Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts gave the Detroit Lions defense all it could handle during Sunday’s season opener at Ford Field.
Known for his mobility, Hurts carried the ball 16 times for 90 yards and a score in his team’s 38-35 win in Week 1. The Lions were able to get pressure with players such as John Cominsky and rookie Aidan Hutchinson, but they often came up empty handed.
Though the Lions won’t see many more signal-callers who have the scrambling ability of Hurts, Detroit head coach Dan Campbell wants to see his defense perform better against quarterbacks who can make plays on the move.
“I’ll be honest, I really feel like if we played that opponent again, we’re gonna be so much cleaner on it than we were,” Campbell said. “I’m not saying we would, you know, but we would handle it so much better. Our guys are watching it right now, and they’re seeing everything that we talked about and preached. Man, just do your job, you fit on the back, you fit on the back. I’m surfing off the edge, I’m surfing off the edge. I’m responsible for quarterback, don’t even look at the running back. And literally, just the trust and hone in on your assignment.”
After viewing the film, the Lions’ head coach said he felt better about the game, than he did in the immediate moments following Sunday’s loss.
The Lions' defense gave up 216 rushing yards in the season opener. Moving forward, the unit must be better in the ground game.
“Man, gap responsibility,” Campbell said. “We have a couple things where, just, we have an issue where we’re running a stunt and one guy’s not running the stunt. That one shows up. We have about three occasions of, we need our force defender on the line of scrimmage. He should be down there fitting. He’s 10 yards off the line, and now it rolls back. Everybody’s doing their job. So, it’s always one guy you know, we haven’t got. We’re in the hole, we stop our feet and lunge at the ball carrier. And then, certainly, the quarterback, I mean, he was a huge part of that. Everything runs through him, and we didn’t do a great job of bottling him up.”
Evaluations of Hutchinson, Rodriguez and Goff
Among the players making their debuts on Sunday were defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez. Both got the start Sunday, and produced mixed results.
Rodriguez, a sixth-rounder from Oklahoma State, was the Lions’ highest-graded defender by Pro Football Focus, while Hutchinson finished with a PFF mark of 56.3.
A day after their first game, Campbell evaluated the performance of those two, having seen it play out on tape.
“The takeaway I had, and I think we all had, was okay, this is what it’s like,” Campbell said of Hutchinson. “This is the true taste of the NFL. Adjusting to that caliber athlete in a full game. Now, there’s certainly some things to where it looks like he’s got to make that play, but he needs a little help, too. If we rush and close the edge a little bit, then it boxes in that space between where he’s at and the quarterback. So, there’s a little bit of that, too. But, yeah, honestly, I’m not too worried about him.
“He’s gonna adjust from this. He’s a pro, and you already know that about him as a rookie. I think we all do, so he’s gonna want to get better himself.”
Rodriguez had his moments, and at one point, tossed Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce. However, he, too, has room for improvement.
“All in all, I thought he did a nice job,” Campbell remarked. “You know, there’s a couple plays he wishes he could have back, but for a rookie who went in there and played a substantial role for us, I thought he did a nice job. He was physical, he was aggressive, zero (missed assignments). I mean, he was on top of it, so that was good to see. So now, it’s just we need more on special teams from him, which we’ll get. But, first time defensively, out of the gate, he did some real good things.”
On offense, Campbell said there were some positives coming from quarterback Jared Goff’s performance. The signal-caller completed 21-of-37 passes for 215 yards, two scores and one interception.
“We had the turnover early in the game, we came out first drive and man, we’re moving it,” Campbell said. “And then, we have a communication error, which isn’t on him, and so we lose rhythm, we’re three and out. We come back the next time, and we don’t ID a protection very clean and now he feels like he’s under duress. That doesn’t help him get in a rhythm. Then, obviously, the turnover, not being on the same page. And so, there were some rough moments early, but I loved the way he responded in the second half to get us back into it.”
Explanation of onside kick
After scoring a touchdown to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 31-21 in the third quarter, Campbell called for an onside kick that ultimately failed. The Eagles promptly took the good field position, and scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 17 points.
Detroit’s head coach outlined his decision following the game, but explained it in further detail Monday.
“Obviously, hindsight, it’s like, well it didn’t work, we shouldn’t have done that,” he said Monday. “Because that is the easy thing to say, it’s like we’ll just kick away. But, man, I felt like it was the time to do it, and I wanted to see if we could get one. We wanted it a little more toward the sideline, a little shorter but I put that on me. I mean, we’ll keep working on it for a little bit and feel like it’s there. Maybe you put it on the shelf, but I just felt like it was the right time to do it. I was willing to give up and say, at the very least, that our defense was gonna hold and they won’t have the ball very long. And, okay, we give up a field goal, we’re still down two scores and our offense is starting to cook now. I just felt good about it.
“My fear was, man, they’re gonna hold the ball for eight minutes, even if we do get a stop. And, they’ve chewed up eight minutes, even with a stop you’re forced into two-minute mode earlier than you’d want to be. So, that was just kind of the thought. I’m very aware what you do to your defense when you don’t get one of those.”