What a ride it’s been for the Detroit Lions in 2023. They won their first NFC North divisional title ever and their first division title since 1993. It couldn’t come without some classic controversial calls by the officials as we saw against the Dallas Cowboys last week. With how the game last week ended, the Lions played the Minnesota Vikings for a slim chance to move into the 2 seed in the NFC playoff race.
The Lions took care of their business, though, and walked away with a 30-20 win over the Vikings.
Check out my winners and losers in the 2023 regular season finale Week 18 win.
Linebacker Jack Campbell picked a great time to have the best game of his rookie season. Campbell led the team in tackles with 12 and got his second sack of the season. He was everywhere on the field, putting pressure on Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens and stopping the running back between the tackles.
Campbell has taken longer than the other rookies to adapt to the NFL, but no better time to play your best football than right before the playoffs. Campbell will be looking for a bigger sophomore season in 2024, but for now, he is doing well in what he was asked to do.
Hutchinson is picking the right time to start piling up the sacks. After getting three sacks against the Cowboys last week, Hutchinson continued it with two sacks against the Vikings, putting his season total to a career-high 11.5. Hutchinson has gotten better from his rookie season and was named to his first Pro Bowl this week.
Hutchinson finished the game with four tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Before the Dallas game, Hutchinson only had 6.5 sacks and seemed to be in a bit of a lul when it came to getting to the quarterback. With five sacks in the final two games of the season, Hutchinson seems to be ready for the playoffs.
What a game by punter Jack Fox. Twice in this game, Fox punted in the end zone for a touchback. The others were either barely returned or were recovered by Detroit inside the 10-yard line for Minnesota. Fox had five punts for 268 yards, averaging 53.6 yards a punt, his longest was 61 yards. With the secondary struggling (more on that soon), being able to pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory is a great weapon to have on special teams.
Heading into the game this week, people questioned if the Lions would play their starters against the Vikings, and Lions head coach Dan Campbell said they would and they did. They saw defensive tackle Alim McNeill, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and fullback Jason Cabinda make their returns adding three starters back to the field.
But Sam LaPorta got injured in the second quarter with an injury to his knee, and he didn’t return. Defensive back Brian Branch left the game with a wrist injury, but would return and finish the game. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown suffered an injury in the second half and while he would return after suffering from the injury, he didn’t play much afterward. Another wide receiver, Kalif Raymond, left the game with an injury and didn’t return.
Some fans will be upset with Campbell for playing their starters in a “meaningless“ game but this game isn’t meaningless, the Lions still wanted to try and get the number two seed in the NFC. LaPorta getting injured is a hit to the offense and the team overall, but you can’t blame Campbell for playing the starters this week. Let’s hope all of the injured players can play in the playoffs as Detroit needs everyone on board for the game next week. It would benefit him if the game was played on Sunday night or Monday night to give him more time to rest and heal, but we won’t know who and when the Lions play until Sunday night.
The Lions have been known to slow down and stop opposing offenses in the run game. Detroit was the third in run DVOA entering the game but they didn’t play like a top three run defense against the Vikings. Detroit allowed Minnesota to run the ball 22 times for 89 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Vikings running back Ty Chandler had 12 carries for 69 yards.
With McNeil returning to the defensive line, Detroit got their best defensive tackle back in to help stop the run, but it didn’t work well today. Detroit needs to figure out the issue with their run defense and get it figured out because no matter who they play in the first round, they have to be able to stop the run with the secondary struggling recently, even with Gardner-Johnson back in the lineup.
Speaking of the secondary, after allowing Mullens to throw for over 400 yards against them in Week 16, they allowed him to have another big game, throwing for 396 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While the secondary didn’t get four interceptions like they did in the last game, they were able to get two in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal. One was by Gardner-Johnson as he finished the game with four tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception.
Starting cornerback Cameron Sutton had a rough game, despite getting an interception, though this time I don’t think you could attribute the toe injury to it. Sutton was beaten and a few times expected help and didn’t get it. He finished the game with nine tackles, two pass deflections, and an interception. He wasn’t alone as cornerback Kindle Vildor was targeted often and he struggled in coverage as well.
Detroit’s run defense and pass defense struggled against Minnesota and their opponent next week will be better than the Vikings. Detroit’s defense has done better than expected this season, but the late-season woes when it comes to the secondary are not what you want to see. Detroit has needed help in the secondary all season long, and it will be a big need for the team come NFL Draft time and in free agency in 2024. For now, they have the players they have and they have to do what they can with who they have.