The Detroit Lions didn’t get the result they wanted in Week 1, and there were plenty of reasons for it. Many units let the team down—some surprising, others not so much.
And while the Philadelphia Eagles certainly looked like the better team for the majority of the day, there are some units that stood up to the challenge praised by both Philly and the Lions coaching staff.
Let’s take a look at the Lions’ unit-by-unit performance with their first report card of the 2022 regular season.
Jared Goff certainly didn’t look like the quarterback we had seen in the previous month at training camp. While the Eagles secondary deserves credit for making Goff’s job tough, for the first half of the game, the Lions quarterback was inaccurate and a bit indecisive. Worst of all, he had a back-breaking pick-six toward the end of the first half. On the play, Goff had immediate pressure in his face, but he wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.
“The rush wouldn’t have mattered there,” Goff said. “It was just a poor decision by me and a little miscommunication there.”
It’s worth noting that Goff deserves credit for bringing the Lions to the brink of a comeback. Many will brush off his performance as garbage time stats, but it’s not exactly easy to perform when the defense knows you suddenly have to throw the ball a ton more. And Goff deserves credit for finishing those drives with touchdowns.
Here’s a look at Goff’s ridiculous first/second half splits:
First half: 7-of-15 for 53 yards (3.5 Y/A), 0 TDs, 1 INT, 27.9 passer rating
Second half: 14-of-22 for 162 yards (7.4 Y/A), 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 116.1 passer rating
Running backs: A
D’Andre Swift was phenomenal in every way. Whatever running backs coach Duce Staley said to him this offseason, it got through to him. He was decisive with his reads, and he was consistently making at least the first man miss. His career-high 144 yards only tell part of the story, considering he only had 15 carries. If this team can ever play with a lead, man, he could be among the league leaders. Heck, among early games, Swift finished second in rushing yards—only behind Pro Bowler Jonathan Taylor, who needed 31 carries to get to 161 yards.
Beyond Swift, Jamaal Williams was the perfect touchdown vulture, and his first touchdown showed great balance, bouncing off the initial contact, and finding the end zone.
Tight ends: B
It took a minute for Goff and T.J. Hockenson to find a groove, but in the second half, the Lions tight end became the team’s chain mover. Hockenson pulled in 38 yards on four catches, three of which went for first downs. He also drew a pass interference penalty but also was called for a holding. Perhaps most promising is that Hockenson had 23 yards after the catch.
I’ll have to jump deeper in the film to be sure, but Brock Wright looked mostly good as a blocker, even taking over the role of fullback at times.
Wide receivers: C-
This may have been one of the most disappointing units on the team. While DJ Chark had an excellent touchdown grab and Amon-Ra St. Brown kept both his eight-reception and touchdown streaks alive, each of the three starting receivers had at least one drop—sometimes in critical moments.
Take, for example, Josh Reynolds. The Lions offense was absolutely on fire in the second half. Going back to the end of the first half, the Lions managed to score a touchdown on four of five drives to finish the game. The only drive they didn’t score on was one in which Goff took a deep shot to Reynolds, who had beaten his man and had no one else near him. It very well could’ve gone for a 58-yard touchdown. Granted, Goff’s pass wasn’t perfect, but Reynolds got both hands on it and should’ve had it.
Again, credit has to go to the Eagles secondary for tight coverage, but this was a unit that came in with high expectations and they failed to live up to them.
Offensive line: A-
Here’s Dan Campbell:
“Those guys up front did a good job. I mean I thought the O-Line played well, they banked a lot of reps. I though they did a good job.”
And D’Andre Swift:
“Execution upfront was phenomenal.”
Against one of the better, deeper defensive lines, the Lions offensive line paved the way for 181 rushing yards (6.5 YPC) and just one sack (a fluky one where Goff bobbled the snap and disrupted the timing fo the play).
It was far from a perfect day for the unit. Logan Stenberg, in particular, struggled with back-to-back false start penalties, and he allowed the aforementioned pressure that forced Goff into the interception. Detroit also allowed six quarterback hits. But given Goff dropped back 40 times in this game, and they were so successful on the ground, too, I think it’s fair to say the offensive line may have been the biggest reason this team was still in the game late.
Defensive line: D
It was a tough give and take for the Lions’ defensive line. They were pretty disruptive for most of the day—making Jalen Hurts leave the pocket early and often—but they rarely finished the play. They fell victim to over-pursuing, not staying disciplined in their rush lanes, and missing tackles. Hurts is a tough guy to track and bring down, but this is the way the NFL is trending.
