By the end of the Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints game, chances are you weren’t too happy with the defensive effort. After building a 21-point lead over the Saints, the Lions defense had trouble stopping the Saints in the second half, and the offense went into hibernation mode. The result was a nail-biter of a game that probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near as close as it was.
But taking the entire game into perspective, there were signs of progress on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. Let’s get into it in our weekly Detroit Lions report card.
Jared Goff missed a couple reads, and missed some throws early, but when it came to crunch time, he made some big-time plays. I was particularly impressed with Goff’s ability to manage the pocket when things broke down. We often peg Goff as a player who needs everything perfect around him to succeed, but that was anything but the case in Detroit’s game-clinching play against the Saints.
The previous possession, Goff did the exact same thing and found a wide-open David Montgomery... who dropped it.
Credit Goff, too, for quickly getting rid of his turnover problem. This Saints defense is opportunistic, but Goff took care of the ball all game.
Running backs: C
Not the greatest day for Montgomery, in my opinion. Not only did he have the absolutely critical drop I just mentioned, but he just didn’t seem to see the field very well in this game. He was constantly running into his own linemen and missed an open crease on a few occasions. He finished with just 56 yards on 18 carries (3.1 YPC).
That said, Gibbs continues to be a big weapon, and his 36-yard run was a thing of beauty. Surprisingly, he only had nine touches in this game—the lowest total for him since the season opener.
It was also disappointing to see neither involved much in the receiving game. The duo combined for just two catches and -7 yards.
Tight ends: A+
An absolute gem of a game from Sam LaPorta. The rookie caught all nine of the passes thrown his way for a rookie tight end franchise-record 140 yards on the day. He came up in huge moments, including a big third-and-long conversion on the final offensive drive of the game.
Quickly, LaPorta has become a centerpiece of this offense, someone who is one of the most reliable and trusted players for Jared Goff.
“As comfortable (throwing to him) as anyone I’ve played with,” Goff said after the game. “For a rookie, it’s pretty tremendous. I compare him directly to what (Amon-Ra) Saint (Brown) was doing as a rookie.”
Even Brock Wright pulled in a nice 8-yard catch in this game.
Wide receivers: B
Jameson Williams, Josh Reynolds, and Amon-Ra St. Brown combined for just four catches and 72 yards, but all three of them made big plays in this game. Williams’ reverse touchdown run was a thing of beauty. St. Brown’s touchdown catch was a strong individual effort. And Josh Reynolds made the game-sealing catch in the fourth quarter on a ball that was not easy to catch.
I’d like to see more from this group—and some of their lack of production was likely game-plan-based—but everyone made plays in big moments, so no reason to hate.
Offensive line: C+
While the Lions finished with 142 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry, when the Lions were trying to hold their lead and stretch out possessions, the run game largely failed. In the second and third quarter, the Lions ran 13 times for just 35 yards—that’s only 2.7 yards per carry. You want an answer to why the Lions offense struggled in the middle of the game? That’s it, and it was largely due to getting little push on the offensive line.
Of course, the Lions had to adjust on the fly with center Frank Ragnow leaving with a knee injury midway through the second quarter. Rookie Colby Sorsdal struggled early but eventually settled in.
And it’s worth noting pass protection was mostly solid this game. Penei Sewell gave up an uncharacteristic sack, but Detroit allowed just four QB hits on the day.
Defensive line: B
The Lions run defense was, once again, very stout, and it allowed the team to get into a lot of third-and-longs. For the game, the Lions allowed 113 rushing yards, but it came on 36 carries for an average of just 3.1 yards per carry. Most of the damage was done by Taysom Hill, but they did a decent job of bottling him up in the second half (nine carries, 31 yards).
Pass rush showed some mild signs of improvement, too. Bruce Irvin and Romeo Okwara notched sacks, while the entire defensive front combined for six quarterback hits. Nearly everyone notched one: Aidan Hutchinson, Benito Jones, Irvin, Charles Harris, John Cominsky, and Okwara all got in on the action.
This play in particular is a good example of some progress from the defensive line. Just about everyone wins their one-on-one:
One guy unmentioned is Josh Paschal, who I think had quite possibly the best game of his career. In the above play, he would have gotten the sack had Irvin not been there. Paschal finished with three tackles and a fumble recovery, but his impact was far larger than that.
In total, the entire Lions defense finished with seven QB hits and seven tackles for loss, and the work from the big men up front had a lot to do with that.
The Lions surprisingly got Jalen Reeves-Maybin into the mix with Alex Anzalone out, and he did well enough to make that decision look smart. He tallied two tackles, a QB hit, and a pass defended on the day.
Jack Campbell also had a promising effort, notching eight tackles—including two for losses. Derrick Barnes continues a solid season with a team-leading nine tackles and one for loss.
That said, the linebacking corps was giving up far too much yardage over the middle of the field near the end of the game. The production from Saints running backs and tight ends in the passing game was far too high (12 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD) and most (but not all) of that falls on the linebackers’ shoulders.
Brian Branch notched an impressive interception, and a pass breakup that under normal circumstances would be celebrated, but eventually turned into one of the more damaging plays of the game.
I thought Cameron Sutton had a nice bounce-back game, as well. He had a good pass breakup on a third down to get off the field.
But that was the end of the good news. Jerry Jacobs continues to struggle in both man and zone coverage. The Lions safeties have been a huge liability in both coverage and run defense. After going just 1-of-5 for 6 yards and an INT (0.0 passer rating) in the first quarter, Derek Carr finished the game 16-of-17 for 220 yards and a TD (138.4 passer rating). He did not throw an incomplete pass in the second half, so the Lions were probably a bit lucky he left with an injury.
Special teams: B+
The Lions did have one penalty on special teams that cost Detroit good field position on a punt return, but other than that, it was a solid day from the specialists. Riley Patterson was a perfect five-for-five on his kicks, while the coverage units held the Saints to just 18.0 yards per kick return and bottled up the Saints punt return game (five returns, 30 yards).
Let me start with the good. At the end of the game, Dan Campbell could have told the team to dial up a run on third down, bleeding an additional 40 seconds off the clock, but giving the Saints an opportunity to win the game with about a minute left. Instead, he put the game in Goff’s hands—risking stopping the clock with an incompletion—to win the game. The Lions offense has repeatedly come up big in those situations, so kudos to Campbell for trusting his guys again.
But, overall, I was uninspired by how this team handled themselves with a significant lead. On offense, the playcalling got way too conservative. I understand they thought they could wear the Saints defense down with the running game, but when it wasn’t working—and Ragnow was injured—they just kept banging their head against the wall.
Particularly bad was the situational play-calling. The third-and-long draw plays need to go. I know the first one in this game worked, but it has now become too predictable. Additionally, this particular red zone progressions was atrocious:
- First-and-10 from at the 13-yard line: David Montgomery 1-yard run
- Second-and-9: Jahmyr Gibbs 4-yard run
- Third-and-5: David Montgomery 1-yard run
This was at a critical venture where the Lions could have extended their lead to two scores, but they turtled and didn’t give their group of talented receivers a chance to make a red zone play.