I wonder how many times Detroit Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes has had the, “Well, I certainly got that pick right,” moment this season. Through five games of the 2023 season, he and coach Dan Campbell’s Lions sit at 4-1 atop the NFC North division, and many of his draft picks from his first three classes are a big reason why the Lions are off to such a hot start.
For this week’s film study, we will focus on two of Holmes’ first-round selections—third year right tackle Penei Sewell, and second year edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.
Originally the seventh overall pick in the 2021, Sewell earned a Pro Bowl selection in just his second season as a pro, and looks even better thus far in 2023. In 30 pass-protection snaps in Week 5, Sewell did not surrender a single pressure. With the way he is playing, Sewell should have a legitimate shot at All-Pro honors in only his third year.
And with Hutchinson, the former Michigan Wolverine and second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the big plays keep coming. Through five weeks, he has already amassed 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, four batted balls, and one incredibly slick interception. Hutchinson also leads the NFL with 35(!) pressures (per PFF).
Let’s get into the All-22 and see how these two affected the game as the Lions cruised to a 42-24 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers.
13:49 left in first quarter, first-and-10 on the Carolina 39
Throughout the course of the game, Carolina took account of where Hutchinson was pre-snap. They lined up a tight end to the right of the tackle, chipped him with backs—all in the name of keeping him away from Panthers’ rookie quarterback Bryce Young. And despite all of that effort, Carolina’s offense still failed at keeping Hutchinson at bay.
This is the first series for the Panthers, and as I mentioned before, the Panthers have tight end Tommy Tremble lined up next to right tackle Taylor Moton. The Panthers are attempting to run an end around to wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., and Tremble is tasked with sealing Hutchinson so Shenault can turn the corner.
Unfortunately for Carolina, blocking Hutchinson with any tight end not named George Kittle or Marcedes Lewis is not something I would advise. Hutchinson easily beats Tremble’s hands and is on Shenault in a flash, resulting in a tackle for loss.
11:16 left in first quarter, third-and-4 on the Detroit 39
Later on in the same series as the first clip, Hutchinson would make another play for the Lions defense, although this one is much more subtle.
He is again lined up outside of the inline tight end, working out of a three-point stance. As the ball is snapped, Hutchinson explodes and gets right into the chest of Moton. Moton fails to anchor, and Hutchinson ends up walking him back to the point where he almost runs into Young.
Young is forced off of his spot because of Hutchinson’s rush, and thanks to sound rush-discipline from defensive tackle John Cominsky and edge rusher Charles Harris, Young has nowhere to run and is forced to throw the ball away.
7:36 left in first quarter, second-and-7 on the Carolina 31
A little later in the first quarter with the Lions up 7-0 and Young working out of the pistol, Hutchinson is standing up, giving him a better vantage point to see what is going on in the backfield.
Young fakes a handoff left to running back Miles Sanders, and Panthers’ tight end Ian Thomas attempts to chip Hutchinson, before turning and making himself available for Young as a receiver. However, the chip was not nearly enough to move Hutchinson, who had his eyes fixed on Young the entire play. From there, the second-year defender only needed one hand to secure his fourth interception of his career.
A really heady and athletic play from Hutchinson, who is quickly becoming one of the defense’s most reliable playmakers.
5:18 left in second quarter, first-and-10 on the Carolina 11
On the other side of the ball, things were absolutely rolling for the Lions—both on the ground, and through the air. Already up 21-7, the offense was threatening to make the score even more lopsided. On first-and-10 from the Panthers’ 11-yard line, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had his offense in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), with quarterback Jared Goff under center.
LaPorta motions towards the left pre-snap, and Goff fakes a quick-pitch to running back Craig Reynolds, before whipping a pass to wide receiver Kalif Raymond in the slot. Once he catches and turns upfield, Raymond is escorted by both Sewell, and right guard Graham Glasgow, who are out in front of the speedy receiver. The result is a 10-yard gain for Raymond, and a fresh set of downs for the Lions at the Carolina 1-yard line.
Sewell doesn’t necessarily land a bone-crushing block on this play, but the design helps illustrate the nearly-infinite options Sewell and this offensive line give Ben Johnson. Not many right tackles can get out in space and operate the way Sewell does on a down-to-down basis.
32 seconds left in second quarter, third-and-6 on the Detroit 20
Although this play would be wiped out by a defensive holding penalty called on cornerback Jerry Jacobs, this was a filthy rep from Hutchinson on an obvious passing down.
Without having to respect the run in this scenario, pass rushers are able to bring out some of their favorite moves. And for Hutchinson, his spin is quickly becoming one of his go-tos.
As the ball is snapped, he runs directly at the outside shoulder of Moton, allowing the right tackle to believe that Hutchinson may try to win on the outside by bending the corner. Moton gets caught reaching, and before he has time to recover, Hutchinson hits him with a spin that leaves the defensive end with a clear path to Young.
Hutchinson was productive in his rookie year, but you can see how much he has already matured as a pass-rusher on reps like this one. Using early rushes like the one where he walks Moton back into Young helps set up this move.
6:43 left in third quarter, third-and-12 on Carolina 31
The Panthers are facing another third-and-long, and you guessed it—they are once again lining up a tight end to the side of Hutchinson.
Knowing they will need extra time for someone to get open, Carolina uses Tremble as a chipper, briefly knocking Hutchinson off of his path. Once turned around, Hutchinson recalibrates his rush, ensuring that he has containment of Young in the event he decides to try and break the pocket.
Hutchinson sees Young try and step up, and executes an upfield spin that leads him to a sack, forcing a Carolina punt. It was early, but this almost felt like the final blow for the Panthers.
10:36 left in fourth quarter, first-and-10 on Carolina 48
Lastly, we will finish with two plays from Sewell as the Lions attempted to add one last score to put this one firmly out of Carolina’s reach.
In a similar look and formation to the play we highlighted earlier that went to Kalif, the Lions send LaPorta in motion to the left, but instead of throwing the ball to the slot off the fake pitch, Goff pitches the ball to Craig Reynolds.
Reynolds begins left and probably could have picked up some solid yards if he continued to work that way. However, the veteran back had other plans. After taking a few steps, Reynolds notices the red seas part on the backside of the play, thanks to great blocks from center Frank Ragnow and Sewell.
Ragnow completely washes 99 of Carolina down the line, and Sewell seals off defensive tackle Derrick Brown—giving Reynolds an alley big enough to drive a Ford Focus through. Also, shoutout to wide receiver Jameson Williams’ willingness to block downfield.
On the very next snap, the Lions go back to Reynolds, this time running outside zone to the wide side of the field. With everyone reach blocking, Sewell gets a chip in on the edge defender being blocked by rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, before climbing and getting a block on linebacker Frankie Luvu. LaPorta gets the pancake, but Sewell was certainly the sous chef.
So many of these 7-10 yard chunks Lions running backs pick up on the ground are the result of excellent execution by the offensive line and tight ends. Having an efficient ground game is the result of all 11 players doing their job at a high level, and I don’t know about you—but it’s a beautiful thing to witness.