It’s the bye week for the Detroit Lions and after the first half of the season has concluded, the team sits at 6-2 and in first place of the NFC North. Heading into the season, this team was hyped up to be a tough team to play against, and the Lions have lived up to that billing. It hasn’t been easy though, as the team's losses have been a heartbreaker in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks, and a massive beatdown to the Baltimore Ravens.
The good news is they have some big-time wins against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers to give them a boost in the NFC as they are in second place, just behind the Philadelphia Eagles. There have been more positives than negatives for the Lions this season, unlike the past two years under head coach Dan Campbell where the team had a poor record at the midway point.
Before the Lions travel on the road to take on the Los Angeles Chargers, check out who my winners and losers are for the Detroit Lions at the midseason point.
No player has had a better start to the 2023 season than quarterback Jared Goff. Heading into this year, it was a big question of whether Goff would be worth a contract extension, as the first two seasons in Detroit have started poorly but ended up well. Could Goff have a full season of success instead of a strong back half? So far, Goff has thrown for 2,174 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, along with eight carries for 18 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into Week 9, Goff is fourth in the NFL in passing yards, tied for ninth in passing touchdowns, and is fourth in the NFL at quarterback with an 88.3 grade by PFF. Goff has made some impressive throws, and despite throwing some questionable interceptions, he has proven he’s worth a contract extension. If he can continue to play at this rate, Goff will be able to get the Lions a playoff victory this season and aim for more.
Last season, the Lions had their former running back Jamaal Williams break a franchise record set by Barry Sanders with 17 rushing touchdowns in a season. After the 2022 season ended, fans were clamoring for Detroit to re-sign Williams, but, instead, Williams signed with the New Orleans Saints and the Lions signed David Montgomery. Boy does that move look like an upgrade for the Lions.
While Montgomery has been dealing with injuries this season, he has been a focal point of the offense. So far this year, Montgomery has 385 rushing yards and six touchdowns, along with six catches for 66 yards. Montgomery has always been a respected running back by other teams, but he never had the offensive line he has now. With that kind of line blocking for him, he has become an even bigger star on this team.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Different year, same Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown has had another solid season for the team as he remains the team's No. 1 wide receiver. He has 57 catches for 665 yards and three touchdowns. St. Brown did miss a game due to an injury, but in five of the seven games he has played, he has over 100 yards.
AMON RA ST BROWN FOR THE TOUCHDOWN Lions lead the Packers 7-0 pic.twitter.com/aglfLqAOuQ— Last Take™ (@TheRealLastTake) September 29, 2023
While other receivers have stepped up and played well this season, St. Brown continues to be Goff’s safety net and primary option. He is becoming a top-five wide receiver in the league as heading into Week 9, he is sixth in the NFL in receiving yards, with a 83.6 PFF grade (11th).
St. Brown had 1,161 yards last season and is on pace to outdo that and end the year with over 1,200 yards. Even with the offense getting new weapons on the ground and in the passing game, St. Brown continues to be the main weapon through the air for the Lions offense.
During training camp, rookie tight end Sam LaPorta was getting noticed and I even thought he would be the best tight end Goff has ever played with in his career. So far that is happening, as LaPorta didn’t just put Detroit on notice, but the NFL as well. Heading into Week 9, LaPorta is tied for fourth place in the NFL in tight end receiving yards with 434 and four touchdowns.
Jared Goff passed to Sam LaPorta down the middle for 18 yard touchdown pic.twitter.com/tyCg22GrQ8— Sports US today (@Sportsustoday) October 31, 2023
When Glasgow came back to Detroit in the offseason, it was expected that he would compete with Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the starting right guard spot. Glasgow would lose that battle in training camp, but it wasn’t due to poor effort. Glasgow had to practice at center often to give starting center Frank Ragnow a rest. Despite losing the starting job, Glasgow has played in every game this year and started in six of them due to injuries.
Glasgow hasn’t just filled in, he has excelled and has an argument to remain as the starting right guard after the bye week. According to PFF, Glasgow is ranked fifth among guards with a 77.1 grade. Glasgow has had a great season so far and if he can keep it up, it may be hard to force him back to the sidelines upon Vaitai’s return.
In his best year yet, defensive tackle Alim McNeill is showing that the hard work he put in the offseason to lose weight has paid off. In the past, we’ve seen flashes of elite play, but this season has been his most consistent. McNeill has 16 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble.
According to PFF, McNeill is ranked eighth for defensive tackles with a grade of 84.6. Detroit already has defensive end Aidan Hutchinson as their main pass rusher. But he has always needed some help get pressure, and McNeil has done just that. If he can continue to be the threat he is on the interior, the Lions defensive line can be a bigger threat to opposing teams.
When the Lions re-signed linebacker Alex Anzalone in the offseason, many people were confused and wondering why the team would bring Anzalone back, especially at the price of $18.75 million over three years. Anzalone had a nice 2022 season, but the team could have used an upgrade at the position. Shortly after the re-signing the Lions did draft Jack Campbell in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, questioning the Anzalone move even more.
Once the play on the field started to take shape, it was clear why the team brought Anzalone back. So far this season, Anzalone has a team-high 57 tackles, four pass deflections, and three sacks. He has done well in pass coverage and blitzing the quarterback, showing his versatility at the position. If Anzalone can keep up this pace he has so far this year, he could have his best season yet.
