The 2022 season didn’t end in a postseason berth for the Detroit Lions, but in a rare occurrence—it did end on an extremely positive note. Prior to their regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers on “Sunday Night Football,” the Lions found out they had been eliminated from playoff contention, after the Los Angeles Rams failed to beat the Seattle Seahawks on the road.
However, true to coach Dan Campbell’s word, that didn’t do anything to dent the Lions’ motivation. Despite being a really young team that doesn’t have a ton of experience in big games, Detroit came out and played as if they had been in this kind of situation before, ending their season in the victory formation with a 20-16 win in Green Bay. And similarly to how things have gone all year for the Lions, it was their young core that came up big in Week 18.
In the final installment of this year’s series, let’s take a closer look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in their Week 18 win over the Packers.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
49 snaps (82% of total defensive snaps) — 5 special teams snaps (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 77.4
To put it simply, Hutchinson was the most impactful defender on this roster all season. He consistently played around 80% of the defensive snaps and lined up all over the line. Against Green Bay he put in a nice day of work—finishing with four total tackles, two sacks, and two quarterback hits.
Right tackle Yosh Nijman had problems with Hutchinson for most of the game, with this being the first sign that this might be a bit of a mismatch. Hutchinson drives Nijman back into the pocket, and when Rodgers drifts backwards because of pressure from both John Cominsky and James Houston, it opens him up to trouble off of the edge. Right guard Jon Runyan tries to help Nijman with a chip, but only accelerates Hutchinson’s path to the quarterback. My only knock here is that Hutchinson didn’t get that ball out when Rodgers was holding it like a loaf of whole wheat bread from Meijer.
On the Lions’ next defensive possession, Hutchinson got home a second time, and again, it was at the expensive of Nijman. Because Hutchinson had already whipped Nijman a few times utilizing power, the tackle out of Virginia Tech was caught leaning forward. Once Nijman’s head goes down, it was all over but the crying. Hutchinson quickly rips through the block, bringing down Rodgers for his second sack of the game.
Like with most players, Hutchinson seemed to get more comfortable throughout his rookie season. His second sack against Green Bay is a perfect example of his growth and maturation as a pass rusher. Almost like a pitcher setting up a breaking ball or off-speed pitch with fastballs, Hutchinson got better later in the season at setting up moves like this one.
Jameson Williams, WR
PFF offensive grade: 78.0
Like offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, most of us were champing at the bit to get rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams incorporated into an already potent offense. With that said, it isn't that easy to get on the same page as someone once a team is already waist-deep into their season. Practice reps have to be allocated in a manner that suits that week's gameplan, and that is exactly what is needed for a quarterback and receiver to get on the same page—repetitions.
The Lions have speed in their receiving corps, but Williams’ speed is a completely different animal. Take his touchdown that didn't count as an example. He is almost stumbling as he turns up field, and yet he is still running away from Green Bay defenders like they have weights in their cleats.
Later in that same drive as the touchdown that would be called back due to a holding call on offensive tackle Matt Nelson, the Lions seemingly drew up another shot play for Williams. Goff ends up throwing this one into the dirt in order to live another down, but you can see with more chemistry and trust—maybe he uncorks a shot to Williams in the back corner of the endzone.
Goff maybeeee could have cut this one loose to Jamo, but i get why he decided to kill it— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) January 18, 2023
these are the kind of shots that will hit next year. once Goff and Jamo are more in sync pic.twitter.com/DfpVy2mRKE
Later in the game, Williams runs a comeback route that gets him open near the sideline, but ends up dropping the pass from Goff. Look for Williams to join in on some of the players-only throwing sessions Goff holds in the summer. That should help the pair get on the same page so that they are firing on all cylinders by next Fall.
Josh Paschal, DL
PFF defensive grade: 43.1
Paschal did not record a statistic in his 16 snaps against the Packers. After going through the draft process and then dealing with a sports hernia that required corrective surgery, a full offseason focused on becoming a better defensive linemen should aid Paschal in his year-two development.
