It’s time to kick off our 2023 schedule preview series, taking an early look at each of the Kansas City Chiefs’ regular season opponents.
As the defending Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs get to host the NFL’s Thursday night season opener. The young, up-and-coming Detroit Lions will make their way to Arrowhead Stadium, coming off of a resurging 2022 season where they just narrowly missed the playoffs at 9-8.
Last season the Lions started off poorly with a 1-6 record. It seemed to be another “same old Lions” story, but then they went on a tear and won six of their next seven games. They finished the season winning eight out of 10, including a road victory over the Green Bay Packers in the season finale.
Detroit finished 2022 with the fourth-ranked overall offense in the NFL, ranking fourth in yards and fifth in points. Its Achilles heel, however, was their defense, which ranked dead last in the league.
Naturally, the Lions attacked free agency with defense in mind. They signed a pair of solid cornerbacks in Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley. They also signed Swiss army knife safety/nickel CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Detroit then selected linebacker Jack Campbell with one of their two first-round picks, while also drafting safety Brian Branch in the second round. Both should make immediate impacts.
On the offensive side, the Lions lost their top two running backs. Jamaal Williams, who out of nowhere led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2022. Then, D’Andre Swift, who they traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. In order to replace them, they signed veteran running back David Montgomery with electric first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs. They also selected tight end Sam LaPorta in the second round, who will be a day-one starter.
Let’s take a look at some of the Lions’ key players and their outlooks heading into the 2023 NFL season:
Goff had a career resurgence in 2022, ranking in the top 10 among quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdowns. He was also very efficient, throwing just seven interceptions on the season and completing 65.1 percent of his passes. Goff turned the ball over only once — a fumbled snap —over his final nine games.
Now in his second year in offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s system, Goff will look to elevate his game even higher. He’ll work with what should be a great one-two punch with Gibbs and Montgomery at running back, a new weapon at tight end in Sam LaPorta and Pro Bowl receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Goff’s offensive line isn’t too shabby either, ranking fifth in Pro Football Focus’ early 2023 rankings. Goff is one of the few old-school, traditional pocket passers left in the NFL.
He thrives off play-action and is one of the most accurate passers in the league on short-to-intermediate throws. He won’t wow you with athleticism or big-time throws, but he makes secondaries pay when he has a clean pocket to throw from.
The Lions somewhat surprisingly took Gibbs at No. 12 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. They then traded D’Andre Swift, showing confidence in the rookie from Alabama. Gibbs should be an instant playmaker from the get-go with his 4.3 speed and pass catching ability. He could also make an impact on special teams as a return man.
Gibbs averaged an eye-popping 6.1 yards per carry for the Crimson Tide in 2022, while also catching 44 passes. He averaged 23.9 yards per kick return during his collegian career with one touchdown in 2021. One of the big question marks for Gibbs transitioning to the NFL is his size and durability at 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds.
Fortunately, he should benefit from veteran David Montgomery’s presence. Montgomery will be the thunder to Gibbs’ lightning and get the tough yards. Gibbs may be the third-down back early on, but if he is consistently making big plays he could become a three down back.
St. Brown caught 90 passes in 2021 but was still under the radar heading into 2022. That is no longer the case as he caught 106 passes for 1,161 and six touchdowns last season, earning a Pro Bowl selection. St. Brown is an excellent route runner with good hands and can lineup in the slot or out on the boundary.
St. Brown is a gritty competitor who competes through the whistle. That toughness makes him a tough matchup for any cornerback. He is also valuable in the running game as he was PFF’s No. 1 ranked run-blocking receiver. St. Brown may establish himself as one of the elite receivers in the league in 2023.
Gardner-Johnson is one of the most versatile defensive backs in the league, able to play as box and free safety as well as slot cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks recorded just a 63.8 passer rating when targeting Gardner-Johnson last season. He also co-led the NFL in interceptions with six despite missing five games due to a lacerated kidney.
Gardner-Johnson showed his toughness by returning for the Eagles’ playoff run last season, helping them reach the Super Bowl. He will bring instant leadership to the overhauled Detroit secondary and much-needed playmaking ability. He signed a one-year deal with Detroit this offseason, and if he has another big year, he could secure a huge multi-year contract.
Jahmyr Gibbs wasn’t the only shocking first-round pick for Detroit, as they would select Campbell six picks later at No. 18 overall. Campbell is a physical inside linebacker who plays with a high motor and has a high football IQ. He won the 2022 Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football and was a two-time First-team All-Big 10 with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Campbell is a good coverage linebacker, though time will tell if he can hang with NFL tight ends. He should definitely give the Lions a boost against the run and has the makings of a future team captain. He’ll have much to live up to as critics say Detroit majorly reached for Campbell, who they probably could have gotten in the second round.