Lions must lower the opposing QB Rating against the Detroit defense in 2022

Detroit has finished in the bottom 5 in QB Rating allowed in each of the last 4 seasons.

Among the many areas for improvement in 2022, the Detroit Lions defense has one critical one. The Lions must escape the bottom rung of the NFL’s pass defenses in the QB Rating allowed metric.

It’s been too long since the Lions finished in the top half of the NFL for the full season in QB Rating allowed:

2021 – 101.0 (30th)

2020 – 112.4 (32nd)

2019 – 99.6 (27th)

2018 – 102.7 (30th)

The last time Detroit was in the upper half of the league was 2017, when Teryl Austin’s defense under head coach Jim Caldwell. That Lions defense, featuring a great secondary built around All-Pro CB Darius Slay and safeties Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs, allowed a QB Rating of 84.1 that ranked 14th in the NFL. Not coincidentally, that was the last season Detroit posted a winning record. The league QB Rating allowed average hovers right around 86.0 each year with some wiggle room.

While QB Rating isn’t a flawless metric, it does provide a pretty accurate assessment of how effective a pass defense is going against it.

Adding DE Aidan Hutchinson can only help the pass rush, one of the core components of keeping the opposing passing game under control. The secondary will need to create more interceptions and perform better in the red zone, two other areas where QB Ratings get fluffed up against a bad defense. That’s one key area for improvement for Aaron Glenn’s defense in 2022.

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Pistons draft pick Jaden Ivey has Detroit Lions roots

Pistons draft pick Jaden Ivey has some serious sports lineage, including a grandfather who played for the Lions for several years.

When the Detroit Pistons selected Purdue guard Jaden Ivey with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday night, they gave a nod to another Detroit squad.

Ivey is the grandson of former Lions defensive back James Hunter, who played for Detroit for all seven of his NFL seasons. Hunter started 77 games between 1976 and 1982. His 27 career interceptions ranks seventh on the Lions’ all-time records.

No word yet on if Ivey will wear his grandfather’s No. 28 for the Pistons. Ivey’s father, Javin Hunter, played wide receiver in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2002 season. His mom is Notre Dame’s women’s basketball coach.

The NFL’s PUP list change could be a big benefit for the Lions in 2022

The NFL’s PUP list change could be a big benefit for the Lions in 2022 with several key performers coming off major injuries

For many years, the NFL has held the same rule for the players on the Physically Unable to Perform, or PUP, list. A minimum of six games needed to be played before a player on the PUP list could begin practicing and kick off the process of returning to action.

Players placed on the PUP list prior to the season would miss at least six games, and many would linger on the list for another 2-3 weeks before activation. In short, it was common for PUP players to miss half the season.

However, the NFL quietly modified the rules for the PUP list this offseason. Now players are eligible to begin to practice after just four games. With no set minimum number of practices to get back into the lineup, PUP players could be back without even missing a quarter of the 17-game season.

That’s big news for the Detroit Lions, who have several players returning from serious injuries that could land them on the PUP list when training camp starts next month.

It’s a lengthy list with some prominent names on it, including first-round pick Jameson Williams. When head coach Dan Campbell declared that Williams isn’t expected to be ready for training camp, that’s a sign the PUP list is under strong consideration for the Alabama wideout, who tore his ACL in January.

It’s less anxiety in the delayed gratification department with Williams, who instantly takes over as the team’s top playmaker when he gets on the field.

Detroit has other players who are coming back from injuries and were not participants in the recent mandatory minicamp, making them potential candidates for the PUP list. While some (notably CB Jeff Okudah) appear ready to roll on time, all these players could wind up physically unable to perform in time for the start of the season:

  • TE Derrick Deese Jr. (UDFA rookie)
  • S DeShon Elliott
  • CB Jerry Jacobs
  • TE James Mitchell (fifth-round rookie)
  • CB Jeff Okudah
  • DE Romeo Okwara
  • WR Jameson Williams (first-round rookie)

The deadline to decide if a player needs to stay on the PUP list into the regular season is August 23rd, just after the team’s second preseason game.

