In the Detroit Lions’ preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the starters on offense ended up playing just one series after both team's offenses drained nearly the entire first-quarter clock on their opening drives. On defense, a handful of starters saw just a couple series worth of plays before they were replaced by the reserves.
Detroit’s offensive line looks the part
After not playing a single snap together during the 2021 regular season, Detroit’s offensive line finally made it on the field—and the early returns are very encouraging.
The Lions' offensive line consistently generated push upfront on Friday night, helping both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams run for a combined 32 yards on six carries and a touchdown. Beyond their physicality in the run game, the offensive line looked to be in sync when it came to pass protection, providing Jared Goff with an ample amount of time to operate in the pocket.
Goff wasn’t originally part of Detroit’s game plan on Friday night. When he learned the rest of the first-team offense would be out there, he advocated for himself to be out there with his teammates, and that earned the respect and admiration of Lions left tackle Taylor Decker.
“I love that,” said Decker. “You want your quarterback to go out there, he’s like, ‘If my guys are out there, I’m going to go out there and compete and we’re going to go right down the field and score.’ And that’s what we did.”
Capping off their only drive of the game by clearing the way for Swift to scamper for a 9-yard touchdown felt like an appropriate piece of punctuation for this offensive line. After seeing this group play together for just ten plays, Lions fans should be excited about what this group is capable of when they’re playing late into games.
Jared Goff looks comfortable
Rewind the clocks to last year and you’d find a Lions team struggling to figure it out on offense. Goff was new in town, as were his starting receivers, and it seemed like there just wasn’t enough time in the NFL offseason to get their feet underneath them. As things turned out, it would take over half the season for the offense to find its footing, and that left many people skeptical. Could this second-half version of Goff, the one who found comfortability in a familiar Josh Reynolds and lightning in a bottle with Amon-Ra St. Brown, be the franchise quarterback in Detroit?
Fast forward to Friday night and Goff looked to be comfortable and in control of the offense. On his first throw of the night, Goff took the ball from shotgun and quickly found Brock Wright sitting wide open in the middle of the field for an 18-yard gain. Something I appreciated from new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was how on the very next play, first-and-10 from Detroit’s own 40, the Lions played it aggressively. Goff, from under center, went play-action and set up to take a shot deep down the field. He went through his progressions, ultimately choosing to check it down to Jamaal Williams who dropped the pass for Goff’s only incomplete pass of the night. Many have been critical of Goff and this Lions offense when it comes to check downs and not taking shots downfield, but this play felt like progress, even when there was none registered in the box score.
Goff finished his night through the air by picking up right where he left off last season, connecting twice with Amon-Ra St. Brown. His first throw was for 9 yards and a first down, and then the next went for 20 yards on a crafty play where Detroit feigned a tight end slip screen to the flat, only for Goff to adjust and make a nifty throw to a wide open St. Brown.
Detroit got it right with Hutchinson
In his only series of play, Hutchinson made impact plays on numerous occasions and really made his presence felt in a variety of ways. A calling card for Hutchinson coming out of Michigan was his ability as a run defender, and it didn’t take long for Hutchinson to put that on display. After making veteran left tackle Jake Matthews whiff, Hutchinson wrapped up Falcons running back Qadree Ollison for a 2-yard loss that set up a third-and-5 and gave the Lions a chance to get off the field.
As shown in Brian Baldinger’s breakdown, the Lions moved Hutchinson around, specifically kicking him inside to a three-technique in obvious passing downs—something they’ve been practicing in training camp and something we suspected they’d do considering all the different kinds of edge talent in Detroit.
From the holding penalty he drew on Chris Lindstrom to the play he blew up near the goal line that allowed safety Tracy Walker to make a tackle for no gain, Hutchinson looked every bit the part of what the Lions coveted back in April for them to be more competitive this fall.
Detroit’s youth experiment at linebacker
With Alex Anzalone getting the night off, Detroit started two of their young linebackers on Friday night, giving the nod to both second-year player Derrick Barnes and sixth-round rookie Malcolm Rodriguez. It would be unfair rushing to judgment after just a little over a quarter of play, but what’s clear is both Barnes and Rodriguez need more reps and more experience—and the same goes for players like Shaun Dion Hamilton and Anthony Pittman.
Non-ideal linebacker play. pic.twitter.com/0yXJX2gnoi— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) August 13, 2022
Barnes did have a nice tackle for loss on the Falcons' second drive, and Rodriguez made a huge hit on Atlanta’s first kick return, so it wasn’t all bad for the youth at Detroit’s second level, but it’s clear they’re going to need some seasoning before they can be relied on to consistently make plays, especially in the run game. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the team’s starters, Anzalone, got the night off, so there really only seems to be one starting linebacker position up for grabs.
That’s Austin’s music!
It seems as though Austin Seibert has the lead when it comes to the kicking battle in Detroit considering he was in to kick the team’s first extra point and first field goal from 46 yards out—which he put through. Riley Patterson was perfect as well, connecting on two short field goals from within thirty yards and his only extra point, so we’ll see if one of these guys makes a definitive push to be the team’s starter in the coming weeks.