Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell was drafted by NYG in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He started 34 games for them, 28 of which came over his final two seasons before he signed with DAL (and later DET) in free agency. A year-plus after his career ended, he became an intern-offensive coach for MIA. Working his way up, including a stretch where he was interim Head Coach for MIA and an Assistant Head Coach for NO, Campbell landed the top job for DET in 2021. In a time where owners are often chasing after specialty minds (offense/defense), DET did it different. They went after a culture guy. Campbell is leader of men. He wants to chew glass, get into fights, and give off the tough-guy persona to a league full of tough guys. His staff is filled with former players with similar backgrounds and mindsets. DET personifies “Blue Collar” as much as any team in the league. To be determined if this approach can work and DET. If you have not followed the team, DET has had some of the worst losses in the league since Campbell’s tenure began when it comes to blown leads and aggressive mistakes.
DET came into this one with the last-ranked defense in the NFL when looking at both yards and points allowed, respectively. What surprises many, however, is the fact they came into the league with a top-10 offense in both categories. They do not have star power on that side of the ball. They have a quarterback who would not start on 20 teams in the league. How are they doing this? NYG got a front row seat in their Week 11 matchup at windy MetLife Stadium. It is that time of year.
NYG began the game with the ball. Left Guard Shane Lemieux was on the field for the first time, giving the team 4 of their 5 starters up front on the field. Evan Neal remained inactive with a knee injury. Two of the first three plays resulted in losses. They went three-and-out and DET responded with three points via a field goal by Michael Badgley. A week after Saquon Barkley’s 30+ touch performance and four days prior to their next game against DAL, backup running back Matt Breida made his mark early. He converted a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt before a 16-yard gain on a 3rd-and-7 a few plays later. This set them up for their first touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run by Daniel Jones.
The game stayed at 6-3 (the extra point was blocked), NYG up, for the next three possessions as the two ground-and-pound offenses were playing the field position battle. DET punter Jack Fox, a 2020 All-Pro, had consecutive punts of 57 and 63 yards. NYG’s #1 corner and fill-in punt returner, Adoree’ Jackson, was injured on the 57-yarder. He did not return and will be out a month. Jones threw an interception on a zone blitz that he did not recognize, throwing it directly to DET defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. With the DET offense starting their drive in the red zone, it took just four plays for them to score on a Jamaal Williams four-yard run.
Thanks to an illegal block in the back by Nick McCloud on the ensuing kickoff, NYG started their drive on their own 6-yard line. They had gains of 19, 13, and 4 yards. Because of the penalty, that only got them to their own 42-yard line. They were forced to punt again as the NYG offensive line, with four starters in, continued to get abused. Punter Jamie Gillian then shanked one 25 yards. DET needed just three plays before they were in the red zone again and with under a minute remaining in the half, Williams scored a 1-yard touchdown to make the game 17-6. Poor clock management by Jones ended the half with the NYG offense near midfield.
DET opened the second half with another touchdown-scoring drive on the back of Williams yet again, his third score of the day. There was urgency in the NYG offensive huddle on the next drive. Down 18, at home, but up against the worst defense in the league. Barkley had just 18 yards on 10 first half carries, and they were approaching the point in the game where they needed points, and fast. The way to do that in the NFL? Throw the ball. On 4th-and-5 from the DET 40, Jones threw his second interception on a poorly placed ball. Rookie Kerby Joseph brought it in, his third of the season as he has emerged as the league’s top rookie safety so far.
DET did not convert this into points. They went three and out two possessions in a row, but NYG’s offense remained stagnant themselves. However, as the game turned to the fourth quarter, their fortune started to change even though they lost their most targeted receiver, rookie Wan’Dale Robinson, to a knee injury. He did not return and will be out the rest of the year. Breida did end up scoring NYG’s next touchdown on a 3-yard run but kicker Graham Gano missed the extra point. 24-12 DET.
NYG got the ball back with under 9:00. This was it, they needed to score a touchdown on this drive and who better than DET to do it against, a team that has made a living on blowing fourth quarter leads since the start of the Campbell-era. Jones threw two incomplete passes, center Nick Gates forgot to snap the ball on 3rd-and-10, and the anemic passing game needed a huge play. Jones delivered a strike to recently picked up receiver Isaiah Hodgins for a 20-yard gain. First down. But on the next play, right before he went down, Hodgins fumbled, and it was recovered by Hutchinson who was all over the field. DET needed four plays before D’Andre Swift got his turn at crossing the goal line on a 4-yard touchdown run.
