After an ugly 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 of the NFL season, the Detroit Lions now find themselves at 1-5—and all alone in the dingy basement of the NFC North. And although the final score looks similar to the 29-0 loss suffered against the New England Patriots in Week 5, watching the film after the fact feels completely different. Save for the last few minutes—when things completely unraveled.
For much of the game, the Lions kept things close and competitive. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn appeared to implement a few wrinkles over the course of the bye week, and his defense ended up forcing five(!) punts, while also generating a takeaway. What makes this performance even better for the Lions is the fact that this improvement had a lot to do with their younger players, including several players from their 2022 draft class.
However, on the other side of the ball, things look like they have regressed in a significant way. Quarterback Jared Goff has slid back into some of his bad habits, like attempting throws that don’t need to be forced and drifting too deep in the pocket—making life difficult on his offensive line. For veteran running back Jamaal Williams, someone who had 622 carries before his first career fumble, he has to be better at holding onto the ball, and I am sure he will be the first to tell you. If I were a betting man (I’m not), I wouldn’t count on many more multi-fumble days from Williams in the future. Just a hunch.
Anyways, let’s get back to the positive stuff before we get too caught up in the pit of despair. Let’s start on the road to positivity by taking a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in Week 7 of the regular season.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
56 snaps (89% of total defensive snaps) — 5 special teams snaps (23%)
PFF defensive grade: 78.1
Other pass rushers have spoken about how rushing from a two-point stance allows for a different perspective. You can see things happening pre-snap, or maybe you can pick up on a quarterback’s tendencies and cadence a bit easier. Whatever it is, Lions’ rookie Aidan Hutchinson was a fan.
“I felt like I was really back,” Hutchinson told Dan Miller on Monday. “I felt like they had given me some more leeway and giving me more leeway to stand up and be able to use my instincts more. I was very comfortable — I felt like this was my best game yet from a technical standpoint.”
Early in the game, Hutchinson is lined up on the outside shoulder of Cowboys’ left tackle Tyler Smith, and gets a good jump on the snap, despite almost having one knee on the turf when the ball is snapped. After an effective two-hand swipe, Hutchinson wins the edge, dragging Smith along with him before extending a hand to grab quarterback Dak Prescott. We have spoken at length about this line needing to win more one-on-ones, and we got a little bit of it against the Cowboys.
On this next rep, Hutchinson and Paschal both win their individual battles, resulting in a meeting at the quarterback and an incomplete pass for Dallas.
Here Hutchinson does what any good defensive end is expected to do—dominate tight ends when they are tasked with pass protection. Cowboys’ tight end Dalton Schultz is a nice player but has next to no chance against Hutchinson in this situation. After a stutter step, Hutchinson puts both hands into Schultz’s chest, pushing the tight end back towards Prescott. Feeling Schultz’s momentum, Hutchinson executes a spin-move towards Prescott’s front shoulder, resulting in another quarterback pressure for the rookie. From a technical standpoint—it has been nice to see Hutchinson begin to string together pass-rush moves, like he did here when he transitioned from power to a spin.
I know he had his three-sack performance during the Lions’ win against the Washington Commanders in Week 2, but to me, this was Hutchinson’s most complete game as a Lion. Hopefully the coaching staff continues to put him in favorable spots, where the former Wolverine can best utilize his skill set.
Jameson Williams, WR
DNP: On reserve/NFI while recovering from a knee injury suffered in January
Josh Paschal, DL
56 (89%) — 1 (5%)
PFF defensive grade: 64.3
I think it is safe to say that Paschal made some noise during his NFL debut. He provides pop to a position that was sorely needing another difference-maker, especially with veteran defensive end Charles Harris out of the lineup.
Paschal lined up all over the place, including at the “big-end” position—a position that was largely handled by Hutchinson while Paschal was still recovering from sports hernia surgery. He has only been practicing with the team for a few weeks, but you wouldn’t know it based on how many snaps he played, and how he jumps off the screen on tape. Like here, where Paschal crashes down the backside of the line, making the tackle on running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Or on this clip, where he makes quick work of tight end Jake Ferguson. Call me crazy, but I think Paschal is firmly going to fall into the “I cannot be blocked with a tight end” category. He’s just too strong for the vast majority of tight ends out there. A lot of what had scouts and draft pundits raving about Paschal during his time at the University of Kentucky showed up against the Cowboys.
