The Detroit Lions followed up their week 2 win with a disappointing week 3 loss on the road to the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions looked like the better team all game outgaining the Vikings, going up two scores twice. However, down the stretch, the Lions made too many mistakes leading to the four-point loss. Here is the Lions' report card for their week 3 loss to the Vikings.
Key Stats – Jared Goff: 25-41 277 yards 1 TD 1 INT
Despite the loss, Jared Goff had one of his better games as a Detroit Lion. The big improvement Goff has shown is his ability to operate under pressure. Goff did a great job avoiding the rush on several occasions to keep the play alive. After that, Goff did a good job keeping his eyes downfield and either finding a receiver or at least getting rid of the ball to prevent any huge losses. This will be a big watchpoint for Goff for the rest of the season. In the past two weeks, he has looked much better with pressure in his face. Overall, a positive day for Goff despite not putting up huge yards or touchdowns.
Running backs: A-
Key Stats – D'Andre Swift: 10 touches 46 yards, Jamaal Williams: 22 touches 107 yards 2 TDs, Craig Reynolds: 7 touches 18 yards
For the second week in a row, D'Andre Swift did not get a full day's work after playing through an ankle injury and a shoulder sprain. Unfortunately for the budding star, this injury appears that it could keep him out for a few weeks. In his absence, Jamaal Williams stepped into a featured role and did not disappoint. Williams did what he does breaking tackles and keeping the offense ahead of the sticks. With Swift out for at least a few games, the Lions can rely on Williams to dependably keep the offense moving. However, the Lions need someone to step up behind him. In this game, Craig Reynolds was largely ineffective only picking up 13 yards on 6 carries. This week, he will need to compete with Justin Jackson for carries and a third down role.
Wide Receivers: B
Key Stats – Amon-Ra St. Brown: 6 catches 73 yards, Josh Reynolds: 6 catches 96 yards, DJ Chark: 3 catches 46 yards
DJ Chark started off the game hot, grabbing two first-down passes on consecutive plays on the opening drive. After that, he went quiet for the rest of the game. With Amon-Ra St. Brown slowed down with a leg injury, the Lions really could have used Chark stepping up to help Goff. On the other hand, Josh Reynolds continued his strong rapport with Jared Goff picking up 96 yards down the field. More and more, Reynolds appears to have passed Chark as WR 2 and should be safe as a top 3 receiver once Jameson Williams returns. The big news from this game is St Brown. After tweaking his leg/ankle, he was still effective, but definitely lost a step, and the Lions' offense lost a lot of its bite. The Lions will need St Brown to get healthy or gameplan a way to make up his production.
Tight Ends: C
Key Stats – TJ Hockenson: 3 catches 18 yards 1 TD
The biggest disappointment of the year has to be TJ Hockenson. The former Pro Bowler has been a non-factor in the passing game through the first three weeks. There have been a couple of drops early this year, and he has struggled to get separation against linebackers. Hope is not all lost for his season. Hockenson is in a contract year and is an elite athlete at the tight end position. If St. Brown is out or slowed down, coordinator Ben Johnson should look to move Hockenson around and use him in creative ways to get him in favorable matchups. Johnson has shown he can do that for St Brown, so he should be able to use Hockenson in a somewhat similar fashion. If he can, the Lions will add another dangerous receiving threat to Jared Goff's arsenal.
Offensive Line: B+
Key Stats – 0 sacks, 139 yards rushing, 4.0 YPC
This week, Evan Brown stepped into the starting right guard role after Logan Stenberg struggled in pass protection. With the changeout, the Lions' pass protection definitely improved. They did not give up a single sack all game to a good Vikings defensive line. They did get help from Goff buying time, but they did their job. In the run game, the Lions continued their strong season. The line opened up holes for Lions running backs to churn out yards on the ground. The yards per carry was slightly down, but that can be blamed on the lack of Swift and explosive plays. Again, another solid day for the offensive line despite missing 2 starters on the interior.
