Welcome to Reviewing the Lions- an ongoing series where I will periodically review how the Lions' season is progressing and what we're learning about the team. We're not going to be doing in-depth analysis- this is bigger-picture stuff. How are key players performing? Have any glaring issues appeared? How does this affect our outlook in 2023? How does this change our off-season plans?
A lot has changed since my last piece during the bye week. The Lions have been able to win some games! Optimism is back. Kerby Joseph is balling. Aidan Hutchinson is *checks notes* picking off passes...?! The Lions have taken some steps forward, but this is still a rebuilding team; roster holes and questions abound.
First, I made some predictions in my last article about the Defense and Kicker Michael Badgley. So, how'd I get on?
Prediction 1: The defense improves, but will remain in the bottom 10 (per DVOA) after Thanksgiving
The defense has improved more than I thought it would. Even so, it still languishes in the bottom 10 per DVOA (24th). But it was never going to be a quick fix; this team needs so much talent on that side of the ball. But production from every rookie? The future looks brighter, much brighter. But for now, my prediction holds. But the Lions' defense could be average come the end of the season. What a world we're living in.
Prediction 2: Badgley does well, maybe even well enough to win the job going forward, but isn't the new Prater. He consistently struggles on distances of 50+
This one isn't as clear-cut. Badgley has played well and probably earned the job for the rest of the year. The good: He's 100% on kicks over 50 yards! The bad: that's only two kicks. The ugly: his short FG miss vs Buffalo. Yikes. But overall his play has been good and it's another encouraging sign. Upon further review, my prediction holds as he's not the new Prater... yet.
Now looking ahead, what are the big questions facing the Lions over the final six games?
What do we do with DeAndre Swift?
Runningback DeAndre Swift is the biggest enigma on the roster. On his day, he's nigh unstoppable. Swift is capable of both game-breaking runs and huge yards after-catch plays. This season, he has two 50-yard runs and three 20+ yard receptions.
On the flip side, all but one of those explosive plays happened in the first two games. Since the Week 2 win vs the Commanders, he's:
Missed three games
Only hit 20 yards rushing in two games
Only averaged more than 6 yards per reception in one game
Add to all that he has only 435 total yards from scrimmage this season. That puts Swift firmly in the old TJ Hockenson spot. Like TJ he has physical talent, makes incredible plays, and is wildly inconsistent. Add to that, Runningback is one of the most injured and inconsistent positions in football. Many GMs have handed big contracts RBs without Swift's weaknesses. Very few of those contracts have been worth it. If Swift is going to earn another contract in Detroit, he's going to have to start being his best self on a regular basis. That means being on the field and producing when he's there. But Swift isn't a rookie anymore and this may be who he is. He's too good to let go, but not good enough to build around. A tough question for Holmes lies ahead.
My prediction: Swift is unable to fulfil his earlier promise. He finishes with less than 750 total yards and his future is a key question heading into the offseason.
How big a need is TE going into 2023?
The aforementioned TJ Hockenson was the Lions starting Tight End until he was traded at the deadline. Many interpreted the move as the Lions giving up on the season- until the Lions won three consecutive games for the first time since 2017. Without TJ, Brock Wright and James Mitchell made a handful of splash plays. Could they and Shane Zylstra form the TEs room next season?
Combined, their stat line in the 4 games since TJ left reads:
22 yard long
That is underwhelming if one of them had done it, let alone all three. They currently have a total of 137 yards and 3 TDs on the season. Ooof.
To be clear, I've not heard lots of chatter about not needing to add anyone heading into 2023. Based on just watching the games, I thought they were doing well. But crunching the numbers even a tiny bit, there's a big room for improvement. I think a lot of this is down to high expectations for TJ and low ones for his understudies. But TJ was TE 1 for a reason.
Ultimately, I think TE 1 is a definite need going into 2023. This offence doesn't utilise TEs much, but we need more from the position if we've to make a serious run for a playoff berth. And that has to be the aim for 2023.
My prediction: They end the season with fewer than 250 yards combined. And there's no way that's enough for 2023 unless one of them magically turns into a Pro Bowler during Training Camp. And you just cannot plan for that type of leap.
What do you think? What did I get right? What did I get wrong (again)? I'll be back after the final game to look assess where the roster stands.
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