A Sunday without Detroit Lions football can be a good or bad thing, depending on your sense of optimism. One thing that can’t be argued is that the Lions needed this break. After rough outings against the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, the Lions needed time to regroup to keep their season alive.
Despite the day off, there are still some takeaways to be had from the slate of NFL action.
The NFC North ain’t too pretty
Entering the season, it seemed certain that the Green Bay Packers would coast to another NFC North title. A 13-4 record was only tarnished by a quick playoff exit, but things were looking up for the Packers despite trading away star receiver Davante Adams. Aaron Rodgers was still an elite quarterback, the ground game and offensive line were productive, and the defense was primed to take the next step.
Instead, it has been a disaster for the Packers. While a 3-3 record after six games is not awful by any means, the way Green Bay has landed at 3-3 is a cause for concern. The Packers won their toughest match of the early season by defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they have fallen short in games once viewed as cakewalks for them. Back-to-back losses to the New York Giants and Jets show that the Packers are not only in a rut, but they could very well struggle once their schedule picks up. The passing offense looks lost without Adams, and a porous offensive line has not helped either.
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions sit at 2-4 and 1-4, respectively, neither of which is surprising. The Bears were a team seemingly entering a rebuild, while the Lions were a team looking to take the next step in theirs. Lions fans were certainly hoping for a better record at their bye, but it is still a symptom of a mediocre roster with a lot to prove. Detroit’s offense has been a welcome sight, but the defense still trails well behind NFL standards. The Bears, meanwhile, need to do more for Justin Fields. A bad offensive line and bad offensive scheme are leading to bad decisions and bad habits from Fields. A lack of offensive weapons to boot does the offense no favors.
You have likely been thinking that I am forgetting the Minnesota Vikings, but I have not. A 5-1 record they may have, but to me, they are far from a good team. DVOA rankings had them as the 20th-best team in the NFL entering Week 6, and I’m doubtful they’ll rise much higher despite another victory this week.
Looking at their schedule, none of their wins instill confidence in them. In Week 1, they defeated the Packers, a team looking like a shadow of their 2021 form. In Week 2, they got throttled by the Philadelphia Eagles, a team looking like a Super Bowl favorite. In Week 3, it took a massive collapse from the Lions to even give the Vikings a chance, one that the Lions defense promptly made happen. In Week 4, they defeated an Andy Dalton-led New Orleans Saints in London. In Week 5, they came close to losing to the Bears. In Week 6, they won against the depleted Miami Dolphins, who quickly suffered another quarterback injury when rookie Skylar Thompson left the game. Teddy Bridgewater filled in nicely, but it’s clear Miami wasn’t operating at 100 percent.
The Vikings may yet win the NFC North this season, but I would not view them as a top-tier team quite yet. Justin Jefferson is still an absolute monster (except when he’s playing Detroit) and Dalvin Cook is among the best running backs in the league, but Kirk Cousins is not quite the dominant passer they need him to be. Most of his damage has been done in the short to intermediate range—his average depth of target was a mere 6.6 yards, nearly last in the NFL among qualified passers.
The NFC North is very much up for grabs. Can Minnesota maintain their lead? Can Green Bay regain their form? Can the Bears or Lions turn their fate around before season’s end?
The value of a good backup running back
The value of a bell cow running back has been ever diminishing in recent years, but the start of the 2022 NFL season has shown how important depth is. While the star backs like Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, and Dalvin Cook are leading the way, teams have gotten excellent production for backups and/or replacements at a fraction of the price.
You need not look far from Detroit, as Jamaal Williams has flourished due to D’Andre Swift’s injury. Elsewhere, Rhamondre Stevenson with the New England Patriots is turning into a stud running back thanks to an injury to Damien Harris. Tony Pollard remains an elite 1B to Ezekiel Elliott’s 1A with the Dallas Cowboys. Khalil Herbert has put on rushing clinics in the stead of David Montgomery, though the Bears coaching staff keeps limiting him upon the starter’s return. Perhaps the biggest story of the week was the performance of Indianapolis Colts running back Deon Jackson, who started in the absence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines and put up 121 total yards.
