Detroit Lions 2021 Midseason Report Card: Evaluating the 0-8 start

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - OCTOBER 31: Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions while playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Ford Field on October 31, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - OCTOBER 31: Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions while playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Ford Field on October 31, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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D'andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /

Offense- 1.8/5 Stars

In simple terms, the Detroit Lions’ offense this season has been bad. They rank 26th in total yards per game, and 30th in scoring, averaging less than 17 points per game. There have been too many instances where the offense has failed to generate really anything positive, with mistakes in the red zone, penalties occassionally negating good plays and general ineptitude.

We all know where a lot of the blame has been directed.  But a big part of the problem has been the offensive line. That does come with the caveat that their two most important linemen have been out with injury, but regardless the line has been really mediocre in pass protection.

The Lions have allowed 23 sacks so far this year, which ranks 26th league-wide, not great considering their quarterback is notoriously bad when under pressure. The good news is that it appears as though Taylor Decker will be returning soon, which would boost this unit.

Penei Sewell will likely slide over to right tackle to replace Matt Nelson, who will move to the bench. Sewell’s play may drop off slightly in pass protection because he is more comfortable on the left side, but he would still provide a higher level of play than Nelson.

Best offensive player(s): RB D’Andre Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson

Probably the most unsurprising revelation is that these two have been in this spot three times each on weekly report cards. The only times one of these two wasn’t the best offensive player (in my opinion) was Week 1 and Week 4.

Let’s start with Hockenson. When he’s been on his game, he has easily been Jared Goff’s favorite target. But there have been multiple games this year where Hockenson was focused on by opposing defenses and his production suffered.

Hockenson is averaging 56 yards per game though eight weeks, which puts him on pace for 952 yards on the season, which would top his previous career-high of 723 yards from 2020. What will be interesting to monitor going forward is how Hockenson is used in the red zone. He has just a pair of touchdowns on the season thus far, and he has not scored since the first half of Week 2 against the Packers.

Now to Swift. He has clearly been the Lions’ most electric player, and he is leading all NFL running backs in receptions (47) and receiving yards (415). Numerous times this year, delivering the ball to Swift in space has led to good things.

The problem is his performance as a rusher. He is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry so far, compared to 4.4 yards per carry for backfield mate Jamaal Williams. Swift simply has not been effective as a runner, which is why he gets so many plays drawn up where he gets catches underneath. The play design is helping Swift get to open space which is good, but he needs to be better at finding running lanes. He has the talent to do so, he just has be more decisive when he runs between the tackles.

Worst offensive player: QB Jared Goff

This also shouldn’t surprise anyone. Goff’s play has been heavily criticized throughout the season so far, especially in recent weeks (one touchdown pass over the last four games). So where do we begin?

The relentless amount of check-downs. Amongst quarterbacks who have attempted at least 30 passes, Goff ranks dead last in air yards per target at 3.1. That’s obviously horrendous. When watching the Lions’ offense, particularly on third down, how often do you see Goff throw beyond the sticks? It is rather infrequent, and that lack of awareness/aggression is a major red flag.

The second bone to pick with Goff is turnovers. He has had too many mind-boggling passes where he either didn’t see a defender, or locked onto his primary read.

Then there is his fumbling problem. Goff is tied for second in the league with seven fumbles on the year, only behind Justin Fields. In total, Goff has turned the ball over 10 times in just eight games. To put it kindly, that is less than ideal.

Then there are two plays that put the cherry on top. He has thrown the ball way on fourth down twice. The second one (in Week 8) he claimed was a physical mistake, but it doesn’t really matter.

Fans very quickly turned on Goff, and if he doesn’t improve his play down the stretch the  Lions may have to cut their losses and eat the dead cap hit to get rid of him in the offseason.