It wasn’t pretty, but it was competitive.
It was yet another winnable game for Detroit and head coach Dan Campbell, yet the team couldn’t capitalize on its chances.
The Lions were playing with a backup quarterback in his first career start. There were long odds, yet the defense played well enough to keep the game close.
Here are SI All Lions’ grades from the Week 11 loss.
Making his first start and appearance as a Lion, Tim Boyle was treated to the Browns’ intense pass rush. Yet, his quick release and a gritty effort by his offensive line allowed him to go the entire afternoon without being sacked.
However, that’s about where the positives end. Boyle threw two interceptions, including one deep in Cleveland territory because of miscommunication with running back D’Andre Swift.
It was evident that the Lions were timid with their new starter, who finished 15-for-23 for 77 yards. In a third-and-long situation on the Lions’ final offensive possession, Campbell elected to call a draw play rather than try to throw for the first down.
There’s nowhere to go but up for Boyle, if he is the starter on Thanksgiving. He admitted in his postgame press conference that he needs to be better. In a close game like Sunday’s, a big throw or two could’ve put the Lions in a position to win.
Running backs: B+
Swift was as advertised yet again, setting a new career-high with 136 rushing yards. He needed just 14 carries to get there, with 57 yards coming on a third-quarter touchdown run. Detroit couldn’t get him involved in the passing game, but he was once again reliable on the ground.
In his return from injury, Jamaal Williams was a non-factor. He carried the ball seven times for just 11 yards. Third-string running back Godwin Igwebuike was tackled for a four-yard loss on his only reception.
Meanwhile, fullback Jason Cabinda carried the ball twice, the first of which resulted in a 20-yard gain. The second carry, however, ended with him getting stuffed on a third-and-short.
Wide receivers/tight ends: D
New acquisition Josh Reynolds made his debut, and had a rough day, not catching a pass on three targets. The former Tennessee Titans wideout was penalized for offensive pass interference on a screen pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, and also gave a subpar effort on a 50-50 ball that ended in an interception.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson led the way with 51 yards on six catches, including a 24-yard snag that ended with flair, as he leapt over a defender. Speaking of St. Brown, he totaled four catches, but had just 18 yards to show for it.
Backup tight end Brock Wright had the only other catch by someone in this group, hauling in Boyle’s first pass for a 12-yard gain. The Lions’ pass-catchers weren’t asked to do much in the pass game, as most plays were conservative, short throws.
Offensive line: B+
Tasked with keeping Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney in check, the Lions lived up to the task. Down to their third center after Evan Brown left with an injury, the unit worked together to create running lanes for Swift and company.
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Penei Sewell displayed impressive toughness, and held his own against the strong players opposite him.
Jonah Jackson made the biggest mistake of the game, however, when he insulted Clowney’s mother after the final play of the third quarter and got flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that derailed the Lions’ final good chance at a scoring drive.
Defensive line: C+
Though the Lions notched a sack for the first time since their Oct. 24 meeting with the Los Angeles Rams, they rarely got enough pressure to rattle a banged-up Baker Mayfield. Veteran Michael Brockers did notch one of the defense’s two tackles for loss.
Cleveland star running back Nick Chubb was bottled up for most of the first three quarters, but made big run after big run when it counted in the fourth quarter. There were pursuit issues throughout the day, too, as Brockers overran Jarvis Landry on the Browns' first touchdown and several players bit on a play-action fake on the second.
The pursuit issues on the defensive line carried to the second level, where the linebackers had troubles of their own picking up where the ball was going. Alex Anzalone was caught sleeping on Landry’s score, and struggled to corral Chubb on multiple occasions.
This unit had trouble tackling throughout the fourth quarter, showing signs of fatigue as Chubb got into closing mode. Rookie Derrick Barnes made a nice play on a reverse, shadowing the ball carrier and running across the field to make the play.
Amani Oruwariye hauled in an interception, but also committed two costly penalties that extended Cleveland’s second touchdown drive. First, he was called for illegal hands to the face on a fourth-down incompletion. Later, he interfered with a pass intended for Rashard Higgins.
Safety Tracy Walker finished with nine tackles, but was penalized for defensive holding. Fellow safety Will Harris tallied eight stops.
Rookie slot corner A.J. Parker also picked off a pass that set up a Lions field goal. Jerry Jacobs, meanwhile, had a good day in coverage, and Mayfield bailed out the Lions’ secondary with a series of inaccurate throws.
Special teams – A-
Jack Fox was forced to punt six times, and used each opportunity to remind fans why he’s among the best at his position in all of football. He averaged 46.7 yards per attempt, pinned two inside Cleveland’s 20 and had a long of 61 yards.
New kicker Aldrick Rosas made his only field-goal attempt, which came from 43 yards out. Return men Igwebuike and Kalif Raymond were not particularly explosive in the return game, but both coverage teams had good days.
Bobby Price had a big hit covering one of Fox’s punts, and KhaDarel Hodge nearly made a highlight-reel play, diving to down another at the 1-yard line.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn dialed up a gameplan that worked until Chubb ran reckless on the game’s final drive, barring a few missteps.
As for Campbell, the offensive gameplan was far too conservative. Rarely did the offense try to stretch the field with long throws. Instead, the Lions relied on their run game, even in the direst of situations.
On what turned out to be Detroit’s final drive, it faced a third-and-14. Instead of trying to throw, Campbell called for a draw with Swift that was ultimately unsuccessful. The Lions would never get the ball back.
The conservative play is somewhat understandable, given the circumstances of starting a backup quarterback. However, we’ve seen Campbell risk it all to win games in the past. That was not the case in Week 11.