Defensive Line: F
Key Stats – 1 sack (by Alex Anzalone), 123 rushing yards given up, 4.9 YPC
Simply, Sunday was a disastrous day for the defensive line in both the pass and run game. In the ground game, Dalvin Cook had his way against the Lions. Several times, he found easy cutback lanes and made big plays out of nothing. The Lions will need to have better gap control going forward to succeed in the run. Rushing the passer, the defensive line was a complete non-factor. They could not get to the quarterback at all in the pass rush. The Lions need players like Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris to win these matchups to get the defense off the field. With the investments made on the front 4, the Lions need the defensive line to play better to have success on the defensive side of the ball.
Key Stats – Alex Anzalone: 10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, Malcolm Rodriguez: 8 tackles
The linebackers also deserve some of the blame for the struggles against the run. Cook is a chore to take down, but simply, the linebackers need to be better at bringing him down in the open field. Luckily, most running backs are not Cook's caliber, so the Lions should look better against other teams. Also, the linebackers need to do a better job against the tight ends. Minnesota's tight ends combined for 79 yards despite having a lackluster group. The linebackers picked up a good amount of tackles against the Vikings, but need to reduce the number of big plays given up to opposing offenses.
Key Stats – KJ Osborne: 5 catches 73 yards 1 TD, Adam Thielen: 6 catches 61 yards 1 TD, Justin Jefferson: 3 catches 14 yards
Starting with the positive, Jeff Okudah has arrived. Lined up against Justin Jefferson, Okudah limited him to only 14 yards on 3 catches. Okudah definitely had help with him all game but still did a tremendous job against one of the best receivers in the league. Now, onto the rest of the secondary, the most obvious negative was Amani Oruwariye who had one of the worst games of his career. Oruwariye had 6 penalties and struggled mightily against Adam Theilen. The Vikings also picked on Mike Hughes with KJ Osborne having one of the best games of his career.
The worst part of the game was team captain and safety Tracy Walker going down with a season-ending injury. Walker was a leader on the team and arguably the best player on defense. His absence was immediately noticed as Juju Hughes and Mike Hughes had some sort of miscommunication leading to the game-winning touchdown. The Lions need someone to step up as both a player and leader on the defense with Walker out.
Special Teams: C
Key Stats – Austin Seibert 1/3 FGs
Not a great day for the special teams' units. The headliner being Austin Seibert missing a 48 and 54-yard field goal. Missing one of those is understandable, but he should be able to hit one of those, and it could have impacted the game big time. Obviously, the decision to kick the 54-yarder is going to scrutinized, but it is a makeable kick. In the punt game, there was one shank by typically reliable Jack Fox and one punt that returner Kalif Raymond let bounce for a loss of 20 yards. Overall, none of those helped the Lions, but definitely did not directly cause the loss.
Dan Campbell is facing heat for the loss and for good reason. There were several questionable calls late in the game. The obvious ones are the attempt at the 54-yard field goal, the timeout on the Vikings' last drive, and snapping the ball with time on the play clock in the fourth quarter. The field goal was the most disappointing as the Lions had been in a position to win due to their previous aggressiveness. They should have continued that trend and looked to put the game away with their offense.
Also, the Lions could have avoided that situation in the first place. In the fourth quarter as a whole, the Lions' offense got too conservative despite having success in the pass game. They definitely left points on the table by abandoning the pass late in the game. A large chunk of the loss can fall on Campbell's decision, and he knows that. For him to build a winner, he will need to improve on these decisions and stay aggressive throughout the game.
This Lions game was definitely a bummer. Too many times, the Lions have come close to knocking off better teams but fell short at the end due to small mistakes. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and the Lions are not going to lose the rest of their games as some fans have suggested (hopefully they weren't serious). The Lions faced injuries to arguably their 3 most important players (Swift, St Brown, Walker) and went toe to toe on the road with a good Vikings team. The Lions' young players and coaching staff need to grow from this game to limit their mistakes. If they can, the Lions have shown they can still be a good football team and potentially even compete for a playoff spot. The key will be finding ways to eke out wins in games like this in the future.