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Detroit Lions Week 14 snap count observations: Several players make first career start vs. Broncos

There was a lot of inexperience out the for the Lions on Sunday, especially on defense.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a closer look at the Detroit Lions Week 14 snap counts in their 38-10 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 63 (100%)

Running backs

Craig Reynolds: 29 (46%)
Godwin Igwebuike: 28 (44%) — 8 special teams snaps (36%)
Jason Cabinda: 9 (14%) — 16 (73%)
Jermar Jefferson: 3 (5%)

Craig Reynolds, called up from the practice squad, technically didn’t earn the start, but he was clearly the running back the Lions trusted the most on Sunday. In his first game for the Lions this year, he led the way in both snaps and touches among the Lions' tailbacks.

Many expected that role to go to rookie Jermar Jefferson, but head coach Dan Campbell explained why that didn’t happen after the game.

“Craig has been at practice and been good. Jermar had the ankle and started the week with the flu so he wasn’t even around. So we trusted Craig.”

For what it’s worth, Jefferson’s ankle injury did not appear on the injury report, and he was a full participant in Friday’s practice. He did, however, miss Thursday’s practice.

Tight ends

Shane Zylstra: 40 (63%) — 11 (50%)
Brock Wright: 35 (56%) — 4 (18%)

Zylstra made just his second ever appearance in an NFL game and his first ever on offense. He was quite active on a day in which he helped replace the injured T.J. Hockenson, seeing six targets come his way. Unfortunately, he turned those into just two catches for 18 yards.

Wide receivers

Amon-Ra St. Brown: 47 (75%) — 6 (27%)
Josh Reynolds: 44 (70%)
Kalif Raymond: 42 (67%) — 3 (14%)
Tom Kennedy: 17 (27%) — 3 (14%)
KhaDarel Hodge: 8 (13%) — 14 (64%)

These numbers are nearly identical to last week’s numbers, as the Lions settle in with their current set of receivers. Raymond saw a slight uptick in playing time, while St. Brown was down a little, but overall, I think this unit has pretty much settled in on what works—and it’s working.

Worth noting, too, is that St. Brown continues to see a significant amount of playing time (17 of 47 snaps) as an outside receiver. He also had a season-high three snaps in the backfield.

Offensive tackles

Taylor Decker: 63 (100%)
Penei Sewell: 63 (100%)
Matt Nelson: 13 (21%) — 2 (9%)
Will Holden: 0 (0%) — 2 (9%)

The Lions brought back the heavy sets against the Broncos—a strategy that saw significant success in the running game against the Steelers. Nelson, finally back from injury, provided yet another spark to Detroit’s running game, as the team rushed for 118 yards and 5.6 yards per carry.

Guards/centers

Jonah Jackson: 63 (100%) — 2 (9%)
Ryan McCollum: 63 (100%) — 2 (9%)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: 63 (100%) — 2 (9%)
Tommy Kraemer: 0 (0%) — 2 (9%)

Prior to Sunday’s game, McCollum had played in just seven offensive snaps in his rookie season. This was obviously his first career start.

Defense

EDGE:

Charles Harris: 61 (90%) — 6 (27%)
Jessie Lemonier: 47 (69%) — 12 (55%)
Rashod Berry: 15 (22%)
Austin Bryant: 8 (12%)

With the Lions extremely shorthanded, it wasn’t surprising that Charles Harris was the one who had to step up and play nearly every defensive snap. Meanwhile, Jessie Lemonier made his first career start in place of Julian Okwara/Romeo Okwara/Austin Bryant. He finished with six tackles, more than any other defensive lineman.

Austin Bryant, who didn’t practice all week with a shoulder injury, was clearly being kept out for most of the game as a precaution.

DT:

Nick Williams: 36 (53%)
Michael Brockers: 32 (47%)
Levi Onwuzurike: 27 (40%) — 6 (27%)
Alim McNeill: 19 (28%)
John Penisini: 15 (22%)
Bruce Hector: 10 (15%)

The veterans move back to the top of the snap count list for the interior defenders and it’s easy to see why. Onwuzurike and McNeill didn’t practice all week as they were fighting the flu. The Lions have been pretty consistent about making players earn playing time during practice, plus you have to imagine hydration could have been an issue going into the weekend.

Linebackers

Josh Woods: 64 (94%) — 8 (36%)
Derrick Barnes: 47 (69%) — 6 (27%)
Anthony Pittman: 18 (26%) — 20 (91%)
Alex Anzalone: 15 (22%) — 1 (5%)
Curtis Bolton: 0 (0%) — 12 (55%)

It was a day of debuts for the Lions linebacking unit. Josh Woods made his first career start—and ended up tallying 13 tackles and two for loss. Anthony Pittman made his defensive debut for 2021 in this game. This was only his second time getting in on defense in his career, with the other occasion being in Week 17 of the 2019 season. And practice squad linebacker Curtis Bolton made his NFL career debut, albeit on special teams only.

After Alex Anzalone’s first-quarter injury, it was mostly up to Derrick Barnes to jump in as a replacement, but it was interestingly Woods who put on the “green dot” helmet, which helps transmit the play calls.

Cornerbacks

Amani Oruwariye: 68 (100%)
Nickell Robey-Coleman: 62 (91%) — 9 (41%)
Jerry Jacobs: 5 (7%)
Corey Ballentine: 0 (0%) — 14 (64%)
Parnell Motley: 0 (0%) — 3 (14%)

The Lions were already shorthanded going into this game with both Ifeatu Melifonwu and Mark Gilbert placed on reserve/COVID. When Jacobs went down five plays into the game, it forced Detroit to put special teamer—and nickel corner—Robey-Coleman at the outside corner position. Campbell came away somewhat impressed with his performance.

“He’s not naturally an outside corner but he went out there and held his own a little bit,” Campbell said after the game.

Motley made his 2021 debut, but only contributed on a trio of special teams snaps.

Safety

Dean Marlowe: 68 (100%) — 3 (14%)
Will Harris: 54 (79%) — 9 (41%)
Jalen Elliott: 51 (75%) — 14 (64%)
C.J. Moore: 26 (38%) — 14 (64%)

With Will Harris manning the nickelback position again, rookie Jalen Elliott was the fourth Lions player to make their first career start on Sunday, replacing Tracy Walker who was put on the reserve/COVID list late in the week. C.J. Moore also saw a career-high in defensive snaps.

Special teams

Jack Fox: 7 (32%)
Scott Daly: 4 (18%)
Riley Patterson: 2 (9%)

Special teamers matter, too.