Missing just four games is quite a bit different than six. Keep in mind the Lions have their bye week in Week 5. Using Williams as a hypothetical example, that timing would allow the rookie wideout to return to practice after Week 4 and then have one game week to evaluate his status. The bye week buys an extra week for Williams to get fully ready and back in the lineup for Week 6–the week before he would have been allowed to begin practicing in the past.

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Detroit Lions who will be free agents after the 2022 NFL season

All the Detroit Lions players who will be free agents after the 2022 NFL season

One of the few constants in the NFL is change. Injuries, retirements and free agency for players equals considerable roster turnover every offseason. For the Detroit Lions, the last factor there could be a major factor following the 2022 season.

The Lions currently have 41 players whose contracts expire after next season. That’s nearly half the roster potentially heading for free agency.

Not all free agency is equal. Five of the players here will be restricted free agents (RFA), meaning the Lions have the ability to keep them in the den with a qualifying tender offer. Other teams can pay the tender price and acquire the player, though that is not a common occurrence in today’s NFL.

Several will be exclusive rights free agents, or ERFA. Those 13 players simply need to be given the NFL minimum salary by the Lions and they are locked in.

Detroit can also extend players before their contracts expire. With over $10 million in remaining salary cap room, a couple of the more prominent names here are definitely candidates to be taken off the list with new deals before the end of the year.

Status is as of June 20th and players are listed in order of snaps played in 2021

Duce Staley gives Craig ‘Netflix’ Reynolds a new nickname

Lions RB coach Duce Staley gives Craig “Netflix” Reynolds a new nickname

Many fans know Lions running back Craig Reynolds at “Netflix” after his unexpected rise to prominence in 2021. That moniker came about when Reynolds told reporters he was “watching Netflix” when he got the call from the Lions to come to Detroit.

Now Reynolds is an established player. After rushing for 195 combined yards in his first two games in a Lions uniform in Weeks 13-14 last year, Reynolds proved there was no chill to his Netflix name. He earned a two-year contract and has asserted himself as the No. 3 RB in Detroit throughout the offseason.

And now it’s time for a new nickname. Reynolds, who admitted to me in a past interview that he “wasn’t thrilled” with the Netflix name, got a new one courtesy of his position coach, Duce Staley.

“Last year he was Netflix,” Staley told reporters last week on Reynolds. “He’s Hulu this year, right.”

Coach Staley elaborated,

“You’ve got to graduate each year. But man, I tell you Craig has been really working hard. And Craig is one of those guys you might have to tell, ‘hey man slow down for a second’. That’s during the offseason, that’s during the season. You’ve got to kind of pull him back a little bit. (Going hard) is all he knows, which I’m a big fan of.”

 

Josh Paschal signs his rookie contract with the Lions

Second-round defensive lineman Josh Paschal signs his rookie contract with the Lions

The entire Detroit Lions draft class of 2022 is now under contract. The Lions signed second-round pick Josh Paschal on Friday, the team announced.

Paschal was the last player left to sign. The defensive lineman from Kentucky is now locked in for the next four years. Terms were not immediately disclosed, but the CBA largely negates any bargaining. It is expected the deal is worth $8.4 million with a $3.3 million signing bonus per the league’s rookie salary slotting structure.

Paschal, the No. 46 overall pick, did not participate in the recent minicamp or this week’s OTAs. Head coach Dan Campbell indicated Paschal is still recovering from a “lower extremity” injury that is related to the leg injury that he suffered for the Wildcats in December.

Lions passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand offers a telling quote on the new philosophy in Detroit

Lions passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand offers a telling quote on the new coaching philosophy in Detroit

These are not Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions anymore. And a great, insightful quote from one of the few coaching holdovers from Patricia’s regime into the Dan Campbell era illustrates why the sordid past is dead.

