James Houston looks like Detroit Lions’ steal of 2022 NFL draft in just six games

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Evan Petzold looks at Detroit Lions players and coaches who helped their stock or hurt it after Sunday’s 41-10 win over the Chicago Bears at Ford Field:

Six up

LB James Houston: A pass-rushing specialist, Houston continues to build on an outstanding rookie campaign (despite not playing until Nov. 12). Against the Bears, the 24-year-old tallied three tackles, three sacks, three quarterback hits and one forced fumble. He sacked Fields twice in the second quarter and once in the fourth quarter. Houston, the No. 217 overall pick in the 2022 draft, has eight sacks in six games, plus one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Those eight sacks set an NFL record for most sacks through six career games, and there’s still one game in the regular season. His accomplishments are unbelievable, and he looks like the steal of the draft and a potential franchise-changing player.

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DE Aidan Hutchinson: OK, Hutchinson’s stock is already pretty high, but what about his stock for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year? It’s a three-player race: Hutchinson, New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen, with Gardner the favorite. But Hutchinson — the No. 2 overall pick in April out of Michigan — has three interceptions this season, tied for most among all NFL linebackers and defensive linemen (and one more than Gardner). He also ranks second among rookies with 7½ sacks, trailing only Houston. On Sunday, the 22-year-old became the first rookie in NFL history with 7½ sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The only other defensive lineman to accomplish those numbers: Hall of Famer Richard Dent in 1990 — his eighth NFL season. Hutchinson registered his third interception to end the first half against the Bears.

DE Josh Paschal: The No. 46 overall pick in the 2022 draft stepped up alongside Houston and Hutchinson. Paschal, 23, recorded the first sack of his NFL career when he dropped Fields for 12 yards with 11:14 remaining in the second quarter. He sacked Fields again, this time for a loss of 10 yards, with 6:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. On his first sack, Paschal powered through Bears offensive lineman Braxton Jones, a fifth-round pick in 2022, before wrapping up Fields. He logged four tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hits. The Lions have four rookies with at least one sack this season.

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RBs D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams: In their past eight games, entering Sunday, the Lions averaged 3.7 yards per carry, after averaging 5.2 yards per carry through the first seven games of the season. The lack of efficiency in the running game developed into a trend and reached a low point in a 37-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Christmas Eve, as the Lions ran the ball 17 times for 46 yards (a season-worst 2.6 yards per carry). On Sunday, the combination of Swift and Williams flipped the script to help the Lions produce 265 rushing yards and average 6.8 yards per carry. Williams posted 22 carries for 144 yards and one touchdown, while Swift chipped in 11 carries for 78 yards and one touchdown.

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Dan Campbell: The second-year head coach spent the past week talking about his expectations for improvements running the ball and defending the run. His defensive coordinator, Aaron Glenn, shared the same message about his group ahead of its second matchup against Fields. Turns out, both coaches were spot on. The Lions played one of their best all-around games in front of a sellout crowd at Ford Field. After the win, Campbell revealed something new about the Lions’ long-term plan under general manager Brad Holmes: “We need to be competing for a division championship next year (in 2023),” Campbell said. “I mean, that’s the goal. That’s what Brad and I set out to do.” There’s no doubt Campbell has locked himself in as a key piece of the future.

One big down

Playoff chances: The Lions did everything right Sunday by beating the Bears, and the Washington Commanders lost to the Cleveland Browns, leaving the Lions, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks firmly in the mix for a spot in the postseason. The Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, and the Seahawks topped the New York Jets. For the Lions to reach the playoffs, they need a win over the Packers at Lambeau Field, and they need the Seahawks to lose to the Baker Mayfield-led Los Angeles Rams. (If both the Lions and Seahawks win, Seattle has the tiebreaker because of its Week 4 win in Detroit.) There’s another scenario to keep in mind, but it involves several ties and is unlikely to happen.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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