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Lions vs. Broncos snap counts: Detroit makes defensive changes at every level

Looking at the notable snap counts from the Detroit Lions game against the Denver Broncos in Week 15.

Denver Broncos v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions continue to tweak their defense, and this week against the Denver Broncos, they found an approach that worked. The Lions scaled back their bigger bodies in favor of more athletic bigs, and it resulted in 22 pressures, two sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and just 17 points allowed—their lowest total since they played the Raiders on “Monday Night Football” in Week 8.

Here’s a closer look at the Lions’ personnel decisions that led to them moving to 10-4 on the season.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 66 (100%)
Teddy Bridgewater: N/A

It took Goff a full quarter of football to find his grove, but once he got into it, he was fantastic. Goff kept his foot on the gas pedal through the final whistle and it paid off in the form of five touchdown passes.

Running backs

David Montgomery: 34 (52%)
Jahmyr Gibbs: 32 (48%)
Craig Reynolds: 0 (0%) — 17 special teams snaps (59%)

The Lions had an almost dead-even split of touches between their backs this week, which appears to be the goal each week with their backfield. We have seen the Lions lean on Montgomery in the past, and Gibbs saw more touches last week, but this scenario is the most ideal and the results speak for themselves:

  • Montgomery: 17 carries, 85 yards, 2 receptions, -3 yards
  • Gibbs: 11 carries, 100 yards, 2 receptions, 8 yards, 2 touchdowns

Tight ends

Sam LaPorta: 63 (95%) — 6 (21%)
Brock Wright: 12 (18%) — 8 (28%)
James Mitchell: 6 (9%) — 16 (55%)

LaPorta saw an uptick in opportunities—which came due to Wright suffering a groin injury in the first half—and he made the most of the extra playing time. The rookie caught another three touchdowns and continues to climb up the Lions record books.

Wide receivers

Amon-Ra St. Brown: 61 (92%) — 2 (7%)
Jameson Williams: 45 (68%)
Josh Reynolds: 38 (58%)
Kalif Raymond: 20 (30%) — 7 (24%)
Donovan Peoples-Jones: 11 (17%) — 3 (10%)
Antoine Green: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)

For the second week in a row, Williams has outsnapped Reynolds and it’s fair to start wondering if he has elevated himself into the WR2 role. Now, Reynolds is dealing with a back injury, but he was only targeted three times in the game, while Jameson was targeted seven times, including three designed deep shots early in the game.

Offensive line

Taylor Decker: 66 (100%)
Jonah Jackson: 66 (100%)
Frank Ragnow: 66 (100%)
Graham Glasgow: 66 (100%) — 6 (21%)
Penei Sewell: 66 (100%) — 6 (21%)
Dan Skipper: 8 (12%) — 6 (21%)
Kayode Awosika: 0 (0%) — 6 (21%)
Colby Sorsdal: 0 (0%) — 6 (21%)

The Lions offensive line was finally back together and boy are they fun to watch. As a group, they only allowed one sack and eight pressures on 35 drop backs, while also paving the way for 185 rushing yards.

Skipper continues to see the field as a sixth offensive lineman and they’re now starting to have him running routes. At 6-foot-10, he presents a fun target for Goff.

Defense

EDGE:

Aidan Hutchinson: 59 (92%) — 1 (3%)
John Cominsky: 46 (72%) — 3 (10%)
Josh Paschal: 43 (67%) — 4 (14%)
Romeo Okwara: 18 (28%) — 7 (24%)
Bruce Irvin: 13 (20%) — 7 (24%)
Julian Okwara: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)
Charles Harris: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)

Hutchinson continues to see over 90% of defensive snaps, while Cominsky and Paschal are also seeing high snap amounts due to their ability to rush inside. With defensive tackle Alim McNeill on injured reserve, the Lions have tried to manufacture his results with their bigger edge players.

With Irvin being promoted from the practice squad, both Harris and Julian were healthy scratches, again.

DT:

Benito Jones: 30 (47%) — 9 (31%)
Isaiah Buggs: 23 (36%)
Levi Onwuzurike: 14 (22%) — 1 (3%)
Brodric Martin: 11 (17%)

The defensive tackle usage dipped in this game as the Lions leaned on their more athletic edge players to bring more interior juice. This strategy was successful enough that it will likely continue until McNeill is able to return, potentially in Week 18.

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone: 64 (100%) — 1 (3%)
Derrick Barnes: 35 (55%) — 7 (24%)
Jack Campbell: 33 (52%) — 14 (48%)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 10 (16%) — 22 (76%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 5 (8%) — 22 (76%)
Anthony Pittman: 4 (6%) — 20 (69%)
Trevor Nowaske: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)

The Lions leaned on their SAM linebacker role in this game in order to create added pressure. Sometimes that was Irvin, but we also saw a fair amount of Barnes at that spot. Pittman briefly took over when Barnes was dealing with an injury, but Barnes would later return. This fits the Lions' theme of getting their big athletes on the field as often as possible.

Cornerbacks

Cam Sutton: 62 (97%) — 2 (7%)
Brian Branch: 46 (72%) — 5 (17%)
Khalil Dorsey: 44 (69%) — 8 (28%)
Kindle Vildor: 18 (28%) — 5 (17%)
Will Harris: 2 (3%) — 22 (76%)
Jerry Jacobs: 0 (0%) — 13 (45%)
Chase Lucas: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)
Steven Gilmore: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)

The Lions appear to be looking for their new CB2, as Jacobs was sent to the bench, Dorsey was promoted to a starting role, and Vildor continues to supplement snaps in a starting role as well.

After seeing only half the defensive snaps last week, Branch saw an uptick in his opportunities and he continues to be an impact player on the field. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said he is trying to get Branch to focus solely on playing nickel and less on safety and that has resulted in the reduction in snaps. But the rookie is a stud playmaker, and if the Lions only want to use him in subpackages, it’s fair to wonder if they should stay in their subpackages at all times. Branch is that good.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 62 (97%) — 8 (28%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 62 (97%) — 7 (24%)
Tracy Walker: 0 (0%) — 15 (52%)

Melifonwu got his second start at safety over Walker and the third-year defensive back is rapidly developing in front of our eyes. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and with 4.4 speed, Melifonwu brings a different element to the position, especially as a blitzer—he had a 92.5 pass-rushing grade from PFF this week, generated three pressures, converted one sack and forced a fumble.

Special teams

Jack Fox: 17 (59%)
Jake McQuaide: 10 (34%)
Michael Badgley: 6 (21%)
Riley Patterson: INACTIVE (healthy scratch)

Patterson’s missed extra point against Chicago opened the door for Badgley to be elevated from the practice squad for this game and he successfully converted all six of his extra point attempts. Kicker controversy?

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