Lions notes: Amon-Ra St. Brown, defensive turnaround fueling post-bye success

Detroit News

Allen Park — Paralleling his finish to his record-breaking rookie season, Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is in the midst of an impressive stretch of production. After shaking off a midseason ankle injury after the team’s bye week in mid-October, no one has caught more passes than the second-year receiver.

In the past six weeks, St. Brown has hauled in 48 balls, six more than the trio of Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson, who have combined for nine Pro Bowl selections and were all named to the All-Pro team last season.

Additionally, St. Brown’s 34 receiving first downs are also first during that stretch, while his 555 receiving yards are fourth behind Adams, Jefferson and Tyreke Hill, another multi-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro.

“He’s so tough, and he’s got great hands,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said after Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, after connecting with St. Brown for a career-high 11 receptions. “…He’s a stud, he’s a bulldog, and a guy that I’m fortunate to play with and hope to play with him for a long time.”

St. Brown had similar success to close out his rookie season. During the final six games last season, he had 51 catches for 560 yards and five scores. The touchdowns are about the only area he’s been lagging behind last year’s run, but he’s caught three the past two games, giving him six on the season.

St. Brown’s surge has coincided with a resurgence of Detroit’s offense. The team has scored 25 or more points in five of those six games, averaging 28.1, as the team has rattled off four victories.

More: Four Downs: Lions in playoff race, Williams’ trajectory and Johnson’s head-coaching viability

Ramping up after dialing back

Through the first five games, the Lions were on pace to have one of the worst defensive seasons in NFL history. After allowing 34 points per game during that start, the team used its bye week to recalibrate, with a focus on simplifying schematically, in an effort to get things on track.

Two months later, the Lions still haven’t fully recovered from that wretched start, but things have unquestionably been better the past seven games. And in recent weeks, the team has been able to re-expand the playbook, getting back to the early-season vision for the defense.

“We really dialed back like New England, but we’ve slowly started to get back to some of the things we were doing,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “We’ve been able to open it up because our guys are maturing. They’re growing, they’re getting better, they’re working better together, they’re starting to understand each other.

“…Sometimes you forget it, but at one point, it was like the only two guys we had that were out on the field that started for us last year were Alim (McNeill) and Alex (Anzalone),” Campbell continued. “Everybody else was new, either they were drafted, or they were (coming back from being) hurt. Guys have been playing together, they’ve been repping together, and so, as they gain confidence in what we’re running, now we’re opening up the playbook a little bit more.”

Since the bye, the Lions are allowing just 22.0 points per game, with only two opponents topping 30 during that seven-week stretch.

Okwara update

Despite being added to the active roster following the expiration of his three-week acclimation practice window, Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara was scratched from the lineup for the team’s game against Jacksonville.

Nearly 14 months removed from tearing his Achilles last season, Campbell said Okwara continues to make positive progress, but wasn’t quite ready to make his season debut.

“We just wanted just a little bit more time,” Campbell said. “He’s close, but yeah, we wanted to see how he was. He had a pretty good load last week, like wake up Sunday morning, how did he feel, all that. Now, here we go, let’s see where he’s at Wednesday (for the first practice this week).”

Claimed off waivers ahead of the 2018 season, Okwara averaged more than 600 defensive snaps his first three years with the franchise, leading the team with 10 sacks in 2020. That earned him a three-year contract extension, but he’s been limited to four games by the Achilles injury since signing his new deal.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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