How Pair of ‘Defining Moments’ Helped Ignite Lions’ 2022 Season

T.J. Hockenson

Getty T.J. Hockenson playing for the Lions in 2022 against Miami.

The Detroit Lions have enjoyed a solid turnaround season in 2022, and ever since the team was 1-6, their fortunes have changed dramatically.

How did the Lions go from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the hottest, fighting for their playoff lives right up until the bitter end of the season? The exact moment could be hard to pinpoint, but ESPN offered perhaps the best answer on the matter.

In a piece for the site, writer Eric Woodyard identified a stretch right around Halloween, where Detroit fired defensive back coach Aubrey Pleasant and traded one of their top offensive weapons in tight end T.J. Hockenson after an ugly loss to Miami as a defining moment.

“After falling to 1-6, coach Dan Campbell knew he had to make some changes. So after losing to Miami, the Lions let go of defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant, then traded Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson before going on to win six of their next seven games and making a late push for a playoff spot,” Woodyard wrote.

It’s hard to argue that this stretch and the decisions made helped turn the season for the Lions in the best possible way. Afterward, the team started to play to their potential or above, and turned their season around.

How was that the case? Here’s a closer look at what has happened since the moves.

How Pleasant’s Firing Ignited Lions

When the former defensive backs coach was let go, it was a shocking move for the Lions. Just last offseason, Detroit had to fight off suitors to keep Pleasant, who was being eyed for potential defensive coordinator roles.

The fall to earth was harsh for the Lions, though. Detroit’s defensive backfield struggled under Pleasant’s watch this season, culminating in the game Woodyard referenced, a 31-27 defeat against Miami. That day, Detroit’s secondary allowed 369 passing yards.

Pleasant himself was spotted on the sidelines looking passive as his team made mistake after mistake on the day.

Without Pleasant in the picture, the Lions may not have improved much statistically overall, but their defense has managed to become much more opportunistic. They forced just two interceptions with Pleasant in the fold, and since his dismissal, have collected seven picks.

The Lions have gotten a bit better and more gritty after Pleasant exited the picture, which has helped them on defense. They still have depth issues on the back end, but things have come together in better fashion.

Hockenson Trade Helped Lions

Trading away Hockenson was seen as the surest sign the Lions were giving up on the 2022 season, but in the end, it only proved to jump-start their offense.

After the trade, the Lions have run off a 6-2 record and gotten back into playoff contention. Additionally, their offense has started to flourish in new ways with different targets.

Since the deal, wideouts DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds have come alive with three touchdowns, and proven how important they are to the offense. Amon-Ra St. Brown has taken even more steps toward stardom for the team with 706 yards and three scores. All the while, the team hasn’t had to worry about how much run their tight end is getting.

Detroit’s tight ends haven’t been half bad either, with Brock Wright delivering a smooth game-winning score in Week 15, and Shane Zylstra looking like a quality future red zone option with a three touchdown outburst in Week 16.

Now, as this proves, the Hockenson deal is looking like a double-win for Detroit. Not only do they get a second-round pick in 2023 and a third-round pick in 2024, their offense hasn’t exactly slowed down considerably.

Combined with Pleasant’s firing after the Miami debacle, and it seems Detroit’s big shakeups accomplished the intended goal of shaking up the team properly.

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