All of this is to say two things. Scheme and blocking are ever-important for a rushing attack, regardless of who is toting the rock. Additionally, you can get excellent production from cheap free agents or later-round picks, illustrating a benefit of churning your running back room on an annual basis. You may look towards a high draft pick or lucrative free agent to be your starter, but his backup may prove just as important.
This isn’t to take a jab at the Lions for drafting Swift—where he was drafted was a fine spot for a top running back in a draft class. Instead, I wanted to highlight how many good running backs there are in the league, or at least how many good running offenses there are. I also want to praise the Jamaal Williams signing yet again. For such a low-cost veteran, Williams has been a reliable force on offense. His off-field charm is an added bonus.
The Lions need to get healthy
This was practically a given, but the Lions need to come out of this bye week with a healthier roster. The Lions have missed far too many starting snaps in such a short time, it is stunting their much-needed growth.
We shall see who returns to the lineup next week and in what capacity. The hope is that Amon-Ra St. Brown will be back at full strength, for he did not look it in Week 5. A similar story could be said about Aidan Hutchinson, who has been hobbled in recent weeks. If the Lions can return Charles Harris, Jerry Jacobs, and Josh Paschal before too long, it would provide a massive boon for a struggling defense.
Of course, we are entering Jameson Williams territory, and that is exciting. When Williams will see an NFL field is still unclear, but as the weeks pass by, we get closer to seeing another dynamic playmaker on offense.
Speaking of dynamic playmaker, the Lions really need D’Andre Swift to get healthy. I mentioned above that Jamaal Williams has played well in his stead, but the offense is less dynamic with Williams at the helm. Swift’s pass catching is an elite trait, and if he can continue his early season rushing prowess, the Lions would regain a significant asset.
How long can you wait for a rebuild?
The above title is a genuine question. At what point in time can you say the rebuild is behind schedule? At what point do you deem a rebuild a failure? Some Detroit Lions fans are certainly thinking this after a slow start to the season, and for good reason. The New York Giants and New York Jets are 5-1 and 4-2, respectively, just a year removed from being dumpster fires at 4-13. Their fortunes may change before the season ends, but right now as a Lions fan, it is tough not to be envious of their success.
The recurring jokes is that the Lions have been rebuilding since the 1950s, but some days, it truly feels like it. Even narrowing your scope to the past decade, there are plenty of teams that have gone from worst to best in a short time span. Detroit, meanwhile, has spun its tires at best, been dreadful at worst. The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs were often the feel-bad team of the 2000s, but Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes turned them into elite teams this decade. The Seattle Seahawks were meant to be a bottom feeder this season, but Geno Smith has them performing well. The Cincinnati Bengals finally turned a corner with the Joe Burrow era. Even the Houston Texans have had their moments in the sun.
I swear I have said this a thousand times, but rebuilds require patience. It is too soon to write off this Lions front office and staff entirely. We need to treat the 2021 Lions like an expansion team with zero prior results, for they were not much better than one. That being said, you are still allowed to feel jealous of teams turning around their franchises while Detroit struggles to do so. At the end of the day, we want to see our team succeed. Instead of saying “Why can’t it be us?” in confidence, we have been saying “Why can’t it be us?” in envy. Maybe our time will come—hopefully sooner than later.
Nice to take a step back
For all the stress and bitterness that followed the Lions’ Week 5 loss to the Patriots, having a bye week immediately after added some relief. For fans, it gave an opportunity to step back and
R-E-L-A-X breathe. Many were calling for heads to roll—I won’t lie, I said some negative things on Twitter—and it is easy to get wrapped up in the heat of the moment. Being able to sit back and watch other NFL teams on Sunday is a good change of pace. Not only that, but it’s easy to forget that other teams are experiencing similar hardships as the Lions. There was a lot of ugly football on Sunday, even without the Lions playing.
Then again, I wrote this whole takeaway article for a week in which Detroit never played, so am I really on a bye week?