What We Learned From the Lions’ Season Opener

While the start of the regular season may have gone south for the Detroit Lions, it isn’t all bad. To be fair, they valiantly lost 35-38, to an Eagles team that completely blew them out a season ago (44-6). In 2021, the Eagles did not even allow the Lions to score until the 4th Quarter. Obviously, once you put it into perspective, the Lions have improved on all fronts, even stealing momentum early within the game, often showing flash plays on both sides of the ball. We Lions fans have been forced to look at the bigger picture for decades, through rebuilds and losing seasons alike. It’s an idea that people have grown accustomed to, but this time something feels different. New regime, new culture, new leadership. All of these elements are slowly coming together, and those puzzle pieces show growth in many areas the Lions previously struggled with. In spite of their well-fought loss, I want to look at those pieces and see what went right for the Lions in their Week One matchup against the Eagles.

The Offense Looked Spectacular
The Lions’ offense ran all over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, often gashing them for big runs and making holes in what should be a brick-wall of a defensive line. D’Andre Swift lived up to the offseason hype, ending the day with 15 carries for a career-high 144 yards and a TD to cap it off. His biggest run of the day came on 2nd and 11, where he followed lead blocks from TJ Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown for a left-side 51-yard run. His lone touchdown came on 4th down from the Eagles’ 7-yard line. The Lions called outside zone and Swift followed an easy hole lead by Jonah Jackson to cash in for the score. Detroit desperately needed to grab momentum in this spot, and the offensive line was up to the challenge, making an easy score. Not to understate Swift’s playmaking either, as his frequent trucks and jukes made quick work of unsuspecting Eagles, often running for 5-6 more yards than he should’ve gotten. He was even dynamic in the receiving game, bringing in all 3 of his targets for 31 yards. Swift ended the day as the Lions’ highest graded player with an 82.3, the best grade of all NFL RBs in Week 1. Jamaal Williams played a huge factor in this offensive game plan as well, running in a couple of short scores, ending with 11 carries for 28 yards and those 2 TDs. While the efficiency for Williams wasn’t there as it was for Swift, clearly the team trusts him as a power back and he proved why. His first score of the game was an inside run initially stuffed on the 1-yard line, but Williams broke through the pile of bodies and ran straight around them, showcasing the immense athleticism he possesses. The receivers were also on point for the Lions, with Amon-Ra ending his day with 8 catches for 64 yards and a score. His touchdown was an easy completion to the inside for Goff, allowing Amon-Ra to stretch over the plane and get a score to get the Lions within two possessions. However, the completion of the game for me was the 22-yard touchdown throw to DJ Chark. Goff threw up a back shoulder fade to Chark whilst he was blanketed by former Lion, Darius Slay. Chark jumped up and caught the ball over his shoulder, then leaped into the end zone. Chark showing splash plays like this just makes me excited for the impact he will play in the games to come. He ended his day with 4 catches, 52 yards, and that TD, already making a great impact in the receiving game. These receivers showing out was something the Lions needed after losing so many key offensive weapons in 2021. In fact, the offensive line play coupled with the great RB duo of Swift and Williams just made a dynamic game plan even more possible. The playmakers that the Lions have will make scoring that much simpler this season, hopefully bringing in more wins.

Goff’s Leadership
In Goff’s first season for the Lions, one of the biggest reasons that he struggled was not all because of his arm or his accuracy, but his ability to command the offense to a high level. For the Rams, Goff showed that he had the arm traits that you want for a QB, but he lacked the ability to get through his progressions at a high level, and it seemed as if he wasn’t trusted with fully commanding the offense under McVay. This story continued in 2021, as Goff seemed lost at times for the Lions, often not making reads on the field, taking coverage sacks, or making errant throws. This changed for the better in the season opener. Goff often changed the plays at the line, and almost never let the clock drop too low. These were both common problems with Goff last season, and during his seasons with the Rams. Goff made some very precise throws, and he should take a lot of credit for the perfect passes on both touchdowns. In fact, the DJ Chark touchdown was one of the best throws Goff has made in his career, dropping a perfectly placed ball right above Slay, only where Chark could grab it. It was a work of art, and that isn’t something that we would be able to say about 2021 Goff. Now this isn’t to say that Goff has magically become an elite QB, as he still threw egregious passes and made overthrows that are somewhat unforgivable. However, his improvements are not to be overstated. Goff’s newly found leadership over the offense helped them make strides against a somewhat formidable Eagles defense. Overall, this will develop throughout the season, hopefully leading to more wins for the Lions in the coming weeks.

Overall Defensive Improvement
The Lions defense was repeatedly pummeled on the ground through the air and on the ground. Whether it be the major athletic ability of AJ Brown, or the running capability that Jalen Hurts has, the Lions couldn’t stop anything. But once the second half hit, adjustments were promptly made. The Eagles still scored a couple TDs on the ground, but in the last 20 minutes of the game, the Lions outscored the Eagles 21-7. This may have been a result of garbage time, but at some points it looked like we were on the brink of another miraculous Lions comeback. That being said, the defense played a huge factor in that comeback almost being realized. Jeff Okudah finally got to show out in the Eagles game, and he locked down rookie breakout Devonta Smith, allowing zero catches. Okudah showed effort that many college analysts were worried that he lacked, and made some spectacular plays while the ball was in the air. On the defensive line, Aidan Hutchinson was launched into a starting role, playing 90% of the defensive snaps for the Lions. While the box score may seem unimpressive (1 tackle) he made some disruptive plays, getting 3 pressures on Jalen Hurts. While many are trying to write a longstanding narrative after his first regular season game, there will be major strides within this season and into the coming seasons. Hutchinson will continue to improve. Another rookie (who I ranked as a top player to watch for the Lions), was Malcolm Rodriguez. Rodriguez was the Lions highest ranked defender for PFF with a 73.4 overall grade. Of course the rookie had some flaws, but he ended the night with six total tackles and one TFL. He played 46 snaps which was good for second in the linebacker position, only to Alex Anzalone. The rookie looked very solid for his 6th round selection, and like Hutchinson, there is only room to grow. Overall, this defense was on its game, and with the Lions constantly trying to gel with rookies and creating a better, more formidable defensive scheme, hopefully the first half blunders will be written off as the exception, not the rule.
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