Lions passing game coordinator and tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand met with the media during OTAs earlier this week. Engstrand was an offensive assistant for the team in 2020, Patricia’s final year. He carried over when Campbell believed enough in his ability to keep him in Detroit.

It’s easy to see why. This answer Engstrand provided when asked about what his role with the Lions entails is straight out of Dan Campbell Philosophy 101.

Engstrand’s final line here is the critical point,

“Finding what the guys do best and really trying to focus in on those types of things.”

Sounds pretty self-obvious and simple, right? Yet it is not something that every coaching staff embraces or even acknowledges. Think back to 2018-2020 in Detroit, where the coaching staff had to have players who fit very precise roles they predetermined. Even very skilled veterans who didn’t fit that precast mold (think Darius Slay, Golden Tate, Quandre Diggs) weren’t given the leverage to play to their personal strengths.

As Engstrand carefully pointed out, that’s the antithesis of the Dan Campbell philosophy. It’s something new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has talked about extensively in his offseason work with quarterback Jared Goff, too.

“One thing that we’ve done is included him a lot in what we’re trying to do schematically, and so we spent some time this offseason watching more of the stuff he did a few years ago in LA and how we can incorporate some of that, while also challenging him to take the next step in some areas of improvement for him as a player as well,” Johnson said during the Lions recent minicamp.

Imagine the audacity of seeking out reasons to play to the strengths of the players who proved good enough to make the NFL!

In all seriousness, this is where Campbell’s years as a player are a major asset. Most of his assistants played in the NFL too, though Engstrand–a college QB at San Diego State–is not one of them. The ex-players understand the dynamics of talent diversity and individuality, something Campbell clearly stresses in his coaching style.

Campbell loves to use the phrase “cut from the same cloth” when talking about his relationship with GM Brad Holmes but also in what he looks for in both players and assistant coaches. Engstrand might have predated Campbell in Detroit but it’s clear the same seamstress wove his coaching philosophy.

No Lions crack the top 100 NFL players list at CBS Sports

CBS Sports ranked the top 100 players in the NFL entering 2022 and not a single Detroit Lions player made the list

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There is no doubt the Detroit Lions have a better roster and significantly improved chances to win more games in 2022. But there is still quite a way to go before Dan Campbell’s Lions are considered a good football team. The latest barometer that shows where the Lions sit in the NFL talent pantheon comes from CBS Sports.

Analyst Pete Prisco compiled a list of the top 100 players in the league entering the 2022 season. Not a single Lions player makes an appearance in the top 100.

Right tackle Penei Sewell did earn an honorable mention, where he was the first name listed. Center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker arguably belong at least in that category as well even wtih coming off injury-shortened seasons. But the level of NFL accomplishment just isn’t there to give compelling arguments advocating for any other Lions to be on the list. Not right now anyway; several should merit placement on the list at this time next year, however.

It’s a reality check that the youthful Lions still have a lot to prove and that the team lacks proven NFL commodities at difference-making positions.

Lions LB coach Kelvin Sheppard remains very excited about Derrick Barnes

Lions LB coach Kelvin Sheppard is very excited with the progress and midset of second-year LB Derrick Barnes

When the Detroit Lions traded up in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft to land Purdue LB Derrick Barnes, it was a well-received move. Barnes showed a lot of promise as a versatile backer for a team that had major issues at the position.

Barnes played extensively as a rookie, though he wasn’t nearly as effective as hoped. He struggled in coverage and missed too many tackle opportunities, something that Lions LB coach Kelvin Sheppard is working on cleaning up. Sheppard has not lost any confidence in Barnes. Far from it, in fact.

During Senior Bowl week, I asked Sheppard about Derrick Barnes and the up-and-down rookie season from the young LB. Monday’s OTA media session provided a nice follow-up.

“I’m even more excited about (Barnes) right now,” Sheppard said. “…He’s done everything and more that I have asked. He has completely bought in.”

