After seven long months, meaningful football is back on the menu. Following a month of training camp and three preseason games, the offseason ended and the regular season kicked off Thursday night. The Detroit Lions went on the road to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the first game of the 2023 NFL season, showing that the Lions have earned some respect after going 9-8 in 2022 and having a solid offseason.
The Lions' offense going up against the Chiefs' defense was the biggest talking point as the Chiefs were without starting defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones was present at the stadium, but continues to hold out from participating in team activities and playing due to a contract dispute. Detroit was able to move the ball well against the Kansas City defense, gaining 368 yards on the night. The other talking point was Chiefs starting tight end Travis Kelce missing the game due to a knee injury, and how the Chiefs offense would gel without their star player that isn’t quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Check out my winners and losers from the game against the Chiefs.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Coming into the season, quarterback Jared Goff told offensive coordinator Ben Johnson that wide receiver St. Brown would have a big year, and so far he was right about it. St. Brown was the focal point on offense, leading the team in catches with six receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Despite the Chiefs knowing he would be the go-to option, he was still able to get open and be a threat, especially in critical situations.
St. Brown was the best wide receiver on the team this week as he was able to get separation from the cornerbacks and make some huge catches. Fellow wide receiver Josh Reynolds would lead the team in receiving yards with 80, but when it came to wide receiver screens, Johnson and others weren’t able to execute on the simple play call; anybody not named St. Brown seemed to drop the football or fumble after catching it.
After two years of banged-up starting offensive linemen, all five starters finally were able to play together and they did well. The starting right guard job seemed to have been won by Halapoulivaati Vaitai as he battled Graham Glasgow for the job this offseason as Vaitai was returning from a back injury last year. Goff didn’t see much pressure during the game. He was only sacked once and threw from a clean pocket for most of the game. The run game saw some success as the team notched 34 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown, averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
The offensive line didn’t have to deal with Jones, so the interior wasn’t as big of a challenge for them. The Chiefs’ defensive ends were the toughest competitors. Chiefs defensive end Mike Danna made some good plays, and he was the only player to register a sack on Goff in the game. The other defensive end — George Karlaftis — was a problem as he had seven tackles with one tackle for loss and a pass deflection.
The Lions will have tougher edge rushers to take on later in the season, but this was a good start to the year for the unit. Only surrendering a single sack is a good start for a unit that has only practiced together and never played in a regular season game as a group. This unit is going to get better as the year goes on, and they are already good. This unit could finish as the best offensive line in the league by the end of the season.
After finishing second in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting last season with 52 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries, Hutchinson started his sophomore season strong with a good performance against the Chiefs. While Hutchinson didn’t record a sack, he got pressure on Mahomes countless times in the game, finishing with four tackles and three quarterback hits. If you were box score watching, you would think Hutchinson wasn’t disruptive but he was a menace on the field, and the broadcast crew pointed out instances of him being triple-teamed.
No matter if he was going after the quarterback, focusing on the running back with the handoff, or even dropping back in coverage, Hutchinson seemed to be everywhere. He took on right tackle Jawaan Taylor for most of the game. While Taylor didn’t allow a sack, he was tested heavily by Hutchinson all game long. Taylor wasn't the only offensive lineman who had to deal with Hutchinson though, as he moved along the defensive line. No matter who he went up against, he gave them everything he had.
Hutchinson looked stronger and like he is in for a big second year this season. His motor seems to have been upgraded as last season he would take some snaps off. This year he was on the field longer and was still being disruptive. If you have a player like Hutchinson who doesn’t quit and is able to have the same type of production from the first play to his sixth play, you definitely want to keep him on the field as much as possible.
The position group that saw the most changes in the offseason was the secondary. The Lions only returned two cornerbacks to the team; Jerry Jacobs and Will Harris. Despite there only being one addition overall to the safety room with converted corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the secondary as a whole has a lot of new faces and players who haven’t played together. In the game, there were multiple times where players looked at each other wondering why they weren’t in position. Other times, players owned up to their mistake as they should have been in a certain spot.
Those things are what training camp and the preseason are for — to work out the kinks and make sure communication is figured out. Guys get used to each other and know where they should be. For some reason, though, there were still issues. Sure, it’s Week 1 and there is plenty of time to learn and get things figured out, but they need to be figured out quickly or else teams are going to have an easy time to pass the ball on a secondary that doesn’t know where it should go.
Mahomes had a decent game, throwing 21-for-39 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, along with six carries for 45 yards. The offensive line for Kansas City was able to give Mahomes time. With the Lions’ secondary having some issues, Mahomes was able to take advantage and hit a sequence of big plays to help get the Chiefs on the board right before halftime. While the secondary cleaned up their act in the second half, they still need to figure some things out so these mistakes don’t keep happening.
When the Lions needed some help at wide receiver in the offseason, they were able to bring back Jones to the team after being on the Jacksonville Jaguars for two seasons. He was viewed as a solid addition to the team, expecially since he used to be a former top option for the Lions. He was in a battle with Reynolds and Kalif Raymond to start and he won the starting job as the number three wide receiver. Unfortunately, his start for the 2023 season was not good.
Jones had two catches for eight yards and a fumble on six targets. Jones dropped a catchable pass that would have helped the Lions possibly get closer to setting up a field goal before halftime, which could have made the game 14-10 at intermission instead of 14-7. Jones’ biggest mistake of the game was fumbling inside the red zone on third down in the second quarter. If Jones held onto the football while getting tackled, it would have been fourth down and a situation where the Lions could have kicked a field goal to go up 10-7.
That fumble was the first fumble of Jones’ career and while it was a rare mistake by him, in that situation it just flat out isn’t acceptable. In those moments, ball security is the top priority and Jones didn’t secure the ball tight enough where a hit was able to knock the ball loose. Jones didn’t just fumble, but also dropped multiple catches and that isn’t like him. He will need to have a rebound performance next week to make up for this week's performance.
Dan Campbell’s Penalty Decision
The biggest penalty of the game was a holding call on the Chiefs in the second quarter. On third-and-seven, the Chiefs completed a pass but came up short. It would have been fourth and less than five, but there was a holding penalty on Chiefs left tackle Donovan Smith. Instead of making it fourth and short with a decision for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid to make, Lions head coach Dan Campbell accepted the penalty to make it third-and-17.
That decision turned out to be the wrong one as Mahomes was able to find wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 30-yard gain on the replayed third down. The very next play, he found another wide receiver in Justin Watson for a 26-yard gain. After that, Mahomes found tight end Blake Bell open for a four-yard touchdown. Three plays is all it took on third-and-long to get a touchdown for the Chiefs.
Campbell made the mistake of giving Mahomes another chance to get a first down and move down the field and score. It would have been a smarter decision to let Reid debate whether he should punt or go for it. Instead, by accepting the penalty, it made the decision for Reid, and with the best quarterback in the NFL with the football, anything can happen. The Lions have had things like that happen to them against former Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so you’d think Campbell would know and decline the penalty and force the Chiefs to do something on fourth and short. The score could have been different heading into halftime, but instead, the Lions would go down 14-7.
In big games like these, you need to make smart decisions with penalties and that penalty almost cost the Lions the game. They were able to recover later on in the victory, but that is something Campbell will need to work on in the future so the decision doesn’t come back to haunt him.