It was always going to be a long shot, but the Detroit Lions couldn’t pull off the upset of the decade. The revenge game storylines were abundant as Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff faced their former team, but it was the Rams that had the last laugh on Sunday. To their credit, the Lions kept it competitive all game, and it proved to be a far more exciting game than many expected.
What takeaways can be had after the Lions fell to 0-7?
Trick and treat
The Lions came into this game as massive underdogs. Everyone expected the Lions to lose. No expectations mean no pressure, so Dan Campbell decided to take some risks early on. An onside kick following their touchdown drive was a stunning move to keep Stafford off the field. Later in that drive, Jack Fox turned into a quarterback on a nice fake punt throw to Bobby Price. The Lions only got three points of the drive, but against a dominant foe like the Rams, you’ll take whatever lead you can get. With things getting dicey in the third quarter, the Lions again converted a C.J. Moore fake punt to keep a drive alive.
Dan Campbell has made some bold calls this season and for good reason: the Lions need to stay aggressive to win. The offense isn’t good enough to sit back and coast to a victory. The defense isn’t good enough to smother opponents. The best chance the Lions had to win this game was to bring the pressure early and often and keep Los Angeles on their heels. Trickery won’t always pay off, but it’s nice to see the Lions pull off a few of them.
Also, it’s fun when they work.
The running backs took over
The Lions' offense has struggled to start off the season, and one of the consequences is being forced to abandon the run game. Against the Rams on Sunday, the Lions managed to stay within striking distance all game, and that led to more opportunities for Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift to run the ball. Neither back hit the elusive 100 yards rushing, but it was an effective outing. Importantly, Jamaal Williams remained involved late in the game, something that hasn’t been the case all season due to a negative script. The Lions are still missing a breakout run, however—the longest run of the season is 28 yards from C.J. Moore on the previously mentioned fake punt.
Swift’s presence as a receiver should not be ignored either, contributing 96 yards (a career-high) as one of Jared Goff’s top targets. This includes a 63-yard screen that went for a touchdown, their longest play of the season. Swift has certainly shaken the groin injury that slowed him in preseason. Unfortunately, the rest of the passing offense just isn’t consistent enough to string together a winning effort. However, the pieces are there for the future. The Lions lost many games in years past due to their inability to close out games with their rushing attack. If the Lions can maintain this run game this year and next, that could be a serious strength.
Could Jerry Jacobs start in 2022?
On paper, Jacobs had an awful drive in the middle of the second quarter. He was flagged for a 32-yard pass interference call. Cooper Kupp shook him for an 11-yard gain. Van Jefferson beat him for a touchdown grab.
However, the numbers are really misleading, and Jacobs had an impressive day, especially considering he’s an undrafted rookie. The pass interference was weak at best, with the Rams receiver actually initiating contact first. Kupp had some great footwork to make Jacobs miss. Stafford threw a perfect pass to Jefferson, and Jefferson fought off Jacobs for the touchdown. Those are three plays that many corners would struggle with. He had a great tackle for loss late in the third quarter to boot.
Jacobs did give up another long slant play to Robert Woods later in the game, but once again, that was more of a good play from the receiver than a bad play from Jacobs. I came away impressed with Jacobs’ game, and that makes two-straight good performances from him.
The Lions face a lot of uncertainty at cornerback in 2022. Amani Oruwariye will be entering the last year of his rookie contract after some up-and-down years as a starter. Jeff Okudah will be coming off a torn Achilles, a potential career-changing injury. Ifeatu Melifonwu himself is coming off an injury, although he could return this year. If Jacobs continues to play well, he could have a shot to win a starting role next year. It’s very early—we’re not even halfway through the season, with free agency and the draft still to come—but the progress Jacobs has shown is phenomenal. As an undrafted rookie that was expected to be a special teamer, his performance since being thrust into a starting role makes me excited to see him next season.
Julian Okwara is stepping up for his brother
When Romeo Okwara tore his Achilles, the Lions lost their best EDGE. When Trey Flowers suffered a knee injury, the Lions lost their second-best EDGE. The Lions pass rush was suddenly in peril, but the backups stepped up in big ways. I’ll commend Charles Harris and Austin Bryant for some excellent play, but Julian Okwara deserves to be highlighted today.
Julian has been a pass rush specialist for the Lions, and Aaron Glenn is using his speed and agility to great effect. His pass rushing moves are still a work in progress, but he has proven to be deadly on stunts. Julian was untouched on his lone sack of Matthew Stafford, and while he didn’t do much else statistically, he’s been a positive along the defensive line. He even had a pass breakup on a key fourth down, although you could argue it was more luck than skill. Either way, he is filling the shoes of his brother quite well.