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Detroit Lions Report Card: Gritty win to end the season, 2023 bright

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For one final time this season, we get to grade the Detroit Lions after a victory. They finished the season 9-8, missing the playoffs due to a tie-breaker with the Seattle Seahawks. Not to mention, they knocked the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs, essentially saying, “If we can't go, neither can you!”

Why it matters: No one could have expected earlier this season that the Lions would end at 9-8 on the season, being eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the season. They grew an identity and played really good football in the final 10 games of the season.

  • They started 1-6 through their first seven games.
  • The improvements made over the final ten games are not a fluke
  • The core contributors to their turnaround were younger players
  • They currently hold the 6th and 18th picks in the 2023 NFL Draft
  • In addition, they have two second-round picks and a third-round pick; five picks in the first three rounds.

Detroit Lions offense:

Jamaal Williams Detroit Lions

Quarterback

Jared Goff has been pretty good during this stretch of ten games. In fact, he finished the season throwing 324 pass attempts without an interception. It's good for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history. When you are not an elite quarterback, you have to be a smart quarterback and that's what Goff has been and it's made the team better. He struggled in the first half but was there when it counted. Ending the game 23-34 for 224 yards, no scores, and no interceptions.

It wasn't always pretty, especially with a really slow start. But two huge fourth-down conversions on two very clutch passes redeemed this game in a major way. Not to mention the 43-yard bomb to Kalif Raymond that set up Detroit's first score
Overall Grade: B

Running back

The “Thunder and Lightening” combination of Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift is really what helped the Lions' offense get on track. They were stymied in the first half, to the tune of only rushing for 25 yards. But it was tough sledding for the entire offense in the first half. Then, they adjusted. Jamaal ripped off a couple of nice runs, Swift was used as an extension of the run game in the passing game, and the field opened up. Williams punched in two scores from inside the five-yard line, breaking Barry Sanders‘ single-season touchdown record and securing the win for the Lions
Overall Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

The Lions receiving corps all made huge plays on Sunday Night, which allowed to offensive to get into a rhythm. D.J. Chark had two huge catches on fourth down, Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a ball with his legs, Kalif Raymond stretched the field, Josh Reynolds made a huge possession grab extending a drive, and Jameson Williams got the party started catching a flea-flicker for a touchdown that was overturned by a holding penalty. Everyone contributed and the win doesn't occur without their contribution.
Overall Grade: A

Tight End

The tight ends were quiet in the receiving game, only being targeted three times by Goff, with James Mitchell securing their only catch for seven yards. However, just because they didn't light up the stat sheet doesn't mean they didn't contribute. A nod to the Lions' rushing attack, which outgained the Packers' two-headed monster, is on tap and the tight ends play a part in that.
Overall Grade: B+

Offensive Line

The offensive line, the foundation of this top offensive attack in the NFL, did exactly what they always have done this season. They kept Jared Goff upright, only surrendering one sack, and created rushing lanes all over the field for the running backs, averaging 4.2 yards on the ground. Penei Sewell had the highlight of the night on the hook-and-ladder to Swift on third-and-long on the final drive.

They did commit a few penalties, one being major on the Jameson Williams touchdown, which does knock the grade a bit.
Overall Grade: B+

Detroit Lions Defense and Special Teams:

In two games against the Packers, the Detroit Lions' defense has held them to 22 points, that's pretty impressive. Especially when all the talk this week was “Aaron Rodgers in games like these…” and “Matt LaFleur doesn't lose in December…” well, guess what, it's freaking JAN-U-ARY! The Lions' defense was spectacular last night, minus a few deep shots given up by the secondary.

Detroit Lions Aidan Hutchinson

Defensive Line

The defensive line showed out on Sunday Night. It started right from the first drive of the Packers too. They were aided by a pass interference call that gave them first and goal, but the line held strong. Isaiah Buggs and Alim McNeil stood tall to not let the Pack in the end zone. Add to that, Aidan Hutchinson had two huge sacks in the first half, stalling Packers drives and you have a really good game played by the guys up front. John Cominsky also had a huge game for the Lions on the interior line, getting in the backfield and creating chaos.

They held a Packers rushing attack, which had been their way to success the previous four games, in check all night long. Aaron Jones had 12 carries for 48 yards and A.J. Dillon tallied only 33 yards on nine totes.
Overall Grade: A

Linebackers

The oft-maligned linebacking corps was much better against the Packers, especially in support of the defensive lineman's effort. Alex Anzalone made huge stops, once specifically on fourth down on the second drive of the game for the Packers. They play a huge part in limiting the rushing attack by the Packers and also were big in limiting the short passing game. Malcolm Rodriguez, of “Barry Sanders University,” had four tackles on the night, while Derrick Barnes and Chris Board pitched in with three. Anzalone was the man of the night though with eight tackles, one tackle for loss, and one QB hit.
Overall Grade: B+

Secondary

The secondary was the weakest position group of the night, though they were responsible for two turnovers (should've been three!). Down Jeff Okudah, the secondary patchworked themselves into a place where they kept the Green Bay receivers at bay, for the most part. They did give up a massive shot downfield to Christian Watson but ultimately limited Rodgers to just 205 yards on 17/27 passing, and Kerby Joseph picked him off for the third time this season.
Overall Grade: B-

Special Teams

The special teams units were spectacular for the Lions in their win. None more apparent than the multiple plays made by the kickoff teams that left Green Bay starting below their own 20-yard line. When called upon, Jack Fox did what Jack Fox does, flip the field. He punted four times for an average of 47 yards, with his longest being 57 on the night. And though he missed a kick on the Lions' best drive of the first half, Michael Badgley was 2/3 with a long of 37 and made both of his extra-point attempts.

It's a team game, and the Lions beat the Packers in all phases of the game. The defense came in this week and left ranked above league average in their performance and the special teams unit was top-7 in the league during Week 18.
Overall Grade: B

Detroit Lions coaching staff:

Dan Campbell Detroit Lions SOL

The game plan drawn up by the coaches was nearly flawless. The execution by the players in the first half left something to be desired. But Aaron Glenn, Ben Johnson, and Dan Campbell each had moments in this game that were nails in the coffin of the Packers. First, Glenn sent an all-out blitz on third-and-ten, leading to an errant throw by Rodgers and the interception by Joseph. Then, Johnson dialed up a hook-and-ladder (see the video about Penei Sewell above) on third-and-long, which gave the Lions the opportunity to go for it on fourth down and ice the game.

Now, let's talk about that knee-bitin', tread water until we kill ya, Dan freakin' Campbell. He cost this team games through his management earlier in the season, but he has improved. There was a slight misstep in the first half, not using a time-out and letting seconds run off before Badgley's second field goal, but it worked out.

On the Lions' final drive, when the Packers purposefully jumped offsides on second-and-one, Campbell decline the penalty and the first down. Why? Because accepting that penalty stops the clock, he forced Green Bay to use a timeout earlier than they wanted to, and then they had to continue to use them that drive. Not to mention, two fourth-down-and-two's where he left the offense on the field to go and win the game. The huevos on this guy.
Overall Grade: A

The Lions finished the season 9-8, after starting 1-6. And, while momentum from one season doesn't carry over into the next, the foundation has been laid. It was fun while it lasted, boys. Until next year, when we own the NFC North.

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