The 2023 NFL season gets underway with a Thursday Night Football showdown on NBC between the Detroit Lions and the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, in Kansas City.
For the Chiefs, this marks the initial step towards a potential repeat Super Bowl journey and securing consecutive championships. Meanwhile, for the Lions, it’s an opportunity to validate the buzz that has surrounded their team over the past few months, demonstrating their readiness to become contenders in the NFC playoff race.
5 Points to Consider in ‘Lions at Chiefs’
Sure, here are five elements to keep an eye on in tonight’s game:
1. SECONDARY GAINS
Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Brian Branch are all set to make their first appearances for the Lions tonight, facing off against reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the league’s top-ranked passing offense from last season.
Sutton, Gardner-Johnson, and Branch join forces with Kerby Joseph and Jerry Jacobs, forming a secondary that appears to have significantly improved in their coverage skills, ball disruption capabilities, and turnover creation. If you ask any player from Detroit’s offense, they’ll attest to the heightened challenge of moving the ball through the air against this Detroit secondary during training camp, in contrast to previous years.
The Lions’ secondary will face a significant challenge in this matchup. Patrick Mahomes has a remarkable track record in Week 1 openers since becoming the Kansas City starter, completing 121 passes out of 169 attempts (71.6 percent) for 1,542 yards, 18 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and an impressive 133.9 passer rating. This achievement represents the highest number of touchdown passes without an interception in NFL history for Week 1 games.
2. RB USAGE
Detroit’s backfield has undergone a complete overhaul, with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs taking over for D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. Despite rushing for over 2,000 yards and notching 23 rushing touchdowns last season, the Lions believe they can achieve even greater explosiveness with Montgomery and Gibbs carrying the ball.
Montgomery and Gibbs are anticipated to have a significant influence on the passing game, and it will be intriguing to observe how offensive coordinator Ben Johnson incorporates both running backs into his offensive strategy.
“I believe both of them possess great versatility, so we might deploy Gibbs in ways that could surprise some folks, and Montgomery similarly,” Johnson remarked. “I’m genuinely eager to witness their on-field performance this week, as we intend to utilize them in various roles.”
3. ALL 5 UP FRONT
Montgomery and Gibbs will enjoy the advantage of running behind what is arguably one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. For the first time in two seasons, all five of their top players will be on the field together.
Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Penei Sewell are set to make their regular-season debut as a complete unit, and it’s quite remarkable to ponder this fact given the exceptional performance of Detroit’s offensive line over the past two years. Watching them in action should be an enjoyable experience.
The Chiefs are probably going to be without All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is expected to sit out tonight’s game due to an ongoing contract dispute. Kansas City has experienced significant changes along their defensive front and is integrating new players for this matchup. On paper, Detroit’s offensive line holds the advantage upfront. The question is, can they turn that advantage into reality and enable Detroit to dictate the offensive tempo through their ground game and play-action passing?
4. ARROWHEAD ENVIROMENT
GEHA Field at Arrowhead is undeniably one of the NFL’s most iconic stadiums, renowned for its reputation as one of the loudest in the league. There’s no question that Chiefs fans will be in high spirits for a Thursday night nationally televised game at home, marking the season’s commencement while also celebrating the raising of their 2022 Super Bowl Championship banner.
Lions players, including quarterback Jared Goff, who have never experienced Arrowhead Stadium, are eager for the opportunity but are also well aware of the challenges posed by that environment.
How effectively can the Lions’ offense execute their silent counts and ensure that everyone is on the same page? Week 1 presents a significant test for this aspect of their operation.
5. DEFENSIVE LINE DEPTH
This marks the peak of talent and depth that Detroit’s defensive line has seen during the Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell era. Throughout training camp, we’ve witnessed and heard about the substantial strides that players like Alim McNeill and Aidan Hutchinson have taken.
The presence of a healthy Charles Harris on the opposite side of Hutchinson at the SAM linebacker position could have a significant impact. Additionally, can James Houston continue his impressive performance from last season, where he recorded eight sacks in his first seven games played? Levi Onwuzurike, who missed the entire previous season due to a back injury but had a strong camp, might finally fulfill the potential the Lions envisioned when they drafted him in the second round in 2021. Lastly, what can we anticipate from Josh Paschal in his second year?
The Chiefs are integrating two new tackles, Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith, but they believe this is the strongest offensive line they’ve assembled to protect Mahomes. Can Detroit effectively combine their pass rush and coverage to create challenges for Mahomes? This could very well be the key to securing victory for Detroit.