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Detroit Lions Week 16 grades: Offense passes big test vs. Vikings

Our Detroit Lions Week 16 positional report card hands out strong grades for the offense vs. a threatening Vikings defense.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions took down the Minnesota Vikings 30-24 for their 11th win of the season. No divisional game is easy on the road—particularly if that opponent is fighting for their postseason lives. Ultimately, the Lions proved to be the better team on the day, and it took a strong offensive effort and an opportunistic defense to get the job done.

Let’s hand out some grades for the Lions’ Week 16 division-clinching win.

Quarterback: A-

Jared Goff was just a steady, calming force out there against the Vikings. Minnesota’s defense operates by forcing chaos for the opposing quarterback, but Goff never once looked rattled. He simply took what the Vikings defense gave him, converted on a few key plays, and helped keep Detroit’s offense on schedule all day.

There was nothing gaudy about his performance in Week 16—he didn’t even attempt a pass beyond 20 yards of air yards—but that’s all the Lions needed. A safe, steady presence that didn’t turn the ball over was more than enough to produce 30 points on a Vikings defense that hadn’t allowed that much since Week 2.

Running backs: B+

If not for Jahmyr Gibbs’ fumble and a dropped pass or two, this running back unit would have been a solid A from me. Gibbs continues to be fantastic with the ball in his hands, and on Sunday, he had two of his most impressive runs of the season: one for a fourth-down conversion and another for a touchdown.

This kid is extremely fun to watch. And don’t look now, but Gibbs is currently 12th in the NFL in rushing yards (872) and t-eighth in touchdowns (nine). He’s also moved to third in Offensive Rookie of the Year odds.

Wide receivers: A-

It seems like just about everyone from this group had a big play on Sunday. Amon-Ra St. Brown had several on the way to his eighth 100-yard game of the season. Jameson Williams caught five of his six targets for 43 yards—including another YAC play where he had no business earning a first down. Donovan Peoples-Jones had a key catch on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter. And both Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond had 15+ yard plays.

Tight ends: C+

A surprisingly quiet day from rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught all three of his targets for just 18 yards, and only one of those earned a first down.

That said, go back to that Gibbs touchdown run, and watch the job LaPorta does on D.J. Wonnum.

Offensive line: A+

The Vikings defense generated just 14 pressure, per PFF—the fourth fewest they’ve had in a game all season. And according to PFF, only five of those were credited to the Lions’ starting offensive line (two for Graham Glasgow, and one each for Penei Sewell, Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker).

The Lions were even more impressive running the ball. Against a rush defense that had only allowed over 120 yards twice all season, Detroit racked up 143—including three rushing touchdowns on the day (the Vikings had allowed just eight all season).

Defensive line: B-

Per usual, the Lions’ run defense was extremely stout. Detroit allowed just 17 yards on 11 carries (1.5 YPC) with a long of 6 yards.

That said, the Lions generated almost zero pressure with four-man rushes. Again, it was pretty much only Aidan Hutchinson making Nick Mullens uncomfortable among the defensive line. He was credited with six pressures on the day, while no other defensive lineman had more than one.

On top of that, while Romeo Okwara deserves a ton of credit for forcing a fumble on the last drive of the game, John Cominsky deserves just as much criticism for not falling on the ball to end the game. The Vikings nearly took that opportunity and won the game.

Linebackers: B-

Not much positive or negative from the linebacking crew. At times, they were a bit too susceptible to play action, but they deserve plenty of credit for plugging up the Vikings running game. Perhaps the best play of the day from this crew came from Malcolm Rodriguez, who made a strong open-field tackle to force a three-and-out right after Detroit re-took the lead in the second half.

Secondary: C+

How do you grade a unit that was both responsible for giving up big play after big play after big play, but also generated the biggest defensive plays of the game?

The Lions gave up 11(!!!) pass plays of 20+ yards against the Vikings, and it was largely the secondary’s fault, either losing their one-on-ones or failing to make a play on the ball.

But then you consider that the secondary was also responsible for all four interceptions, Ifeatu Melifonwu played a huge part in Detroit’s pass rushing plan (three pressures, two sacks), and Brian Branch had an overall very solid game.

I think it all comes out as a net neutral game for the secondary, but because the game was won with Iffy’s interception, I’ll give them a benefit of a plus.

Special teams: C

The Lions had an extra point blocked in this game, and it almost became a critical one when the Vikings were driving at the end of the game down only six, not seven.

Not much else to say about the units, other than punter Jack Fox had a couple of big punts late. First, he pinned the Vikings at their own 7-yard line, forcing Minnesota to drive 93-yard for the game. And when an illegal formation negated that punt, he basically did it again—although a 5-yard return moved Minnesota up to the 12. Forcing Nick Mullens to drive that far—even with some ridiculous late-game heroics from Jefferson—proved to be too much for the backup quarterback.

Coaching: B-

Let’s start with a couple of things I didn’t like. I didn’t like Dan Campbell using a timeout at the end of the first half after the Lions sacked Nick Mullens to force a third-and-19. Minnesota was at midfield and there was only 49 seconds left. Even in the best case scenario, you’re getting the ball back with about 30 seconds from your own 20-yard line with no timeouts. That is a low-percentage scoring opportunity when you were already up 17-7. Instead, you gave the Vikings some extra time, and even though you expect your defense to get a stop on third-and-19, when the opponents have a weapon like Justin Jefferson, you can never be sure.

Also, the Lions got a little conservative at the end of the game, allowing the Vikings an opportunity to get back in it, despite having a nine point lead with the ball and only 10 minutes left.

Finally, there was the whole delay of game thing. You can blame that on crowd noise or Frank Ragnow for not snapping the ball, but in my opinion, that starts with the coaching staff getting the call in in a timely manner. Too often the Lions were breaking that snap with under 10 seconds on the play clock. That is unacceptable on the road against a defense that requires pre-snap diagnosis.

That said, Campbell, again, deserves to be praised for his aggressiveness on fourth down. Down 21-17 in the third quarter, many NFL coaches would have chosen to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Vikings’ 34-yard line—or four plays later on fourth-and-1 from the Vikings’ 7-yard line. Campbell wanted six and he got it, giving Detroit the lead they would never forfeit again.

Additionally, you have to admire the Lions’ overall preparation. On offense, they were clearly prepared for any disguised looks from the Vikings defense. And defensively, Detroit absolutely forced Mullens into several mistakes with an aggressive game plan. In short, Lions coaches set the players up for success.

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