Detroit Lions Week 5 snap count observations: Rookies lead defensive changes

Let’s take a closer look at the Detroit Lions Week 5 snap counts from their 29-0 loss to the New England Patriots.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 66 (100% of offensive snaps)

Running backs

Craig Reynolds: 31 (47%) — 12 special teams snaps (63%)
Jamaal Williams: 22 (33%)
Justin Jackson: 14 (21%) — 11 (58%)

Reynolds was easily the Lions’ best offensive weapon on Sunday, turning his nine touches into 92 yards. He rightfully led the backfield in snaps and was solid in the run game, as well as the passing game, including pass protection. This raises a glaring concern with the play calling: With the offense struggling, why is the player who is producing only touching the ball just nine times?

Williams took a minor step back as the lead rusher (averaging just 3.7 yards per rush) and Jackson’s day was tarnished by drawing an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a Tom Kennedy touchdown.

Tight ends

TJ Hockenson: 56 (85%)
Brock Wright: 28 (42%) — 7 (37%)
James Mitchell: 5 (8%) — 7 (37%)

Not much has changed with the tight end usage, as these numbers reflect what we have seen in previous weeks, but the production on the field took a big step back. All three tight ends landed in the bottom five of the Lions’ offensive grades from PFF.

Wide receivers

Josh Reynolds: 60 (90%)
Calif Raymond: 56 (85%) — 2 (11%)
Tom Kennedy: 35 (53%) — 1 (5%)
Amon-Ra St. Brown: 21 (32%)
Maurice Alexander: 1 (2%) — 7 (37%)

St. Brown worked his way back from an ankle injury, but it was still clearly bothering him as he was very limited in what he was able to do on the field. After the game, he said he was probably at around 85 percent health, but his limp was noticeable throughout the game. The bye week should be a big help.

Reynolds continues to raise his game with the other starting wide receivers limited or out. He was the only consistent producer in a struggling passing game and the Patriots knew it, as we saw him draw double teams late in the game.

Offensive tackles

Taylor Decker: 66 (100%)
Penny Sewell: 66 (100%)
Dan Skipper: 1 (2%)

If you listened to the television broadcast, you’d think Decker and Sewell were completely “wrecked” by the Patriots’ Matt Judon—who had two sacks—but it wasn’t quite as bad as the commentary claimed. Did they have a down game? Definitely. They were not their typical dominating selves, but it’s important not to get too caught up in the drama of live television, especially with regard to the offensive line.

“I didn’t necessarily feel like (Judon) wrecked the game,” coach Dan Campbell said in his post-game press conference. “You know, again, when things don’t go well in your protections, there’s a number of reasons. And it’s all-encompassing between protection, it’s between the backs and the quarterback. But he’s a good player. You know, I don’t feel like he wore our tackles out or anything like that. But he certainly, he’s a good player. We knew it coming in.”

With Nelson out, the Lions basically threw the sixth offensive lineman package out the window, despite it being a source of opportunity in previous games. The team turned to Skipper the one time they tried it, but never went back to it.

Guards/centers

Frank Ragnow: 66 (100%)
Jonah Jackson: 66 (100%)
Evan Brown: 38 (58%)
Logan Stenberg: 28 (42%)

With Brown working his way through an ankle injury that limited him all week, and a presumed offensive focus on the running game, the Lions started Stenberg at right guard. By the end of the first half, the Lions turned back to Brown, but there was no clear reason why, as Stenberg seemed to be playing decent—his PFF grades support that—and no injury was announced.

Defense

The Lions promised changes throughout the defense and while some were very obvious—like in the secondary—the changes in the front seven were more subtle. Another notable change was the Lions’ increased investment in their youth, as rookies Aidan Hutchinson and Kerby Joseph led the defense in snaps, with Malcolm Rodriguez not far behind with the sixth most.

EDGE:

Aidan Hutchinson: 57 (95%) — 7 (37%)
Austin Bryant: 47 (78%) — 7 (37%)
Demetrius Taylor: 13 (22%)
Julian Okwara: 4 (7%) — 2 (11%)

With Charles Harris unavailable due to a late-week groin injury, the Lions leaned heavily on Hutchinson, who played almost every defensive snap in this game. He’s going to get dinged for overrunning the quarterback, again, but like with the offensive line, his work in the trenches wasn’t as bad as a few missed opportunities would lead you to believe.

