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Detroit Lions Week 13 rookie film breakdown: James Houston is a problem

Examining how the Detroit Lions 2022 rookie class performed in Week 13 of the regular season.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13, we heard plenty about how this was a game between two teams on the rise. After a rough start to the season, the Detroit Lions were beginning to find their footing, having won three of their last four games before their matchup with Jacksonville.

On the other hand, like the Lions—the Jaguars also have plenty of young talent, including second year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence was coming off a performance in which he made several clutch plays in a Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens, and seems to be hitting his stride after a tumultuous rookie season under former coach Urban Meyer. Everyone, myself included, thought this would be a hardfought contest between two teams that still have plenty to play for.

It doesn’t happen often in life, but sometimes it feels really good to be really wrong. From Jacksonville’s opening series, the Lions dominated this game from the jump. On only the second snap of the game, Lions’ safety DeShon Elliott hit running back Travis Etienne Jr., stopped him in his tracks, and ripped the ball free—allowing linebacker Alex Anzalone to recover it for a Lions takeaway. This would prove to be an ominous sign for the Jaguars, as their long day would continue for another 59 minutes, to the tune of a 40-14 thumping by Detroit.

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 13 win over the Jaguars.

Aidan Hutchinson, DL

48 snaps (86% of total defensive snaps) — 2 special teams snaps (8%)
PFF defensive grade: 66.7

Late in the first half, the Jaguars are attempting at getting some kind of points on the board, and after a long completion over the middle to former Lion Marvin Jones Jr., they appeared to be in business. The next snap, with Lawrence working out of the shotgun, Cominsky is lined up over the right guard, with Hutchinson in a three-point stance, lined up in the wide-nine alignment. Once the ball is snapped, Hutchinson takes two steps towards the right tackle, before planting his left foot, running right across the tackle’s face, and blasting right guard Brandon Scherff. For a few moments, both the guard and tackle were paying attention to Hutchinson, allowing the looping Cominsky a free path to Lawrence. Lawrence is unable to step into the throw, and the result is a ball that sails out of bounds.

Another example of Hutchinson properly executing an “end-tackle” game. I mentioned it a few weeks ago, but you can almost think of these as an “assist” for a sack or a pressure. Good pop by defensive back Will Harris at the end of this play to separate Engram from the ball.

This was a blown assignment by the offensive line here, or maybe an instance of Lawrence not seeing the unblocked defender pre-snap—either way, Hutchinson will gladly take the half sack. They don’t get a whole lot easier than that.

Last series of the game for the Jaguars, and naturally, they are in an obvious passing situation. Hutchinson uses a bit of a hesitation, combined with a quick hand swipe, before hitting a spin move, freeing up a path to the quarterback.

Jameson Williams, WR

8 (11%)
PFF offensive grade: 57.8

Being at the game in person, one aspect of Williams’ debut that I found funny was that I believe offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was doing his best to sneak Williams onto the field at times, only to have that plan foiled by a Ford Field crowd that had their eyes fixated on the rookie receiver. Each time he (gracefully) trotted onto the field for one of his eight offensive snaps, the crowd immediately responded with a short burst of pure excitement. And if you have seen any of Williams’ highlights from his time at the University of Alabama, it’s tough to blame them.

Bringing him along gradually is the intelligent plan, even if it is slightly tempting to unleash him as soon as possible. Williams was targeted one time in the passing game, where he and Goff didn’t have their timing right on a shot down the sideline, resulting in an incomplete pass.

Josh Paschal, DL

15 (27%)
PFF defensive grade: 49.8

Earlier in the season, once he had recovered from sports hernia surgery, Paschal was thrown right into the fire—playing 56 snaps in Week 7, 62 in Week 8, and 60 in Week 9. Now, with the Lions getting healthier along the defensive front, they can afford to take things more slowly with Paschal—who is coming off of a knee injury suffered in the Lions’ Week 10 win over the Bears.

