2021 Detroit Lions Quarter-Season Review

Now we're four games in, it seems an apt time to take an early look at how things are going - with the playing personnel and the staff.


Results

Well, the Lions are 0-4. Who could have seen it coming? However, as predictable as that is, the Lions have shown a lot of promise on both sides of the ball, which makes the record even harder to stomach.


Offense


Overall

Let's have a look at the total numbers thus far. The Lions have scored 81 points (20.3 per game) which is good for 24th in the NFL. They have 1407 yards of total offense (18th) at 5.3 yards per play, made up of 1000 yards of passing offense (15th) (110/162, 7 TDs, 2 INTs) and 407 yards of rushing offense (20th) (95 carries, 4.3 y/a). They also have 5 turnovers on offense, which is 19th in the NFL.


All in all, that doesn't look bad, about the middle of the pack everywhere, even when taking into account fumble city. But let's delve deeper:


QB

Players: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle (IR), David Blough.


Jared Goff is the starter and isn't really at any risk of that changing. We've heard nothing about Tim Boyle's injury since it happened, but I don't think that would change much particularly.


For Goff himself, his stats are fine. 110/161 (68.3% - highest of his career), 7 TDs, 2 INTs. However, his average depth of target (min 50 attempts) is 4th last in the NFL (6.5ypt), just ahead of Garoppolo, Cousins and Ryan, yet somehow it's slightly higher than last year with the Rams (6.2). His QBR is the lowest since his rookie season (40.6).


The biggest issue for me is the eye test. Goff has been able to make some really good passes so far, but it's been intermixed with some really bad inaccurate throws, and the majority of them are very short. If teams were worried about losing to us, them playing Cover 0 or 1 and playing closer than 20 yards of the line of scrimmage to me would give the Lions a big problem. This biggest issue so far is not one he's had through his career, he's choked in the larger moments. He's shown enough to say that he's got the ability, but he's definitely not yet shown the consistency you'd hope for.


RB

Players: Jamaal Williams, D'Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, Jason Cabinda (FB).


Overall: Williams and Swift have effectively shared reps throughout, with Williams getting the starter reps and playing the power back role and Swift serving as an outside runner and receiving, elusive back. Jefferson has yet to be active for a regular-season game, while Godwin Igwebuike started as the kick returner but has lost that job to Corey Ballentine, however, he continues to contribute on special teams. Cabinda has had only limited opportunities to contribute on offense but has performed well on special teams.


On Jamaal, he's been a revelation, both on and off the field. His charisma and smile is infectious, and on the field, he consistently runs between the tackles knocking guys over, consistently falling forwards. Having been sold to us in the off-season as someone who will be effective in the passing game, I'm disappointed that he only has 14 targets through 4 games. He's been a good pass blocker too.


For D'Andre, he started out the season hot, becoming a weapon on the ground and through the air, before being stymied in week 4, especially running the ball. He suffered a bad groin injury in the off-season which has been managed all the way through the season and fingers crossed he'll be even better once back to full fitness.


WR

Players: Tyrell Williams (IR), Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, KhaDarel Hodge, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy


Overall: Coming into the season, with Williams at WR1 and Perriman at WR2, this was already regarded as maybe the worst WR corps in the entire NFL. So when Williams goes on IR after 2 receptions on the season and Perriman is awful and is cut, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this group would be atrocious. And yet, that's not quite come true. Separation has been hard to come by, but both Quintez Cephus and Kalif Raymond have been productive so far, and St. Brown's most recent game was his best. Hodge, Benson and Kennedy I'm left wondering why they're still on the roster almost, the former two have been here long enough now but still aren't being given enough of a chance and Kennedy, after being the offseason MVP for the third year in a row continues to be a forgotten man.


Cephus has 12 receptions on 19 targets in 4 games for 166 yards and 2 TDs, both in the first two games of the season. The early 46-yard reception against GB in a scramble drill was a particular highlight. He's show good improvement on last season but needs to sharpen his route running given his relative lack of speed if he wants to catch on long term in the league.


Raymond has been the real surprise so far. 14 receptions on 22 targets for 182 yards and 2 TDs, both against Chicago in the most recent loss. He's been one of Goff's go-to guys, receiving WR screens, slants and drag routes to get him the ball quickly and in space where he can use his short-area quickness to full effect. He is suffering from his size and a lack of top-end speed by having to play outside receiver when to me he seems like a natural slot receiver.


St. Brown has been somewhat underwhelming so far, with 12 receptions on 18 targets for 113 yards, but before week 4 this was only 6 receptions for 43 yards. For all the preseason promise and designed plays, none of that was really on show until week 4 against Chicago, going off for 6/8 for 70 yards. Potentially at fault for running a lazy route on the 4th & 1 late in the game, which was one of his scouting report issues out of college, he needs to become consistent all the way through the 60 minutes.