To physically replace Harris, the Lions turned to Bryant, who played about the same number of snaps as Harris has previously. Taylor was also introduced into the Big DE spot, freeing up Hutchinson to shift over to the rush end side at times. Okwara’s role was surprisingly scaled back, but his struggles against the run have been an issue of late. Still, after the entire team produced only two (!) pressures, coaches may consider re-introducing him into a pure pass-rushing role.

With the Lions possibly returning Harris, Josh Paschal, and John Cominsky after the bye, this front may not be done adjusting.

DT:

Alim McNeill: 50 (83%)
Isaiah Buggs: 50 (83%)
Michael Brockers: 11 (18%) — 7 (37%)
Benito Jones: 8 (13%) — 7 (37%)

Second-year lineman, Alim McNeill continues to play an insane amount of snaps for a man his size. Not only was McNeill on the field more frequently, but his splash plays also increased.

Buggs also saw his snap count increase, but there were also several times throughout the game when he looked noticeably winded. The hard part with this situation right now is the reserves haven’t stepped up a ton this season, although Jones did flash some in this game and could see more opportunities moving forward.

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone: ​​53 (88%) — 7 (37%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 50 (83%) — 2 (11%)
Anthony Pittman: 16 (27%) — 19 (100%)
Derrick Barnes: 14 (23%) — 10 (53%)
Chris Board: 0 (0%) — 17 (89%)
Josh Woods: 0 (0%) — 12 (63%)

Not much change among the starters, but the reserves continue to shift roles. This week, it was Pittman, who saw his role increase, while Board’s defensive snaps dropped to zero. Board was nursing a knee injury last week, so it’s possible that influenced his contributions, but with a heavy dose of special teams snaps and changes being made across the defense, it’s possible he is being scaled back for performance reasons.

Cornerbacks

Jeff Okudah: 53 (88%)
AJ Parker: 47 (78%)
Mike Hughes: 27 (45%) — 12 (63%)
Bobby Price: 23 (38%) — 19 (100%)
Will Harris: 17 (28%) — 3 (16%)

What a mess in the secondary.

Harris got the start over Amani Oruwariye—who was a healthy scratch—but he injured his groin and was quickly ruled out. The Lions then turned to Hughes and Price on the outside, and when Okudah briefly left the game, both were called upon.

Parker, who was signed off the practice squad on Saturday, got the start at nickel.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 57 (95%) — 9 (47%)
DeSean Elliott: 53 (88%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 5 (8%) — 5 (26%)
Chase Lucas: 3 (5%) — 6 (32%)
Saivion Smith: 2 (3%)

Saivion Smith was promoted from the practice squad and got the start at safety, but two snaps into this game, he went down in a scary situation that saw an ambulance brought onto the field. Fortunately, Smith reportedly has “fully motor skills,” traveled back home with the team, and was tweeting out encouraging signs to other NFL players last night. Let’s hope things continue to trend in the right direction for Smith.

Elliott, who was benched in favor of Smith, was called upon to replace him on the field, and he performed well considering the circumstances. He was also injured in this game and was briefly replaced by Melifonwu. It’s unclear what will happen at this safety spot moving forward.

Meanwhile, third-round rookie Kerby Joseph, who replaced an injured Tracy Walker last week, stepped up his game and is settling into his new starting role. Joseph was also briefly injured in this game and was replaced by seventh-round rookie cornerback Chase Lucas—because they literally had no safeties left—but was able to return quickly. This starting job is clearly Joseph’s moving forward.

Special teams

Michael Badgley: 0 (0%)
Jack Fox: 3 (16%)
Scott Daly: 2 (11%)

Badgley was elevated from the practice squad for this game but never saw the field, as the Lions went for it on every first down and Jack Fox handled kickoffs. When Campbell was asked why they didn’t attempt a 50-yard field goal in the first half when the score was 6-0, instead of opting to go for it on fourth-and-9, he responded:

“Yeah, I had a yard marker. I knew that we needed to get inside to feel good about it, you know, to swing away. Otherwise, take your chances with the offense.”

If Campbell doesn’t trust Badgley to attempt a kick from 50 yards, then he’s probably not the answer at kicker.

So what do they do next?

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