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Scouting Report: Lions' Top Game Wreckers | Week 6

A look at the Lions’ top playmakers who could impact the outcome of Sunday’s matchup

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Following the bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will don a reimagined version of the classic 'Creamsicle' uniforms on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Week Six matchup will mark the Bucs' first throwback game since 2012. Tampa Bay took sole possession of the NFC South with a victory over the Saints in Week Four and it will be a clash against the former NFC Central foe on October 15. Through the first five weeks of the NFL season under the direction of Dan Campbell, the Lions have solidified their place as one of the league's top contenders en route to a 4-1 record. Detroit sits atop the NFC North with catalysts on both sides of the ball. 

Offensively, the Lions rank sixth in total offense, averaging 384.4 yards per game. The unit ranks in the top-10 in both rushing (seventh) and passing (ninth). Ben Johnson, the Lions' offensive coordinator, has evolved into one of the NFL's best sequential play-callers and one of the most diabolical. He is adept at creating space and exploiting voids through condensed, tight-bunch formations and has cultivated a diverse running attack that Is not predicated on play-action. Johnson conditions defenses to react by making everything look the same. Their run game takes linebackers away from their coverage landmarks and the threat of the run or an empty backfield, creates advantageous matchups for the Lions' receivers. The gap-scheme heavy rush attack uses a frequent dose of duo, counters, power and traps, but Detroit still sprinkles in outside/ inside zone to set up explosives. Their offense attacks matchups and uses trick plays and quick snaps to put their pass catchers in position to make plays. 

Defensively, the Lions' run defense is legitimate. The unit is forcing teams to become one dimensional and ranks third against the run. Detroit has faced several premier running backs in 2023 including Kenneth Walker III, Bijan Robinson and Aaron Jones, and through the first five games, it has allowed an average of just 68.4 yards per game on the ground. In his second season, Aidan Hutchinson is the centerpiece of the defense and has crystalized his case for Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. The Lions have outstanding playmakers on both sides of the football and here are five who could help swing the game in favor of Detroit on Sunday afternoon: 

OT Penei Sewell

For the third-straight game in 2023, Penei Sewell did not allow a single pressure per PFF. The stalwart was a perfect 30-for-30 in pass-blocking reps against Carolina in Week 5. Last season, Sewell anchored the line, surrendering 28 total pressures over 17 games and was one of the better second-level run blockers in the game. He even added a game-sealing catch against the Vikings in Week 14 to his resumé. With rare foot quickness and agility for his 300-plus-pound frame, Sewell can make the most challenging move blocks look effortless. He has established himself as one of the best right tackles in the game. His quickness off the snap generates leverage and control as both a run and pass blocker. Sewell possesses rare change-of-direction agility to make blocks in space. He elevates the Lions' run game and sets the standard in the trenches. 

DE Aidan Hutchinson 

Aidan Hutchinson has proven himself as one of the league's best pass rushers in just his second season. He finished second in voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season and led all first-year players with 9.5 sacks in 2022. Hutchinson is a lethal three-down player, adept at both collapsing the pocket and dropping rushers behind the line of scrimmage. Last season, Hutchinson became only the second player in NFL history to record 9.5 sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in a season. Through five games in 2023, Hutchinson has racked up 4.5 sacks – tied for ninth in the league. He consistently wins with quickness, power and effective hand usage. Hutchinson is relentless on every play and utilizes a vast-array of hand moves to generate sacks/pressures. Once free, Hutchinson has impressive closing burst and has the instincts to counter inside when tackles overset. His intuition pays dividends, and the Bucs will have to know where No. 97 is at all times. 

TE Sam LaPorta 

Sam LaPorta has recorded the most receptions (22) by a tight end in his first four career games in NFL history while also leading all rookies at the position in targets (27) and receiving yards (242) in 2022. LaPorta has become a go-to target for Jared Goff, possessing toughness, body control and soft hands. He became Iowa's all-time receptions leader at the tight end position and has continued the stellar trend at the NFL level. LaPorta alters his tempo mid-route to generate consistent separation and leverage. He has outstanding quickness and is tough to bring down once he accelerates in the open field. Iowa has built a reputation for producing elite tight ends and LaPorta could be the next top-tier player to emerge from the Hawkeyes' program.

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown 

The Lions missed the services of offensive weapon Amon-Ra St. Brown in Sunday's win over the Panthers, as he was sidelined due to an abdominal injury. According to Head Coach Dan Campbell, his return is probable for Week Six. Through four games, St. Brown accumulated 267 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he became the third player in NFL history to record a touchdown in six-straight games at age 22 or younger, joining Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski. St. Brown is the Lions' Swiss Army Knife, operating in a variety of roles, including tailback. He has the wiggle to lose any coverage and is sudden in space. In Detroit's heavy-use of condensed, tight-bunch formations, St. Brown is lethal off a two-way go. He has smooth acceleration through route stems and showcases balance to generate run-after-catch. 

DB Brian Branch 

Defensive back Brian Branch missed Sunday's matchup against the Carolina Panthers after injuring his right ankle in the victory over the Green Bay Packers. "I do not think it is long-term," Campbell said. "That is why we did not put him on IR, so we are hopeful for Tampa, but we will just have to play it by ear." 

Prior to his injury, the versatile defender had been one of the club's significant contributors in the secondary. He is tied for the team lead in tackles (25), tackles for loss (three) and passes defensed (four) through four games in 2023. In addition, he returned a Patrick Mahomes' interception for a touchdown in Week One against the Chiefs. Branch may very well end up being one of the biggest steals of the 2023 draft. Touted as a first-round talent, the Lions were able to snag Branch in the second round at 45th overall, and he has become one of the Lions' most consistent defenders. He can do it all, from staying in the hip pocket of a receiver, dropping to cover tight ends on curl/flat routes, to coming downhill to make the tackle. Branch diagnoses and pursues with proper leverage against the run and has the burst and ball skills to undercut passes. He is consistently around the football and quarterbacks are already aware of his patrolling presence. The position-less Branch has made his mark in Aaron Glenn's defensive backfield.

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