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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Detroit Lions, Week 6

A very strong finish to the 2022 season has positioned the Lions to contend for their first division title in 30 years, as they ride an explosive offense and a defense that got a makeover in free agency and the draft


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at a team that finished the 2022 season on an impressive run and is now seeking its first division title in three decades.

2022 Results

After finishing 3-13-1 in Dan Campbell's first season as their head coach, the Lions looked to be headed in the same direction in 2022, losing six of their first seven games. However, while that stretch included lopsided losses to the Patriots and Cowboys, the Lions also dropped four games to eventual playoff teams by four points or less. That included a season-opening thriller that saw Detroit rally from 17 points down before narrowly dropping a 38-35 decision against a powerful Eagles team. That final outcome was a microcosm of the season for the Lions, who finished fifth in the league with 26.6 points per game but also allowed 25.1 points per outing, the third most in the league.

The turnaround for the Lions began with a rare low-scoring game, as they beat division-rival Green Bay, 15-9, in Week Nine. That started a run of eight wins in 10 weeks to close out the season at 9-8, giving the Lions their first winning record since 2017. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough to qualify for the playoffs, as they lost a tiebreaker with Seattle for the final NFC spot. Detroit did beat such playoff-bound teams as the Giants, Jaguars and Vikings during their hot streak, while also finishing off season sweeps of Green Bay and Chicago. Their Week 18 victory at Lambeau Field, in what would prove to be Aaron Rodgers' last game with the Packers, kept Green Bay from claiming that final spot that went to the Seahawks.

Quarterback Jared Goff had his best season since making back-to-back Pro Bowls with the Rams in 2017 and 2018, directing an explosive Detroit passing attack and finishing with an excellent 29-7 touchdown-interception ratio and a 99.3 passer rating. Goff threw for 4,438 yards and made rising-star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown his top target, hitting him 106 times for 1,161 yards and six touchdowns. The backfield paired a strong pass-catching back in D'Andre Swift (48 receptions, 931 yards from scrimmage) with touchdown machine Jamaal Williams, who ran for 1,066 yards and found the end zone an NFC-leading 17 times. Driving the NFL's fourth-ranked offense was one of the NFL's best offensive lines, anchored by Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow and a pair of former first-round picks, Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker at the tackle spots.

The Lions' defense ranked last in the league in terms of yards allowed (392.4 per game) but did force 22 turnovers, led by rookie safety Kerby Joseph's four interceptions. Fellow rookie Aidan Hutchinson, the second-overall pick in the 2022 draft, led the team with 9.5 sacks and also picked off three passes and recovered two fumbles. Veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone led the team with 125 tackles and also broke up six passes but the Lions struggled to slow down opposing rushing attacks, allowing 146.5 ground yards per game.

2023 Arrivals

The Lions started their offseason by refashioning a secondary that ranked 29th against the pass in 2022, hitting the free agent market to bring in defensive backs Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, all of whom figure to start in 2023. Sutton had five interceptions over his two full seasons as a starter in Pittsburgh, while Moseley missed significant time due to injuries in San Francisco but was productive when on the field. Gardner-Johnson, who played a variety of positions in three seasons with the Saints, had a breakout campaign with the Eagles in 2022, tying for the league lead with six interceptions despite missing five games. He could lock down the nickel corner spot for the Lions.

The Lions also created a new depth chart in the offensive backfield, where neither Swift nor Williams will be back for 2023. Instead, the Lions gave a three-year deal to former Bears running back David Montgomery in free agency then used the 12th-overall pick in the draft to land Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs and second-round tight end Sam LaPorta will bring a couple new dimensions to an already dangerous offense, as LaPorta replaces T.J. Hockenson, who was traded to Minnesota at midseason. Detroit also brought back wide receiver Marvin Jones for a second stint with the team after he had spent the past two seasons in Jacksonville.

Graham Glasgow came over from Denver to give the Lions some added depth on the offensive line after Ragnow played through injury for most of the 2022 season. Germain Ifedi, most recently of the Falcons, also got a one-year deal and could be the swing tackle.

Detroit ended up with four of the first 45 picks in the draft after a trade down in the first round and were able to land Gibbs and Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell in the first round, followed by LaPorta and Alabama safety Brian Branch in the second round. Campbell should start immediately in the middle of the Lions' defense, and despite all the secondary additions in free agency Branch will likely contribute right away because he can play multiple positions.

Detroit had a third second-rounder in their possession at one point but eventually traded down five spots into third round before nabbing a potential quarterback of the future in Tennessee's Hendon Hooker. Hooker, who is recovering from an ACL tear suffered late last season, is not likely to press Goff in 2023 but could be his eventual replacement.

The Lions could have a new placekicker in 2023 but they'll first have to sort through a trio of candidates. One of those is incumbent Michael Badgley, who took over the job in October last year and made 20 of 24 field goals. However, the team also signed XFL standout Parker Romo in May and then nine days later sent a 2026 conditional seventh-round pick to Jacksonville for Riley Patterson. Patterson played in seven games for the Lions in 2021 but was cut last September before being signed by the Jaguars.

