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Film breakdown: Detroit Lions Week 5 rookie review

Examining how the Lions 2022 rookie class performed in Week 5 of the regular season.

NFL: Detroit Lions at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

As a Detroit Lions fan, I feel as though sometimes we think we have seen it all. Then a game like the one against the New England Patriots happens. A game where the Lions saw some improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and yet still found themselves on the wrong end of a 29-0 drubbing.

However, as usual, not everything was terrible—even if the vast majority of things were. This is a very young football team that has had some of its weaknesses amplified because of injuries suffered early on in their season. Furthermore, I think many are forgetting that this coaching staff is also very green. Sure, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has a ton of experience, both as a player and as a position coach. But this is only his second year as a defensive play-caller. As great as offensive line coach Hank Fraley has been, he was only promoted to that role in January of 2020—which seems like a lifetime ago, but really isn’t.

Am I that surprised that Fraley’s unit had their first rough game of the year against a defense that is coached by the greatest to ever do it? Not at all. The Lions’ showing in New England was anything but acceptable, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been doing that to teams for over two decades now.

It has been a rough start to the 2022 season. No doubt about it. Still, it’s a long season and things can change in a hurry.

Before you get into your bye week festivities and cider mill visits, let’s take a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in Week 5 of the regular season.

Aidan Hutchinson, DL

57 snaps (95% of total defensive snaps) — 7 special teams snaps (37%)
PFF defensive grade: 80.1

Some people are likely going to be confused with Hutchinson having a defensive grade over 80, per PFF. He registered only two tackles on the day, and his one quarterback pressure resulted in him overrunning the play, allowing quarterback Bailey Zappe to scramble out of the pocket. For many, this is what they will take away from his overall performance against the Patriots. And I am here to tell you that there is more to playing defensive end than sacking the quarterback. Like 56 other snaps more.

While the Lions expect more from Hutchinson as a pass rusher when he gains experience as a pro? Absolutely. But can we stop acting like sacks are the only statistic there is when it comes to evaluating a defensive lineman’s performance?

Sometimes Hutchinson’s role is simply going to be to set an edge against a run play to his side. Keeping his outside shoulder free, and turning the play back inside, where the pursuit is coming from. Assignments like this are not going to show up on any stat sheet, but are still imperative when it comes to a properly functioning defense.

It should also be noted that in a perfect world, the Lions would likely not have Hutchinson playing almost all of the team’s defensive snaps. Keeping pass-rushers fresh and in a rotation is the best way to ensure they are still effective late in games.

Lastly, very rarely are sacks completely on one player making a play. Oftentimes, sacks are a group effort. For instance, without interior pass-rushers doing what they are supposed to do in terms of maintaining their rush lanes—life can get really difficult for a defensive front. Aside from their Week 2 victory against the Washington Commanders, we are seeing this way too often from the interior of the rush.

In other areas of the game, Hutchinson was in on a few stops, showing that despite taking his lumps early on, he is learning from them. Here he quickly realizes what is happening, runs to the ball, and breaks down before attempting to tackle the ball carrier.

Later in the game, he does a good job of engaging and scraping down the line of scrimmage, Ensuring the run-fit stays watertight and in turn, keeping the runner bottled up for a short gain.

Jameson Williams, WR

DNP: On reserve/NFI while recovering from a knee injury suffered in January

Josh Paschal, DL

DNP: Recovering from sports hernia surgery, currently in the 21-day evaluation phase

Kerby Joseph, S

57 (95%) — 9 (47%)
PFF defensive grade: 71.7

As I stated last week, this was never the plan for Kerby Joseph in 2022. And yet, this is the NFL, and in a matter of weeks he has gone from someone learning behind veterans while playing special teams—to playing nearly every defensive snap two weeks in a row.

Throughout the game, Joseph did a little bit of everything. He took many snaps as the single-high safety, and was able to flash his impressive range on a handful of occasions. Here he was responsible for having help over the top and is able to make a play on the ball, despite having to flip his hips and sprint from the hash to the sideline.

Other times he was lined up in the box, or in the slot in man-to-man coverage with a New England receiver or tight end.

Not everything was perfect for Joseph, and I counted at least one missed tackle from him on the day, but with everything going on around him in terms of injuries and reshuffling of lineups—I would consider Joseph’s New England tape to be mostly encouraging.

James Mitchell, TE

5 (8%) — 7 (37%)
PFF offensive grade: 58.0

It was another light workload for Mitchell, as he continues to rep behind T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright as the third tight end.

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB

50 (83%) — 2 (11%)
PFF defensive grade: 57.9

This certainly was not Rodriguez’s best game as a Lion, but with all of the turmoil happeningon defense, it’s hard to really blame him. He finished with five total tackles and another impressive tackle on special teams.

At times, he was still doing a lot of what we have come to expect from him. Like here, where Rodriguez quickly reads his keys, gets downhill, and properly fills his gap. Even if defensive tackle Benito Jones doesn’t make this play, Rodriguez is waiting for the runner in the hole.

Although not everything was this pretty. This is only one example, but on a handful of occasions, Rodriguez was guilty of trying to backdoor a play. If he succeeds in slipping behind the blocker here to make the play, great! But when you fail to make this play, you are usually putting a teammate or two in a very precarious situation.

Speaking of precarious situations, the Lions simply have to get more out of their interior players not named Alim McNeill. This is a bad job all-around from the front seven, but when defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Benito Jones are essentially being deleted from the play, life is probably going to be difficult for the other nine defenders.

Getting Josh Paschal and John Cominsky back in the fold after the bye could end up having a really positive impact on the defense as a whole. At the very least, more competent play on the interior should make things a little easier for the linebackers having to play behind them.

Chase Lucas, DB

3 (5%) — 6 (32%)
PFF defensive grade: 31.6

Due to the myriad of injuries all over the secondary, Lucas ended up seeing three snaps at safety and was partially responsible for giving up a touchdown. His usage will be something to keep an eye on when the Lions return to play after the bye week.

Undrafted Free Agents

Demetrius Taylor, DL

13 (22%)
PFF defensive grade: 29.6

The Lions were attempting to try something different this week by keeping rookie Demetrius Taylor on their game-day roster. Unfortunately for both parties, things didn’t really work out the way they needed to for it to be deemed a success.

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