The defensive line also got their hands on a couple of balls, including a huge pass breakup by Isaiah Buggs on a third-and-goal.
Still, this unit left me wanting a lot more, especially in the run game. Hopefully, they turn out against a more conventional-style rushing attack.
The linebackers are equally culpable for Hurts’ big day on the ground. As the next line of defense, it’s their job to make sure 2-3 yards gains don’t turn into 7+ yard gains, and they failed at that. Whether it was misreading a zone-read option or missing tackles, the linebackers just didn’t seem up to the task when it came to stopping Hurts.
That said, the unit still looked improved overall. Coverage, in particular, looked a lot better, and I thought Alex Anzalone had one of his stronger games as a Lion.
I will say I was disappointed in this unit’s ability to blitz. Several times, the Lions tried to shoot a linebacker or two up the A-gap, and they never seemed to be able to get home.
Hurts completed just 56 percent of his passes, as cornerback Jeff Okudah looked particularly strong in his first game back from his Achilles injury. Amani Oruwariye also pitched in with a key pass breakup early in the game, and the Lions’ best defender may have been Tracy Walker. The defensive captain was aggressive in the run game (11 tackles), was one of the Lions’ few effective blitzers (1 sack), and even broke up a pass. That’s why it hurt even more when he lost his cool and was ejected in the third quarter.
Overall, I still think this unit played well, and certainly above expectations. While A.J. Brown had a day, the other pass catchers in this game (Zach Pascal, DeVonta Smith, Kenneth Gainwell) combined for just 19 yards on three catches.
There was the one deep shot to A.J. Brown that led to three points at the end of the half. The coaches put Will Harris in a tough situation there. Fresh off the bench, Harris was 1-on-1 with Brown with no safety help overtop. While Harris was in decent position, it was a perfect pass from Hurts.
Special teams: C
Nothing too important here from special teams. Kalif Raymond wasn’t particularly good as the punt returner, but a holding penalty on rookie Kerby Joseph negated his best of the day. The Lions failed to recover an onside kick, but hard to ding them on such a low percentage play. Jack Fox is still good. Austin Seibert made all of his extra points. Kick coverage was very good, as the Eagles were stopped before the 25-yard line on every kickoff that wasn’t a touchback (or an onside kick).
Dan Campbell made a couple of interesting decisions worth talking about.
First, his time management at the end of the first half needs to be questioned. The Lions had the ball late and were driving deep in Eagles’ territory. The Lions’ focus should have been bleeding as much clock to prevent the Eagles from scoring. Instead, the Lions ran a play before the two-minute warning when they didn’t have to. Detroit could have ran 40 additional seconds off the clock or forced Philly to call a timeout had they run that play after the two-minute warning.
Not soon thereafter, Campbell gave the Eagles even more time to run their two-minute drill. After the Lions got a sack on first down, the Eagles were facing a second-and-14 with 54 seconds left. Instead of making the Eagles hurry to the line—or just give up on the drive, the Lions stopped the clock with their first timeout.
Now let’s play this out as a best case scenario for the Lions. The Eagles run two more plays, the Lions stop the clock with their two remaining timeouts. If all that happens and the Lions get a pretty normal punt return, we’re talking about Detroit having the ball with, at most, 35 seconds, no timeouts, and starting around their own 20-30-yard line. That’s a pretty low-percentage scenario for Detroit. With how well the Eagles offense was playing, giving them an extra stoppage of the clock felt like a way bigger negative than a potential positive.
The more notable and controversial decision from Campbell was the “surprise” onside kick in the second half. I put surprise in quotes because several people called it before it happened. That’s obviously a problem in and of itself, but I’m actually more forgiving of this decision. Here are the five previous drives for the Eagles offense prior to that onside kick:
- 13 plays, 97 yards, TD
- 4 plays, 20 yards, punt
- 8 plays, 66 yards, TD
- 9 plays, 73 yards, FG
- 10 plays, 67 yards, TD
At the time, down just 10 points in the third quarter, the onside kick may have seemed a bit desperate—and it was. But the Lions were desperate. The defense couldn’t get off the field, couldn’t force a turnover, and Detroit needed to steal a possession. An onside kick recovery is an extremely low-percentage play—even if the Lions have seen some recent success there—so it probably wasn’t the most statistically logical of choices, but I get it.
Overall, though, you have to continue to give credit to the coaches and players for hanging in there after being down by three scores several times throughout the game. That fight isn’t as common as you may think, and it’s going to allow the Lions to steal a few games this year.