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Detroit Lions report card: Defense steps up big time vs. Chiefs

The Detroit Lions defense helped carry a sputtering offense against the Kansas City Chiefs. We hand out positional grades to analyze the entire team’s performance.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs

The Detroit Lions didn’t play their prettiest game against the Kansas City Chiefs, but no Week 1 game is perfect. The fact that the Lions were still able to pull off the victory over the Super Bowl champs on such an imperfect night is a sign of just how much progress this franchise has made.

Let’s take a closer look at the team’s performance with our Week 1 report card.

Quarterback: B+

Jared Goff finished the game with a more-than-respectful statline of 22-of-35 for 253 yards and one touchdown for a passer rating of 94.1

He missed a couple of key throws, but he wasn’t getting any help from his receiving corps for large parts of this game. Overall, I was impressed by Goff’s ability to hang in the pocket, be patient, go through his progressions, and take what the Chiefs gave him. Plus, he continues to take care of the ball, which was one of the biggest keys to the game this week.

Running backs: B

The statline may lie to you and suggest that David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs combined for 116 yards on 28 carries for a paltry 4.1 yards per carry, but those two were efficient when they needed to be. Montgomery picked up four first downs on the day and found the end zone. Gibbs displayed his explosiveness to the outside and just barely scratched the surface of his receiving potential.

That said, Montgomery struggled in pass protection, looking a little more timid than necessary. Gibbs also made at least one poor read on a run.

Still, an overall promising day from the Lions’ reformed backfield.

Tight ends: A-

Sam LaPorta had an extremely promising debut despite a modest five-catch, 39-yard performance. He made a couple of tricky catches—hauling in all five of his targets—and he looked like a natural blocker on Montgomery’s touchdown run.

On first viewing, Brock Wright looked like a mostly reliable blocker and added a couple of catches on his own.

Wide receivers: C-

It was a horrid start for Marvin Jones Jr. He quickly tallied a drop and a fumble, leading many—myself included—to wonder if Detroit should have more aggressively pursued receiver help this offseason.

But the Lions receivers really made amends in the second half, particularly Josh Reynolds. The veteran receiver pulled in 80 yards on Thursday—51 of which came in the second half. No catch was bigger than a wobbly ball on a third-and-12 that eventually led to a touchdown drive.

Of course, Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be the most reliable player on the team’s offense, and Thursday was no exception. Still, this receiving corps was missing a gear for most of the game.

Offensive line: B+

The Lions ran for 118 total yards and Goff was hit just four times all game. Sometimes it did feel like the pocket was closing around Goff rather quickly, but look how perfect the protection was on the touchdown pass to St. Brown.

Mind you, this was already about three seconds into the play.

The Lions were supposed to dominate on the ground this game, and I think it’s fair to say they came pretty close to doing that.

Defensive line: B

Aidan Hutchinson was an absolute terror for right tackle Jawaan Taylor, to the point in which Taylor was essentially cheating all night to give himself a fighting chance. When the in-studio officiating expert is on the Lions’ side about uncalled false starts, you know something bad is happening.

But despite the illegal adjustment, Hutch still had his way with Taylor.

The performances were a little less consistent for the rest of the defensive front. While Detroit did a great job preventing any Chiefs running game from being established (Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for just 45 yards on 14 carries), Detroit didn’t get pressure from much of anywhere else. Detroit also failed to keep Mahomes contained on key downs.

Still, there were flashes across the board. Josh Paschal got a key third-down stop and tackle for loss. Levi Onwuzurike had at least one pressure generated. And John Cominsky tackled Patrick Mahomes by the ankles short of the sticks on an early third down. You’d like to see more consistency among this group, but there were certainly more than enough important plays made by these players.

Linebackers: C+

It wasn’t a particularly strong game in coverage for the linebackers, as both Jack Campbell and Malcolm Rodriguez were beaten for significant gains. That said, Campbell made one of the most impressive pass breakups I’ve seen from an NFL linebacker:

It also wasn’t the cleanest day tackling from this group, but, again, there were enough individual plays made here to feel optimistic about this group.

Defensive backs: B+

Sure, the Chiefs had a lot of drops on Thursday night, and there were a couple of miscommunication issues early in the game. But the Lions defensive backs were sticky for most of the night, causing Mahomes to hold onto the ball for a few extra seconds to try and create time and space on his own. He was able to do that on occasion, but Detroit essentially held the Chiefs to a single explosive play all night.

In the end, Mahomes finished 21-of-39 for only 5.8 yards per pass attempt. The last time Mahomes threw for just 5.8 yards per attempt or lower was Week 9 of the 2021 season. That has to count for something.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson had two pass breakups on the Chiefs’ last drive, and Brian Branch also did this:

Special teams: A-

A fake punt immediately vaults this to an A, but I’m gonna knock a half-point off for some questionable punt return decisions from Kalif Raymond that had Detroit backed up in their own zone for a few possessions.

Also, good on Riley Patterson for making all his extra points. In a one-point game, those extra points turned out to mean quite a bit.

Coaching: A-

What can you say about this team right now? The coaching staff and personnel staff have created a culture where this game is not too big for them. They made a ton of mistakes on Thursday night, but always seemed to have the right response. That game could have spiraled away from them at several points, but Detroit remained calm and moved on to the next play.

As for the in-game decisions, I absolutely love the fake punt, regardless of how risky it was. I agreed with the decision to go for it late, even if Detroit failed to convert a fourth-and-2 that gave Mahomes the ball at midfield with a chance to win.

I did have a pretty big problem, however, with Detroit’s decision to punt from the Chiefs’ 40-yard line on fourth-and-3 during a tied ballgame. Playing the field position battle with Mahomes was not the right play there, and just a couple minutes later, the Chiefs were already ahead.

In general, I think the Lions have a lot to clean up when it comes to their third and fourth-down play calling on offense, but the staff had this team ready, motivated, and level-headed in tense moments. That’s all you can ask for in Week 1 against the champs.

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