The Detroit Lions got a shockingly good defensive performance against the Atlanta Falcons to move to 2-1 on the season. And while there will be a ton of focus on the defensive line for helping the team notch seven sacks and hold the Falcons lethal running game to basically nothing, it was truly a team effort on that side of the ball.
Offensively, there were plenty of bumps in the road, but Detroit did enough to come away with a comfortable victory.
Here are my Week 3 positional grades for the Lions.
In the first half, Jared Goff was his typical, dominant self. He did miss a deep shot to Kalif Raymond, but four plays later, he hit Sam LaPorta on a 45-yard bomb. I’m not going to hold the first pass against him too much.
The clip below may go overlooked because it didn’t lead to any points, but I legitimately believe it’s the best pass Goff has thrown in a Lions uniform. Just absolutely perfect placement as he’s drifting backwards.
Unfortunately, Goff looked like a completely different quarterback in the second half. In the third quarter, he was just 5-of-10 for 33 yards and an interception he called “the worst ball I’ve ever thrown.”
Thankfully, he bounced back in the final quarter and capped the game with a perfect ball fake:
Running backs: C+
Jahmyr Gibbs and the gang were not helped out by their offensive line on this day, but they also didn’t do much to create yards on their own. Despite finishing with 80 yards rushing, Gibbs actually had negative Rushing Yards Over Expected, according to NextGenStats.
Still, Gibbs clearly got into a groove late in the game, saw his rushing lanes much clearer, and was a big part in putting the game away in the Lions’ final touchdown drive.
Wide receivers: B-
Amon-Ra St. Brown finished with 100 yards for the second consecutive game, but he did have a very costly drop when the Lions were trying to drive out of their own end zone. Meanwhile, Kalif Raymond continues to be a sneaky-good playmaker.
Other than those two, though, there was nothing. Marvin Jones Jr. did not get a single target on his 29 snaps. Josh Reynolds wasn’t targeted either on his 54 snaps. That doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t getting open, but there were times—especially in the red zone—where it seemed like Goff could not find an open receiver.
Tight ends: A-
I maintain the right to change my grade when I take a closer looking at the blocking from this group, but Sam LaPorta deserves a ton of credit for pulling this offense out of neutral at several points in the game. His eight catches for 84 yards and a score were fairly well distributed throughout the game, always giving Goff an option when the receivers seemed tied up.
Offensive line: F
I’d consider giving this group a D if it were only the injured players causing the trouble. Unfortunately, just about every player on the offensive line was guilty of bad play against the Falcons. Penei Sewell was called for holding twice. Frank Ragnow also got a holding penalty. Matt Nelson got a chop block penalty. All of these were huge drive killers.
And as for plays that counted, Detroit allowed nine quarterback hits. The run game was largely ineffective, as 15 of Detroit’s 26 running back carries went for three yards or fewer.
The trio of Nelson/Dan Skipper/Colby Sorsdal did as much as they could to hold their own, but let’s just say it would be awfully nice to get Taylor Decker back for Thursday’s game against the Packers.
Defensive line: A
Aidan Hutchinson. Alim McNeill. Benito Jones. Charles Harris. All four got on the board with sacks against the Atlanta Falcons after the entire defensive line was shut out in the first two games.
Hutchinson continues to be a menace, adding two passes defended and an additional tackle for loss to his two-sack day. Alim McNeill quite possibly had the second best game of his career, trailing only that iconic Giants game last season. And, quietly, the Lions run defense continues to be elite. The Falcons came into Week 3 averaging 170.5 rushing yards per game at 4.8 yards per carry. Against the Lions, they had 44 rushing yards and 2.2 yards per carry.
The linebackers deserve a ton of credit for the Lions run defense, as well. Their sideline-to-sideline speed was obvious in both tracking down Bijan Robinson and making sure Desmond Ridder (two rushes, 3 yards) never got the edge around the Lions defense.
Also, Derrick Barnes flashed some of that edge rushing talent he had at Purdue, and Jack Campbell got in on the fun, as well.
Tackling remains a bit of an issue from this unit, but it’s fair to point out that they’ve faced some of the toughest backs to take down in back-to-back weeks, and it hasn’t killed them.
Defensive backs: B
Brian Branch may have been the best player on the field Sunday. After shaking off some early coverage issues in the game, Branch was everywhere: making tackles for loss in the run game, deflecting passes in coverage, making open field tackles, and laying the absolute boom on Falcons players. 11 tackles (three for loss) and two passes defended. The kid is just getting started.
Elsewhere, it was a mixed bag. Another tough day for Jerry Jacobs, who was flagged twice for pass interference. And if Ridder was a little more accurate early in this game, he could have connected on a couple big plays.
Still, you have to give it up for both Ifeatu Melifonwu and Tracy Walker for stepping into starting roles and making plays. Walker nearly had two interceptions and he laid one of the biggest hits of the game.
Desmond Ridder, turning the wrong way for a play fake before casually tossing a hospital ball over the middle pic.twitter.com/IL2uYWBLTj— Shane Haff (@ShaneHaffNFL) September 24, 2023
Melifonwu had a pass breakup of his own and an impressive tackle for loss.
Special teams: C
Jack Fox was excellent at flipping the field, averaging over 43 net yards per punt, and pinning three of his six inside the opponent’s 20. Riley Patterson made all four of his kicks. But this unit gets a significant ding in its performance for two very costly penalties on returns—both by Will Harris.
A face mask on Harris pushed the Lions from the 33-yard line to their own 18. A holding penalty erased a punt return to the 39-yard line and forced Detroit to start at its own 17. That’s a total of 37 yards in field position on two costly penalties.
Outside of one really poor challenge, this was a phenomenally coached game by the Lions. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn tried a lot of different and new things, and they all seemed to work. He involved the linebackers a little more in the pass rush attack. He moved to a lot more one-high safety looks instead of the two-high shell that seemed to cede too much over the middle of the field.
Plus, I think we also have to give some credit to Dan Campbell for getting this team to bounce back in a big way. After the game, Campbell casually dropped that, “It’s not always easy to deal with me,” suggesting he had a little bit of tough love for the team this week. But that’s where his Bill Parcells influence comes in and it was clearly effective.
“I just applied a little pressure and the guys did a heck of a job,” Campbell explained. “They responded well, the coaches really did and the players did a great job.”
Let’s carry that over into Thursday, fellas.