All’s well that ends well -- at least that’s what the Detroit Lions hope.
With the bye week coming in Week 9, the Lions will recoup before heading into the last nine games of their schedule. The first half was miserable, as Detroit lost all eight of its games before its week off.
The most recent was possibly the team’s worst performance, as the Lions laid an egg in a 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the Lions off for the week, let’s revisit their performance from the first half and evaluate each position group.
Jared Goff has not been what the Lions need. He was acquired in an offseason trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams. Though expectations were not exactly sky-high for Goff heading into the season, he has struggled to live up to even modest standards.
In eight games, he’s struggled to get the offense going early. The team's last five games have seen the offense go without a first-half touchdown. Goff has struggled with turnovers, committing eight between interceptions and fumbles.
Granted, the Lions’ first-year quarterback isn’t the only problem the team has. He might not even be the biggest. However, there must be improvement for the Lions to win. A winless season was, at most, a nightmare at the beginning of the season. In time, it’s become a reality.
Running backs: B+
If not for the two blowout losses, the running backs may have aced the first half. Lions head coach Dan Campbell has found a good duo in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. Both are good runners and can make plays in the passing game, making them incredibly useful.
Swift has been the offense’s best player through the first half. He has legit game-breaking speed and can do many things well. He’s one catch short of the team lead in receptions. If there’s one knock on him, it’s that he’s only averaging 3.2 yards per carry right now.
Williams, meanwhile, has won over his teammates. To go with his skill on the field, the former Green Bay Packers back has an affable personality that lights up the locker room. He leads the team in rushing, but missed the Philadelphia game with an injury.
Detroit hasn’t gotten much out of its other two running backs, though both contributed in the most recent loss. Godwin Igwebuike helps on special teams with his kick returns, while rookie Jermar Jefferson was active Sunday for just the second time.
Wide receivers/tight ends: C-
If Swift hasn’t been Detroit’s best offensive player, it’s been tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Iowa product established himself as one of the league’s best young tight ends with his performances early in the season. Since then, he’s been a focal point of gameplans, and how he responds to this will impact his future.
Outside of Hockenson, there’s been little stability. Kalif Raymond has been the team’s most consistent wide receiver option, and ranks behind Hockenson and Swift in receiving yards. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to improve, and will likely have a big role come season’s end.
Two veteran free-agent signings that Detroit wanted to count on have not contributed. One, Breshad Perriman, was cut in preseason, while the other, Tyrell Williams, has been in concussion protocol since Week 1.
Quintez Cephus was lost indefinitely after his promising start to the year, and newcomers KhaDarel Hodge and Trinity Benson have contributed very little.
Offensive line: C+
As is the theme for Detroit in 2021, the two top players on the offensive line have missed significant time. Taylor Decker, the team’s starting left tackle, suffered a finger injury in Week 1, and went on injured reserve. Meanwhile, center Frank Ragnow is out for the year after a toe injury.
Following the development of rookie tackle Penei Sewell remains interesting. He’s suited up at left tackle, and has gone through some bumps and bruises. His spot on the line will seemingly flip when Decker makes his impending return, and how he handles this will define his rookie year.
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Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai have been serviceable at guard, while Matt Nelson has been up-and-down at right tackle. Nelson had a rough day Sunday, a sign that teams may have found a plan for him.
The unit has allowed 23 sacks, and the team has run for just 745 yards through eight games. There’s no doubt that when healthy, Detroit has a promising offensive line core. However, it didn't have all the pieces in the first half, and suffered as a result.
Defensive line: C-
The Lions’ defensive interior is another unit with promising young pieces. Rookies Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill are seeing their roles grow by the game, while veteran Michael Brockers provides a steady hand.
There isn’t a ton of great depth to this unit, which is why it has struggled at times against the run. Philadelphia’s offensive line, led by veteran center Jason Kelce, beat up on the Lions' defensive line and exposed its youth.
The Lions are the third-worst team in the NFL when it comes to rushing yards allowed. Additionally, the down linemen have had trouble getting to quarterbacks. Things are coming along, but this group has a long way to go.
With the release of Jamie Collins, Detroit freed up plenty of playing time for its young players. After Romeo Okwara suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury, even more doors were opened.
Charles Harris has been a pleasant surprise, notching four sacks while filling in for Okwara. This position has been a bit of a revolving door, especially at the outside positions. But, several young players have staked a claim for more playing time.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin is owning his playing time. Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant have shown promise, as well. In the middle, Alex Anzalone has been solid, but still struggles at times. Rookie Derrick Barnes has been steady with his development.
This unit is not without its flaws. Pass coverage, be it man or zone, remains an issue. Look no further than Week 2, when Green Bay’s Aaron Jones teamed up with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on short pass after short pass to dice up the Lions' defense.
Yet another position group decimated by injuries, the Lions’ secondary has been up-and-down. Jeff Okudah, the prized third overall pick in 2020, was lost for the season with an Achilles' injury in Week 1. In the next game, rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu went down with a quad injury.
Tracy Walker III has been the most consistent player in the back half, making big plays from his safety position. Detroit’s hunt for a reliable second safety continues, as Dean Marlowe, Will Harris and C.J. Moore have been unable to claim the spot.
Amani Oruwariye has been steady as the team’s top corner, while the players opposite him remain works in progress. Bobby Price first took over after Okudah and Melifonwu went down, but undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs has taken the spot in recent weeks.
A.J. Parker has had highs and lows playing the nickel corner position, and missed the Philadelphia game with an injury. While there are reasons for optimism, the overall youth of the group is showing itself.
Special teams: B
Jack Fox is quite possibly the best punter in the NFL right now. He has netted an average of 45.1 yards per punt, and has pinned 12 of his 28 attempts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. His work is impressive, and he may be locking up a Pro Bowl bid.
On the field-goal kicking side of things, Austin Seibert has been consistent. He’s missed just twice on 12 attempts, hitting from as long as 52. When Seibert went on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Ryan Santoso filled in, and went 1-for-1 on his field-goal attempts.
The return game has lacked pop. With starting kick returner Corey Ballentine on injured reserve, Igwebuike has taken over the duties. Tom Kennedy was also given a chance to do the honors, but failed to impress.
Raymond has been the primary punt returner, but hasn’t broken the big one yet. He's averaged just 9.1 yards a return, with a long of 22 yards.