What we learned from the Lions 34-11 loss to the Bengals

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It was not a happy Sunday in Ford Field for the Detroit Lions or their faithful fans in the stands. The Lions meekly fell to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, 34-11, in a game that was the worst display of the young Dan Campbell coaching era.

There were no moral victories in this one, no “if we just did this one thing” hypotheticals. This was a game about hard lessons of the reality of being the last winless team in the NFL, and playing like they will stay there longer than anyone hopes.

Here are a few of the lessons we learned from the beatdown by the Bengals in Week 6.

Jared Goff is more of the problem than the solution

David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Goff has taken criticism for much of the season for his lack of aggression and largely ineffective play. Sunday’s loss really shined the spotlight on the limitations of having Goff as the quarterback.

The passing chart from Next Gen Stats illustrates just how steadfastly Goff refuses to even try to look down the field.

Obviously, he’s not working with a great receiving corps. But in this game, it was painfully clear that Goff wasn’t looking beyond his first read on any play. He eschewed several opportunities to take chances down the field to open targets. It gummed up the entire offense.

Dan Campbell: Jared Goff remains Lions starting QB but 'needs to step up more than he has'

Cincinnati played its safeties closer to the line and didn’t worry about deep coverage help. That stymied the Lions run game, which forced Goff into more situations where he needed to look longer down the field. Goff was the absolute wrong guy to snap the Lions out of the self-inflicted death spiral.

The defensive rookies could be long-term pieces

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t nearly enough, but there was some strong play from some of the Lions defensive rookies. Thrust into more action than expected, guys like Alim McNeill, Jerry Jacobs, Derrick Barnes and AJ Parker all flashed skills and abilities that portend well for the long-term.

Barnes was the best defensive player on the field for Detroit, both by the initial eye test and Pro Football Focus grades. He showed instincts and quick reactions while staying within the structure of the defensive assignment.

Jacobs and Parker were competent in coverage. Jacobs marking fantastic Cincinnati rookie Ja’Marr Chase and doing better at it than some established veterans have in recent weeks is quite promising. So is Jacobs’ tackling.

Parker’s tackling also stood out. In short-area coverage he’s still playing well, too.

This was McNeill’s best game as the nose tackle. It was also the best game from second-year NT John Penisini in attacking the weakness of the Bengals interior line. The young defense continues to grow up.

The penalties have to stop

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Nobody will ever accuse the officials of being “good”, but Sunday’s game was one that featured less officiating impact on the outcome than most. Referee Shawn Hochuli and his crew were busy assessing a lot more earned penalties on Detroit than Cincinnati.

The Lions committed nine penalties in the game. Five of them were of the mental mistake variety, presnap fouls or the dumb (but technically correct) taunting penalty issued on S Tracy Walker.

Holding penalties and pass interference calls happen. That’s life in the NFL. Lining up illegally or moving early, those are inexcusable errors. And the Lions more than doubled up the Bengals on those on Sunday.

The Bengals are getting their rebuild right

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There are two sides to the story, and the one the 4-2 Bengals are writing is a good illustration of how to get a rebuild right.

In 2019, the Bengals were a hapless organization starting yet another rebuild after years of underachieving. They started by rebuilding the offensive line, though that took a hit when first-round pick Jonah Williams missed his rookie 2019 season with an injury. It’s still not a great line but the resources they’ve devoted have improved it enough to work–most of the time.

They jettisoned veterans who weren’t going to be part of the long-term, even if it meant thrusting unproven youngsters into more prominent roles. That’s why Lions fans didn’t see longtime Bengals fixtures A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, Shawn Williams or Dre Kirkpatrick on Sunday.

But the most important part of the rebuild was getting the quarterback. Joe Burrow didn’t have an outstanding game on Sunday, but his obvious talent and presence as a comfortable franchise figurehead mean so much more than just what happened between the white lines. He was a gamble as the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 after just one good (though one of the greatest ever) college season. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a single Bengals fan that regrets that choice now.

The Lions are well on their way to doing what the Bengals did with the first two steps here. I’d even argue they’ve done it better. But until the Lions get The Man at quarterback, the rest of it won’t matter. And as highlighted above, Goff sure hasn’t proven capable of being that man through six games.

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