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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Opponent Preview: Detroit Lions, Week 2

The Lions went into the 2023 season with lofty expectations and fell just short of their first Super Bowl berth…With new deals in place for Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Penei Sewell, can they take it a step further in 2024?


As the NFL calendar enters its only real lull of activity between the end of offseason programs and the start of training camps, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2024 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's focus is on the last team the Buccaneers took the field against in 2023, a Detroit Lions squad that has big ambitions for 2024 and a plan in place to stay competitive for years to come.

2023 Results

After a breakout 2022 season that included an 8-2 finish, the Lions entered 2023 with hefty expectations…and met them in impressive fashion. But for a furious second-half comeback by San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, the 2023 Lions might have gone to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

After defeating the Buccaneers in a tight Divisional Playoff match in Detroit, the Lions went to San Francisco and rushed out to a 24-7 halftime lead on the strength of touchdown runs by three different players. But the 49ers came back with 27 straight points in the second half and held on for a 34-31 win in a game that featured 855 yards of offense and only one turnover.

The Lions rode their strong finish to 2022 into the 2023 regular season, winning five of their first six, including a 20-6 victory in Tampa in Week Six. That included a signature opening-day win over the defending-champion Chiefs in Kansas City, in which rookie nickel back Brian Branch celebrated his NFL debut with a game-thing 50-yard pick-six in the third quarter. The Lions' defense stymied two second-half Chiefs drives into scoring range, holding them to a pair of field goals, which set the stage for David Montgomery's game-winning eight-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Lions took their only loss in this six-week span the following weekend, but it took overtime for the Seahawks to complete the 37-31 decision.

A trip to Baltimore in Week Seven delivered the Lions' only real dud of the season, as eventual MVP Lamar Jackson accounted for four touchdowns in a 38-6 blowout. Detroit rebounded with another three-game winning streak, including a 41-38 shootout on the road against the Chargers. Two wins over Minnesota in the last three weeks, sandwiched around a one-point loss at Dallas, gave Detroit its first division title in 30 years. The Lions then beat the Rams by one point in the Wild Card round for their first playoff victory since 1991 before pulling away from the Bucs in the fourth quarter the following weekend for the 31-23 win that sent them to the conference championship game.

Goff had perhaps his finest season as a pro, one good enough to have Detroit faithful chanting his name at a Red Wings game, as he threw for 4,575 yards and 30 touchdowns. An outstanding offensive line led by Pro Bowlers Penei Sewell and Frank Ragnow helped Goff put up outstanding numbers against the blitz, and the backfield duo of David Montgomery (1,015 yards, 13 touchdowns) and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs (945, 10) kept the offense balanced. Third-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown graduated from Pro Bowl honors in 2022 to first-team All-Pro status in 2023 by catching 119 passes for 1,515 yards and 10 scores.

Detroit's defense didn't fare quite as well as its offense, ranking 19th in the NFL in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed. Despite significant efforts in the 2023 offseason to upgrade a porous secondary, the Lions still ranked 27th in passing yards allowed per game and 30th per play. Injuries to newcomers Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson didn't help, though Branch proved to be a rookie revelation in the slot. Aidan Hutchinson, the second-overall pick in the 2022 draft, followed up a fine rookie season with 11.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl invitation in 2023. No other Lion defender posted more than five sacks.

2024 Arrivals

For the second offseason in a row, the Lions overhauled their secondary, this time using multiple approaches to bring in new contributors. That started before free agency when the Lions agreed to send a 2023 third-round pick to the Buccaneers for cornerback Carlton Davis and a pair of sixth-rounders. The Lions then dipped into free agency for former Raiders corner Amik Robertson, then used both of their first two draft picks on the position, taking Alabama's Terrion Arnold in the first round and Missouri's Ennis Rakestraw in the second.

With starting left guard Jonah Jackson departing in free agency, the Lions moved quickly to find a veteran replacement in former Raven Kevin Zeitler, who got a one-year deal. The Lions also added some depth to their line by taking Canadian prospect Giovanni Manu in the fourth round.

Besides Zeitler and Robertson, the Lions weren't particularly busy in free agency, but they did make a couple moves to try to give Hutchinson more help up front. Former Bengal D.J. Reader got a high-dollar two-year deal and will likely slot in next to Alim McNeil (5.0 sacks in 2023) on the interior line. Reader is not a high-impact pass-rusher, with 9.5 total sacks in 105 career games, but he's an elite run-stuffer who should strengthen an already very good rush defense. Marcus Davenport, who played one year in Minnesota after five years with the Saints, got a one-year deal to try to recreate the nine-sack season he had for New Orleans in 2021.

2024 Departures

The biggest defection for the Lions, as noted above, was guard Jonah Jackson signing a three-year deal with the Rams after starting 57 games and making one Pro Bowl in four seasons in Detroit. Versatile defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson returned to Philadelphia on a three-year pact after one year in Detroit that saw him healthy for just three regular season games.

The Lions will be looking for a new third receiver after Josh Reynolds signed with the Broncos in free agency; Reynolds had 78 catches for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons in Detroit combined.

