The Detroit Lions were the surprise favorites over the 10-2 Minnesota Vikings. After Sunday, it’s clear why: the Lions are for real.
The Lions and Vikings are often good for an exciting match, and this outing was no different. The Lions jumped out to a quick lead, but the Vikings kept it close. The tides changed as the first half came to a close, with the Vikings coughing up the ball at the doorstep of the end zone. From there, the Lions ran away with it, despite a late scare.
The Lions are playing their best football in years. What takeaways are there as the playoffs become closer to reality?
This is what the years of hardship have led to
We suffered through the Matt Patricia years. Not only was there a lot of losing, but it meant meaningless games come December—if not November. Morale in the fandom and locker room was seemingly at an all-time low, and even with the idea of a rebuild down the road, there was plenty of pessimism. We had seen this song and dance before, what was stopping us from raising our hopes and dashing them away yet again?
As it turns out, all it took was a season.
2021 was the expected low point to begin the Dan Campbell era, but to say this 2022 season has been an improvement would be selling it short. These previous six weeks of Lions football nearly have me at a loss for words. Perhaps it stems from the lack of competitiveness under Patricia, but seeing the Lions play like they did against the Vikings fills me with so much joy. Not only are we watching the Lions play meaningful football down the stretch, but they are playing well in those games to boot.
The seasons of bad football have made the winning moments feel so much sweeter. The Lions are still sitting with a losing record, but you cannot say these are your Same Old Lions.
A call for the ages pays off
The Lions have been grilled for their game management this season. A missed pass to DJ Chark culminated in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. A field goal decision led to a comeback by these very same Vikings. With the game in the balance and the Vikings pressing late, it looked like another instance of heartbreak.
Enter Penei Sewell.
It’s one thing to dial up a pass on third-and-7. Sure, running is conservative, but it would have forced the Vikings to burn a timeout. Alternatively, a short and safe pass would have yielded a similar result, possibly forcing the Lions to make a crucial fourth down decision. The Lions had plenty of options, but I don’t think anyone expected Sewell to be that option. Not only did Sewell catch the ball—not an easy one either—but he had room to rumble for the first down.
The absolute insanity from the coaching staff paid off in stunning fashion. With a roster of Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jameson Williams, D’Andre Swift, and multiple tight ends, the one catching a pass with the game on the line is your right tackle. Unbelievable.
Going back to the first takeaway, would you expect the Lions under Darrell Bevell or Jim Bob Cooter to make such a call? They would have been content to run it up the gut. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson deserves stellar praise for the work he is doing on offense. The Lions had a similar great call a few weeks ago when a Kalif Raymond end around got the Lions a crucial first down late in the game. I haven’t even mentioned the Lions calling a fake punt in this very game, a massive gain by C.J. Moore that led to a much-needed touchdown.
Not only are the Lions making good calls, but they are doing it in style as well.
Jamo is still being eased in and that’s okay
Welcome to the NFL, Jameson Williams.
The rookie wideout took advantage of a busted coverage to record his first NFL catch and touchdown in one fell swoop. That would go down as his lone catch on the day, receiving only one other target (a drop that would have likely been a loss anyway).
On a day where Jared Goff passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns, it might be disappointing to see Williams get such a limited look on offense. That being said, the Lions have been patient with injured players, and it has seemingly paid off. DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds have looked fantastic since returning from injury, while D’Andre Swift has similarly improved after slowly being brought back.
The offense is flourishing even with Williams playing a minor role. Let him get up to speed—literally as well. When he’s on, he can be a special player, and we saw a flash of that today.
The defensive line came to play
The Lions defensive line was a question mark heading into the season with a mix of youngsters and veterans, prospects and castoffs. I don’t think any of us expected that combination to perform quite like they have recently.
Four sacks is a great total for a defense—even if one of them came from cornerback Jerry Jacobs—but the numbers that really impress me are from the run game. Dalvin Cook, one of the most dangerous backs in the league, was held to 23 yards on 15 carries, a paltry 1.5 yard per carry average. Even with a touchdown on his stat line, the defensive line bottled him up all game.
Let’s break down some key contributors. Aidan Hutchinson continues to shine as a rookie, adding himself a sack, two tackles for loss, and pressure throughout the day. Equally impressive is James Houston, who notched another sack in just his third game. Houston stood out to me when he was on the field, his bend still a highlight of his game. In particular, it felt like the Vikings offensive linemen were smothering him for most of the game, and not often in a legal way. Houston was often held and tackled by linemen, but none of them were called.
Some rotational pieces that deserve love are John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs. Buggs recorded a sack, the first of his career, and he played a large role in the success of the run defense. Cominsky has paired nicely with Hutchinson on the inside of the Lions’ NASCAR front. He helped snuff out a Vikings two-point attempt, points that proved crucial as the clock ran down.
With the secondary struggling against the Vikings, it was important that the defensive line stepped up. Had Dalvin Cook been able to carve his way through the defense, this game might not have ended in a victory for Detroit.
A confident Goff is a good Goff
Jared Goff has been phenomenal of late, an integral part of the Lions’ recent winning ways. The mistakes have evaporated, and he is playing with a level of confidence not seen since the Los Angeles Rams were Super Bowl contenders. He looks far more comfortable in the pocket, and his downfield presence is as sharp as ever.
Goff has developed fantastic chemistry with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds, and DJ Chark is coming on late as well. It’s a night and day difference between this season and last. St. Brown’s career was just getting started. Reynolds was claimed off waivers. The de facto WR1 was Kalif Raymond. Goff rarely looked comfortable in that offense. With an offseason of development for the roster, players, and coaches, Goff has looked like a totally different player in 2022.
Every aspect of the Lions offense deserves credit. Goff is making great throws and even better decisions. The offensive line, despite weekly injuries, is holding up well. Not only are the receivers getting open, they are making plays. The coaching staff is making calls that work perfectly for the talent Detroit has. The run game has been a positive supplement to the passing attack.
Everything is coming together for the Lions.