After tearing his Achilles last season, safety Tracy Walker said he would be ready by training camp and he was. The biggest question would be if he would be the same person he was the year before. Despite losing his starting job to safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson in training camp, Walker would get the starting job back unfortunately due to Gardner-Johnson suffering a torn pectoral in Week 2.
Since he has gotten his job back, Walker has played well, tallying 35 tackles, two pass deflections, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. Walker doesn’t seem like he has missed a step as players usually do when returning from an Achilles injury. If Gardner-Johnson returns this season, which likely won’t happen until late December or early January, Walker’s role might get changed or reduced. Or perhaps nothing changes at all, but either way, he’s already proven a lot.
The Lions needed to make some upgrades in the secondary in the offseason and they did, signing Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley. But Moseley missed the first four games of the season and upon his return he tore his ACL. It has been on Jacobs to step up, and that’s exactly what he has done.
Jerry Jacobs comes down with the interception off the tip pic.twitter.com/maOF1PvhKO— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) September 29, 2023
Jacobs leads the teams in interceptions with three, and also has 33 tackles, five pass deflections, and a tackle for loss. If Jacobs continues his strong season, the team might consider him as the lockdown number two corner and look to add depth behind him.
In training camp, no player stood out on either side of the football more than defensive back Brian Branch. He exploded in the NFL with a pick-six in the first game of the season against the Chiefs and turned into a starting slot cornerback for the team. While Branch has dealt with some injuries this season, he has still been a great addition to the team.
Coming in at No. 1 in our top 10 plays from the first half of the season is Brian Branch's pick-six at Kansas City! pic.twitter.com/RcyQcO7Lfo— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 4, 2023
Branch just doesn’t excel in one part of his game, he is versatile chess piece. He has 33 tackles, four tackles for loss, four pass deflections, and an interception ,and according to PFF, he is the 11th-ranked cornerback in the NFL. Talk about a steal for GM Brad Holmes as he got Branch in the second round of the draft back in April 2023.
Despite returning from a back injury that kept him out all season long last year, Vaitai still hasn’t been what the team has been looking for at right guard. Vaitai has played well when he has been healthy. But the reason why he’s in the loser section is his health is once again an issue. Vaitai missed four starts with a knee issue, and then missed another one when a back injury popped up.
If Vaitai is healthy, he can be a useful player to this team, but with Glasgow playing well in his spot, Vaitai might need to turn into a backup and step in if Glasgow goes down instead of vice versa.
After missing the first four games due to the NFL’s gambling policy, wide receiver Jameson Williams hasn’t been the star wide receiver everyone thinks he should be. Williams has had drop issues this season and has only shown flashes of what he can do. He needs to be more consistent and practice with St. Brown after practice at the jug machine to figure out the drops issue.
Jared Goff Jameson Williams— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 15, 2023
: FOX pic.twitter.com/ZfjO5zYKHf
Williams so far has six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown this season. To be fair to Williams, he has only now played in 10 games out of the past 27 weeks in the NFL, essentially missing an entire season. Williams is still in year two of his career and still has nine games this year to rebound and figure things out. I am not worried yet about Williams, but you can’t say he has been a winner so far this season.
Despite being a team captain, defensive end Charles Harris hasn’t lived up to the expectations heading into the season. Harris was penciled in as the starter alongside Hutchinson, but so far he has only started in three games, with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
With Harris’ contact voiding at the end of the season, we may be seeing the end of his career in Detroit after such a promising start.
Will Harris has struggled this season in the times he has been needed to contribute. He can play both safety and cornerback, but when filling in for Branch earlier this year at nickel, Harris was getting exposed. According to PFF, Harris is ranked 103rd in the NFL with a 47 rating. So far this season, Will Harris has 17 tackles, two pass deflections, one tackle for loss, one interception, and a fumble recovery.
Will Harris was brought back on a one-year contract and if he can’t get his act together in the back half of the schedule, he is looking to be on a new team in 2024.
Out of all of the players on this list, this one isn’t due to performance on the field (technically), or health. Rodriguez has just been a victim of a crowded linebacker room. After an impressive rookie year, linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has only started in one game this season and has seven tackles and a forced fumble. The reason why Rodriguez hasn’t played as much is the resurgence of linebacker Derrick Barnes and Campbell doing well as a rookie.
Rodriguez has moved down the depth chart, but he is still used on special teams and can be useful there—where he has played in every game so far this season. While I don’t see Rodriguez getting his starting job back, he can still be a useful player on special teams and use this season as a learning lesson to see how he can see the field more on defense next season.
... or maybe he’ll become the team’s fullback.
While every team deals with injuries, it seems like the Lions have the worst luck when it comes to them. Heading into Week 9, the Lions have nine players on injured reserve, five of them being starters. That doesn’t even count the number of players who have missed time not on IR. For example, Jonah Jackson and David Montgomery have each missed three games, Jahmyr Gibbs, Brian Branch, and Taylor Decker missed two.
The two biggest players on IR right now are Gardner-Johnson and linebacker James Houston IV, and both could return late this season. If the team had both of these players with them right now instead of on the sidelines, the defense would be different. Every team would be different if they had their roster at full strength, but for the Lions, it’s something you have to acknowledge and wonder what they can do to limit these injuries in the future.