What a difference a week in the NFL makes.
After dropping their season opener to the Philadelphia Eagles last week by a narrow margin, the Detroit Lions bounced back in Week 2 against the Washington Commanders, evening up their record and doing it in impressive fashion. The Lions were up 22-0 at halftime, holding Washington to just 39 net yards of offense in the first half, and it was Detroit’s offense that picked up the slack in the second half when their defense sprung a leak.
As we’re going to do all season long here at Pride of Detroit, we’re going to take a peek at some of the premium statistics Pro Football Focus has to offer in an effort to better understand who this football team was against the Commanders, who they might be moving forward, and what they need to do in order to take the next step.
Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their victory over the Commanders in Week 2.
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Alright, look, I’ve been critical of Jared Goff’s play so far this season because of the passes and points he’s left on the field. At times, he’s been inaccurate—and on the wrong end of some uncharacteristic drops—and the offense has suffered greatly for it. After the stretch of three-and-outs that kept the Lions offense from gaining a first down for an entire quarter against Philadelphia in Week 1, Detroit experienced a similar bout of ineffectiveness against Washington: four drives—three drives were three-and-out—14 plays, and just 31 total yards. On these four drives, Goff was 4-of-10 passing for just 23 yards.
But let’s look at a number that shows how effective Goff can be when running play-action, a place where he seems to be most comfortable. Goff had a 12.5 aDOT (average depth of target) on play-action passes, almost a full 4 yards more than he was in all other phases against the Commanders (8.8 aDOT). On play-action passes, Goff was 6-of-8 for 69 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, so let’s hope Ben Johnson and Co. can continue to dial up those plays at the right time.
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Malcolm Rodriguez and his stitch-busting thighs have won over the Lions faithful. It isn’t just the Motor City Cowboy’s style or shine he received on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this offseason, but it’s his affinity for violence and hitting that’s shown up on game days and made him a fan favorite.
On Sunday against the Commanders, Rodriguez’s average depth of tackle (aVDT) was just 1.3 yards in run defense. On 19 run defense snaps, Rodriguez had three stops (“tackles that constitute a ‘failure’ for the offense” per PFF) and tallied a team-high eight tackles and one quarterback hit. Many were hoping the sixth-round rookie could simply be a contributor on special teams his rookie season. Instead, Rodriguez is one of the biggest reasons why Detroit’s defense was able to hold Washington’s running backs to just 37 rushing yards on 17 carries—2.1 yards per carry.
Speaking of statement games, Aidan Hutchinson put his stamp on this one fairly early when he notched the first sack of his two-game old career… then it was the second sack of his rookie season less than a quarter after his first… and for Carson Wentz, death came in threes when Hutchinson tallied his third sack of the game to kill Washington’s two-minute drill before halftime.
In total, Hutchinson had six pressures on Sunday against the Commanders, but tallied another five stops in run defense for a total of 11 impact plays on defense. Hutchinson has been every bit as advertised so far, and it’s just the second game of his rookie season. If he can continue stacking performances where he’s making impact plays at this clip, the Lions defense will surely stand to improve over the course of the season.
A report on Sunday’s victory over the Commanders would be remiss without words of praise for Detroit’s Sun God—perhaps their biggest big-play threat since… Calvin Johnson?
Going back to last season, Amon-Ra St. Brown is on a run that you could hold up to nearly any of the great pass catchers in the NFL. No, like, even the really good, Hall of Fame caliber players. For eight straight games, St. Brown has recorded at least eight receptions, tying the NFL record for the longest such streak, and in six straight games, he’s recorded at least eight receptions and a TD—a new NFL record.
Detroit’s been desperate for skill position players who are liable to break a play for a big gain at any time and St. Brown is the poster child for the Lions. St. Brown had 11 touches on Sunday and seven of those plays went for 10+ yards, including six first downs, two touchdowns, and 184 yards of total offense.
Detroit opened as favorites for the first time in 24 games, snapping the longest such streak in the NFL, but after the Lions lost two more members of their starting offensive line to injuries in left guard Jonah Jackson and center Frank Ragnow, the line was at a pick ‘em just before kickoff.
The offensive line held up fine against the Commanders pass rush, and they did a better job moving people when Detroit wanted to move the ball on the ground. Logan Stenberg was someone who put forth a solid effort in that department on Sunday.
Pass protection was another story.
Stenberg was charged with six quarterback pressures on Sunday—three quarterback hits, two hurries, and a sack. Last week, Stenberg was given a 0.0 pass blocking grade by PFF after giving up four pressures against the Eagles, and followed up that performance with a 4.0 pass blocking grade against Washington. The loss of Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Tommy Kraemer along the interior had pushed Stenberg into the starting lineup, and considering Vaitai and Kraemer will both be out an extended period of time, Detroit needs to count on Stenberg improving his pass sets.
2 for 22
Despite his cramps providing a wave of fear that washed over Ford Field, Jeff Okudah stacked a second solid outing since coming back from the Achilles injury that cost him his sophomore season. Okudah showed his willingness to mix it up as a run defender in the season opener, tallying 10 tackles and one defensive stop according to PFF. Against Washington, Okudah displayed his ability in coverage, giving up just three catches for 31 yards, and more importantly, keeping Terry McLaurin in check.
Okudah gave up just two catches for 22 yards against McLaurin, one of the top receivers in the NFL. McLaurin had success when lined up across from Mike Hughes—two catches for 53 yards—but credit to Okudah—and the pass rush—for helping keep one of the league’s best under wraps.
Speaking of that pass rush, there’s one last number we need to hone in for the Detroit Lions performance in Week 2.
The Lions defense generated 31 pressures against the Commanders and that’s no typo. Detroit’s defense put Wentz’s feet to the fire thirty-one times on Sunday and that’s something we haven’t seen from the Lions in over seven seasons. Detroit’s vaunted defense in 2014 had over 30 pressures just twice that season, and most recently in Week 14 of that year versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (32).
By no means am I suggesting this defense is going to be as disruptive as that group—the Lions had 317 pressures in 2014, for reference—but let’s compare this group to the team from a year ago. Detroit’s defense had 197 pressures last season, so the Lions have more than a quarter of the pressures they generated last season through just two weeks of 2022. It will certainly take the Lions staying healthy and having multiple players bringing it each week to keep up this pace of elite-level pressure, but early returns indicate Detroit is head and shoulders above where they were a year ago in the pass rush department.