Detroit Lions

The Lions Are Approaching the End Of the Season the Right Way

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday was the rare shootout for the Detroit Lions, as they went down swinging against the Seattle Seahawks on the road. It was another start for quarterback Tim Boyle, who produced mixed results. Elsewhere, head coach Dan Campbell deployed his rookies all over the field. That’s exactly the approach the Lions should be taking at the end of the season.

In terms of wins and losses, the season has been long gone for the Lions. But there’s still plenty to ball out for. In particular, Detroit is starting to sift through what they have in some of their rookies. Against Seattle, six first-year Lions players were on the field for at least half the snaps on their side of the ball. Regulars like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Penei Sewell were alongside less-frequently seen rookies like Derrick Barnes and Alim McNeill. Playing these rookies in regular-season games at this spot is perfect.

Expecting to get all the answers from all these rookies seeing extended action is unrealistic. But it will give Campbell and the coaching staff a better idea of what they’re working with as they move into the offseason. Look no further than how St. Brown has come along.

Detroit slowly brought the rookie slot wideout from USC along at the start of the season, but he showed little glimpses of greater talent. As the weeks carried on, Campbell made it a point to incorporate St. Brown much more. What has emerged is a stud of a wide receiver who at least will be the No. 2 on the depth chart in the years to come. St. Brown has produced at least eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown in all three contests in the last three games alone. He has no fewer than 73 receiving yards in the previous five games. He had no such games in the first 10 games of the year. A star has emerged, and Detroit now knows they have someone to build around on offense.

There’s a lot of figuring out left to be done with Barnes and McNeill and even Ifeatu Melifonwu at corner. But getting them opportunities now will only help in the long run.

Melifonwu had a rough afternoon as he drew the assignment of D.K. Metcalf for much of the game. Metcalf finished with six receptions for 63 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t the best afternoon for Melifonwu, but getting tossed into the ring of fire at this point is the best measurement the Lions can use for growth with their young players.

The same can be said for their quarterback. Boyle isn’t a rookie but has never gotten a chance in the past. The performance from Boyle was far from spectacular. He finished with two touchdowns and three interceptions and had trouble diagnosing the speed of plays at a time. Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ website best summarized what Campbell made of Boyle’s outing:

The overwhelming opinion on Boyle from Campbell is that the first-year starter has to slow down a little bit. Boyle plays fast and gets the ball out of his hands quickly, which at times is really good, but there are other times where if he holds the ball a tick longer and lets the play develop, a much better decision will present itself.

These reps for Boyle are invaluable in that regard, and it’s something Boyle and the coaches are working on.

Invaluable indeed. Like many of the rookies for the Lions, Boyle was mostly unknown despite it being his fourth year in the NFL. This is the first real shot he’s received to be the signal-caller. If you’re the Lions, why not see if there’s anything there? Jared Goff wasn’t ready to return, and we’ve seen the David Blough experience. Again, it was the right move by Campbell and his staff.

The last thing the Lions needed to do in the middle of a massive rebuild was head into the offseason with plenty of question marks surrounding the young players on the roster. They’ve answered that by giving an abundant amount of snaps to six of their rookies in recent weeks, including during the game against Seattle.

Even with a record that will land the Lions a top-2 pick in the 2022 draft, there is still plenty to learn from the final week of the season. The priority should be on evaluating the development and growth of the rookies. Dan Campbell and his staff emptied the tank on Sunday, with six of those first-year players getting serious minutes. The results weren’t always pretty, but it was necessary for the staff to see to begin planning for next year as the season winds down.

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