NYG did end up getting that touchdown, a drive and turnover too late, on the next drive. Jones hit Richie James on a 9-yard crossing route. They were down 13 points with under 5:00 left in need of a successful two-point conversion to make it a TD + 2-point conversion + FG margin. Tight End Lawrence Cager dropped the pass from Jones, NYG remained down 13, and DET recovered the ensuing onsides kick. NYG would not touch the ball again. DET’s offensive line paved the way for two first downs via run-only in run-only situations and sucked the remaining NYG timeouts out of Brian Daboll’s hands.
NYG loses, 31-18.
-Daniel Jones: 27/44 – 341 yards / 1 TD – 2 INT / 74.1 RAT
Jones also added a team-high 50 yards on 7 carries including a touchdown. The 341 yards were the third-highest of his career and the 44 attempts were the second-highest. The DET defense, again the worst in the league because of how poor they perform against the pass, sold out on stuffing Barkley and the NYG running game. This will be what see week in, week out for the rest of year. Extra beef up front, defensive backs in the box, and sheer number advantages. Jones did make big throws. He did a fine job getting the ball out when receivers were open. He took what was there. He was productive (391 yards total). Checks in all of those boxes. But the interceptions were both on him. He did not read the zone blitz on the first one and he air-mailed the second one. While we can continue to pound the OL + pass catcher drum and rightfully so, this one will go in the negative bucket for Jones. He did not rise above.
-Saquon Barkley: 15 att – 22 yards / 2 rec – 13 yards
Barkley looked like a guy who carried the team a week earlier. He had less pop and speed than what we have seen this season. After reviewing the All-22, I also noted three runs where Barkley’s lack of aggression caused no gain or a loss. All three were plays that had a strong likelihood of going for 5+ yards, one of which could have been much bigger. Daboll has done a fine job with Barkley and this running game when it comes to putting the head down and getting those 2-3-4 yard gains. But we saw the version of Barkley who had too much tip-toeing, lack of desire, and overall slowness. That margin in between in this league is enormous. A poor game for Barkley but he was strong pass protection. He has turned that around in a big way.
-Matt Breida: 3 att – 13 yards – 1 TD / 1 rec – 16 yards
We did not see a lot of Breida in this one and I wish we saw more. He brought more energy to the offense than Barkley did, and it was obvious on the early drive where he converted a 4th- and 3rd-down conversion, respectively. While it is hard to keep #26 off the field, this was something obvious to see early on. With where NYG’s receivers are, I think more looks with both guys on the field should be a priority.
-The position group caught 22 passes for 292 yards, by far a season-high. Wan’Dale Robinson led the group with a line of 9/100 but suffered a torn ACL on the first play of the fourth quarter. Such an unfortunate blow for multiple reasons. One, it looked like Robinson’s role was starting to click here. He was the guy Jones could get the ball to on 3rd/4th down. He was the one who created the most on his own after the catch. Two, because of the nature of the injury and timing, this is something that could linger into 2023. My hope is he will be on the field Week 2 or 3.
-Darius Slayton came up with a few big plays. His 17.2 yards per catch in a game that he had 5 or more receptions were the most since Week 10 of 2020. The negative with Slayton continues to be drops. He added 2 more to his season total and double caught two others – meaning a slight bobble before bringing it in. On a team that lacks talent at WR – he is clearly the number one guy especially with Robinson out. He can make big plays in an offense that is begging for such in the passing game. But it is hard to rely on a guy with his caliber of hands and ball skills. He did come up with a key block on the Jones touchdown run early in the game.
-Maybe the loudest ovation of the day, whether it was genuine or sarcastic, came on the first Kenny Golladay reception. He had 2 catches on the day, both body-balls that he let come in to his numbers rather than attack it with his hands, for 29 yards. By default, Golladay will see more and more looks now.
-Richie James appeared out of the doghouse once Robinson went down. He responded with 3 catches for 48 yards and a touchdown, all coming in the fourth quarter. Isaiah Hodgins came up with 29 yards on 3 catches but lost a fumble that DET turned into a fourth quarter touchdown.
