynolds has been the team’s most underappreciated weapon, striking with big play after big play. In fact, Reynolds’ 17.9 yards per catch ranks fourth in the NFL among receivers with at least 10 catches. Currently, St. Brown is PFF’s eighth-best receiver (82.5 grade), while Reynolds is not far behind at 20th (76.9).
Kalif Raymond is a nice deep threat with big-play ability, too, despite his seldom usage.
But I do have to address the Marvin Jones Jr.-sized elephant in the building. He’s been downright bad this year, with a few drops, a fumble and just two catches for 7 yards. With Jameson Williams being reinstated this week, Jones has to be the guy who moves to the bench.
Offensive line: B+
The injury bug has hit the Lions offensive line yet again, but they’ve done a fairly good job weathering the storm. Frank Ragnow continues to play at an All-Pro level. Penei Sewell continues to be a godsend, being able to seamlessly transition to left tackle when Taylor Decker went down.
And while the pass blocking has been pretty good overall with this group, the run blocking has been a bit of a problem—as evidenced by the amount of yards after contact Montgomery has. Still, we’ve seen this group dominate at times—in particular at the end of games when they have worn down the defense.
Defensive line: B+
After two games of mid-to-high concern about the lack of pass rush, the defensive line has been absolutely dominant in the past two weeks. Detroit has racked up 12 sacks in those games alone—11 of which came from the defensive front.
The run defense from this group has been absolutely elite all season: Detroit is allowing a league-low 60.8 rushing yards per game and rank third in yards per carry allowed (3.0). As an entire unit the Lions run defense ranks sixth in PFF grade.
I suppose I should also mention Aidan Hutchinson, who has been an absolute terror to right tackles all season. He ranks eighth among all edge defenders with an 85.3 PFF grade (min. 100 snaps) and he still leads the NFL in pressures with 27.
The linebackers deserve a fair amount of credit in Detroit’s stout run defense, but they’ve also been able to make a surprising amount of plays in pass defense. Alex Anzalone has a sack and two passes defended—one which led to a key interception against Green Bay. Jack Campbell has a sack and a pass breakup. And the entire group has combined for 10 quarterback pressures.
Coverage is still hit or miss with this group—they’ve notably struggled against some tight ends—but it’s been a clear improvement from years past.
Despite injuries to two of their best players in the secondary—Kerby Joseph and C.J. Gardner-Johnson—the Lions have managed to play scrappy and competitive on the perimeter. Tracy Walker has been a more-than-adequate starter in two games, while Ifeatu Melifonwu has looked decent in a couple starts, as well.
At corner, rookie Brian Branch is making a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He’s currently tied for the team league in tackles (25) and tackles for loss (3). While that may not sound good for a corner, with the amount that Branch plays in the box as, essentially, an extra linebacker, that is very good. Of course, he’s also tied for first on the team with pass breakups (4) and second in interceptions (1).
The outside corners have struggled a little more. Jerry Jacobs has been picked on through the first quarter, allowing 196 yards and three touchdowns in coverage thus far per PFF. However, you love to see him rebound against the Packers to tally two interceptions and a solid 71.9 PFF grade.
Quietly, Cam Sutton has been very reliable, as he’s only been targeted 19 times thus far (Jacobs has been targeted 31) and allowed only 11 completions.
Overall, the team ranks 13th in passer rating allowed and 11th in yards per attempt allowed. It’s a clear improvement, but there’s more room to grow.
Special teams: B
Good news: Riley Patterson has made all of his kicks (although no attempts beyond 38 yards), Jack Fox continues to be just fine, and Detroit continues to have the best fake punt unit in the NFL.
The return and coverage games have been routine, ranking average in most stats. However, some penalty issues have crept up in the last couple weeks, and those can be extremely costly when it comes to field position.
The Seahawks game sticks out as a game in which the Lions may have gotten outcoached, particularly on defense. Despite a broken Seattle offensive front, the Lions couldn’t generate pressure, and Geno Smith picked them apart. You could also nitpick about some of the coaching decisions in that game, particularly some of the play calling and clock management on Detroit’s final offensive drive.
However, outside of that, the Lions coaching staff has been downright excellent. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has rebounded in an incredible way since that Week 2 loss, manufacturing extremely effective game plans against the Packers and Falcons offenses. Despite injuries to the offensive line, Ben Johnson’s offense continues to be one of the most efficient in the league.
Meanwhile, the man at the top of it all—Dan Campbell—continues to motivate this team and have them ready. No moment has seemed to big for this team, and any worry that the high expectations for Detroit would make them complacent or cause them to lose that chip on their shoulder has proven to be completely unfounded.