Matthew Stafford was perfect with two or more of these on the field
The Detroit Lions fielded the worst tight end unit in the NFL in 2018. After their moves this offseason, the position has now become an offensive strength.
Week One of the NFL’s 100th regular season was a record-setter for the Detroit Lions. And no, I’m not referring to their epic fourth-quarter collapse and subsequent disappointing tie to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.
Likely the biggest positive takeaway from the Lions’ regular-season opener was the excellent play of first-year tight end T.J. Hockenson. Detroit’s controversial first-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Hockenson posted the greatest rookie debut by a tight end in league history recording six receptions for 131 yards and his first NFL touchdown.
The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Hockenson was picked eighth overall in the first round of the draft by the Lions back in April. His selection drew the ire of fans and immediate comparisons to previous tight ends taken by Detroit in the first round, Eric Ebron (2014) and Brandon Pettigrew (2009). Both of whom failed to live up to their draft status in the Motor City.
But the arrival of Hockenson, Jesse James, and Logan Thomas has transformed the tight end position in Motown. And the Lions found offensive success against the Cardinals for the majority of the game due in large part to their presence on the field.
Here’s how Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press answered a chat question recently about the Lions getting their wide receivers more involved in the offense.
"“I went back through the tape. Stafford was 13 for 13 passing for 202 yards and a TD with 2 or more TEs on the field. That personnel grouping won for them last week, big time. I thought the Lions had some good matchups at WR vs. Arizona because of the Cardinals’ problems at CB, but you can’t argue with that.”"
Quarterback Matthew Stafford put up a great opening performance against the Cardinals on the road. The 11-year veteran passer threw for a whopping 385 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona. And having a consistent presence at tight end was clearly a positive for Stafford and the entire offense in Week One.
When new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was hired this offseason, it was believed he would continue to transform the pass-heavy Detroit Lions into more of a run-centric team. And he’ll likely continue to do so.
But the stellar performance by T.J. Hockenson can not be ignored. I believe we will continue to see more multiple tight end sets from Detroit moving forward. Those formations will give the offense the option of running the ball with additional blockers while still providing Stafford reliable, consistent targets in the passing game.