TE

TJ Hockenson, Darren Fells


Hockenson entered the league as one of those tight-ends on the cusp of the 2nd-tier, along with Mark Andrews et al, with aspirations of breaking into the top tier and through two weeks he appeared ready to fulfil that promise with 16 receptions for 163 yards and 2 TDs. Since that point, teams have specifically schemed for him as one of the main threats on the team, and he's seen his production fall as a result. He still needs to stay on his feet more instead of going to ground but he has improved in that aspect of his game and his route running has improved, but he needs to show some more physicality - I want to see him really take over a game.


Fells, given that we don't run with a TE3 should have seen some significant playing time as both a premier blocker and red zone receiving threat, and yet he only has 3 receptions for 37 yards. While he didn't have the best season, I'm surprised he isn't being leaned on more. Goff could do with another legitimate red-zone threat alongside Hockenson and Cephus and given the Lions' propensity to run the ball, especially with the number of O-line injuries suffered - expect his reps to go up in the coming weeks.


OL

Players: Taylor Decker (IR), Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow (IR), Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell, Matt Nelson, Logan Stenberg, Evan Brown, Will Holden, Ryan McCollum.


Decker and Ragnow could be regarded as Detroit's two best players, and having them both injured for any period in the one area Detroit need to be successful in to win games is pretty sickening. Ragnow especially had a terrific start to the season In their place, Sewell had a great start to the season at LT before a couple of poor games, while Matt Nelson did the reverse - starting poor before stymying Khalil Mack for the second time in his career?! Evan Brown performed admirably in relief of Ragnow against Chicago and Jonah Jackson has improved massively through the season, allowing no pressures against the Bears fearsome front - a big contrast to the 9 in week 1.


Defense


Overall

Let's have a look at the numbers first up. They've conceded 1525 total yards (21st), forced 4 turnovers (15th) including 2 fumbles (9th). 994 of those yards are through the air (16th), with 7TD (15th) but net yards per attempt of 9! (31st). This goes some way to explaining why passing attempts (101) are a huge amount less than the Lions' (162). Rushing yards are 531 (24th) and 6 TDs (27th) with 4.4 yards per attempt against (19th).


A few things occur from the above, opposing teams haven't had to throw very much, because offenses have been very efficient against the Lions. Equally, in the red zone, the Lions have folded against the run which reduces the pressure on an offense. Indeed, 47.6% of opposing drives have ended in a score, that's 3rd worst in the NFL.


DTs

Players: Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Alim McNeill (NT), Levi Onwuzurike, John Penisini (NT), Jashon Cornell, Da'Shawn Hand (IR), Kevin Strong (IR)


As a whole, this group has been solid, while unremarkable which is a big step up from last year. Detracting will point to the lack of reps for Levi Onwuzurike, however, he's still dealing with his injuries from the offseason and before, and he was always a little bit of a project having played at NT in his college career and with limited pass rush moves. This group hasn't been the reason for any loss, but they've not dominated either.


I want to give a special mention to Alim McNeill. He's been an absolute handful and while he hasn't wrecked any game yet, I can absolutely see it coming. He's looked right at home in the NFL and what more can you ask from a 3rd round pick?


EDGE/OLB

Players: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara (IR), Charles Harris, Austin Bryant, Julian Okwara, Jessie Lemonier.


What a devastating injury it is for Romeo. The only player paid big in the offseason recovered from an up-and-down week 1 performance to be a big factor in the next 2 games - racking up 16 pressures which was good for 4th= in the NFL at the time, joint with Myles Garrett. He will be sorely missed.


Trey Flowers has been his dependable and unremarkable self, but he will now need to bear more weight, especially in the passing game.


Charles Harris is the man likely to take the most reps available from Romeo's injury. He's now matched his single-season sack record with 3 and looks every bit the first-round pass rusher that was drafted. Unfortunately, he remains a liability in run defense and I worry about giving Harris more reps given this obvious flaw. In 3rd and long, sure, Harris is your guy.


Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara should also see their reps increase as a result. Bryant has shown improvement on one of his first seasons (so far) without injury issues and hopefully that continues. Okwara has been Detroit's highest-graded player on either side of the ball per PFF but on very limited snaps. He's proven he can be a very effective change of pace player, especially late in games. His run defense has often been cited as a weakness, can he prove to everyone that he has it to play all 3 downs?


ILB

Players: Alex Anzalone, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derrick Barnes, Anthony Pittman, Josh Woods.


After a first two weeks that saw fans calling for his head, Anzalone looks so much better not having Jamie Collins next to him. Was it really addition by subtraction, or has Anzalone just starting playing better? I think a bit of both. He's reading the game better, but Collins also isn't getting in his way. He's not playing like we need to resign him next year, but he's certainly the best playing linebacker we have right now.


