There isn’t any other way to put it in simpler terms: the Detroit Lions are one of the best football teams in the NFL.
Full stop. There are no qualifiers and no contingencies; it’s plain to see the Lions belong in all of the conversations people are having after they decisively knocked off the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings.
Those talking about the Lions offense being a juggernaut have a point—the Lions have scored 25 or more points in five straight games for the first time since 1954 and are averaging the fifth-most points in the league (26.8). Playoff talk is absolutely warranted even if the Lions need teams like the Washington Commanders, New York Giants, and Seattle Seahawks to stumble down the stretch—and if they do, look out. Conversations about the Lions potentially running the table are worthwhile when you consider the team they’ve become over the past month and change—the favorable draw they have over these final four games makes it a distinct possibility.
As we do every week for this Detroit Lions team, we have some data courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and how they’ll continue to play from here on out. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14.
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Rewind, for a moment, back to training camp of 2021. The Detroit Lions No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers were Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, and the hopes of a Lions passing game relied on the chemistry built between Jared Goff and T.J. Hockenson.
In less than a year, Detroit’s wide receiver room has transformed itself into one of the most diverse and dangerous groups in the NFL. Amon-Ra St. Brown is the glass case Goff and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson can smash in case of emergency. Josh Reynolds, going back to his days with the Los Angeles Rams, works all areas of the field in rhythm with Goff spinning it his way. When Jameson Williams’ first NFL reception was a 41-yard touchdown, it felt like Christmas came early.
But for two weeks in a row now, DJ Chark has been the missing ingredient to put this offense in a position to score at any moment.
Early in the season, the Lions offense was ripping off explosive plays at a virtually unsustainable rate, but with a healthy Chark back in the lineup, Detroit is back to their old ways. Against the Vikings, Chark averaged 15.7 yards per reception and while that may not be a premium stat from PFF, it’s wholly illustrative of the difference he’s making in this offense. Of any receiver with at least seven targets in Week 14, Chark was third in yards per reception behind only Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams—pretty good company.
Jared Goff just won’t quit. Since he’s gotten a healthy group of receivers and running backs around him, Goff has been absolutely lights out. Over his past five games, Goff completed over 69 percent of his passes, threw for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns, and hasn’t had an interception. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Goff was as close to perfect as he’s ever been in Detroit.
Going back to Detroit’s matchup against the Giants in Week 11, Goff has shown an ability to show patience and poise when the defense sends a blitz. Against the Vikings, Goff was 10 of 13 for 101 yards and a touchdown—his 41-yard throw to Jameson Williams. Goff’s 124.2 passer rating when blitzed was the highest for any quarterback with at least 13 dropbacks against a blitz in Week 14.
There’s a ton of credit to be given to the offensive line in front of him and the receivers making plays, but Goff is playing confidently right now, and his ability to diagnose pressure pre-snap and make the throws he needs to make deserves some praise, too.
-0.7, 0.7, 1.5
Detroit’s run defense has stacked some incredibly impressive performances together over the past few weeks. Against the Giants, the Lions limited Saquon Barkley to 22 yards on 15 carries. Against the Vikings, the Lions shut down another marquee running back in Dalvin Cook, holding him to 23 yards on 15 carries in Week 14.
It takes all three levels of the defense working together to shut down a running game, and Detroit’s group effort against the Vikings on Sunday was evidence of that. Mike Hughes, who stepped into the nickel corner spot for the injured Will Harris, played a huge part in Detroit’s success in stopping Cook and Co. He recorded three stops and posted a dominant -0.7 average depth of tackle in run defense. Malcolm Rodriguez continued being one of Detroit’s most reliable run defenders on Sunday, posting three stops and a 0.7 average depth of tackle in run defense. Last, but not least, Josh Paschal is certainly living up to being the run stopper he was billed to be in the pre-draft process. Against Minnesota, Paschal notched two stops and registered a 1.5 average depth of tackle.
5, 16.7, 27.8
Gonna go ahead and get right to it: despite registering just a single tackle, sack, and forced fumble, Isaiah Buggs should earn legitimate consideration for the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 14.
Isaiah Buggs doing some mollywhopping in the trenches yesterday vs MIN. Destroyed the rookie RG— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 13, 2022
...this dude has flash plays like this every game pic.twitter.com/mGXqiGtvxy
From watching the game just once—and it being from the stands no less—it was pretty clear Buggs was making life difficult for the Vikings interior linemen. Digging into his premium stats was an eye-opener.
Buggs recorded five pressures (one sack, two hits, two hurries), a 16.7 pass rush productivity mark (PFF’s formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer), and a 27.8 percent pass rush win rate. For all three of those illustrative statistics of just how effective Buggs was at disrupting the middle of Minnesota’s offense, Buggs ranked first among all interior defensive linemen with at least 19 pass rushing snaps.
Detroit’s top priority last offseason was upgrading their defense, specifically finding playmakers wherever they could. There’s nothing that can torpedo an offensive game plan quite like an effective pass rush, and Detroit has started to find its footing over the past few weeks. While rookies Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston are turning heads with their sacks, Buggs, a free agent signing in late July, has emerged as a key piece to the Lions pass rush.