Things were going well for this Detroit Lions team. “Hard Knocks” was a big success, the Lions had a killer offseason with a great draft, and the camp highlights were fun and encouraging. After the Lions starters on offense drove down the field with ease against the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, the hype around this team was an all-time fever-pitch high. Then the Lions defense hit the field and it all crashed back down to Earth.
This shouldn’t be much of a shock to anyone. The thought has long been that the offense is going to be hot and the defense was going to be cold. Still, some improvement was expected. Instead, the Lions defense looked very much like the same unit that the team put out in 2021.
Lions second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson did have a nice game and even graded out 88.0 on PFF. He made a great tackle for a loss on Falcons running back Qadree Ollison. That was as good as the Lions were against the run on Friday. On the first drive alone, Atlanta rushed for 61 yards on the way to a touchdown.
The Lions allowed the fifth most rushing yards in the league in 2021. On Friday they looked no better against a team that is likely to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2022. What are the Lions going to do when they face much stiffer competition? The Lions open the season against the Eagles who led the league in rushing yards in 2021. Can the Lions stop them? How could you say yes after Friday?
I will say that the Lions defense did control things a little better once the second and third units came in. But that was also against the falcons second and third unit guys, so that doesn’t really count right?
Outside of the run game issues, the Lions linebackers looked out of place a lot and the talent issue in that area is still a problem.
The Lions’ first-team secondary only saw two passes on Friday, but they allowed the Falcons to complete both of them.
The Lions could be a fun team to watch in 2022 because of their offense, but they’ll only get as far as their defense will allow them to. Having to win shootouts every week is not a sustainable thing to do.
Why is this an overreaction?
Alright, let’s ease up on the defense a bit now. The fact is while that first drive was bad for this team, it was the first and only drive this defense has played together in an actual game against an actual other team. Rushing to judgement here seems wrong. We really have to see more of this unit together before we can make a ruling on whether or not they’re bad enough to ruin any optimism that’s surrounding this team.
There were definitely some positive things that happened during that drive. We mentioned Aidan Hutchinson already, but he did look very good out there. He got the TFL, prevented another a first down with a hit on Mariota and drew a holding call. There were a couple other times where it looked like he might be able to make a play and just missed.
Another promising thing is that the Lions didn’t shoot themselves in the foot at any point with dumb flags. It’s bad when the defense can’t get a stop, it’s twice as bad when the defense helps their opponent move the offense up the field. (Well, except for that bogus roughing the passer call on Jarrad Davis)
We mentioned that the Lions linebackers looked a bit rough on this drive, well there’s a reason for that. The team decided to start second-year man Derrick Barnes and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez. It’s seems pretty unfair to make a final call on these guys after just one drive of them being together in their very young careers. Some optimism should be had after the team felt these two young linebackers had come along well enough to start this game together.
Additionally, there were several defensive contributors who didn’t play or were very limited. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Alex Anzalone, Levi Onwuzurike, Josh Paschal, Julian and Romeo Okwara were all out. Alim McNeill and Michael Brockers played in just eight snaps each. These are guys who will play big roles in 2022, and they were replaced by some players who may not be here in a month.
I maintain that the Lions will only go as far as their defense will let them, but to say that this one drive killed all the hype and optimism surrounding this team would be an extreme rush to judgment. We know what this unit needs to get better at, now we have to give them the chance to do that and reserve final judgement for a later date. The Kool Aid should continue to flow. This team is still exciting.
Speaking of exciting, I can’t wait to see what Aaron Glenn does on “Hard Knocks” this week. It should be fun.