-Another lackluster day for the group overall. It is one thing to see a lack of impact on the game, but when the negative plays start to pop up, it becomes frustrating to watch. Tight end was mishandled this past offseason and even in-season. Lawrence Cager allowed a TFL, was flagged for offensive pass interference, and dropped a big 2-point conversion attempt with the team down 13. He did have 2 catches for 20 yards, but that was it for the group as a whole.
-I have long discussed the issues the interior of this line would present as the year went on. It was one of the first things I saw at camp back in August. They’ve played better than I anticipated but that doesn’t mean much. It has still been a well-below average group that was somewhat overshadowed by the smoke and mirrors offensive scheme. With Shane Lemiuex on the field for the first time this season, I had some optimism. That ended quickly. He allowed 3 pressures and a sack before being benched in the second half for rookie Josh Ezeudu, who allowed a pressure himself. Mark Glowinski was man-handled by Alim McNeill repeatedly. He allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for illegally blocking downfield on a drive that had NYG approaching field goal range and ended with a punt. His penalty was the turning point of the drive.
-Center Jon Feliciano left the game with a neck injury. He allowed a TFL and one pressure before heading out. Nick Gates started off as a blocking tight end but then took over at center for Feliciano. He was flagged twice, one of which was declined. As I said a few weeks ago, Gates is the guy that should be at center. He sustains contact better than Feliciano and gets more push.
-Andrew Thomas allowed 1 TFL but was otherwise lights out again. On the other side, Tyre Phillips had to be relieved by Matt Peart because of a neck injury. Phillips allowed a pressure before departing and Peart struggled with 2 pressures and a TFL. His hands were all over the place and it threw off his body control. Peart clearly has not clicked yet. The tools were there, and it was worth the gamble, but he simply cannot pass block consistently.
-Oshane Ximines had a solid game, pressuring Jared Goff 3 times and registering 1 tackle. He was flagged for a roughing penalty, however, on a 3rd-and-8 stop that gave DET an automatic first down on a 3-point scoring drive.
-Rookies Kayvon Thibodeaux added 2 tackles and 1 pressure and Tomon Fox had 1 tackle. Quiet and overall ineffective game for the two on limited looks, as Goff only threw 26 passes.
-Jihad Ward had 4 tackles, 1 pressure, and a pass break up. Martindale put him into coverage on a couple of occasions via the zone blitz and it hurt the defense. Ward moves more like a defensive tackle than a linebacker. Stiff and slow.
-Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams continue to play a ton of snaps. Lawrence had 3 pressures and a team-high 7 tackles while Williams added 1 pressure and 4 tackles. The DET interior is one of the best in football and these two won several matchups. The success DET had on the ground had very little to do with them.
-Henry Mondeaux remains ahead of the immobile Justin Ellis on the depth chart. He played 32 snaps while Ellis only saw 17. Both of them struggled against that OL.
-Rough day for the group. Rookie Micah McFadden got the start next to veteran Jaylon Smith and both were manhandled against the DET running game. McFadden is a step too slow especially in coverage. It keeps popping up and DET took advantage of it on the play-action crossing routes. He was also flagged for a pass interference. Smith had 6 tackles but 5 of them were assists. He was late to the running lanes and slow to fill. The lateral adjustments are worrisome, as he looks so stiff and rigid when he needs to adjust. He added 1 pressure.
-Tae Crowder saw an uptick in playing time late in the game and finished with 3 tackles and a TFL.
-Adoree’ Jackson missed most of the game because he was injured on a 3-yard punt return. He was recently put in that role because of the two Richie James fumbles in Seattle a few weeks ago. More on that below. Jackson will be out for a month, if not longer. I’ve said this a few times; Jackson is the one guy this defense could not afford to lose. Huge blow for the defense that has almost no margin left.
-Fabian Moreau suffered an oblique injury and may be out Thursday at DAL. That leaves the secondary with Darnay Holmes at nickel and a mixture of Nick McCloud, Rodarius Williams, and Cordale Flott on the outside as NYG is approaching a difficult slate of opposing offenses in the near future. Holmes and McCloud both had a TFL and were solid in coverage. They fit the aggressive scheme well and I feel good about them. The concerns are with Williams and Flott. Williams was beat in coverage multiple times in his first action of the season and Flott, a rookie who has played 22 snaps since Week 3, is raw. He dropped an interception but did force a fumble. These next few weeks will be huge for Flott when it comes to experience and learning from mistakes. It may be painful right now, but it could end up being beneficial to his future.
