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The Detroit Lions’ Investment in Offense is Paying Huge Dividends in 2023

After using significant draft capital and spending money on the offensive side of the ball, the Detroit Lions are off to their best start through 10 games since 1962.

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never seen a Detroit Lions team this strong in your lifetime.

A dramatic 31-26 comeback win over the Chicago Bears improved the Lions’ record to 8-2, their best start through 10 games since 1962. Detroit became the first regular season team in 2023 to overcome a 12-point deficit in the game’s final three minutes and win in regulation, and the first to do it since the Jets in Week 2 of last season.

Since Brad Holmes took over as Lions executive vice president and general manager in January 2021, his goals for the team were to instill a hard-nosed ethos and build a strong, powerful offense. Holmes hired Dan Campbell as head coach a week after starting the job, but building a winner took time. Trading longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and a raft of draft picks that offseason wasn’t easy, especially after seeing him win a Super Bowl right away when Detroit finished 3-14 in 2021.

But through subsequent other trades with the picks they got for Stafford, Holmes and the Lions helped build key pieces of an offense that’s the key engine to the team’s historic success. He nailed his first draft pick in charge, taking Pro Bowl tackle Penei Sewell seventh overall. In addition to finding the steal of the 2021 draft — taking Pro Bowl wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round — Detroit used the Rams’ first-rounder in 2022 to move up to select contributing WR Jameson Williams 12th overall in 2022.

Goff, St. Brown, and a potent rushing duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams helped the Lions improve from 25th in points per game and 22nd in yards per game in 2021 to fifth in points per game and third in yards per game in 2022. But they also finished last in yardage and 30th in scoring defense, missing the playoffs with a 9-8 record.

Holmes’ response last offseason? Double down on offense.

He traded Swift to Philadelphia and let Williams leave for New Orleans, signing David Montgomery from Chicago, and used more Stafford trade capital to draft speedy dual-threat running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round in April, also No. 12 overall. That duo has 13 rushing TDs in 10 games so far, helping Detroit rank third in that category this season.

Trading back from the sixth pick not only netted the Lions Gibbs but the extra second-round pick was used on dynamic pass-catching tight end Sam LaPorta, who’s already fifth at the position in both catches and receiving yards. Per Spotrac, Detroit spends 52.43% of the salary cap on its offense, the highest percentage in the league thanks to more than $42 million spent on offensive linemen Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, and Sewell. That’s more than eight percentage points higher than the second-most proportionally expensive offense, Cleveland at 44.23%.

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The investment’s paid off. Going into Monday’s Super Bowl rematch between Kansas City and Philadelphia, the Lions are…

  • No. 2 in the NFL in total yards per game (399.6)
  • No. 4 in total touchdowns (33)
  • No. 4 in percentage of plays that result in first downs (37.1)
  • No. 5 in passing yards per game (263)
  • No. 5 in rushing yards per game (136.6)
  • No. 6 in points per game (27.2)
  • No. 6 in total first downs (134)

But Detroit’s success this season wouldn’t have come without a respectable defense that’s 22nd in points allowed per game despite being ninth in yards allowed per contest. Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick in 2022, is already a star, and 2022 third-round safety Kerby Joseph is developing into one. Cornerback Jerry Jacobs, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2021, is a surprising starting caliber defensive back, and Holmes found a starter in 2021 third-rounder Alim McNeil on the defensive line. Meanwhile, linebacker Derrick Barnes is the second fourth-round pick from 2021 to emerge as a starter, though not at Amon-Ra’s level.

The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, the league’s longest drought by nearly a decade. But thanks to Holmes’ offensive investments, Detroit is in its best position in a long time to have sustained, playoff-winning success heading into Thursday’s Thanksgiving showdown against division rival Green Bay.

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