The Detroit Lions are 1-6 and it feels like the walls are caving in. The defense is not improving, and now coaches are getting fired. The offense finally returned to form, but only for a half.
Whether you think the team is still on the correct path toward their rebuild or not, it’s hard not to be frustrated by watching this team struggle every Sunday.
Here are seven things I think about the Detroit Lions as we enter Week 9 of the 2022 season.
1. It’s been an unsettling week for the Lions.
Obviously, when a team is 1-6, things aren’t going well. But beyond that, there have been two developments that give off the feeling that the Dan Campbell era is starting to crumble. When the team owner feels the need to step down and address how bad things are, that’s trouble. And when you start firing coaches in the middle of the season, that’s trouble.
For many—myself included—Campbell has essentially gotten a free pass for the first 20 games on the job. I understand just how poor of a spot this regime was put in, but this is the first time the foundation feels like it is starting to erode.
2. I still don’t know how to feel about the Aubrey Pleasant firing
On one hand, this is just another sign that Campbell isn’t willing to be complacent—one of his most admirable qualities, in my opinion. It’s that quality that pulled the Lions out of their offensive rut last year, and he’s been doing his best to try and fix the issues on the other side of the ball. They have switched up schemes, been unafraid to bench both young and veteran players, and they’ve communicated with players to figure out the best place to put them.
On the other hand, Pleasant was dealt a crappy hand. His room is over-injured and under-talented. Anyone expecting him to turn that into an average unit had too high of expectations. And with all the communication and mental errors, that’s what’s going to happen when you’re constantly shuffling the lineup and altering the scheme.
Moreso, I’ve mentioned it a couple times now, but something about that Dolphins post-game press conference was a little unsettling. Campbell seemed more mad than usual that the team’s game plan wasn’t followed. I’m not going to say this was an emotional decision—Campbell said he thought about it long and hard and slept on it until Monday morning—but I certainly think Sunday’s game played a bigger part in his decision than Campbell described on Monday.
3. Alex Anzalone said something that shook me
The Detroit Lions are an incredibly young team. Typically in the NFL, that’s a good thing. Young players mean cheap contracts and players who have yet to hit their full potential.
But when you’re losing games, and your young roster is full of players who are still impressionable, that could go sideways very quickly. Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone unintentionally highlighted that when talking about a conversation he had with second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes.
“I was talking to Derrick earlier, it’s disappointing that his first two years in the NFL are kinda this situation of dealing with a lot of losses,” Anzalone said. “It’s really not what your NFL experience should be like.”
The mental toll of a season like this is real, and it’s going to hit the younger players harder. It’s on players like Anzalone and Brockers and Goff to help these young players weather the storm, but the truth is the Lions don’t have a lot of veteran leaders like that—and some of the ones they do (Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Tracy Walker) don’t even know anything other than losing at this level.
4. I’m a little jealous of the Chicago Bears
Not only have the Bears been able to pull off three wins this season with a roster that’s not significantly better than the Lions, but they are going through their rebuild in a way that makes a lot of sense. In the past couple weeks, they’ve traded away an aging Robert Quinn for a fourth-round pick, and they’ve avoided paying a low-value position like linebacker by sending away Roquan Smith for a second and fifth-round pick. That leaves the Bears in a pretty great position for the 2023 offseason:
A look at the #Bears upcoming offseason:— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 31, 2022
Set to have over $100M in cap space, by far the most in the NFL.
2nd (via BAL)
4th (via PHI)
5th (via BAL)
Will be very busy in Chicago.
And while the Bears are sorting this all out, their young quarterback is actually starting to develop and get better. The Bears offense that was averaging just 15.5 points per game over the first six games has scored 62 in the past two games.
This isn’t to throw shade at the Lions’ rebuild. They were in a completely different situation. They traded away its only tradable asset with Matthew Stafford and got a haul for him. And while it certainly is frustrating that going into Year 3 of the Lions rebuild their salary cap situation will still be pretty messy, some of that isn’t this regime’s fault either.
... but some of it is. They chose to take on Jared Goff’s contract and immediately had to restructure it. They chose to give Michael Brockers a ridiculous extension, and they’ve already had to restructure that.
I don’t want to declare quite yet that the Bears’ rebuild is ahead of Detroit’s, but it kind of feels like it.
5. Is it too early to get excited about Kerby Joseph? Because I’m excited about Kerby Joseph.
To be completely honest, I expected almost nothing from Joseph in his rookie season. Having only started at safety for a single season at Illinois and Detroit having two or three starting-capable safeties, there was really no reason for Joseph to play anything other than special teams this year.
But injuries reared their head—as they always seem to with this team—and Joseph has now started the last four games and missed just three snaps over that period. The Lions defense has produced a total of six turnovers: Joseph is responsible for two of those.
Among rookie safeties, Joseph has the third-most snaps and the second-highest PFF grade (74.4), only behind first rounder Kyle Hamilton (77.5).
Most importantly, Joseph is getting experience. One of the most frustrating parts of all the injuries the Lions have had is that their younger players aren’t learning on the job. Levi Onwuzuruike, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs all missed significant time in their most critical developing years. Joseph, meanwhile, has been getting that playing time and running with it.
6. About that fourth-and-2 play...
Originally, I thought Jared Goff made the right read on that play. Amon-Ra St. Brown was covered, and he had Josh Reynolds one-on-one. It’s still a pretty low-percentage play—and you can blame that on the play call if you want—but it’s hard to fault Goff for that read.
... until I saw the All-22 angle.
On the backside of the play, Kalif Raymond absolutely torches his defender, by spinning him around, and is wide open for an easy catch.
welp, Kalif Raymond was open. pic.twitter.com/UJGxyHNQGm— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) November 1, 2022
Now, there are some caveats here. The Dolphins looked like they were bringing pressure, so Goff likely did not think he had time to get to the third option in his progression. Also, that middle safety may be in more of a position to make a play on Raymond if Goff turns to look that way. It would be nice to see Goff manipulate the safety to the right and then throw left, but he’s just not that kind of quarterback.
Still, it’s frustrating to see a guy wide open, and you still have to wonder why St. Brown was the only short option on a fourth-and-2.
7. I think the Lions have a legit shot to beat the Packers
Green Bay is short on receiving options and their offense has been stumbling week in and week out. A lot of you have understandably predicted this as the “get-right game” for the Packers offense, and you may very well be right. Their rushing attack—currently ranked 9th in DVOA and 11th in YPC—will be a challenge.
But Green Bay’s defense is not good, and they’re terrible against the run. I expect this to be a more low-scoring affair, and that gives the Lions a shot at an upset.