American Football

6 candidates for the Lions game ball vs. Bears


Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Here are this week’s candidates for the Detroit Lions Week 17 game ball.

The Detroit Lions kept their playoff hopes alive in Week 17, dismantling the Chicago Bears 41-10. There was a lot to like about the Lions’ performance and that’s why this week’s game ball will have six options to choose from.

Let’s jump right in.

Aidan Hutchinson

Stats: 4 tackles, 12 sack, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection

Aidan Hutchinson’s season stats are very good and when you add his performance today, they jump to 7.5 sacks, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries through 16 games. Per the Lions PR department, he is the first rookie in NFL history to accomplish those combined stats, and just the second defensive lineman—regardless of their year in the NFL—to hit those markers.

But it’s the things he is doing beyond the stat sheet that is separating him from other on the field right now.

On John Cominsky’s sack, it was Hutchinson who set the initial edge, closed the window around Bears’ quarterback Justin Fields, and pressured him out of the pocket right into the thick of his teammates. On his half-sack, it was once again a hustle play flushing Fields out of the pocket and forcing him to the sidelines, where Ifeatu Melifonwu joined in to get the shared sack. Hutchinson’s fumble recovery was also a result of him containing the edge, then following up on the play and being in the right spot at the right time. Hutchinson stayed home on bootlegs all day, constantly shutting down his side of the field and effectively cutting Fields escape lanes in half. Finally, his interception was a simple bait play where he guarded the sideline on the final play of the half, and when Fields made the throw, Hutchinson simply undercut the route for his third interception of the year.

“It’s crazy,” Hutchinson said of being the first rookie defensive lineman in NFL history to have three interceptions. “I’ve never touched the ball this much. Balls on the ground, balls in the air, I feel like I got a chance. So, it’s fun. It’s crazy to hear that stat, but I’m just out here doing my thing.”

In the draft, he was sold as the most complete defensive player in that class. He’s proving that narrative correct.

Jared Goff

Stats: 21 of 29 for 255 passing yards, three touchdowns, 133.5 passer rating

Jared Goff’s stats were not his most dominant of the season, but he was as efficient and decisive as he has been in weeks, which his 133.5 pass rating speaks to. For the most part, Goff simply took what was there and pushed the ball down the field whenever possible. When he felt threatened, he threw it into the ground and lived to fight another play.

Goff also hit a couple statistical benchmarks on Sunday, throwing a touchdown pass in each of his last 13 home-field games, and registering over 4,000 passing yards on the season, something only four Lions quarterbacks have achieved in team history.

James Houston

Stats: 3 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Well, if you hadn’t believed James Houston has arrived in the NFL, Sunday should have convinced you. Another three sacks bring his season total up to 8.0 on the year, making him the first player in NFL history to record that many sacks in their first six games.

“My job is to go out there and just get sacks and that’s what I do,” Houston said in the locker room. “I’m just playing football.”

All three of Houston’s sacks came in a different way illustrating how the Lions are finding new ways to use him and he is finding new ways to get things done.

On his first sack, Hutchinson’s wide rushing arc forced Fields to step up into the pocket, and Houston beat his man to quickly close for the sack.

Houston’s second sack was a thing of beauty. At the snap, both the right tackle and the right guard double-team him and drive him past the pocket, but Houston’s effort to spin back towards Fields’ escape path made the difference. Fields had no idea Houston was stalking him from behind, as he was at least 5 yards behind the play, but as the quarterback drifts laterally to avoid Hutchinson, Houston ran him down and buried him, chopping at the ball and forcing his first career forced fumble.

Houston’s final sack was on a play where he dropped into coverage, but when Fields escaped the pocket, Houston wasted no time closing on the play. Originally he was only credited with a half-sack, but the play was later reviewed and it was determined that Houston got Fields to the ground on the initial tackle.

“Credit to him that he was able to go out there and do what he’s been doing in practice and not let the pressure of the stage get to him,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said in the locker room. “I’m happy for him, man. He’s been working all year and to see his growth and his progress from training camp to where he is now, it’s incredible.”

Brock Wright

Stats: 3 receptions, 13 yards, 2 touchdowns

Another week and another tight end catching multiple touchdown passes from Goff. On his first touchdown, he simply outran his coverage to the pylon for the score, while the second saw him block and release, leaking out for a touchdown.

Those two touchdowns bring the Lions’ total touchdowns scored by the tight ends group up to 12 on the season—a franchise record—and nine of them came after the team traded away T.J. Hockenson.

Josh Paschal

Stats: 4 tackles, 2 sacks

Yeah, another Lions rookie defender made the list.

After returning from the PUP list, Paschal quickly found himself in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, he was injured again, and upon his return this time, John Cominsky had a firm hold on the starting job. That pushed Paschal into a reserve role. Each week, Paschal has seen his role expand, and even though he’s not a current starter at the moment, he is still making an impact when he is on the field.

Not only did he register his first career sack on Sunday, but he also got his second. On the first one, it was eerily similar to Houston’s first one, where Hutchinson collapses his tackle, forcing Fields off his spot and Paschal beats his man to clean up the sack. On the second, he fought through a called holding penalty to trip up Fields as he tried to get to the outside. Terrific effort/ability play.

D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams

Swift stats: 11 rushes, 78 yards (7.1 per carry average), 4 receptions, 39 yards, 2 total TDs
Williams stats: 144 rushing yards on 22 attempts, 6.5 per carry average

Welcome back, D’Andre Swift. The Lions rushing attack has been stalled for weeks, but Swift finally looked like the complete player we saw at the beginning of the season, totaling over 100 all-purpose yards and two scores. He attacked the line, make quick decisions, and was difficult to take down. Silky smooth in his movements, Swift could be an important factor as the Lions push for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Williams was his steady self but saw his opportunities expand as the Bears’ defense got stretched thin. His 58-yard scamper brought his season total up to 994 rushing yards, giving him chance to eclipse the 1,000 rushing yard mark in Green Bay next week. He also registered his 15th rushing touchdown on the season, leaving him one shy of the franchise record of 16, set by Barry Sanders in 1991.

“I think that’s our success right there, is just having different weapons and just to have so many weapons on the field,” Williams said in the locker room. “It just makes the defense more cautious about what’s happening and makes it unpredictable about what we’re doing. I think today Swift went crazy. He just had a tremendous game. Proud of him because of the way he works, and he deserves all the chances he gets. I’m just grateful for the way he came out, played for the team, and to get the juice going, the goods going.”

Alright, time to vote.

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