The Detroit Lions lost their season opener to the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 at home. The Eagles outplayed the Lions thoroughly in the first 3 quarters, taking a 17-point lead into the fourth. The Lions turned it around there, finally getting some stops and scoring quick touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense wasn't able to get the final stop, and the Eagles pulled off the three-point victory. While a frustrating loss in a winnable game, the Lions looked significantly better than last year against Philadelphia and can hopefully continue to improve as the season progresses. Here is how the team graded out in the season opener.
Key Stats - Jared Goff: 21-37 215 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
The Lions scored 35 points, so it would be easy to assume Jared Goff had one of his better games. Unfortunately, he held the offense back most of the game and played like a QB you win in spite of. In the first half, Goff looked horrible. Pressure easily rattled him, he forced throws, and missed receivers leading to a putrid 53 yards at the half with a backbreaking pick-6. In the second half, he did settle down and looked much better. He was much more decisive and accurate: giving his playmakers a chance. However, the Lions need Goff to be consistent to keep them in the game, and the offense has plenty of weapons to help him out.
Running back: A
Key Stats - D'Andre Swift: 175 all purpose yards 1 TD 9.72 yards per touch Jamaal Williams: 28 yards 2 TDs
The running backs were one Jamaal Williams drop away from getting an A+ in week 1. Simply, D'Andre Swift had the best week of any running back in the entire NFL. He started the game with an explosive 51-yard gain and didn't slow down from there. Swift did a tremendous job hitting the open lanes and was a chore to tackle in the open field. Look for the Lions to keep feeding Swift as he looks to become an elite running back. Outside of Swift, Williams did his job as a short yardage back and powered his way for two touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: C
Key Stats - Amon-Ra St Brown: 8 rec 64 yards 1 TD DJ Chark: 4 rec 54 yards 1 TD Josh Reynolds: 1 rec 28 yards
Goff definitely struggled, but his receivers did not do him any favors. All three of the top receivers had costly drops at different points in the game. Reynolds had the most critical in the fourth quarter. On 2nd down, he dropped a deep crossing route that would have been a huge play at the very least. After the drop, Goff was sacked, and the Lions were forced to punt. The game was not all doom and gloom for the receivers. Despite his first NFL drop, St Brown effectively moved the ball picking up another 8 receptions and a touchdown. Chark flashed his big play potential with a great touchdown grab over Pro Bowler Darius Slay. Expectations should remain high for the receiver room as they can still be one of the better groups in the league.
Tight End: B+
Key Stats - TJ Hockenson: 4 rec 38 yards
Hockenson had a solid game as a Goff's chain mover. Three of his four catches went for first downs, and drew a pass interference call for a fourth first down. The Lions and Goff should continue to rely on Hockenson as a reliable option, especially on third down. In the run game, Hockenson did have a holding penalty but was solid otherwise as a run blocker including a key block on Swift's 51-yard run. The Lions rarely went two tight end, but Brock Wright did block well as both a tight end and fullback.
Offensive Line: A-
Key Stats - 181 rushing yards 6.46 YPC 1 sack allowed
Despite losing Hal Vatai, the offensive line showed why it is considered a top unit in the NFL. Going up against one of the best defensive lines in the league, the offensive line consistently delivered. The Lions' rushing attack looked deadly as the line consistently opened gaping holes for Swift and Williams. Even replacement guard, Logan Stenberg, did a great job in the run game. In the passing game, the offensive line did a great job keeping Goff clean only allowing 1 sack on 37 pass attempts. That is especially impressive as with the big lead the Eagles knew the Lions would need to throw. The only real hiccups on their day were a couple of pressures with one leading to the pick 6 and back-to-back false starts of Stenberg. An admirable performance for a unit with a gimpy Frank Ragnow and Stenberg making his first career start.
Defensive Line: D+
Key Stats - 216 rushing yards 5.53 YPC 1 sack
When you give up over 200 rushing yards, it is not a good sign for your entire front 7. The defensive line really struggled with Jalen Hurts rushing ability. Often they were able to get into the backfield but would overrun Hurts allowing him to easily evade the rush and pick up yards. Miles Sanders also had a big game with plenty of room for him to pick up nearly 100 yards on only 13 carries. Against the pass, the front was not able to consistently generate pressure when rushing four forcing the Lions to blitz. When they did get into the backfield, they did not do a good job finishing plays and preventing Hurts from breaking containment for a big play. Luckily, the Lions are still young up front and should get better with experience and as players return from injury.
Key Stats - Alex Anzalone: 9 tackles 1 TFL Malcolm Rodriguez: 6 tackles 1 TFL
The linebackers also struggled against the Eagles' rushing attack. The linebackers needed to do a better job limiting Hurts both in the read option and as a scrambler. The biggest issue with the unit as a whole was missed tackles. As there were several instances of Eagles players getting an extra chunk of yards after a Lions player had them in their clutches. The most glaring example of this was on a 3rd and 1 on the Eagles' final drive where Malcolm Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes failed to bring down Miles Sanders who escaped for a huge conversion. The hope here is that better line play will help the linebackers as they need to improve on Sunday's performance.
Key Stats - AJ Brown: 10 rec 155 yards, DeVonta Smith: 0 rec 0 yards
This unit looked much improved from last year despite AJ Brown's gaudy numbers. AJ Brown showed why he is so valuable as he bullied Amani Oruwariye all game. The Lions were forced to blitz to create pressure which forced Oruwariye into more one-on-one situations. Oruwariye is a fine player, but he should not be counted on to stop AJ Brown alone. On the other side, Okudah had his best game as a pro. He locked up former Heisman winner DeVonta Smith shutting him down to 0 catches on 4 targets. In the run game, Okudah made some nice plays as well with 10 total tackles.
On the backend, Tracy Walker was the best defensive player on the team. He was all over the field making 13 tackles with 1 sack and 1 pass breakup. As a captain and leader, Walker cannot get ejected or suspended again as this defense clearly needs him on the field. It could have been a different game with him on the field the entire game. DeShon Elliot looked solid in his debut both in coverage and as a tackler. This unit looked much improved in week 1 but will need an answer for elite receivers like Justin Jefferson and others on the schedule.
Special Teams: B
The Lions' special teams did their job this week. Austin Seibert started his season strong hitting all 5 extra points. Jack Fox and the coverage units prevented any punt returns. On kickoffs, the Lions did a really good job, pinning the Eagles inside the 25 multiple times. They were unable to recover the surprise onside kick, but even with the element of surprise, those are a longshot. In the return game, the Lions did not do much. Kalif Raymond's best punt return was called back with a hold, but not much positive or negative there. Special teams won't win many games, but it's always good when they don't lose the game.
The season-opening loss is definitely frustrating, but there is a lot to be optimistic about for this season. The Eagles are a Super Bowl contender, and the Lions took them to the wire. The offense could be a top ten unit in the league. Despite a subpar QB performance, the Lions still scored 35 points behind great performances by the offensive line and D'Andre Swift. With better QB play and no drops, they have the potential to score 50.
Defense, there is still a lot of work. Jalen Hurts carved the defense up on the ground, moving the ball with ease. However, the backend looked better, and hopefully, health and more experience will lead to improvement in the front 7. Moral victories will get old quickly, but being competitive every week will be a big step from last season. The next step is making plays down the stretch to win close games.