Well, I consider myself lucky for not having felt like this in two months as a Detroit Lions fan. Let’s hope the Lions take care of business the rest of the way and we don’t feel like this again this season. It was an ugly day all around. Here are your movers for the week:
Stock up: Jared Goff, QB
We start with one of few bright spots from Saturday. Goff looked nothing like the man we have seen for much of the season. He was stepping into throws under pressure, taking hits like they’re nothing, and dotting lasers down the middle of the field. His final statline (25-of-42 for 355 yards, 3 TDs) may be inflated by some garbage time scores, but he was playing well before the game got out of hand—save the one botched snap exchange.
On any given play, his eyes were 10 yards further downfield than they usually are, and that’s a good thing. It’s a shame the rest of the team decided not to show up, because this could have been an instance of the Lions winning because of Jared Goff. If he can keep showing up like this (and the rest of the team doesn’t leave him hanging), there’s no telling what this team’s ceiling is.
Stock down: Ifeatu Melifonwu, S
Whew, what an underwhelming return for Melifonwu. From the get go, he looked timid and unprepared to play both in the pass and the run game. He was a large part of the defensive meltdown in the first half, missing tackles on Carolina’s running backs and leaving them with green grass. The running backs weren’t the only ones making Iffy look a fool, though.
If DeShon Elliott can’t return to the lineup soon from his shoulder injury, the Lions could be in bigger trouble than expected on the back end. As for Melifonwu, there’s a major question of what his role is with the team, if any, heading into 2023.
Stock up: Evan Brown, G
The Lions missed their top four guards for much of November and December. Last week, they got back Evan Brown, but he struggled considerably in his return to the starting lineup. He bounced back this week, most notably on the ground. He had a key block to open up the middle for Jamaal Williams on an early fourth-and-1 conversion, which is especially impressive since Brown’s forte is in pass protection. Brown was technically liable for a Brian Burns sack, but I won’t hold it against him too much since you shouldn’t be asking a pulling guard to pass protect against an edge rusher.
Stock down: Isaiah Buggs, DL
Buggs has emerged in the past month as a leader of this team and a cornerstone of this defense. Buggs fell flat in both regards Saturday. While he’s usually the big man in the middle of the defensive line, the Panthers made them look like Swiss cheese. Panthers running backs Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman were often getting to the second level untouched in the first half. Then Buggs had a bad unnecessary roughness penalty in the second half. He threw down a running back after the whistle, and he’s lucky he was not called for another penalty after it turned to some shoving and jawing with Panthers offensive linemen. Inexcusable behavior from anyone, but especially so from a leader of your team.
Stock down: Jeff Okudah, CB
The past couple weeks have not been friendly to anyone in the Lions secondary, but it has been by far the worst for Jeff Okudah. He got picked on by Zach Wilson, then he got picked on by Sam Darnold, and he was made to look a fool by both. After I wrote in last week’s stock report that Okudah cannot play on an island right now, he got burned deep by D.J. Moore on a cover zero blitz. Even worse is that Okudah’s most consistently good trait this year has been his support in run defense, but he was a liability there, too, Saturday. He whiffed on quite a few tackles, just like every other Lions defensive back, and it was ugly from start to finish for number one.
Stock up: Shane Zylstra, TE
It has been the Brock Wright show in Detroit since T.J. Hockenson’s departure, but Shane Zylstra reminded everyone on Saturday that he is still alive and well. All three of the Lions’ touchdowns on the day went to Zylstra. He would finish with five receptions, more than Brock Wright and James Mitchell combined. His emergence alongside Wright and Mitchell really opens up the Lions’ options for two (or three) tight end sets moving forward.
D.J. Chark, WR: Chark had several big grabs Saturday. He continues to show that his emergence since the Jaguars game is not a fluke, and neither is his connection with Goff. As that grows stronger, it’s really opening up the Lions offense vertically.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR: St. Brown’s hands continue to amaze us all, as he hauled in passes off his fingertips and in traffic multiple times Saturday against formidable coverage.
Kalif Raymond, WR: Raymond is such a threat in open space, and he showed that on offense Saturday. His reception of 56 yards in the third quarter kept the Lions offense from looking completely dead.
Kerby Joseph, S: This is the second consecutive week Joseph looked out of position early and often. Even in run defense, he had a handful of poor angles that led to missed tackles, opening up the second level for the Panthers in the run game.
Ben Johnson, OC: Sometimes more is less, as Johnson showed at times Saturday. The Panthers secondary had the Lions’ skill players locked up for much of the day, leading some of Johnson’s creativity to come back and bite him.