Rogers: Lions turn up the pressure; Ty Johnson turns heads

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 13-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

First down

If you watched Sunday's game, you might be surprised to learn that the Lions actually got a decent amount of pressure on Philip Rivers. According to Pro Football Focus, Detroit defenders combined for 17 pressures, making the Chargers quarterback uncomfortable on 12 of his 38 drop-backs. That's not an elite pressure rate, by any means, but acceptable.

Jahlani Tavai

The biggest problem is the Lions rarely got home with that pressure, recording a single sack and one additional hit on the pocket passer. This might be the area where the Lions miss linebacker Jarrad Davis the most.

Davis blossomed as a blitzer in 2018, generating pressure on nearly a quarter of his 116 pass-rush snaps, resulting in 6.0 sacks. The offseason addition of Jahlani Tavai, and the confidence he’s inspired with his early performance, figures to give the Lions even more leeway with how aggressively they can deploy Davis as rusher once he returns from the ankle injury he suffered in the preseason. 

Second down

Given the end result, and big plays made at the end of the game to achieve it, it’s easy to forget a second-quarter drive that ended in zero points for the Lions. Still, the play of rookie running back Ty Johnson on the series was eye-opening.

Starting at their own 14, Johnson opened the series with a weaving handoff heading left. Showing excellent vision, he followed his blocks through the hole into the second level and finished with an impressive stiff arm at the end of the run, gaining 17 on the carry.

The Detroit Lions' Ty Johnson runs against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

Johnson carried it four more times on the series, gaining 8 yards on one, powering forward for 3 and a first down on another and avoiding backfield penetration and bouncing outside, drawing a facemask penalty on a third.

Obviously, you never want to overvalue such a small sample size, but we can safety acknowledge that Johnson is carrying over the skill set he displayed during training camp into the regular season.

With speed, burst and vision, plus rapidly developing pass-catching skills, he has an opening to become the preferred complement to starter Kerryon Johnson. In his second game, Ty Johnson actually out-snapped veteran C.J. Anderson, 13-12.

Third down

In the third quarter, Lions cornerback Darius Slay was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting the Chargers up with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. At best, the call was borderline, and given the new rules that allows for coaches to challenge pass interference, Lions coach Matt Patricia strongly weighed throwing the red flag, holding it in his hand prior to the Chargers' next snap. 

Replays displayed on the big screen at the stadium showed minimal downfield contact and Slay getting his head around to locate the ball before turning back around while attempting to make a play. There was certainly a case to be made that his technique and positioning fell within the rules.

Ultimately, it was the reluctance of officials to overturn calls made on the field during the preseason that led to Patricia opting to skip the challenge.

“Again, we go off the tendencies of what we saw from preseason with those, and I would say not a lot of those got overturned,” Patricia explained after the game. “Probably just in that situation just best to let it go and not waste that situation. Whether it was or wasn’t, they called it on the field. That’s pretty much, I think, what they we’re going to go with regardless if they reviewed it.”

Fortunately for Slay, he was bailed out on the ensuing play, when Tavai jarred the ball free from Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who was attempting to leap over the line of scrimmage for a touchdown for the second time in the game. Devon Kennard recovered the loose ball, ending the scoring threat. 

Fourth down

You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson was sensational in the season opener, leading to tweets and emails coming in that night attempting to label him the NFL’s next great tight end.

But what we know about football is it’s about consistency, stacking good performances on top of each other. That’s tough to do at any position, but tight end is a particularly difficult spot to get consistency from a rookie. Hockenson proved this against the Chargers.

It wasn’t just the receiving – three targets, one reception, seven yards. The blocking was also subpar, both in the ground game and in pass protection. That includes a holding call on a zone-read run.

Against Arizona, Hockenson showed he’s already capable of contributing in a big way at this level. This week, vs. Los Angeles, we see he still has a long way to go before he will be a guy that can be relied upon every week.