Here Paschal is the defender with his hand in the dirt at the top of your screen, lined up just outside of the tight end. Just look at how he snaps the left tackle’s head back with his bull rush. At first glance, he appears to have a really powerful lower body, as well as some violent hands when he puts them on opposing players.
Yet it was this play, where he helps string out a play to the sideline along with cornerback Jeff Okudah, that had me the most excited. Watch as Paschal engages with the blocker, disengages from the blocker, and pursues the ball carrier to the sideline, allowing Okudah to come up and help get Elliott on the ground. Really impressive stuff from the big man.
Both in the short-term and in the long-term, the Lions are going to need Paschal to be someone they can count on to be one of the foundational pieces of this unit. It was only one game, but the early returns are certainly promising.
Kerby Joseph, S
63 (100%) — 5 (23%)
PFF defensive grade: 67.0
Like we have talked about before in this series—it isn’t going to happen overnight, but you can see why the Lions liked Kerby Joseph coming out of the University of Illinois. The coaching staff has been praising his instincts on the backend since training camp, and we got to see flashes of it against Dallas.
The first instance is when Joseph is lined up on the hash, presumably tasked with providing help over the top. He gets into his drop before noticing Prescott is looking to take a shot over the middle to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Seeing this, Joseph quickly flips his hips and makes a beeline for the hash, breaking up the pass before it gets to Lamb. I’m sure Joseph is kicking himself for not coming down with the interception, but it was a good play nonetheless.
In other instances, Joseph found himself in man coverage. On this rep, Joseph—starting on the 35-yard line—remains in phase, waits for the receiver to present his hands, then works his head around to attempt to make a play on the ball. If this were more accurately thrown from Prescott, it could have been another potential interception for the rookie safety.
Here Joseph is up in the box and looks as though he is on a delayed-blitz, leading to a quarterback hit and an inaccurate pass. Anything he does that is positive near the line of scrimmage should be cause for celebration, considering he is still very new to this part of the game.
It hasn’t all been perfect for him, but with everything on his plate since the injury to veteran safety Tracy Walker, Lions fans should be really encouraged by the early returns from Joseph. Just look at this hit that forced a turnover. I don’t know about you all, but this one got me up out of my seat.
We knew about the range and ball skills, but if Joseph can begin displaying this kind of physicality on a regular basis, then the Lions may have found their safety of the future to (hopefully) pair with Walker. Joseph finished the day with four total tackles, one pass breakup, and one quarterback hit.
James Mitchell, TE
6 (10%) — 7 (32%)
PFF offensive grade: 52.2
For the time being, it surely seems as though Mitchell is behind Brock Wright on the depth chart. And rightfully so, as Wright has been performing well as the second tight end behind starter T.J. Hockenson.
With that said, it is still not even the halfway point of the year, so let’s see how things progress with this unit as the season winds on, and Mitchell gets more time under his belt.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
46 (73%) — 4 (18%)
PFF defensive grade: 58.9
It was another up-and-down day for Rodriguez, who finished with four tackles against the Cowboys. There are times when it seems as if he is being targeted in coverage, but against the run, Rodriguez continues to be a presence. Both he and second-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill make this play on running back Tony Pollard, forcing a field goal for the Cowboys. To me, this is Rodriguez’s greatest strength—his ability to sift through the muck against the run, scraping and bumping off would-be blockers.
And with how Rodriguez approaches his craft, I am confident the other facets of his game will develop with time. On top of his defensive contributions, Rodriguez logged yet another strong special teams tackle on a Jack Fox punt, but did critically slip on Dallas’ long return.
Chase Lucas, DB
0 (0%) — 14 (64%)
Lucas was limited to special teams duty against the Cowboys.
Undrafted Free Agents
Demetrius Taylor, DL
DNP: Was inactive against the Cowboys