2023 Departures

As noted, Williams and Swift have found new teams for 2023, the former heading to New Orleans in free agency and the latter going to Philadelphia in a draft-weekend trade. The Lions also made room for their new secondary members by trading former first-round pick Jeff Okudah to the Falcons and letting Mike Hughes leave for Atlanta as well in free agency. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye also departed in free agency, joining the Giants. Safety DeShon Elliott, who started 13 games for Detroit in 2022, took a one-year deal in Miami.

A spot for Jones's return was opened by wideout D.J. Chark signing with the Panthers on a one-year deal. Linebacker Chris Board, who was a reserve in his one season in Detroit, moved on to New England on a two-year contract. Evan Brown, who started 12 games at guard for the Lions last season, signed with the Seahawks.

Other Noteworthy Developments

The Lions will be without one of their promising young weapons on offense for the first six weeks of the season, as 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams was one of four Lions punished by the NFL for violating the league's gambling policy. Specifically, Williams was suspended because he was at the team facility when he placed a bet on non-NFL games. The other three suspended Lions – safety C.J. Moore and wide receivers Stanley Berryhill and Quintez Cephus – were quickly waived by the team. The Lions knew they wouldn't have Williams at the start of his rookie season after they took him 12th overall because he had suffered a torn ACL in his final game at Alabama, and indeed he didn't play until Week 13. His first catch was a 41-yard touchdown but that would be his only reception as a rookie. He also gained 40 yards on his only carry.

Offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson interviewed for several head coaching vacancies early in the offseason but stayed with the Lions and received a significant raise. However, Campbell did see two prominent members of his staff, Running Backs Coach/Assistant Head Coach Duce Staley and Defensive Line Coach Todd Wash, leave to join Frank Reich in Carolina. Scottie Montgomery came over from the Colts to fill Staley's spot and John Scott Jr. left Penn State to replace Wash.

The Lions only played one prime-time game in 2022, and that was after being flexed to Sunday night in Week 18. Their strong finish to the season appears to have made them a more compelling team to the schedule-makers in 2023, as they were given four night games, including a matchup with the defending-champion Chiefs in Kansas City in the league's annual Thursday night Kickoff Game. The Lions will have a fifth nationally-televised game with their traditional hosting of a Thanksgiving contest, this time against the Packers.

Pressing Questions

Will the secondary changes and the addition of Jack Campbell be enough to turn the Lions' defense around without many changes to the defensive front?

As noted above, the Lions brought in multiple free agents to address a porous secondary and used the 18th overall pick in the 2023 draft to plant linebacker Jack Campbell in the middle. All of their additions at those two levels of the defense are considered accomplished players who can quickly make a difference for a defense that finished last in yards and 30th in points allowed last year.

However, Detroit's front line is going to look pretty much the same as it did in 2022, when the team ranked 19th in sacks per pass play and 29th in rushing yards allowed. The Lions were able to retain starters John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs and rotational edge rusher Romeo Okwara, but those three combined for just seven sacks last season. The only additions to the group were third-round interior lineman Brodric Martin of Western Kentucky and a trio of undrafted rookies.

Hutchinson looks like a star in the making and wouldn't have to do much more to land in double digits in sacks. Outside linebacker James Houston appears to have been a steal in the sixth round in 2022, as he backed up Hutchinson with eight sacks of his own as a rookie. The Lions are presumably looking to get more of the same out of those two and perhaps a bit more out of Cominsky and Okwara, the latter of whom had a 10-sack season in 2020.

Will Jared Goff's second NFL chapter continue to be a pleasant surprise?

Goff seemed like something of a throw-in when the Rams sent him along with two first-round draft picks and one third pick to the Lions for franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2021. Stafford immediately led the Rams to a Super Bowl title that season, while Goff and the Lions went 3-13-1 (3-10-1 with Goff as the starter).

However, with a strong supporting cast around him and a well-designed offense led by Johnson, Goff demonstrated in 2022 that he was capable of directing an explosive offense. As noted above, he threw for over 4,400 yards with 29 touchdowns and was picked off only seven times, with a career low interception rate of 1.2%. The Lions appear convinced that he can continue to play at that level as they go into season in which they are expected to be legitimate playoff contenders.

The Lions initially owned the sixth pick in this year's draft, which was the last bit of their haul from the Stafford trade. Though the three most coveted quarterbacks in this year's class all went among the first four picks, the Lions could have conceivably tried to trade up for one of them, or they could have selected Kentucky's Will Levis. Instead, they traded back six spots and passed on Levis to take Gibbs. They eventually took Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker in the third round and the 68th overall pick but, as noted above, Hooker is not likely to see much playing time in 2023.

Goff has one more season on his current contract, but his dead cap hit if the Lions chose to move on after this season would be a minimal $5 million. Detroit could go that route if Hooker impresses early, but it's just as plausible that they will remain happy with Goff's body of work and keep him under center in 2024 and perhaps beyond.

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