Against the Jaguars, Paschal had a few rough reps that didn’t really pop up during his first three weeks before the aforementioned knee injury. Here he gets caught peeking inside at Etienne, and takes far too many steps inside, resulting in an easy first down run for Lawrence.

However, the very next snap, he makes the tackle on Etienne after making short work of tight end Evan Engram.

I expect his snaps to increase over the next five weeks, but I don’t know that he will see the usage he saw earlier in the season, when the Lions were banged up on the defensive line, and leaning heavily on both Paschal and Hutchinson.

Kerby Joseph, S

56 (100%) — 11 (42%)
PFF defensive grade: 59.3

Joseph continues to line up all over the field, and with both he and DeShon Elliott playing at high levels, the Lions safety duo gives defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn plenty of flexibility with how he wants to call the game.

Late in the first half, Glenn dials up a blitz on third down, leaving the secondary in man-to-man coverage across the board, with Elliott patrolling over the top as the deep safety. Pre-snap, Joseph lines up near the hash, and is giving up a sizable cushion to receiver Christian Kirk. Once the blitz doesn’t immediately get home, Lawrence knows where he wants to go with the ball. Kirk runs right at Joseph, gives him a hard step with his right foot towards the sideline, before breaking back across the middle of the field for an easy reception from Lawrence. To Joseph’s credit, not many safeties in the league are going to be able to stick with a receiver that possesses Kirk’s speed, but getting caught flat-footed like Joseph was here certainly isn’t going to make his life any easier.

Watching the film, you are beginning to see Joseph become a better communicator, which is something that is essential to playing at a high level on the back end of a defense. Overall, it was another solid performance from Joseph, who finished the day with a team-high eight tackles.

James Mitchell, TE

22 (29%) — 12 (46%)
PFF offensive grade: 48.5

On the Lions’ first offensive series of the afternoon, Mitchell was featured as a puller, responsible for carving out a running lane for running back Jamaal Williams. As I mentioned this week, this development excites the football nerd in me. If offensive coordinator Ben Johnson sees this kind of blocking upside in Mitchell, he is going to be just fine in this offense, especially as he becomes more comfortable in the role.

On the third offensive series for the Lions, they began to really impose their will on Jacksonville, and Mitchell was playing his part. Watch him help out left tackle Taylor Decker with a chip block, before getting to the second level and walling off linebacker Chad Muma from the play.

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB

22 (39%)
PFF defensive grade: 69.3

On the Jaguars’ second offensive series, after a fake handoff to Etienne, Lawrence rolls towards his right, hoping to connect with one of his receivers breaking towards the sideline. One of those receivers was tight end Chris Manhertz, who was lined up on the outside hip of left tackle Cam Robinson. Once the ball is snapped, he immediately sprints down the line of scrimmage and into the flat. The only problem is, the “Detroit cowboy” wasn’t fooled by any of it. Rodriguez quickly attaches himself to Manhertz, while also keeping his outside shoulder free, in case Lawrence were to run. Excellent rep by Rodriguez and the rest of the defense against a concept that gave them fits several weeks ago.

Rodriguez finished with three tackles against the Jaguars.

Chase Lucas, DB

1 (2%) — 14 (54%)
PFF defensive grade: 64.7

Lucas was active against the Jaguars but was limited to special teams, other than the snap he received once both teams had taken their starters out of the game.

James Houston, LB

12 (21%) — 16 (62%)
PFF defensive grade: 86.3

If basketball labels applied to football, you could call Houston “a bucket” because all that man does is come in, and make an impact. Here he is lined up outside of Robinson before his sack that would effectively end Jacksonville’s quest for points before the half. Lawrence again takes the snap out of the shotgun, and after a couple of choppy steps, Houston hits a skip—not unlike you would see performed in an old And1 basketball mixtape (shoutout Rafer Alston, aka “Skip to my lou”). After the skip, Houston swats his left hand at Robinson’s punch, while simultaneously demonstrating elite bend around the edge. Just an incredible rush from the rookie out of Jackson State.

Make no mistake about it, Houston is going to live up to his nickname coming out of college. He is, in fact, a problem.

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