Three wins in a row and the Detroit Lions are flying high.
The first stretch of the season was rough, with Detroit floundering to a 1-6 record. The defense was horrific, and the offense was too inconsistent to make up for it. These previous three games have not only gotten the Lions back in the win column, but the playoffs are suddenly a possibility.
The Lions trounced the New York Giants on Sunday, and there are plenty of takeaways to be had.
Alim McNeill came to play
Not bad, Twinkle Toes.
Alim McNeill has quietly had a good season, but Sunday’s outing against the Giants was a breakthrough performance. With three tackles for loss and this beauty of a sack, McNeill had a performance we haven’t seen since... Caraun Reid?
Twinkle Toes @AlimMcneill with the sack to punctuate an opening series 3 & out.#DETvsNYG | FOX pic.twitter.com/HCPyW2QWFp— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 20, 2022
The Giants running backs had nowhere to go all game, and McNeill played a key part in the stout defensive front. Add in an absurd pressure rate as a pass rusher, and McNeill was easily the highlight of the defense. He was billed as a potential breakout player entering the season, and games like these showcase his sky-high ceiling.
Jamaal Williams is the lead back, and there’s no debate
If you’re a fantasy player, you likely viewed Jamaal Williams as a touchdown vulture entering the season, and his league-leading 12 touchdowns after Sunday’s game seems to confirm that. However, unlike the vultures of years past like LeGarrette Blount and Adrian Peterson, Williams is earning his touches. In fact, Williams has secured the title of RB1 and I don’t think there’s a conversation anymore. He runs hard on every play, and more importantly, he utilizes the blocking in front of him.
Speaking of which, D’Andre Swift had a good game on paper with a 4.0 yard per carry average and a touchdown, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Swift continues to struggle running north-south, even when the blocking is there for him. His indecisiveness is costing the Lions critical yardage. After a fumbled reception that turned a first down into a third-and-short, Swift failed to cut upfield and was stopped for no gain, forcing a punt. The splash plays are there—he had a 16-yarder earlier—but the bad plays have overshadowed the good.
His touchdown came on a play where he actually followed his blockers, and the Lions need to see more of that. Meanwhile, Justin Jackson is making a claim for the RB2 spot. Jackson had nine carries for 66 yards, looking far more decisive as a runner. He continues to impress in limited touches, and he might be a better option at this point.
Aidan Hutchinson is doing it all
Aidan Hutchinson doesn’t have a double-digit sack total yet, but his impact on the field is not going unnoticed. Hutchinson had a pair of turnovers that proved monumental for the Lions victory. Firstly, his gorgeous interception directly led to a Lions touchdown. Hutchinson already had a stellar interception a few weeks ago, but this one had him looking like a safety in coverage:
.@aidanhutch97 showing off the #DETvsNYG | FOX pic.twitter.com/O8KnGmY4Sb— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 20, 2022
Along with his motor, the thing that has impressed me the most from his rookie season is his awareness. Dropping into coverage is usually a difficult ask for defensive ends, but he has shown a knack for heads-up football. He had it on his first career interception, he had it last week to force a Jeff Okudah pick-six, he had it on this interception, and he had it on a crucial fumble recovery halfway through the fourth quarter against the Giants. The sack totals will come, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the results he has shown so far.
Playoffs or draft position—why not both?
Just sit back and stare at this for a bit:
Seriously, who would have thought? pic.twitter.com/dMdbX4XBKb— Mike Payton (@POD_Payton) November 20, 2022
Before the season, you’d be called crazy for predicting such a draft board. Many viewed the Lions as slam-dunk favorites to earn a top five selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, while the Los Angeles Rams, as defending Super Bowl champions, were at least a lock to make the playoffs. This would have given the Lions an early draft pick and a mid-to-late first round pick. Not unexpected.
Not only are the Lions suddenly in the playoff picture, but the Rams are arguably a bottom-five team. With Matthew Stafford possibly suffering another concussion on Sunday and Cooper Kupp on the Injured Reserve, the Rams season might only get worse. Some fans wanted the Lions to tank in order to secure a high draft pick, but with the Rams’ struggles, that might happen anyway. Now, you can complain about missing out on the prospect of two high draft picks, but look at it this way: we get the taste of a playoff race—it’s still wild to say we’re in the hunt—and we are en route for an early pick. I’ll take it.
Too much friendly fire
Safeties coach Brian Duker said earlier in the month that friendly fire was going to happen due to the intensity of the defense. Football is a physical game, so there’s no surprise that collisions between teammates will occur. A few weeks ago, Jeff Okudah knocked Julian Okwara and Kerby Joseph on friendly-fire collision. Malcolm Rodriguez was injured by a teammate in the same game.
Sunday’s outing against the Giants saw multiple friendly-fire incidents, and it makes you wonder if something needs to change. The most significant injury occurred when Okudah was blasted by teammate Will Harris, resulting in Okudah exiting the game with a brain injury. Due to concussion protocols, it seems unlikely that Okudah will play on Thanksgiving. Derrick Barnes, Kerby Joseph, and Aidan Hutchinson were each shaken up at one point following a collision with a teammate. Thankfully, all three players returned to the game.
It’s hard to say what can be done to alleviate this problem. Teammates obviously don’t want to hurt each other, but it’s hard to tell your tacklers to tone it down, as a split second of indecisiveness can cost you.