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Lions vs. Bears report card, grades: Defense does enough for offense to wake up

Handing out grades for each Detroit Lions position after their comeback win over the Chicago Bears.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions’ thrilling win over the Chicago Bears was the cure to many ills on Sunday afternoon. For two-and-a-half hours, the game was a miserable slog. The Lions couldn’t get out of their own ways, while Justin Fields seemed to pull out just enough on every play to keep the Bears one step ahead of Detroit.

While the Lions are 8-2 and won’t apologize for a thing (and they shouldn’t), let’s take a more critical look at their Week 11 performance in its entirety.

Here’s our Lions vs. Bears report card.

Jared Goff: D

It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen Jared Goff look so uncomfortable and off-kilter. Sure, there was more quarterback pressure than he has become accustomed to seeing, but that was no excuse for some of the passes he made on Sunday. While he doesn’t merit 100 percent of the blame on his interceptions, he threw enough poor passes against the Bears to look at that performance and say, “Yeah, he deserved to be picked off at least three times.”

Goff has improved a ton with pressure in his face, but this was a huge step back that will have some doubters worrying whether Sunday was the “true” Goff.

Thankfully, Goff pulled out of the tailspin and finished 10-of-12 for 115 yards and a touchdown on the final two drives.

Running backs: A

The Bears’ run defense was one of the best in the league, and yet the Lions seemingly had absolutely no trouble with it. David Montgomery tallied 76 yards rushing and 22 receiving—45 of which came on the final drive. Jahmyr Gibbs only had 36 yards rushing on eight attempts, but also pitched in 59 through the air. Nearly 100 scrimmage yards from both backs is exactly the shot in the arm the Lions needed late, as both moved the chains consistently in the final four minutes. The two combined for six of the team’s final nine first downs.

Tight ends: C

It was a rare day in which Sam LaPorta and Jared Goff just didn’t seem on the same page, and it resulted in one interception and nearly another. The rookie tight end would end up with just three catches for 18 yards and a two-point conversion, his lowest output of the season.

That said, the Lions tight ends keep doing a solid job behind the scenes in pass protection and run blocking.

Wide receivers: B

Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be Jared Goff’s security blanket, but the ball isn’t being spread around this group as much as it seemingly had before. St. Brown finished with eight receptions, while the rest of the receiving corps combined for just four. It’s hard to say whether that’s the result of the receivers not getting open or Goff being a little too over-reliant on St. Brown. Of course, when St. Brown continues to produce, it’s had to fault Goff, but at times the quarterback looked stumped when he was covered.

That said, St. Brown proved to be a helpful decoy to get Jameson Williams wide-open on his key 32-yard touchdown. Watch via the NextGenStats dots how St. Brown pulled the cornerback out wide and shallow in zone coverage:

Offensive line: B

The Bears uncharacteristically sent a lot of blitzes at Goff, and if you were just box score scouting, it would look like the Lions didn’t handle it well. Goff was sacked twice and Chicago tallied eight QB hits. On 37 dropbacks, that’s not exactly a great ratio, but pass protection honestly didn’t feel that off in this game. Many times, Goff simply held onto the ball too long. In fact, according to NextGenStats, Goff’s 2.75 seconds to throw average on Sunday was a tad higher than his season average (2.7).

Detroit’s offensive line also deserves credit for mostly stymieing a solid Bears run defense.

Defensive line: C+

The Lions defensive line had a lot of trouble containing Justin Fields. While they often remained disciplined, the all-too-familiar story of not being able to finish on a shrinking of the pocket reared its ugly head. Additionally, while I think the Lions played the read-option stuff fairly well, sometimes it wasn’t enough for a player like Josh Paschal to actually make the tackle.

That said, on designed runs, the Lions run defense was fantastic. D’Onta Foreman (4.3 YPC), Khalil Herbert (5.3 YPC), and Roschon Johnson (4.4 YPC) had been an absolute terror for opposing teams this season. Here’s a look at how efficiently the Lions bottled all three of them up on Sunday:

Combined: 28 carries, 79 yards (2.8 YPC), 1 TD

Also, Aidan Hutchinson’s game-sealing sack certainly deserves a shout-out for stopping Fields’ comeback attempt before it even got off the ground.

Linebackers: C-

It was a rough outing for rookie linebacker Jack Campbell, who was one of many defenders struggling with missed tackles on Sunday. But for as bad of a game as Campbell had, Alex Anzalone was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Anzalone continues to do just about everything for the team. He finished with 15 tackles and a fumble recovery but also continues to impress as the Lions’ best coverage linebacker in a decade. Cole Kmet was a ghost in this game, catching three passes for just 20 yards. Anzalone also remains one of the team’s best pass rushing threats.

Secondary: C+

This is another case of “it depends who you’re talking about.” I thought this was one of Kerby Joseph’s worst games. He failed to make a tackle on D.J. Moore that should have produced an easy punt, and he was consistently late in deep zone coverage, resulting in one long touchdown and almost another.

But the best player on the field might have been Brian Branch. I’m going to overlook the pair of ticky-tack penalties, because Branch was an absolute menace in the run game, tallying three tackles for loss on the day—becoming the only rookie to ever do that twice in a season since at least 1999. He also was absolutely picture-perfect in his coverage of Moore, nearly resulting in an interception.

Also, credit to Cameron Sutton for a bounce-back game. He was mostly solid in coverage all day, and he forced a key fumble early in the game.

Special teams: D

Quiet three-PAT day for Riley Patterson, and Jack Fox had one of his best punts of the year—a 60-yard banger that forced the Bears to start inside their own 10-yard line.

But the entire unit takes the fall with Craig Reynolds’ untimely fumble that nearly cost them the game.

Coaching: B+

We saw some early defensive adjustments after the Bears’ opening touchdown drive, and Aaron Glenn deserves some overall credit for this game. They may have ceded 26 points to Chicago, but the offense did them no favors with four turnovers. The defense made sure those first two turnovers resulted in zero points, which turned out to be huge.

Offensively, it’s hard to blame the coaches for the struggles when Goff was executing so poorly.

Coaching mostly gets a ton of credit here for building a resilient team and performing at the end of each half. When it came down to crunch time, the Lions called the right plays on both sides of the ball, and the team looked unfazed by the moment. A successful two-minute drill to end the first half, and a pair of touchdown drives in the final three minutes of the game. That’s a well-coached team right there.

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