The Detroit Lions dropped their fifth game of the season in a heartbreaking loss to the Dallas Cowboys. While most of the postgame discussion has been on the late-game officiating blunder, there is plenty more to break down from this matchup.
Let’s take a closer look with our Lions report card:
Jared Goff didn’t get help from his offensive line, but he also threw two costly picks. The first nearly led to a scoring drive for Dallas (had CeeDee Lamb not fumbled through the end zone) and the second erased Detroit’s first attempt at a game-winning drive late.
Goff had a couple of dynamite throws in this game, including a 63-yard strike to Jameson Williams and a nice seem shot to Sam LaPorta on the final drive. But his very last pass to James Mitchell was low and outside, and essentially cost Detroit the game.
Running backs: B
Outside of a dropped pass by Jahmyr Gibbs, not much to complain about with this group. David Montgomery had a solid day (14 carries, 65 yards, TD), while Gibbs was a bit more quiet. I expected a little more from this unit against a vulnerable Cowboys run defense, but far too often these backs were getting met in the backfield.
Tight ends: D
Sam LaPorta had one of his worst blocking games against the Cowboys, leading to both pressures and tackles for loss. James Mitchell had an unnecessary holding penalty that erased a 35-yard gain by Gibbs.
The only saving grace was that LaPorta came up huge late in the game. His 40 yards on the last drive of the game was a big reason Detroit was in a position to win.
Wide receivers: B+
Kalif Raymond picked up a key third down early. Jameson Williams’ bomb was a huge play in the second half. And Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be extremely reliable in clutch moments.
Offensive line: D-
Outside of the Packers Thanksgiving game, this may have been the worst offensive line performance of the year. While the Cowboys only had one sack and seven QB hits, the Lions offensive line was shockingly bad in run blocking. Several times, Cowboys defenders were going unblocked or linemen were getting beat instantly. It looked like a particularly rough game for Jonah Jackson (again).
Defensive line: B+
The Lions run defense remains dominant. The Cowboys could only muster 61 yards on 21 carries (2.9 YPC). Additionally, the Lions were able to get to Dak Prescott several times. Aidan Hutchinson had the best game of his season, tallying 3.0 sacks, five QB hits, and an additional tackle for loss.
Derrick Barnes’ missed sack on Prescott will go down as the most costly mistake of the game. A poor tackling effort allowed Prescott to sidestep the blitz and throw a 50/50 ball to Lamb that went for a 92-yard touchdown.
Weird play from the Lions Derrick Barnes, clear shot at a safety, turned into a 92 yd TD for Dallas.— Sir Larry (@LarryTheSir) December 31, 2023
Just whiffed on it, no wrap at all. pic.twitter.com/JJjFdvWImy
Outside of that extremely costly play, I thought it was actually a pretty solid day from the linebacking crew. Alex Anzalone had eight tackles and was solid in coverage—helping Detroit hold dangerous tight end Jake Ferguson to just 33 yards.
The Lions predictably had some serious issues with Lamb all game. It’s easy to pick on Kindle Vildor for the 92-yard touchdown after the cornerback slipped, but he should have never had to cover Lamb for that long anyway.
Still, no one else seemed to be able to cover Lamb, and he had big catch after big catch, leading to a 227-yard day from the Cowboys receiver.
That being said, Brian Branch notched a couple of pass deflections, Ifeatu Melifonwu came up with an impressive interception, and Kerby Joseph had a great breakup on a pass over the middle of the field.
The stat sheet may not show it, but this was an overall positive step for the secondary.
Special teams: A
Not much to report on here other than a big 25-yard punt return from Kalif Raymond that gave Detroit an opportunity to score before the end of the first half.
Oh, right, and this fake punt:
I did not like going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line or the decision to go for two after the penalty. Quite simply, the Lions are not a great passing team in the red zone. With running the ball out of the question in both scenarios, I thought that was too low a percentage of a play to pass on a kick.
Additionally, I thought this was a rough game from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Too often, the Lions relied on slow-developing plays, and with the Cowboys’ speed on defense, it put Detroit’s blockers in a tough situation. The Lions were god-awful on third down on Saturday (4-of-13), despite constantly getting into favorable distances. A lot of that falls on poor calls in big moments.
Honestly, I was all for the decision to go for two at the end of the game, and the Lions ran the play to perfection—regardless of what the officials said. It was a brilliant play call at the perfect moment, and it should have won them the game.
Additionally, the Lions’ fake punt was ballsy, but brilliantly designed. Detroit has shown several direct snaps to Jalen Reeves-Maybin that were runs, but having him throw over the top of the defense was *chef’s kiss*.