Another week of Detroit Lions football, another week of pain—this time at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Despite not being able to slow down the Dolphins’ vaunted passing attack, the Lions had a chance at the end to pull ahead. However, the heave by Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff harmlessly fell to the turf, and the defense failed to get a stop when they needed it the most, resulting in a 31-27 loss at home.
I know this is a young roster, and this regime is only in year two of a multi-year rebuild, but the Lions really need to be able to come away with a few wins during the remaining 10 weeks of the 2022 season. It has been said before, but the margin of victory in the NFL is usually going to be razor-thin. Figuring out how to execute during crunch-time is not something that can be replicated. Teams have to figure out how to win on the fly, and as difficult as it is to watch over the course of a 17-game season, it takes time. Especially for a team this young and inexperienced.
Let’s take a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in Week 8 of the regular season.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
58 snaps (85% of total defensive snaps) — 5 special teams snaps (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 57.3
It wasn’t a stat-sheet stuffing kind of day for Hutchinson, who tallied only one tackle against Miami. But as I have stated before in this series, the box score only tells a small sliver of the story.
On this particular rep, we see why players like Hutchinson are often in favor of operating out of a two-point stance. He is able to quickly decipher the play, swats the blockers hands down, and disrupts the execution of the play before it has a chance to get going.
It wasn’t his best day as a Lion, but overall—Hutchinson continues to be the most reliable player along the defensive front.
Jameson Williams, WR
DNP: On reserve/NFI while recovering from a knee injury suffered in January
Josh Paschal, DL
PFF defensive grade: 51.9
Somehow the majority of Lions’ defenders received low run-defense scores from PFF, even though they largely kept Miami’s run game in check. The longest run of the day was 18 yards, and came from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa breaking the pocket. Other than that, many of the run-fits were clean, keeping running back Raheem Mostert out of the open field, where he can wreak havoc with his game-breaking speed.
In only his second game back since recovering from sports hernia surgery, Paschal logged the most snaps of any defensive linemen. With both he and Hutchinson being able to play multiple positions along the front, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has two young chess pieces to build a gameplan around.
They have a long way to go in terms of building a top-tier defense, but it is at least a start in the right direction.
Kerby Joseph, S
68 (100%) — 10 (40%)
PFF defensive grade: 71.2
Who had Kerby Joseph forcing fumbles in back-to-back weeks on their preseason bingo card? Yeah, me neither. Either way, the young safety out of the University of Illinois is exhibiting a physicality that not many scouts were aware of during Joseph’s pre-draft process.
At 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, Joseph is certainly not the biggest or most physically imposing safety in the league. Still, as we know, size isn’t everything—especially in football. Some players simply have a knack for getting a hand or helmet on the ball, and others just enjoy sticking it to a ball-carrier.
Similar to last week when he forced a fumble against the Dallas Cowboys—Joseph packs a punch, and ends up separating wide receiver Braylon Sanders from the ball, allowing fellow rookie Malcolm Rodriguez to scoop it up for the takeaway.
What is really impressive to me about Joseph’s performance the last few weeks is how comfortable he has looked, despite having so much on his plate. Sometimes he will be up top as the single-high safety, other times he is down in the box in run-support, and he has even looked solid when assigned with man-coverage in the slot.
With as much as this defense is struggling as a whole, seeing some of the young pieces of the unit—like Hutchinson, Rodriguez, Paschal and Joseph—playing better each week is encouraging.
It isn’t going to be easy, but I think the path towards respectability (or at the very least not being the worst in all of football) for the Lions’ defense is the gradual progression of their rookies and other young players. The trade deadline has passed, no outside help is coming to the rescue. Can the rookies continue to take steps in the right direction? Can third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah build upon the first eight weeks of the season? Can second-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill live up to some of the preseason hype he was getting?
It’s inherently risky to rely this much on youth, but in year two of a complete rebuild, this is where the Lions find themselves.
James Mitchell, TE
5 (8%) — 11 (44%)
PFF offensive grade: 81.2
Up until now, the approach with Mitchell has been slow and steady. Although that may be over with now that T.J. Hockenson is a Minnesota Viking. With Hockenson no longer in the fold, both Mitchell and second-year tight end Brock Wright should see more work—both as blockers and pass-catchers.
Good job here of getting rid of the defensive end before releasing to the flat for an easy completion. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the former Hokie.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
46 (68%) — 3 (12%))
PFF defensive grade: 42.3
Before anyone hits the panic button, let’s take a moment to remember that Rodriguez is still a rookie playing on a very undermanned defense. With that said, after a great start to the season, Rodriguez’s play has somewhat come back down to earth.
One area that continues to stick out is when he is in coverage. Here we see just how difficult playing linebacker is in the NFL. One misstep can be all that an offense needs in order to fit a throw into a tight window. Rodriguez takes one step towards the playfake side before he makes his break on the throw, and that is all Tagovailoa needs to move the chains.
Again, I feel confident in saying Rodriguez will correct some of these errors with time and experience playing the position. On the flip side, one facet of his game that he is already damn good at—playing fast and downhill. McNeill executes his portion of the play well, running across the guard’s face in order to draw attention away from Rodriguez’s blitz. From there, Rodriguez takes care of business and gets Tagovailoa on the ground.
No disrespect to veteran Alex Anzalone, but the sooner the Lions can pair Rodriguez with a player that complements his skill set, the better. Preferably a longer, more athletic linebacker—one who can really fly around sideline to sideline and matchup better with some of the bigger tight ends in the NFL.
Rodriguez had an impressive day to the tune of seven total tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and one pass-breakup.
Chase Lucas, DB
DNP: Was inactive against the Dolphins
Undrafted Free Agents
Demetrius Taylor, DL
DNP: Was inactive against the Dolphins