In addition to Gardner-Johnson's departure, the turnover in the secondary continued with the releases of cornerback Cam Sutton and safety Tracy Walker, while safety Will Harris remains an unsigned free agent. Sutton's release after just one year in Detroit came on the heels of an arrest for domestic violence. Defensive tackle Benito Jones is a former undrafted free agent and not a household name, but he did start 15 games for the Lions last year before signing with the Dolphins in free agency.

A pair of veterans and part-time starters, defensive end Charles Harris and guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai are currently still on the free agent market.

Other Noteworthy Developments

One potential departure that did not happen for the Lions – at least not yet – was that of rising-star offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who was a hot name on the head coaching market this offseason. Johnson interviewed with multiple teams, including the Chargers, Seahawks and Falcons, and reportedly was the favorite to land the Commanders' job before pulling his name out of consideration and announcing his intention to stay in Detroit. Johnson also declined an interview with the Panthers.

Detroit's extensive efforts to fix its most significant weakness, the secondary, indicated the team's belief that it can be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2024. However, the Lions brass also made several big moves this offseason to ensure it remains competitive for years to come. First, the Lions locked in St. Brown and Sewell, two of its brightest stars, to very lucrative deals that run through the 2028 and 2029 seasons, respectively.

Then came an even bigger commitment: a four-year, $212 million extension for Goff that included a record $73 million signing bonus and a no-trade clause. Goff's $53 million AAV is now the second-highest in the NFL, behind only the $55 million for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Though Jonah Jackson left in free agency the Lions were able to retain several other key starters who could have found new homes as well. That included guard Graham Glasgow, who is coming off his best season as a pro and was a top priority for Detroit heading into free agency. Glasgow is expected to move over to left guard to replace Jackson, with newcomer Kevin Zeitler sliding in on the right side.

The Lions also re-signed cornerback Emmanuel Moseley for depth in the secondary and brought back wide receiver Donovan People-Jones, who could factor into the third-receiver competition. Fourth-year tight end Brock Wright, who has 43 catches for 424 yards and seven touchdowns over three seasons, got an offer from the 49ers as a restricted free agent but the Lions matched it. Detroit also brought back kicker Michael Badgley, who finished the 2023 season in that role after replacing Riley Patterson in December.

Pressing Questions

Do the Lions have enough firepower at wide receiver beyond superstar Amon-Ra St. Brown?

Detroit finished second in the NFL in passing yards in 2023 and their recent commitments to Goff, St. Brown and Sewell should keep that aerial attack in high gear in 2024. Still, it's fair to wonder if the Lions could use another high-output receiver to take some attention away from St. Brown.

Depending upon how one looks at it, the Lions may already have that in second-year tight end Sam LaPorta, who had a monster rookie season with 86 catches and 10 touchdowns. However, his average of 10.3 yards per catch suggest he's more of a high-volume, move-the-chains pass-catcher than a downfield threat. Theoretically, the Lions have the latter option in third-year wide receiver Jameson Williams, the 12th-overall pick in the 2022 draft, but Williams has just 2 catches in 18 career games so far. Josh Reynolds was a serviceable number three receiver who averaged 15.2 yards per catch last year, but he's in Denver now.

Assuming Williams is the starter opposite St. Brown, the Lions' top options for a third receiver are Peoples-Jones and Kalif Raymond. Detroit got Peoples-Jones from Cleveland in a midseason trade last year and he caught five passes in eight games. Raymond, a former undrafted free agent, bounced around the NFL for five years but has settled in with the Lions for the past three seasons, catching between 35 and 48 passes each year.

Will this year's efforts to rebuild the secondary be more successful than the one the team attempted a year ago?

Last offseason, the Lions dived into free agency to grab Sutton, Moseley and Gardner-Johnson, all of whom were expected to start right away. Meanwhile, former first-round cornerback Jeff Okudah was traded to Atlanta and the Lions let starting defensive backs Mike Hughes, Amani Oruwariye and DeShon Elliott walk in free agency.

The moves didn't pan out for the most part, though safety Brian Branch proved to be a second-round steal and was an instant impact starter in the slot. Both Gardner-Johnson and Moseley missed most of the season due to injury and Sutton may have been miscast as a number-one corner. So the Lions went back to the drawing board this season, as detailed above, and once again made a complete overhaul in the secondary.

There's reason to believe their efforts will pay off more handsomely this time around. The Bucs were thrilled to get a third-round pick for Davis, particularly given what many other veterans were drawing in the trade market, but Davis is undoubtedly a starting-caliber NFL cornerback. The key for the Lions will be keeping him on the field, as Davis has missed games due to injury in each of his six seasons in the league.

Arnold was the top cornerback in the draft on some analysts' boards, and the Lions made an aggressive trade up to get him in the first round. Rakestraw appears to be good value in the second round and is another option in the slot if the Lions want to move Branch around to some extent. Moseley is back and hoping for better health fortune; he's been a solid performer when on the field in his career. Branch has a season under his belt now and Robertson is good depth to help weather the inevitable injuries at the cornerback position.

It looks good on paper. Will it come together on the field better than it did a year ago? The Lions' hopes of fielding a tighter secondary depend on it.

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