Defense: 2/5 stars
Sunday’s game was the definition of a “meh” day for the Lions' defense. It started out hot. The run defense was locked in, the pass rush was disruptive and the secondary was holding up well in coverage. Unfortunately, the pass rush's effectiveness diminished after the first quarter and the secondary couldn’t make up the difference.
That’s been the story of the year for this defense. When the pass rush gets home, the defense is borderline elite. The problem is the pass rush has been so inconsistent that most of the time what the Lions have gotten is mediocrity at its finest.
Defensive player of the game: LB Jack Campbell
How about another standout game from a rookie? Campbell had been the subject of a lot of scrutiny over the last several weeks. With Alex Anzalone out for the game, Campbell was called on to step up. There was a ton of pressure on him to perform, and he did. There were still hiccups in coverage but Campbell had numerous big stops against the run.
In particular, Campbell excelled against the Saints jumbo package with Taysom Hill in at quarterback. Campbell was excellent at diagnosing the run and shedding blocks to help stop Hill in the backfield on multiple occasions.
Both LaPorta and Campbell have been addressed already. Moving on to the rest of the rookies.
It was a quiet day for Jahmy Gibbs after an electric start. His first touch of the day went 36 yards to set up a David Montgomery touchdown. After that though Gibbs couldn’t really get much going. The Saints did a good job of containing him between the tackles, and the Lions couldn’t get him involved much as a receiver either (one catch for negative yardage).
Brian Branch has two interceptions this season. Both of them have come on near-identical plays. An opposing receiver has a ball go through his hands, and Branch is waiting in perfect position to scoop it up for a pick. Both instances also happened to involve Branch reaching out with his right hand for a one-handed pick.
On top of that, Branch also was once again very good in coverage. He wasn’t as noticeable against the run, but his presence was certainly felt in this game. The one unfortunate play that really isn’t even his fault, later in the game he had a deflected pass find its way to Chris Olave anyway. It was just a wild play that Branch could not have done anything about.
Colby Sorsdal was forced into action at right guard after Frank Ragnow went down with a knee injury in the first half, and Graham Glasgow moved over to center. It was an up-and-down game for the rookie. There was one play at the end of the half in which he got beat badly, forcing Goff to hurry a throw that wound up incomplete. Those types of hiccups are still very present in Sorsdal’s game, as he refined his technique in pass protection and makes the transition to guard after playing tackle in college.
Needs improvement: Consistency
It's been four straight games since the bye week in which the Lions have had stretches of good and bad play within the same game. The third quarter continues to be a major problem area, made more evident by how quickly the tides changed at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Lions just need to find a way to settle themselves down and be consistent. There is a lot of overthinking that goes on, both on the sideline and on the field. The Lions have got to be able to keep their foot on the gas throughout an entire game.
Play of the game: Jameson Williams’ fourth-quarter touchdown
Technically this is a two-parter. The first part was the Saints fumbling the first snap of the fourth quarter. All of their momentum was gone in an instant, and the Lions were put right back in the driver's seat. A couple of plays later, they made the Saints pay with a whacky end-around-reverse that put one of the fastest players in the league on a downhill track straight to the end zone.
While it’s disappointing that Williams isn’t seeing a bigger workload, it’s nice to see plays being schemed up for him. His speed is such a game-changer, and Ben Johnson ought to find more ways to get the ball in his hands.