It was Sunday afternoon and the sky was overcast, but the energy from within Ford Field could have powered a million suns. The Detroit Lions opened up their 2022 season by hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a standing-room-only crowd. And while the outcome wasn't exactly as those dreaped in Honolulu Blue, or those watching on t.v., would have hoped, there are plenty of positive vibes to come away from week 1 with as a fan.
Welcome to Highs and Lows, a weekly breakdown of the Detroit Lions game. We'll take a look at some of the better things that happened–even if they are moral victories (cringe!)–and some areas of improvement that are needed to continue to turn the cruise liner toward being a winning team.
The hype was real, especially after such an incredible season of HBO's Hard Knocks. The “can and will” Lions showed up Sunday ready to make good on the promise the hype placed on them. And Ford Field was bumping with the opening kickoff and near-perfect first drive, led by D'Andre Swift's legs. But, ultimately the rally fell short and the Lions lost their week 1 matchup 38-35, dropping to 0-1 on the season.
We'll start the column with the good news each week and then look at a few areas for improvement or missed opportunities.
The Highs for the Detroit Lions in week 1-
There should be plenty to come away from the week 1 game with and say, “that wasn't that bad.” And, to be entirely truthful, there's a plethora of things to hang a hat on as building blocks for a team looking to improve from 3-13-1. Here's the bottom line: this team is better than they were last year. After re-watching the game, reviewing notes, and mulling over every possible scenario there are three things the Lions need to be very high on: D'Andre Swift showed he can be that dude and Ben Johnson called a great game.
D'Andre Swift can be ‘that dude'
If you were told Monday morning that D'Andre Swift (seems like we always have to just say/type his entire name for it to feel right) would amass 144 yards on the ground on 15 carries (9.6 ypc!), plus add 31 yards on 3 catches, you'd feel great about that. Not to mention the Lions scored 5 touchdowns on the day, you'd think we walked out of Ford Field victorious. Swift was special on Sunday. There may not be enough adjectives in the English language to describe how electric, incredible, amazing, awesome … you get the point; he was fantastic. After a one-yard loss on a swing pass on the first play from scrimmage, he made up that and more by ripping a 50-yard run, scampering through the left side of the line, off tackle for a huge play.
He was the game's leading rusher, and aside from a scrambling Jaylen Hurts (17 rush attempts), led the game in attempts. However, the Lions also spelled him often with Jamaal Williams, who did vulture 2 touchdowns and carried the ball 11 times for only 28 yards. Whether it was to keep him fresh, or some other reason, one thing is true: the Lions have a running back that can be a game changer, and potentially a three-down back.
Ben Johnson's debut as a play-caller was pretty darn good
There was a lot of speculation if Ben Johnson would actually call plays, or just hold the title of Offensive Coordinator, with Dan Campbell actually being the voice inside Jared Goff's headset. Well, it's Ben Johnson, and he called a good game. You never want predictability when it comes to playcalling (hello, Captain Obvious), and Johnson delivered on that promise. The offense was balanced (aside from being down 15 and needing to throw) and he utilized play action on first and second down along with screens to neutralize a pretty potent pass rush from the Eagles.
But, more so, his ability to scheme routes to create space for receivers, especially in the red zone was nice to see. For example, the touchdown toss from Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown was a brilliant design. St. Brown motioned to the strong side where T.J. Hockenson ran a skinny post. D'Andre Swift ran an angle route out of the backfield, and St. Brown comboed those two routes with a slide route (broke out, then slid back under) where space had been created. It was a brilliant design and one example of something Lions fans should get really excited about with Johnson at the offensive helm.
These things here are something that Detroit Lions fans can look to in future weeks as the lynchpin for success during this season. If Ben Johnson continues to be creative and scheme well and D'Andre Swift does what he did Sunday, watch out because this team and season will be much different than in years past. But, Sunday wasn't perfect, so it's time to look at the lows.
The Lows for the Detroit Lions in week 1-
Okay, let's be real. If one wanted to nit-pick (and maybe good analysis is just a bunch of nit-picking) this list could be at least 10 items long. However, it won't be. At first, Dan Campbell and his onside kick were going to make the list, but better heads prevailed. (It was a terrible decision). When looking at some low things to discuss for this week's spot, there were really only two places to point: dropped passes and the overall defense.
“If you drop a ball, you will run a mile…”
Maybe you didn't catch the clever fantasy owner that sent messages to his drafted players with Denzel's famous Remember the Titans speech but Amon-Ra St. Brown is on that team and should probably get his jogging shoes out. He, along with D.J. Chark, Josh Reynolds, and a few others did not help Jared Goff out much at all either. Listen, Goff wasn't great, especially in the first half, but there were some crucial drops that could've extended drives. Goff on the day was 21/37 for 215 with 2TDs and 1 INT (returned for a touchdown). Some of the balls Goff threw were a touch inaccurate, but there were others that couldn't have been placed better. Teams that make those close plays, win more of these tight games, those that don't … well … don't.
There were some really good things from the receiving corps, but the drops have got to be cleaned up. It's Week 1, it may seem nit-picky, but when the ball is there on time and accurate, you have got to haul it in more than you don't. Drops stall drives and did against the Eagles. Hopefully, this will be cleaned up by next week.
The Defense played like it was 2021
Okay, maybe that's not fair. There were definitely some bright spots, like not allowing the Eagles to score for nearly the last 20-minutes of game action. This gave the offense the opportunity to come back from 15 points down. Okay, okay, they weren't that bad. But, they also didn't make the plays when they needed to make the plays.
Philadelphia was 10/17 (59%) on third downs. Many of those conversions were by Jaylen Hurts' ability to extend plays and create. But, at some point, you have to get home. Hurts was pressured 10 times and sacked only once. Miles Sanders was stopped on third down, with two Lions having a grasp on him, and busted out for a 20+ yard gain and a first down. Defenses have got to close when the opportunity presents itself and the Lions simply did not.
To go just a touch deeper, all the soft zone that was played in some crucial points was astounding, too. Listen, Aaron Glenn is a good coach and will be a head coach as soon as next year, but when A.J. Brown has 10 receptions on 13 targets and 155 yards, can we please not play 7-10 yards off of him on third down? Not a recipe for success. The defense moving forward has got to tighten up the reigns on third down and get off the field, especially if the offense is putting up points, the defense has to carry their own weight.
In the end, it was a fun and exciting start to the season, with a disappointing outcome. But, the Lions were full of energy and showed tremendous grit (everyone's favorite word around these parts). We'll be back next week for another highs and lows (hopefully more of the former) when the Lions play host once again, this time to the Washington Commanders.
You can check out A.J. and Eric Vicent on Beyond the Box, live every Monday night at 7 pm across all social media platforms. Join in the discussion as they discuss the Detroit Lions in week one including action from around the college football landscape as well. You won't want to miss it.