The Detroit Lions capped their 2023 regular season with a fairly comfortable win over the Minnesota Vikings to push their win total to a franchise-tying mark of 12. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for the Lions, with some uncharacteristically poor performance in areas of typical strength (running game). However, Detroit’s biggest playmakers did enough to carry them to the two-score win.
Let’s get into it with our Week 18 report card.
Jared Goff had one of his best games of the season. Not only did the Lions quarterback finish with his third-highest passer rating of the season (124.5), but he was effective in a lot of ways we aren’t accustomed to seeing. He was throwing on the run, across his body, and the Vikings blitz was completely ineffective at rattling Goff.
Jared Goff vs. the Vikings blitz:— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) January 8, 2024
2 TDs / 0 INTs
130.0 passer rating
This is the exact kind of performance you want from a quarterback heading into the postseason.
Running backs: C
While David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs each found the end zone once, their combined 70 rushing yards was Detroit’s second-lowest output for the season. I can’t put all the blame on the running backs, but for a duo who’s known of their tackle-breaking abilities and explosive-play potential, we saw little of either on Sunday.
That said, I will say that Montgomery was excellent as a pass protector against a defense that disguises their intentions well. Gibbs... well, he’s got some work to do.
Wide receivers: A-
Lions receivers combined to catch 16 of 21 targets for 263 yards and a touchdown. Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be an absolute machine, and his 70-yard touchdown catch and run was a thing of beauty. Kalif Raymond pitched in a 41-yard catch of his own. Donovan Peoples-Jones converted a fourth-and-1 for a big 20-yard gain that led to a touchdown. And Josh Reynolds cashed in on a bonus with a five-catch performance that also included a forced pass interference in the end zone.
The only reason this group didn’t get a full A is because the Lions often had great protection and Goff had to hold onto the ball all day to find someone open.
Tight ends: B
Sam LaPorta was off to another dominant day—five catches, 29 yards, 1 TD—before suffering an injury in the first half. While James Mitchell still has a long ways to go as a blocker and protector, his 24-yard catch was an impressive one that kept a late Lions drive alive and eventually led to a touchdown.
Offensive line: B
I thought pass protection was outstanding again, as the Lions allowed just a single sack and three quarterback hits (for comparison’s sake, the Lions had 15!!! QB hits). However, the rushing lanes just weren’t there against the Vikings, which is a pretty disappointing development considering the Lions were able to rack up 143 rushing yards on the Vikings just two weeks ago.
Defensive line: B
The Lions got pushed around in the run game far more than expected against the Vikings, allowing Ty Chandler and Alexander Mattison to combine for 93 yards on just 19 carries (4.9 YPC).
But the defensive front was also responsible for some of the biggest plays of the day. Aidan Hutchinson was a one-man wrecking crew with 2.0 sacks and a huge tackle for loss on a Justin Jefferson end around. Josh Paschal and Romeo Okwara each had a pair of quarterback hits. Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike also each had a QB hit, with Onwuzurike turning his into just the second sack of his career. The Lions’ consistent pressure forced both incompletions and interceptions against Nick Mullens.
It wasn’t the best tackling day from this crew, as Jack Campbell had three missed tackle and Alex Anzalone had two, per PFF. Still, there was more good than bad with this group. Campbell got some love from his head coach after the game for his 12-tackle performance—a career high.
“That was the best game he’s played all season,” Dan Campbell said on Monday.
Derrick Barnes added a couple of quarterback hits, and Anzalone had nine tackles of his own.
Again, this secondary continues to get victimized by big plays. After giving up 11 20+ yard passing plays to Nick Mullens in Week 16, they allowed another nine on Sunday. Both Cameron Sutton and Kindle Vildor were cleanly beaten for deep shots—in one case on back-to-back plays. This is a pretty huge issue right now, and it has been for a month. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a clear resolution in sight.
That said, the Lions safeties had a fantastic game. Ifeatu Melifonwu had two pass breakups and his QB hit led to Sutton’s interception. C.J. Gardner-Johnson ended the game with an interception of his own, even if it was gift-wrapped to him. Kerby Joseph had the quietest day with a four-tackle performance, and he also missed a pair of tackles.
Special teams: A-
Jack Fox had a pair of nearly-perfect punts that helped Detroit win the field position battle and force Mullens to drive the length of the field—which he rarely did. Kalif Raymond also averaged 22.3 yards on four punt returns—the best performance of the season for him on special teams.
The Lions get nicked a half grade, though, because Michael Badgley missed an extra point.
While the Lions have serious issues at the cornerback position, I think defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn deserves a ton of credit for changing their defensive philosophy to offset some big plays with huge disruptive plays from Detroit’s defense. The Lions’ blitz rate has skyrocketed, and it’s led to both more sacks and interceptions—affording Detroit’s defense plenty of opportunities to get off the field.
Additionally, Campbell continues to earn credit for an aggressive mindset. The Lions went for it on fourth down twice in this game, converted both times, and each conversion led to a touchdown. Let’s not take that for granted.
Campbell’s dismal record on challenges took another hit, but I thought his decision to make refs take a longer look at a questionable catch was absolutely worth it.
Of course, the biggest coaching decision of all was the Lions’ choice to not rest (most) of their starters. While I was on board for resting some of the team’s superstars (Goff, Hutchinson, St. Brown), I can recognize this was not an easy decision with the No. 2 NFC seed still technically on the line. I’m not sure anything could have saved LaPorta from the injury given Detroit’s lack of depth at tight end.
While nobody’s happy about the injury, I understand Campbell’s thought process and am not significantly downgrading him for it.