Throughout this scintillating stretch of football from the Detroit Lions, I keep thinking to myself, “Wow, that was really impressive. That has to be the most impressive win of the season, right?”
Well, the bar has been raised again. The NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings came into Ford Field with aspirations of locking up the division, only to be handled for the vast majority of the game. Every time the Vikings punched—and thanks to star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, they punched a lot—the Lions had an answer for them, and would go on to win the game 34-23.
To me, the most important detail of this six-week stretch of football has been the players that are making a ton of the plays. Sure, you have established veterans like All-Pro center Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker (who is having a hell of a season in his own right), but so many other contributors are from the last few draft classes. And those players are beginning to form a core that seems to be getting better on a weekly basis.
As part of our ongoing series, let’s take a closer look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in their Week 14 win over the Vikings.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
59 snaps (91% of total defensive snaps) — 4 special teams snaps (14%)
PFF defensive grade: 91.5
I know he had his three-sack performance earlier in the season against the Washington Commanders, but top-to-bottom, I think this was Hutchinson’s best game as a professional. No matter who was in front of him, everyone had trouble trying to keep him out of the Vikings’ backfield.
Early in the game, Hutchinson is lined up outside of the right tackle. After the snap, he hits right tackle Brian O’Neill with a nasty swim move, and is on running back Dalvin Cook in a flash, leading to a tackle for loss.
Unsure about the technique here from left tackle Blake Brandel, but either way—Hutchinson was bearing down on Cousins’ almost instantly, forcing a hurried pass.
not sure what the tackle is doing here but good rush from Hutch to force a hurried throw pic.twitter.com/xLLW7ZFnh6— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
This is about as clean of a win as you can ask for as a pass-rusher. It looks as though the tackle is expecting a power-move, only to have have punch swatted away before Hutchinson hits a little dip, and turns the corner. We talked a lot earlier in the season about needing pass-rushers to win more one-on-ones, and now we are starting to see it on a fairly consistent basis.
Hutch catches the tackle leaning and makes him pay pic.twitter.com/g0EXo84e0H— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
I love this game being worked here by Hutchinson and John Cominsky. Hutchinson starts over the right tackle, and once the ball is snapped, gives a little hesitation before working laterally down the line of scrimmage, towards the center. Cominsky, lined up over right guard, does an excellent job of blasting straight up field, grabbing the attention of both the guard and the center. This gives Hutchinson just enough time to loop around and into the lap of Cousins, forcing another hurried incompletion.
Lions' d-line is getting pretty good at executing some of these games/stunts on passing downs. this time it is Hutch who is the beneficiary pic.twitter.com/k6uiIYRqtM— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
Hutchinson finished his big day with a stat line of two tackles for loss, one sack, and two quarterback hits.
Jameson Williams, WR
PFF offensive grade: 60.7
I know he only played 13 snaps, and I don’t care. Jameson Williams is here. Not much to this one other than a great design by Ben Johnson, and a busted coverage from the Vikings.
just bc i know yall wanna see it one more time— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
And as excited as I was for his first career reception being an explosive touchdown, this had me even more wound up. Watch as Williams is lined up in the slot, and as the ball is snapped, he immediately goes into head-hunting mode, completely removing the defender from the play. That block, and the one from tight end Brock Wright on the motion across the formation, sprung this play for a much-needed score late in the game.
having receivers like Jamo and St. Brown who take pride in their run blocking has to warm the heart of a coach like Dan Campbell pic.twitter.com/MaPDyKuzbs— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
It was still a small sample size, but be excited, Lions fans. Be very excited.
Josh Paschal, DL
PFF defensive grade: 50.9
As I mentioned in last week’s iteration of the rookie review, with the defensive line getting healthier, snaps should begin to be more spread out among the likes of Paschal, Romeo Okwara, James Houston, John Cominsky, and so on.
This play stood out to me when I was watching live, because it is one of those snaps that looks simple from afar, but a difficult play to make for the defender. Cook is still one of the more elusive backs in football, and even though he made Paschal miss in the backfield, the rookie did a nice job of keeping Cook boxed in, and funneling him back inside to where his teammates are running to the ball.
good job by Paschal turning Cook back inside pic.twitter.com/kVByydkz9U— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
In his 15 snaps against the Vikings, Paschal notched one tackle.
Kerby Joseph, S
65 (100%) — 12 (41%)
PFF defensive grade: 58.2
Joseph is looking more comfortable in the back end of defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense every week. When you turn on the film, he is communicating more pre-snap, and is reacting faster once the play unfolds.
Here he is the beneficiary of an excellent play by defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs, and scoops up the ball off of the Ford Field turf for a huge turnover before the half.
Kerby Joseph may just end up being one of those right-place-right-time kind of players. on top of being a really gifted athlete pic.twitter.com/jytHvCDY8u— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
On top of his fumble recovery, Joseph had four tackles in the win over the Vikings.
James Mitchell, TE
14 (20%) — 12 (41%)
PFF offensive grade: 56.6
Similar to the last several weeks, Mitchell continues to get looks as a blocking tight end when offensive coordinator Ben Johnson goes with his heavy personnel package.
With as steep as the learning curve is for tight ends coming from the college ranks, the slow and steady approach for Mitchell is perfectly fine with me.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
PFF defensive grade: 63.4
Read and react. This is the best part of Rodriguez’s game. He immediately understands what is happening, and without any wasted movement, gets downhill and brings the ball carrier down in a hurry.
Another example of excellent linebacker play. I could watch Rodriguez do this stuff all day.
the Detroit Cowboy with another picture-perfect run fit and tackle pic.twitter.com/gzL31y2x3p— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
Lastly, watch him spring C.J. Moore on this fake punt. He gets just enough of the first defender, before taking off up field to escort Moore down the sideline.
Rodrigo providing CJ Moore with running room on the fake punt early in the second half pic.twitter.com/FZXuzgMU89— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) December 14, 2022
The “Detroit Cowboy” finished with five tackles, and one tackle for loss.
Chase Lucas, DB
Lucas was placed on the Injured Reserve due to a hamstring injury.
James Houston, LB
21 (32%) — 10 (34%)
PFF defensive grade: 68.2
I never played offensive tackle, but I have to imagine this would be a terrifying sight. Out of a two-point stance, Houston chops his feet right before hitting his shoulder-dip on his way to sacking Cousins. It is one of those moves that the blocker likely knows is coming, but still has no real way of stopping it.
Watch the chemistry here between the two rookie pass-rushers. Right before the snap, Houston leans over to Hutchinson, likely to pass along information about the game they are about to run. Once snapped, Hutchinson works up the field, attacking the inside shoulder of the left tackle. Doing this, he makes the left guard look at him for just a moment, allowing Houston to loop around and under the would-be blocker. If he somehow got Cousins down for a safety here, I think the roof would have came off of Ford Field.