-Julian Love was the lone defender to play all of the snaps. Nobody else played 90% of the snaps. He tied for the team lead 7 tackles and added a TFL. He did miss a tackle on a 3rd-and-long conversion though and missed out on an interception late in the game, but it did end in a pass break up.
-Jason Pinnock was in and out of the game with a jaw/neck injury. He is very much an all-or-nothing type player on defense. He had a TFL and 3 tackles but added a missed tackle. I like the aggressive style and length he brings to the table. I hope he can stay on the field because NYG may have something in him.
-Rookie Dane Belton had 2 tackles but was ridden out of multiple plays by wide receiver and tight end blocks. That is a weakness in his game I’ve seen repeated a few times this season. He also allowed receptions on the two times he was targeted.
-K Graham Gano: 0/0 (One extra point blocked and he missed another)
-P Jamie Gillan: 4 punts / 38.3 avg – 38.3 net
-DT Dexter Lawrence, WR Wan’Dale Robinson, RB Matt Breida
-OG Shane Lemieux, LB Micah McFadden, RB Saquon Barkley
3 THOUGHTS ON DET
The Lions have passed their 2021-win total (3) with 7 games left on the schedule. They’re currently the 2nd place team in the NFC North. They have contests against JAC, NYJ, CAR, CHI, and GB remaining. Say what you want about the defensive and late-game struggles, but this team is on the rise. I believe in culture-building and I believe the resources DET has put into it will pay off. What is truly missing? They’re going to be limited with Jared Goff under center, that is the simple truth. The statistics are a bit misleading, as a lot of their production has come late in games against prevent-style coverages. But if their 2022 first rounder Jameson Williams, who may be back in December and was my second-ranked receiver behind Garrett Wilson last April, is a dude who checks every box. With next year being the vital third season of the Campbell-era, I can see them making THE aggressive move in the offseason for a quarterback. That can go in a few directions, but it is something I see happening one way or another.
The DET offensive line has been well built. Left tackle Taylor Decker, 1st round 2016. Left guard Jonah Jackson, 3rd round 2020. Center Frank Ragnow, 1st round 2018. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, free agent signing in 2020 (currently on IR). Right tackle Penei Sewell, 1st round 2021. When I look at this offense that is top 10 in yards and scoring without a true number one receiver (or tight end now that they’ve traded T.J. Hockenson), Jared Goff at quarterback, and an overrated number one back in D’Andre Swift, it is impossible to not give most of the credit to their O-Line. It creates a strong notion in my head that adding yet another high pick to the group along the interior will very much be in the discussion next April.
The Dan Campbell experiment seems to be working. Now, the Colts seem to be re-energized by Jeff Saturday. Neither situation can be considered a full-blown win yet, but if they turn in to successes you can bet your bottom dollar other teams will follow suit. Coaching hires that have less to do with scheme, more to do with culture.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
Two losses in their last three games. One win since October 24. Is NYG simply regressing toward the mean? Meaning is this what they truly are? A thin roster that cannot handle the multitude of injuries. A team that was winning a bunch of one-score games, but the law of average has arrived? I think NYG has some “dark” days ahead, meaning more and more losses, but let’s not get it twisted. This team has already exceeded expectations in 2022. They are still very early in this new regime and way of doing things. They’re playing with house money and, as we have been saying since August, they are looking for things that will build this roster and the future. They need some answers, and they need their young guys to get the experience of ups and downs. Anything else that comes, which includes a very-possible postseason birth, is icing on the cake.
If NYG wanted to put a premium playmaker in the return game, why not put Saquon Barkley back there? Because you don’t want him getting hurt. Then why put Adoree’ Jackson, who in my opinion was the most important player on defense, in that role? This coaching staff has been amazing from the start and Daboll is in the running for Coach of the Year. But that was the wrong move and they’re going to pay for it. I understand some of the decision-making revolved around feeling safe with Jackson (catching the ball) but losing him is going to be a potential season-changer for this defense and team.
Injuries aside, I’m glad NYG has a short week against a team that just absolutely crushed the 8-1 Vikings on the road 40-3. One team riding a high. One team riding a low. Both teams have seen their fair share of peaks and valleys this season. It is a divisional matchup. This is the first time this new regime is playing a repeat-opponent. I think NYG will be in this game on Thursday as crazy as it sounds. It’s the way the NFL works more often than not.