Lions Week 17 snap count observations: Defense makes significant adjustment vs. Bears

Here is a closer look at the Detroit Lions’ snap counts from their dominating Week 17 win over the Chicago Bears and some observations on what it means for the future.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff: 64 (90% of offensive snaps)
Nate Sudfeld: 7 (10%)

Up 28 points with five minutes left in regulation, the Lions pulled Goff in favor of Sudfeld, who led the team to a four-play drive that ended in another three points. He was back on the field for three victory formation snaps to close things out.

Running backs

Jamaal Williams: 33 (46%)
D’Andre Swift: 25 (35%)
Jason Cabinda: 15 (21%) — 14 special teams snaps (47%)
Craig Reynolds: 13 (18%) – 21 (70%)

Both Swift and Williams returned to form against the Bears, but as the Lions worked with a lead for the majority of the game, they leaned on their bigger back to chew up the clock. Expect the Lions to head into the next game with a timeshare plan, and the situation will dictate which way the team leans as the game plays out.

Williams will be heading back to Green Bay—the team that drafted him, then drafted his replacement—just six yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards on the season, and just one rushing touchdown short of the franchise record for single-season rushing touchdowns (Barry Sanders set the record at 16 in 1991). He’ll have a chance to hit both those marks against the team that decided to move on from him.

Tight ends

Brock Wright: 46 (65%) — 10 (33%)
Shane Zylstra: 28 (39%) — 10 (33%)
James Mitchell: 20 (28%) – 10 (33%)

With a focus being put on re-establishing their running game, the Lions went back to their standard usage, after going lighter the past few weeks. Wright and Mitchell continue to see their blocking prowess improve, while Wright and Zylstra have caught five of the last six touchdown passes from Jared Goff.

As a team, the tight ends group has 12 touchdowns on the season—a franchise record—, with nine of those scores coming after the team traded away TJ Hockenson.

Wide receivers

Amon-Ra St. Brown: 50 (70%)
DJ Chark: 48 (68%)
Josh Reynolds: 31 (44%)
Kalif Raymond: 21 (30%) – 7 (23%)
Jameson Williams: 18 (25%)

With the lead and shifted focus to running the clock in the second half, the top three receivers all saw their usage scaled back a bit in this game. Expect their numbers to shoot back up, at roughly the same average splits, next week.

While the group as a whole saw fewer snaps, this was Williams’ highest snap count of his career. The team not only increased its workload but there were at least four offensive plays specifically designed with Williams being the primary option. The playbook is slowly opening up for him.

Offensive tackles

Taylor Decker: 71 (100%)
Penny Sewell: 71 (100%) — 7 (23%)
Matt Nelson: 1 (1%) – 7 (23%)

The Lions tackles were used as expected, even adding a sixth offensive lineman seven different times—Nelson was used there once, while Dan Skipper was used there six times…

Guards/centers

Jonah Jackson: 71 (100%) — 7 (23%)
Evan Brown: 71 (100%) — 7 (23%)
Frank Ragnow: 64 (90%)
Dan Skipper: 13 (18%) – 7 (23%)
Logan Stenberg: 0 (0%) – 7 (23%)

Ragnow has been dealing with a foot injury all season, so when the offense rested Goff at the end of the game, they also pulled their Pro Bowl center off the field as well. With Ragnow on the sidelines, Brown shifted from right guard to center—he is also the player most often snapping to Sudfeld, so this also helped with familiarity on the snap exchange—and Skipper stepped in at right guard.

Defense

The Lions struggled to stop the run in Week 16 and clear adjustments need to be made entering Week 17. Leading up to the Bears game, much was made about the Lions’ injuries (specifically safety DeShon Elliott) and lack of depth up front, putting them in a difficult spot to adjust to successful rushing attacks.

The Lions elected a non-traditional route to make the adjustment, shifting away from their traditional two safety sets, and into more 5-2 looks with 3 corners and a single-high safety.

DT:

Isaiah Buggs: 31 (60%)
Alim McNeill: 28 (54%)
Benito Jones: 26 (50%) — 2 (7%)

With the preferred heavier look against the run, the Lions’ interior lineman usage saw a slight bump. While the starters remained mostly the same, the bump was mostly noticeable with Jones, who saw his snaps almost double in a normal week.

EDGE:

Aidan Hutchinson: 37 (71%) – 2 (7%)
John Cominsky: 33 (63%) — 2 (7%)
James Houston: 33 (63%) – 3 (10%)
Josh Paschal: 25 (48%)
Romeo Okwara: 15 (29%) – 2 (7%)

The Lions have invested heavily in their edge rushers and they’re starting to lean on them. The down defensive linemen usage was actually not far off from normal, but Houston saw his snaps explode and Hutchinson’s ability to flex positionally made the new look front work.

Of course, it makes it easy to lean on this group when Hutchinson and Houston are shattering sack records, Paschal is recording his first two career sacks, and Cominsky is getting home as well (the picture above is the play where Cominsky got his sack) .

Linebackers

Alex Anzalone: ​​38 (73%)
Derrick Barnes: 27 (52%) — 15 (50%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 26 (50%) – 3 (10%)
Josh Woods: 7 (13%) — 23 (77%)
Chris Board: 5 (10%) — 23 (77%)
Anthony Pittman: 5 (10%) – 23 (77%)

Overall the linebacker usage didn’t increase but there were some slight changes in snap distribution. Anzalone, typically never leaves the field, but in this game, he was situationally removed as the Lions tried to play the matchup game. Sometimes it was in favor of the more athletic Barnes—who saw his numbers bump slightly—, while other times it was for other reserve linebackers who are perceived to be better in a specific area (ie Board in coverage).

Cornerbacks

Will Harris: 49 (94%)
Jerry Jacobs: 38 (73%) — 9 (30%)
Mike Hughes: 34 (65%) – 10 (33%)
Jeff Okudah: 17 (33%) — 3 (10%)
Amani Oruwariye: 14 (27%) – 7 (23%)

The cornerback group was continuously mixed up as the Lions looked for the best combination. The only consistent was Harris, who was deployed in various spots on the field.

Okudah started the game, but once again found the bench early. He was heavily favoring his right arm on the sidelines but was also still running down the field on punts as a gunner, so it’s not clear if his lack of playing time was injury related or a benching for the second week in a row.

Hughes filled in for Okudah again, as his tackling success continues to afford him opportunities.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 48 (92%) — 10 (33%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 26 (50%)
CJ Moore: 6 (12%) — 23 (77%)
Brady Breeze: 4 (8%) — 21 (70%)

Here again, we see the impact of the Lions approach to this game. Joseph played the majority of snaps, per usual, while Melifonwu—who was filling in for Elliott—saw roughly half the snaps he had last week.

Here’s the thing, maybe it was the usage or maybe another week of development, but Melifonwu made some very nice progress in his second game as a starter. He split a sack with Hutchinson, looked confident defending the run, and made big strides as a tackler. With Elliott potentially returning next week, Melifonwu will likely slide into the third safety role, but this was a promising step in his development.

Special teams

Jack Fox: 18 (60%)
Scott Daly: 10 (33%)
Michael Badgley: 7 (23%)

Return coverage could have improved a bit, but for the three specialists, their day was solid overall.

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