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 the key players performing? Have any glaring issues appeared? How does this affect our outlook in 2023? How does this change our offseason plans?
'But it's Week 1?!' I hear you exclaim, 'what have you got to review?' And you're quite right. So this is an appraisal of the big questions heading into the 2022 season, and how I expect things to go in the first few weeks. I'll also end with my favourite moment of the pre-season.
Will the real Jared Goff please stand up?
The Quarterback position is the most important position in the NFL. Heck, it's the most important in any team sport. Period. The quality of your Quarterback is the biggest factor in how much your team can accomplish. An elite talent can elevate the level of everyone around them and carry the team to new glory. A bad QB is like an anchor: you can have the most beautiful yacht in the world but it's not going anywhere until you cut that chain.
So, which is Jared Goff? Well, we're just not sure yet...
Goff is coming off a mixed 2021 season that started terribly and ended brilliantly; though arguably that late-season improvement was driven by Left Tackle Taylor Decker's return from injury and the acquisition of Wide Receiver Josh Reynolds. That being said, I've always believed that if we criticise failure, we should praise success. Goff rallied to put a hideous start behind him and finish strong. That deserves credit and respect, but is it enough for him to be the Lions' future under centre?
For me, Goff would have to lead this team to the playoffs to remain the Lions' signal caller in 2023. And it's a possibility with the roster improvements and a weak schedule. This roster isn't making the playoffs in spite of Goff, so he'll have played well if we make it. Add to that we'd be picking at least 19th so it might not be worth trading up for a rookie QB, if a quality prospect is even on the board at that point.
Goff's biggest problems are pressure and ball security- particularly fumbling as he gets sacked. Keeping him clean is key but the of our first 5 opponents 3 (Eagles, Commanders, and Vikings) all have quality pass rushers. He might have an easier time against the Seahawks and Patriots, but their Head Coaches are some of the best defensive minds in the game today and they can rustle up a pass rush without needing stars. Speaking of that, if Jahlani Tavai has a multi-sack game I will never recover emotionally...
My prediction for the first 5 games: Despite a healthier Offensive Line (get better soon, Vaitai!) and marked improvements to this receiving corps, Goff doesn't excel. Goff's mediocrity helps focus the need to move on next season.
Can Okudah be a starting outside corner in the NFL?
Back in April 2020, I was delighted when the Lions took Cornerback Jeff Okudah 3rd overall. He seemed as close to a sure thing at CB as you could get. Yet just two seasons later we don't know what Okudah can do at the NFL level. Billed as a starting outside corner capable of going toe to toe with the best outside Wide Receivers, his early years have been blighted by poor coaching (Matt Patricia) and injuries.
At a basic level, we need to see how he's recovered from his Achilles injury and if he's willing to trust it during games. In terms of our early opponents, the Washington Commanders WRs shouldn't pose too much of a challenge outside of 'Scary' Terry McLaurin and the New England Patriots receiving weapons are as sharp as a mouldy banana. But the Philadephia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Minnesota Vikings offer sterner tests with at least two quality WRs each. Unless he balls out against the Commanders/Patriots and treads water vs the rest, we have our answer early.
My prediction for the first 5 games: Okudah plays OK, but not well enough to secure a spot on the outside moving forwards. I think they try to move him to Safety after the bye and put Ifeatu Melifonwu back at corner. Last year Melifonwu did well covering DeVante Adams, the best WR in the NFL. Safety allows Okudah to show off his skills at reading the game and mitigates his lack of speed.
Can the coaching staff keep a clear head in the clutch?
They have got big hearts. They have got big mouths. They absolutely stole the limelight when it comes to Hard Knocks. They can teach players and get them fired up. But can they win those games in the final minutes? When we're in the dying embers of the 4th quarter, can they secure the W?
We lost a lot of games last year. I know, I watched most of them until the bitter, bitter end. In some, we were unlucky. In others, we were let down by the refs. In most, our inferior talent was the difference. The one that still rankles is the Thanksgiving Day defeat to the Chicago Bears. This defeat, and the late-game coaching that caused it, were embarrassing.
The Bears have the ball inside the Lions' 20 needing a first down so they can run the clock and kick a walk-off field goal to win. In the final two minutes, this happens on back-to-back plays:
3rd & 9: Detroit loses 5 yards for calling back-to-back timeouts
3rd & 4: Detroit played such deep coverage they gave the Bears an easy completion beyond the line to gain that allowed them to run out the clock and kick the winning field goal as time expired.
The back-to-back timeouts are unforgivable; the coverage called on the game-losing play hideous. I need to see sharper game management in these tight situations. We're not good enough to win games without it.
My prediction for the first 5 games: I think they've learned. I still think we'll have some issues and we'll lose a couple of our opening games. But none will be as embarrassing as vs the Bears last year.
It's been great to get a glimpse inside training camp on Hard Knocks. There are lots of great moments, but one of my favourites was Duce Staley losing his voice. Hearing him chew out the Running Backs with half a voice put a smile on my face. Never change Duce!
I'll be back at the Bye Week to reflect on the Lions season so far. Let's hope I'm wrong and Okudah has a pick 6 right in front of Matt Patricia...
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