A dominant win like that is exactly what Detroit Lions fans—whose confidence had been shaken by a month of mediocre football—needed. Not only did the Lions absolutely crush a surging Denver Broncos team, but it was a full-team effort, with both the offense and defense showing incredible signs of growth.
So get ready for some extra Chuck E. Cheese tokens: this week’s report card is going to have some pretty fantastic grades.
Jared Goff had a pretty awful start to the game in his first three drives of the game. He wasn’t seeing the field well. He was missing open receivers. He just looked out of sorts. But he was so phenomenal in the final three quarters that it doesn’t affect his overall grade.
For the majority of the game, Goff was comfortable, in command, and insanely accurate in his throws. He finished with five passing touchdowns for just the second time in his entire career, and his passer rating of 134.6 was the sixth highest of his career and second-best as a Lion. As his teammates said in the locker room after the game: where the haters now?
Taylor Decker on Jared Goff: “For me to see people using him as a scapegoat was kind of ridiculous. I don’t think it was warranted whatsoever. The guy has played some great football for us.”— Will Burchfield (@burchie_kid) December 17, 2023
Running backs: A+
Granted they were dealing with some pretty huge holes (more on that later), but Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery were both absolutely electric. Both were consistently breaking tackles and turning 6-7 yard gains into 10-20 yard gains.
Montgomery and Gibbs combined for 185 yards on just 28 carries (6.6 YPC). Gibbs added two touchdowns. I don’t think I really need to justify this grade. Just watch this again.
Tight ends: A
That’s it. That’s the entire explanation.
Okay, fine. I’ll do my job. Six targets. Five catches. 56 yards. Three touchdowns.
LaPorta is back to being one of Goff’s go-to targets and for good reason: he’s got reliable hands, he gets open, and he can even make open-field runs like this brilliantly designed play:
Wide receivers: A
A look at the wide receiver stats combined: 15 catches (on just 21 targets), 217 yards, 1 TD.
Everyone got involved: Amon-Ra St. Brown bounced back in a huge way, tallying his seventh 100-yard game this season. Josh Reynolds made a couple of big plays again. And, HELLO JAMESON WILLIAMS.
For the first time in his career, he had more than two touches in a game, finishing with four catches for 47 yards. While he was missing a deep ball catch in this game, he did do this—which may be more impressive than anything else he’s done in his NFL career thus far:
Jameson Williams you bad bad man…— eleCtro 〽️ (@EBl4ze) December 17, 2023
Offensive line: A+
The offensive line created massive holes in the running game, and I mean... massive holes. Even though Goff was sacked twice against the Broncos, Detroit mostly handled Denver’s disguised pressures without any real signs of struggle. Goff had all day to pass despite the seven QB hits tallied by the Broncos.
You can really tell when the Lions have all their starting offensive linemen at full strength.
Defensive line: B+
There were bouts in which the Lions pass rush seemed to disappear, but overall, we’ve seen the defensive line steadily improve week-by-week, and that continued on Saturday night. Aidan Hutchinson was disruptive for much of the game, Josh Paschal continues to make two or three big plays a game, and Detroit’s big men continue to bottle up the run game. Erase the Broncos’ 26 rushing yards on the very last drive of the game, and Denver rushed for 57 yards on 24 carries (2.4 YPC).
There were some issues tackling, and Alex Anzalone was nabbed with a 44-yard pass interference penalty, but the linebacking crew continues to be an underrated source of pass rush. Anzalone had two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
Otherwise, it was a pretty quiet day from the linebacking crew. Jack Campbell finished with just five tackles, Derrick Barnes—who missed some of this game due to an injury he would eventual return from—only had three.
Defensive backs: A-
There were some lapses in coverage, but far fewer than we’re used to seeing. Most impressively to me was Detroit’s secondary actually making plays on the ball. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Brian Branch, Cameron Sutton, Khalil Dorsey, and Kindle Vildor all tallied at least one pass breakup, several of which saved Detroit from giving up big gains to a Broncos team that had been racking up explosive plays as of late.
The Lions defensive backs were also unstoppable as blitzer. Melifonwu had two QBs hits, a sack, and a forced fumble, while both Branch and Vildor also got to Russell Wilson, clearly impacting the pass on each play.
Special teams: C
Jack Fox had a pretty rough day, biffing two opportunities to pin the Broncos inside their own 20-yard line. Kalif Raymond was also ineffective as a punt returner, earning just 8 yards on two returns.
That said, good on Michael Badgley for nailing all six of his extra points after winning the kicker battle. Additionally, coverage units were perfectly fine, as Denver’s longest kick return was 20 yards. And Malcolm Rodriguez sealed the game with a clean onside kick recovery. What can’t that guy do?
Dan Campbell was aware that Sean Payton was coming to Detroit to embarrass the Lions. But on Saturday night, Campbell pulled the UNO reverse card and turned Payton into a human volcano on the Broncos sideline, screaming at his own franchise quarterback.
To give you a sense of how good Campbell is at keeping his team—unlike Payton—from riding the waves of emotions, check out this telling quote from Goff after the game.
“Our superpower is how we respond, and it starts with Dan and goes to me and through the offense and the coordinators and the coaches, everybody. Our superpower is how we respond as a team, as a unit, as a group. We’ve been through a lot of adversity as a group and a three-game lull where we won one of three. It’s not the worst thing we’ve been through, so being able to bounce back is something that we pride ourselves on and tonight was a big one to bounce back with.”
Campbell didn’t have to deal with too many in-game decisions, so there’s nothing really to grade him on there.
As for the coordinators, Ben Johnson was back in his bag against the Broncos, with just about everything on the call-sheet working. I admit I was a little concerned when Detroit came out with five straight passes and their first three drives ended in punts, but after that, it was a near-perfect day for the offense.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn continues to dial up the heat, and a handful of defensive back blitzes seemed to be extremely effective against the Broncos. Glenn also deserves credit for doing what plenty of you have been asking for: trying new things. He’s made some difficult personnel decisions—sending former leaders like Charles Harris and Tracy Walker to the bench—and the Lions have come out better for it. And against Denver, they pulled off some new looks to their gameplan.
“AG called a heck of a game, we had a couple of wrinkles in that we felt like would be good for us and really, they were,” Campbell said. “The takeaway that we got, that was something we haven’t done. It’s been a long time since we have, so we were able to get pressure in his face and trap it on the outside, and so we were able to come away with that takeaway. So, I just thought we were well prepared.”