It is very rare that you see a team score 45 points and lose, but here we are.
The Detroit Lions’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks was a roller coaster, with the highest of highs on offense getting brought down by the lowest of lows on defense. Add in the wild ride that is special teams, and it was a game that toyed with the heartstrings of Lions fans.
What takeaways can be had from the loss that sent the Lions to a 1-3 record?
A tale of two coordinators
Throughout “Hard Knocks,” the spotlight was shined on the battle between assistant head coach and running backs coach Duce Staley and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. It was quality television featuring friendly and competitive jabs between the pair of coaches. However, while Glenn was gaining national attention, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was toiling away in the background, rarely getting a line or mention. After the Lions’ Week 4 loss, both coordinators are firmly in the spotlight, albeit for different reasons.
Glenn received some offseason head coaching hype, and for good reason. When 2021 was slated to be a rebuilding year, Glenn seemingly got the most out of his diminished pool of defensive talent. Coupled with his infectious personality and wise words, it seemed like a slam dunk that he would be a future head coach. After four games this season, all the hype may have died off.
The 2022 Lions have more talent on their defense this season, but it is infuriating to see the mistakes that happen on a weekly basis that cripple this team. Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny had two massive touchdown runs on crucial third-and-longs that all but ended the game for Detroit. The first of those runs came on a controversial officiating decision to redo what was a third down stop for Detroit—it sucks, but it was the right decision in the end. In a 48-45 loss, that touchdown was the difference, but more blame should fall on the defense. The play call from Glenn’s side was unbelievably poor, allowing Penny to bounce outside with little resistance.
This doesn’t even factor in the miscommunications that happen every game. The Lions can barely go a quarter without some form of miscommunication between corner and corner or corner and safety, typically leading to a significant gain in a crucial moment. Execution falls on the players as well, and there’s no question that the Lions are lacking defensive talent, but the fact that these problems persist is a stain on Glenn’s resume. The luster on Glenn has faded, and if the Lions’ defense puts up more performances like this, Glenn might go from head coaching candidate to fired.
Meanwhile, Johnson has blown it out of the water with his offense. A Jared Goff-led offense has no right to be this good, but lo and behold, the Lions are (all Week 4 results pending) leading the NFL in points scored. In 2021, the Lions scored 30 or more points just three times. The 2022 Lions have averaged 35 points per game, having scored 35, 36, 25, and now 45 points in their first four games. Despite injuries along the offensive line, things were mostly working for Detroit.
Week 4 was the biggest hurdle for Johnson. Injuries to Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, and D’Andre Swift left the Lions without their stars on offense. Even with Seattle being a lesser team, they were going to have to lean on their other skill positions to compete.
And compete they did.
Jamaal Williams ran for over 100 yards with a pair of touchdowns. T.J. Hockenson broke out in a career-best performance, one not seen since his rookie debut. Josh Reynolds continues to excel as a safety net for Goff. Tom Kennedy provided some clutch catches. Even Goff himself had a decent four touchdown outing, though his pick-six was part excellent defensive play and part punishment for staring down his target.
All of this reflects positively on Johnson, and it’s hard to criticize much about the offense. When you average 35 points per game, you should be winning most of your games. Yet the Lions stand at 1-3, and the blame largely falls on Glenn and his group. Honestly, I think the offense is punching above its weight, and it is going to waste because the defense cannot force a punt or turnover when it matters most.
Johnson is looking like a star coordinator, but Glenn has seemingly taken a massive step back. That’s trouble for the Lions, because the defense is costing this team wins.
I will confess, I was on board with moving on from Matt Prater. Despite the great seasons he had with the Lions, his 2020 campaign was a regression and for a team looking to rebuild, it did not make sense to spend a lot of money on a kicker. We learned quite quickly last season that it may have been a mistake, and it reared its head again this season.
Riley Patterson stepped in to settle the kicking competition midway through 2021, but an uneven training camp saw him lose the job to Austin Seibert. After a two-miss outing against the Minnesota Vikings last week, Seibert was inactive today due to injury. In his stead was Dominik Eberle, whose Lions debut was tumultuous at best. He was officially perfect on his lone field goal attempt of 49 yards, but he missed a pair of extra points—and a third extra point that barely snuck in. Eberle also booted a kickoff out of bounds to give Seattle great field position. Even his onside kick attempt wasn’t particularly good, but it’s hard to blame him for such a low-percentage play.
The Lions will surely be in the kicker market in the coming weeks. Who knows if Eberle is kept around after a disastrous debut, and Seibert himself is no lock when he returns from injury. A popular name will be Rodrigo Blankenship, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts. Other kickers of note include Jake Verity, Elliott Fry, and Jose Borregales.
The special teams unit was purely bailed out by two plays. Firstly, Malcolm Rodriguez forced a fumble on a punt return, recovered by long snapper Scott Daly. The other play was a Jack Fox fake punt pass to Quintez Cephus. Both plays resulted in points for Detroit, a touchdown and field goal, respectively. The kicking game itself is quite problematic, but the Lions are making plays elsewhere at least.
The Lions aren’t ready for the next step yet
Despite the high-scoring offense, I don’t believe the Lions are at all close to being a playoff team. The Seahawks are one of the worst teams in the league on paper, and a playoff-caliber team should be able to blow them out of the water. Yes, the Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos in Week 1, but I don’t think that game was indicative of the Broncos or Seahawks. Week 1 is when you shake off rust, and Russell Wilson clearly had some upon his return to Lumen Field.
Going back to the Detroit Lions, let us examine their first three games. Although the loss to the Eagles was by a mere three points, I think most of us can agree that the Eagles outclassed Detroit for most of the game. Given how the Eagles are the lone 4-0 team remaining, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we’ll note it anyway.
Next week was their lone victory over the Washington Commanders. At a glance, it was a dominant win for the Lions, but looking closer, it was also a game where the Commanders nearly came back. If Washington was a better team, it could have been a blown lead for Detroit.
This, fittingly, brings us to the Vikings game, where Detroit utterly collapsed in the waning minutes of the game to gift Minnesota the victory. This especially hurt against a division rival, and it was a game where Detroit was clearly the better team throughout the game.
Coupled with the loss to the Seahawks, it paints a pretty clear picture: the Lions aren’t good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league, and even against average-at-best teams, they struggle to close out the game. A lot of this comes back to the failings of the defense—see my first takeaway above—but it shows that Detroit is still missing some elements needed to be a playoff challenger. Not only do the Lions need to play shutdown defense later in games, but they need to keep the pressure up as well.
Receiving corps is a receiving corpse
We all expected Jameson Williams to miss some time as he recovers from his college ACL injury. Aside from that, however, there was plenty of optimism about the receiving corps. St. Brown, Chark, and Reynolds were viewed as a solid group of targets on offense. That has been the case this year, but after their Week 4 loss, the receivers are walking wounded.
As mentioned, St. Brown and Chark (and Williams, of course) were unavailable against the Seahawks. As a result, the Lions had to call up a pair of receivers—Tom Kennedy and Maurice Alexander—for depth. The depth was tested this game when Quintez Cephus left with a foot injury. Add in Kalif Raymond getting banged up (but still playing) and Reynolds entering the game with a questionable tag, and there were few players at full health.
Hopefully St. Brown and Chark return soon and Cephus and Raymond don’t miss time, but it is starting to look concerning for Detroit. Kennedy played well in relief, but if the Lions want to continue their offensive dominance, they will need as many healthy targets as possible.