The Detroit Lions were on primetime television for NBC’s final regular season installment of “Sunday Night Football” this year in front of over 23 million viewers, the most-watched season finale in six years, and pulled out a 20-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. While Detroit came up just short in their bid for the playoffs, the Lions' victory eliminated the Packers, the prophetic team of destiny who controlled their own destiny until they no longer did.
For the first time in a really, really long time, a Lions season has ended and left everyone waiting for an encore. The first inclination after the clock struck zeroes on Sunday night wasn’t to fire up the mock draft machine or peruse the list of potential free agents because the offseason could wait—it was a hankering for more football. More football from Dan Campbell’s football team, who finds its motivation in being that freight train mistaken for the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
As we do every week for this Detroit Lions team, we have some data courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and now, what to look forward to next season. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 18.
Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics are an invaluable data point for football fans to better understand the game. Consider subscribing to PFF to have full access to a plethora of stats and grades to keep you informed about the NFL—and college football, too.
One of the biggest “what if?” scenarios of this season for the Lions is the health of D’Andre Swift. Had Swift avoided multiple injuries that limited him for nearly the entire season, the dynamic running back would have helped Detroit avoid the lull in running back production they experienced in the middle of the season—so just imagine how lethal this offense would have been had that been the case.
Is this a bubble screen hook-and-ladder??? pic.twitter.com/jwoFXbnaFe— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) January 9, 2023
Against the Packers, Swift stacked a second solid performance in a row, racking up 86 yards from scrimmage on just 13 touches, but the premium statistics from Pro Football Focus help us see how Swift’s performance was actually better than his box score indicates. Swift’s average depth of target was -2.4 yards, and although the box score will tell you the yards Swift gained from the line of scrimmage, it doesn’t tell you he actually had 78 yards after the catch when you take into account his depth of target. Swift’s 78 yards after catch were the most by any running back in Week 18, and more proof you can point to that Swift is one of the most electric players in the NFL when he’s healthy—just get the ball in his hands and watch him work.
The unsung hero from this season was Kalif Raymond, one of the players many people questioned why Detroit was re-signing a player from a team that lost 13 games the year prior. Raymond not only showed how valuable he was in special teams as one of the league’s best punt returners, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better WR4 on a roster in the NFL.
Raymond was arguably the team’s most steady, consistent, and efficient deep threat this season, and his 4.13 yards per route run was the high mark for all pass-catchers on “Sunday Night Football.” In 2022, Raymond’s 1.91 yards per route run ranked 23rd in the NFL among wide receivers with at least 62 targets, a better number than players like Mike Evans, D.K. Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel. If there’s an area that needs little to no attention this offseason, it’s the wide receiver room, and Raymond is part of the reason why.
5, 22.7, 1.4
Speaking of unsung heroes, Isaiah Buggs was an absolute revelation for the Lions this season, and it’s hard to imagine this defensive line playing as big as it did this year without Buggs. As a pass rusher, Buggs showed an ability to pressure the quarterback on more than a few occasions this season, but against Green Bay, Buggs had his best game of the season as a run defender.
Buggs recorded a game-high five defensive stops against the Packers, posted a 22.1 defensive stop percentage—second among all interior defensive linemen in Week 18—and had a 1.4 yard average depth of tackle. As one of many unrestricted free agents, the Lions will no doubt have to make tough decisions, but it’s easy to make a case as to why Buggs, who emerged as a leader on the defense, belongs back in Honolulu blue next year.
When the Lions made Aidan Hutchinson the second overall pick in the draft, even the most ardent supporters of the selection couldn’t be certain he was of the same ilk as the Bosa brothers who came before as highly touted selections at the top of the draft. Hutchinson was a different prospect, a bit stiffer, with a sturdiness to his game—and a need to develop and refine his pass rush plan.
All Hutchinson did was go out and record 9.5 sacks his rookie season, right on pace with the Bosa brothers—Joey had 10.5, Nick had 9.0—and more than either Watt brother in their respective debuts. His 2.0 sacks against the Packers in Week 18 propelled the Lions' rookie defenders to the most sacks by a group of rookies in league history (20.5), and considering how many snaps Hutchinson played this year—only Maxx Crosby played more downs among edge defenders—it’s impressive how Hutchinson’s motor lived up to the hype and ran all year long. Hutchinson had a 24.0 percent pass rush win rate in Week 18, fifth among edge defenders with at least 26 pass rush snaps.