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Detroit Lions report card: Offense reaches elite tier to mask defensive issues

A Detroit Lions report card with positional grades after their 41-38 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

You never apologize for wins, so even if the Detroit Lions’ 41-38 win over the Los Angeles Chargers exposed some serious flaws in the team, you can still come away pretty darn happy about the end results. The Lions are 7-2—tied for the second-best record in the NFL with only a Kansas City Chiefs team they already beat.

But it would also be silly to ignore that it took a herculean effort from the Lions offense to overcome a pitiful day from the defense. Let’s talk about it all in our Week 10 report card.

Quarterback: A

For a while, Goff took a backseat to the Lions offense, while the run game was turning the Chargers defense into mincemeat. But when the game tightened up late, Goff was absolutely on fire. He had several impressive throws on the day, including a bullet between three defenders, a perfectly-touched go-ahead score to Brock Wright, and a patient progression through his reads on the game-clinching fourth-down conversion.

Simply put, Jared Goff went toe-to-toe with Justin Herbert, a quarterback most people agree is a top-five talent in the NFL.

Running backs: A

The two-headed monster of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs absolutely lived up to its billing in their first game together in a month. Gibbs began the game with 63 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, but it was Montgomery who struck big first with this incredible run.

In total, Montgomery would finish with 116 rushing yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Gibbs added 112 total yards from scrimmage and two trips to the end zone.

If these two can continue to play like this, the Lions have a solid argument for the best running back tandem in football.

Tight end: A+

It sounds weird to call Sam LaPorta’s day “modest” when he catches four passes for 40 yards—including the game-clinching 7-yard grab on fourth down. But most importantly, he’s been there when the Lions have needed him.

Speaking of, the Lions rarely call Brock Wright’s number, but every time they do seems to be in an absolutely key moment of the game. And to Wright’s credit, he’s stepped up to the occasion. His 25-yard touchdown gave Detroit the lead late and was not an easy catch to make with the safety closing in.

Wide receivers: A-

Josh Reynolds wasn’t much of a factor in this game and had a bad drop, but it didn’t really matter much, because everyone else stepped up in one way or another. Amon-Ra St. Brown continues his crazy season with a career-high 156 receiving yards and his fourth-straight 100-yard game. Kalif Raymond’s 41-yard catch immediately put the Lions in field goal position for the game-winning score. And while Jameson Williams only caught two passes for 18 yards, he also threw a key block on Montgomery’s 75-yard touchdown.

Offensive line: A+

Normally, when a penalty on the offensive line erases a touchdown—like Taylor Decker’s low block personal foul did—I’d ding the entire unit at least a half-grade. Not today. First off, it was a pretty weak call. Secondly, outside of that, it was as close to a perfect game as you can get from the offensive line. 200 yards rushing on the ground, zero sacks, and only two QB hits. Against some of the best pass rushers the league has to offer, that was an absolute clinic this unit put on.

“Two of our tackles are two of the top guys in the game,” Goff said after Sunday’s win. “Not only were there no sacks, but I don’t think I ever got hit, and that doesn’t happen against a good d-line like that.”

Defensive line: D

Okay, this is the not-so-fun part. While the Lions deserve some credit for being fairly stout in the run game—allowing just 98 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry (both below the Chargers’ season averages), the pass rush problems are here again. The Lions created just five quarterback pressures on the day, and all three that were forced by the defensive line were courtesy of Aidan Hutchison (Alex Anzalone had the other two).

Early in the game, Lions coverage was actually holding up well, but by giving Justin Herbert too much time, the talented quarterback started getting hot anyway.

Linebackers: D+

Anzalone continues to be a nice force as a blitzer, but there’s not much else nice to say about this group. Jack Campbell struggled in coverage and took a particularly devastating stiff arm via Keenan Allen. Anzalone missed a tackle on Austin Ekeler that allowed the Chargers to convert a third down—though he did have nice coverage on a deep shot that fell incomplete.

But Barnes and Campbell continue to regress a bit after a strong start to the season. Hopefully, those guys can recapture some of that early-season magic.

Secondary: D

Early in this game, it looked like the Lions' defensive backs were up to the challenge. Kerby Joseph had one of the most impressive interceptions I’ve ever seen, and Herbert was just 4-of-8 for 43 yards and a 26.6 passer rating through one quarter.

However, the rest of the game was an absolute disaster. The Chargers went up-tempo, and the Lions just seemed completely out of sorts after that. In Herbert’s final three quarters, he went 23-of-32 for 280 yards, four TDs, and a 138.0 passer rating.

Special teams: A

Riley Patterson has had a lot to prove after some shaking kicking in the first half of the season. And while a 41-yard kick may not look all that impressive on its own, any time it comes in a high-pressure situation on the road for the win, you have to give it up for the guy. It was good enough to earn him a game ball, so it’s good enough to give the entire unit an A.

Coaching: B

Just an absolute masterclass from Ben Johnson, who seemed to have absolutely everything work, particularly on fourth down, where the Lions went four-of-five on the day.

Speaking of, you have to give a ton of credit to Dan Campbell for staying aggressive throughout the game to keep the offense on the field and maximize the number of points on the board, knowing the defense was fighting for its life out there.

But on this day Aaron Glenn was the kid who contributed nothing to the group project. When the Chargers hit the Lions' defense with no-huddle, the Lions answered with no-defense. Despite having a full halftime to make adjustments, the Lions got victimized all the same in the final two quarters, allowing five straight touchdown drives.

It’s back to the drawing board with this defense, but thankfully, they don’t face a quarterback as talented as Herbert until... well, until the playoffs.

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