JRM has flashed. He forced the interception against the Bears by getting a hand in the throwing lane of Justin Field and he's shown off his wheels in coverage but he has shown the ability to get easily lost and not ready the game in run defense.


Derrick Barnes has also flashed. You can see his raw aggression in the manner in which he plays, especially against the run and rushing the passer, but he's been burned in coverage a few times now. I wonder whether his reps are going to stay right where they are at the moment to protect him as he improves his technique.


CB

Players: Jeffrey Okudah (IR), Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Malifonwu (IR), AJ Parker, Bobby Price, Jerry Jacobs, Daryl Worley


I really feel for Okudah. It's hard to overstate how much better he looked this season compared to last. Last year he was getting burned on raw pace. This year he got burned a few times - one by being over-aggressive in technique, another because his technique isn't quite refined after having Quintriccia-era coaching and several injuries last year. Nothing that couldn't be ironed out, but he looked more confident, and importantly, fast enough to hang. An achilles injury could threaten that quickness but I'm confident that he'll be back and he'll take some by surprise next season calling for him to be moved to Safety, or even cut.


Amani Oruwariye really struggled early on this season. I think that was partially because he was the guy often being targeted as CB2. Now promoted to CB1, he's benefiting from being targeted less (given the UDFAs who are playing) which is also giving him room to be more effective when he is in the game. Let's hope that continues and his confidence grows.


Melifonwu looked much better than the project he appeared in the preseason before his injury - every bit the matchup nightmare we hoped. He got burned by Davante Adams for 50 in 1-1 coverage, can he really be blamed for that? He has a quadriceps injury, but I believe the Lions think he'll be back for the latter end of the season.


AJ Parker took the starting corner role from Nickell Robey-Coleman (still on the PS) and Corn Elder in preseason, even as a UDFA and had two terrific games to start the season before regressing in the next two. He missed a couple of tackles, notably the 4th & 1 early against Chicago, so that needs to improve. He's played really well for a UDFA and I hope they stick with him for this whole season.


Price and Jacobs are both rookies in some fashion (Price to the position, Jacobs to the NFL) and look it. They've performed admirably given the predicament they've been left in and the opposition they've had to face. Price got torched against the Bears multiple times, look to see his snaps reduce in favour of Jacobs. Worley has only been recently signed but has plenty of NFL experience, we could see him take the CB2 role - even though he played as a safety against Chicago.


S

Players: Tracy Walker III, Will Harris, Dean Marlowe, CJ Moore


After a slow start, Walker has started showing the promise that we all know he's had. Solid in both run and pass, good instincts and good tackler. If he continues to improve, he'll justify himself a new contract for next season quickly enough.


On the other side, the improvement that Will Harris was meant to have shown in the preseason has not materialised. He's a liability against the run, and although he's a tremendous athlete, he's let down by a lack of instinct which always leaves him trying to catch up. He's fine as an S4/5, but he should've played his last down as a starter.


Neither Marlowe nor Moore have really played enough to comment.


Special Teams

Players: Jack Fox P, Austin Seibert K, Ryan Santoso K, Scott Daly LS


Jack Fox looks set to get to his second Pro Bowl at his current rate - his yards per punt have actually INCREASED on last year's total thus far.


I've included both kickers since Santoso remains on the practice squad, but both have been good without being remarkable thus far. Scott Daly has belied my early fears that his snapping was poor with some good work.


Coaching

Co-ordinators: Anthony Lynn OC, Aaron Glenn DC

Head Coach: Dan Campbell


On offense, this team has been effective on the ground, meant to be Lynn's strength, and good enough in the air most of the time. Most issues have come from a lack of execution rather than coaching. I like what Lynn's been doing, especially with some WRs actually getting production from nowhere, and Swift and Williams contributing greatly.


On defense, it's a group that's been decimated by injuries. Scheme-wise, we've ended up with more blitzing, more sacks and pressures compared to the previous regime. Errors seem to be communication-based rather than coaching or execution.


Overall for Dan Campbell, it's obviously a work in progress. I actually liked his time managed against Green Bay although I know a lot hated it. What he did was more likely to make the Lions win the game, but it doesn't fill you with confidence as a team because it feels cowardly. I want us to win, so I'm ok with it. Likewise, with the fourth-down calls, I love the aggression. From a game theory perspective, if you believe you don't have a skill advantage in your playing personnel, you need to take more chances to increase the amount of luck in a game, which increases your chances of winning overall, but sometimes it won't work out.


What I don't love is the playcalling in these tight situations. 3rd and 2, 4th and 1 - let's call more runs, it's what we do well. If we do pass from there, let's at least misdirect a run by doing play action out of I-formation - indeed that's what Goff does well!


I love Dan's candour and transparency, I don't think it makes the team any worse off generally but it gives the fans a great deal of buy-in and trust because you can see the decision-making in front of you and long may it continue.


I hate the record but love what I've seen from the staff so far.


What do you think?

 

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