Sheppard continued while noting the view on Barnes from others within the Lions organization.

“A lot of people around the building say they see a new guy. I see the guy I always thought was there,” Sheppard stated.

We then got a taste of Sheppard’s coaching philosophy.

“It starts with a coach believing in a player to be able to pull out the most in the player. If you go into that with high optimism and high thoughts and praise on a player, the player feels that. In turn, without knowing it, it’s kind of a mind game at the same time with the coach/player dynamic. And with that player, the sky is the limit.”

Barnes continues to work primarily as an off-ball linebacker. During last week’s minicamp, Barnes worked primarily with the second unit behind newcomer Chris Board and veteran Alex Anzalone. He did receive some first-team reps but also ceded a few second-team reps to rookie Malcolm Rodriguez. The Lions are working on finding combinations that work together well and that’s all part of the experimentation.

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Lions OTA notebook: Young players take the stage

Notes from Monday’s OTA session on RBs receiving skills, OL versatility, a big man INT and more

The Detroit Lions are wrapping up OTAs this week. As head coach Dan Campbell stated last week during the team’s mandatory minicamp, this week’s voluntary sessions are focused on the rookies and developmental players.

Very few established players were in attendance on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in Allen Park. Nearly all projected starters were gone, again by design. Running back D’Andre Swift, right tackle Penei Sewell, linebacker Derrick Barnes and cornerback Jeff Okudah were the only starting-caliber non-rookies who participated.

One prominent rookie who definitely projects to start is Aidan Hutchinson, and the defensive lineman did not disappoint. He attacks every drill as if he’s playing for his livelihood and his competitive attitude rubs off on the others in the drills. It’s easy to see Hutchinson’s perfectionist nature on display; he jumped back into the front of the short (only four DL in attendance) queue to immediately redo a drill where Hutchinson and DL coach Todd Wash were unhappy with the rookie’s shoulder level on a pass-rush exercise.

RB footwork

One of the drills was a receiving exercise for the running backs, which had the entire depth chart other than Jamaal Williams and FB Jason Cabinda in attendance. It gave a good illustration of the different footwork of the participants.

Swift really stood out here. There is very strict attention to detail in his route-running. No wasted steps or false motions at all from Swift. It’s easy to hearken back to Theo Riddick and Reggie Bush, two former Lions RBs who were exceptional receiving weapons, in watching Swift working in the passing game.

Craig Reynolds showed he’s worked on his receiving skills in the offseason. Reynolds made a couple of very nice catches away from his body and demonstrated tight route-running. The fourth-year back is in line to play more in 2022 even if Swift and Williams are healthy. As I noted last week, Reynolds is a lot closer to pushing Williams for the No. 2 spot than he is to being caught by the No. 4 back, currently Godwin Igwebuike.

Quick hits

–RB coach Duce Staley led the practice session with Campbell watching closely. It was akin to the Senior Bowl practices, where Staley served as the head coach of the National team with Campbell in a more advisory capacity.

The coaching development pipeline is something that is critically important to both Campbell and the Lions. Expect to see Staley landing some head coaching interviews next offseason and this is Campbell’s way of helping prepare the energetic RB coach.

–Undrafted rookie nose tackle Demetrius Taylor once again commanded attention with his play. Taylor leapt up and picked off a low David Blough throw. The Appalachian State rookie had two deflections just like it during last week’s minicamp but couldn’t secure the catch. Taylor snagged this one and the entire defensive contingency went crazy in celebration.

–Offensive line coach Hank Fraley spoke to the media before practice and talked up the need for positional versatility for the younger players to crack the roster. Fraley certainly offered the six (plus Sewell) aspirants chances to show they can play multiple spots. UDFA Zein Obeid took reps at every position but right tackle in the drills I watched, with another UDFA, Kevin Jarvis, moving around at every position but center.

–UDFA tight end Derrick Deese Jr. was in attendance but only worked with trainers. He has yet to be cleared by the training staff to be a full participant.