The Detroit Lions didn’t lose for the first time in the Dan Campbell era... of course, they didn’t win either.
The Lions tied the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-16 in Week 10, in a game that was riddled with mistakes, and quite frankly, one that looked like neither team wanted to win. Despite having the bye week to make adjustments to the offense and prepare for the Steelers, the Lions repeated a lot of mistakes that have plagued them throughout the season.
Quarterback Jared Goff continues to be conservative with his throws—finishing the game with 14 completions on 25 attempts for 114 yards (4.6 yards per completion), zero touchdowns, and a passer rating of 67.8. He also took four sacks for 37 yards lost, and ineffectively continued to try and spin his way out of the back of the pocket when pressured. Maddening.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Lions, as the defense caused three turnovers (two in overtime) and their rushing attack kept them in this game, giving them a real chance to get their first win of the season.
Entering this contest, the Steelers were ninth in DVOA run defense and had not allowed an NFC team to rush for over 200 yards in a game since 1992. But the Lions found a crack in their front and exploited it over and over, rushing as a collective for 229 yards.
D’Andre Swift had one of his best games of his career, recording career highs in rushing attempts (33) and rush yards (130). This was his second career 100+ yard rushing game, seventh 100+ all-purpose yard game of his career, and fifteenth straight game with over 40 yards from scrimmage, per the Lions’ PR department.
On the Swift play above, the hurdle is going to get all of the attention—and rightfully so—but this blocking scheme was one of the catalysts for the Lions’ rushing success.
In addition to their starting five offensive line—one that saw Taylor Decker return to left tackle and Penei Sewel slide over to the right side—the Lions also leaned on former starter Matt Nelson as a sixth offensive lineman. Nelson lined up outside the tackles (to Decker’s left on the above play) and was routinely moving people and opening up run lanes.
“Everything was working,” Swift said post-game about the run game, “especially early on. The offensive line did a great job upfront and (coaches) did a great job with the calls.”
When Nelson left the game with an injury, reserve Will Holden took over this role but wasn't nearly as effective and the Lions rushing game stalled down the stretch.
The lack of run game, coupled with Goff’s ineffectiveness as a passer stunted the offense and kept points off the board late.
While the Lions failed to secure the win, there were positives to take away from this game. The offensive line executed solid run blocking in their first game with their new formation, Swift looked electric for the majority of the game, and they also got strong efforts from their younger backs Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike.
“They did a great job,” Swift said of Jefferson and Igwebuike. “They knew their assignments, they were playing fast, and they made the most of their opportunities.”
Jefferson only rushed the ball three times but he broke off a beautiful touchdown run, his second in as many weeks.
#Lions rookie Jermar Jefferson gets his second career touchdown in just his second game with offense snaps. He’s a excellent 1-cut slasher who ran to day light and the score. pic.twitter.com/2R6hVUTdUZ— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) November 14, 2021
That 28-yard touchdown was the Lions' longest touchdown run since 2013—that is, until Igwebuike broke off a 42-yard touchdown, the first of his career. This run was the Lions’ longest rushing touchdown on the road since Barry Sanders did it in 1997, per the Lions’ PR department.
Godwin Igwebuike converted from safety to running back this past offseason and he gets his first NFL touchdown on a terrific 42-yard run pic.twitter.com/eh0gPyN0aj— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) November 14, 2021
Igwebuike only rushed the ball twice (the other was for 14 yards) because Swift had the hot hand, but he has flashed when given the opportunity and could be more involved moving forward—especially if Jefferson’s injury is serious.