Kerby Joseph, S
60 (100%) — 9 (36%)
PFF defensive grade: 78.1
What a way to end a great rookie season for Joseph. He made plays all over the secondary against Green Bay, starting with this first pass breakup below. So many times this year, I have been blown away by Joseph's ability to close distances in the blink of an eye. Because wide receiver Christian Watson is also running a go route down the seam against linebacker Derrick Barnes, Joseph is put in a tough position. But as he gets into his backpedal, he keeps his eyes fixed on the quarterback, and once Rodgers opens his shoulders to throw to Jones, Joseph makes a break for the ball. Great job of getting a hand on the pass and forcing an incompletion, although knowing Joseph, he is likely kicking himself for not coming down with the turnover.
Kerby's almost pick. the man literally teleports from point a to point b like this all of the time. crazy closing speed and range pic.twitter.com/Z1Ds1qQJMN— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) January 18, 2023
Later on in the second half, Joseph intercepts another errant pass from Rodgers, but that would end up being nullified due to a hands-to-the-face penalty on Cominsky. Despite the aforementioned pass breakup and negated interception, Rodgers apparently hadn't had enough of trying Joseph down the field.
On the final defensive series of the game for the Lions, Rodgers is working out of the shotgun in an obvious passing situation for the Packers. Thanks to an effective blitz from linebacker Alex Anzalone, Rodgers forces a throw deep down the sideline towards Watson, with cornerback Amani Oruwariye in coverage. And unlike in previous weeks where defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn opted to go with cover-zero looks in situations such as these, this time he left Joseph as the single-high safety where he essentially is patrolling the backend like a centerfielder in baseball. The throw is slightly underthrown, hangs in the air way too long, and before you know it, Joseph has picked off Rodgers again.
what a wonderful gift from son to father as this ball felt like it was in the air for a full minute before Kerby came down with it pic.twitter.com/KFR0apLbW8— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) January 18, 2023
Joseph would finish with five tackles, one interception, and a pass breakup.
James Mitchell, TE
11 (18%) — 11 (44%)
PFF offensive grade: 55.3
On his lone target of the day, Mitchell did a nice job of finding the soft spot in the zone and making himself an available target for Goff.
It will be interesting to see how Mitchell's role in the offense expands going into year two. Like Paschal, Mitchell should benefit from a full offseason where he can work on his craft, and not spend time preparing for the combine or rehabbing a knee injury.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
18 (30%) — 4 (16%)
PFF defensive grade: 64.4
It was one of his smaller workloads of the season with just 18 defensive snaps, but while he was out there, Rodriguez made a handful of plays, including the one below.
Green Bay tried several of these end around plays, all with limited success. Nice job by Rodriguez of staying square towards the line of scrimmage, not overrunning things, and making the tackle on the ball carrier. Rodriguez finished with four tackles in the Week 18 win over the Packers.
James Houston, LB
30 (50%) — 5 (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 46.3
With a big increase in his workload and responsibilities, it’s only natural that Houston goes through some growing pains as an edge defender. Early on in his rookie year, he was used primarily as a pass-rushing specialist, brought in on obvious passing downs where he could use his athleticism to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Early on against the Packers, you could tell his head was spinning a bit, especially with all of the misdirection and eye-candy that was being thrown at the front seven. Take this play on the first offensive series for Green Bay as an example. Pre-snap, the Packers motion tight end Josiah Deguara towards the left, and once the ball is snapped, the entire offensive line does a good job of selling the play action pitch towards the aforementioned motion. Seeing this, Houston turns his gaze towards Rodgers, thinking he may have lucked into another easy sack. While this is going on, Watson has been running down the line of scrimmage, towards where Rodgers is rolling out. Houston sees Watson, but at that point it is too late, resulting in an easy catch and run for Watson on his way to a first down.
judging by the reaction AG had for Houston on the sideline, he wasn't where he needed to be after the play fake pic.twitter.com/ruz2T1Nx14— Morgan Cannon (@MCannon313) January 18, 2023
Like with any rookie, Houston should get better in these situations with time and experience as an edge defender in the NFL.