Motor City Bulletin: Week 6-7

We’re right around the halfway point between Weeks 6 and 7, and it’s time for my first Motor City Bulletin for Pro Football Press! This series will serve as a closing of the book on the previous week, and an early look forward to the next matchup for the Lions. In this edition, we’ll look at some comments after the Lions’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, as well as some comments from both the Lions and Rams sides of things as their Week 7 matchup approaches. We’ll wrap up with a very brief look at where the Lions and Rams are in the standings and a small discussion about the very obvious storyline surrounding this game. Let’s begin.

Closing The Book On Week 6

Photo Credit: Getty Images

As I mentioned in my Lions-Bengals review, frustration was apparent everywhere in the Motor City on Sunday. It was especially clear in Dan Campbell‘s post-game press conference. Speaking regarding starting quarterback Jared Goff, Campbell said, “I feel like he needs to step up more than he has. And I think he needs to help us, just like everybody else.” This is more of the now-familiar Dan Campbell brand of transparency we’ve seen since the day they hired him. Mixed in was that frustration I was talking about.

“We got whipped,” Campbell said to open his presser. “That was a beatdown,” Campbell admitted to being angry after seeing the performance. “That team is not thirty-something points better than us… we weren’t even in that fight. You look at our stats offensively, it’s because they were in Prevent Cover 2.” This version of coach Campbell comes in stark contrast to the version we saw last week in Minnesota with tears in his eyes after another heartbreaking loss. And yet, in the same vein, it’s not too different from that version of the head coach: he showed emotion. He showed, unlike past head coaches, that he cares.

After a day to clear his head, coach Campbell highlighted a bright spot to open his Monday presser. “I thought that one of the bright spots for us yesterday was that our defense, in the first half, was the most efficient we had played all year,” he said. “We just needed more of that in the second half.” Campbell said Sunday that he had “a million” ideas in his head on how to improve the team, but was vague about what exactly would change. He did mention that he liked the Lions’ offense while they were in a two-minute drill. And that while he thinks “there’s a place to huddle,” he may like to see them call everything at the line. “You gotta keep tinkering with it, and explore some of the things you haven’t done yet.”

When asked what the Lions’ offense has done well thus far, Campbell was blunt with his answer: “Not much.”

If you’d like to hear coach Campbell for yourself, you can watch Sunday’s presser here (starts at 13:50), and Monday’s here.

Looking Ahead To Week 7

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

This upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams is interesting for multiple reasons. We’ll get to the main storyline later on, but there is still a lot of interesting bits here. Detroit’s GM Brad Holmes and assistant GM Ray Agnew were with the Rams before coming to Detroit. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers is returning to LA for the first time since they traded him this past offseason. And Brockers is already focusing on this game following the loss to the Bengals.

“We’ve had some bad losses, and some losses where we barely lost,” he told the media on Monday. “One thing I know about this game, whoever is the most focused team, the team that executes the most, usually comes out to win on Sunday.”

When asked directly about his past with the Rams, the veteran defensive lineman didn’t give it much weight. “Yes, I do have a lot of ex-teammates on that team, and a lot of good friends. You know, there was no love lost between me and the Rams when I left. It’s understanding that I made a pro decision, and I came here, and we just gotta move forward.”

Shifting gears, coach Campbell mentioned on Monday a few players that he felt were coming into their own. He mentioned rookie corner Jerry Jacobs, who covered Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on Sunday. “Jerry’s getting better. Jerry is improving, and he’s competitive, he plays hard, and he communicates well. We like where he’s going, and he’s only going to get better with reps.” Campbell also went on to mention how he saw improvement from guys such as rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill, rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, veteran defenders Austin Bryant and Tracy Walker, and second-year guard Jonah Jackson.

The Quarterbacks

Photo Credit: Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
The Game

I’ve avoided the main storyline up until this point, but it’s time to talk about the quarterbacks. This game will be the first time that longtime Lions starter Matthew Stafford and longtime Rams starter Jared Goff will face their former clubs since the trade. And the way this season has unfolded for these two couldn’t be more opposite.

Goff has thrown for 1505 yards in six games this season, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. His longest pass from scrimmage was a 46-yard pass to Quintez Cephus during the Lions’ Week 2 matchup. In these last two games, Goff has barely thrown for over 200 yards. It hasn’t worked out for him in the Motor City, and there is little hope that things will get better. Goff, like the Lions, is in something of a slump.

For Stafford, it’s been a much different story. He’s coming off a four-touchdown performance in a rout of the New York Giants. Stafford has thrown for 1838 yards, 16 touchdowns, and four picks. He currently sits with a 116.6 passer rating, which would easily be a career-high. Stafford helped lead the Rams to a 5-1 record, his only loss coming to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. He went toe to toe with and defeated legendary signal-caller Tom Brady for the second time in his career. The Rams are one of the best teams in all of football, and they look like Super Bowl contenders.

Stafford also downplayed this matchup. “In pregame, am I going to be saying hey to some old teammates and friends, the Ford family, hopefully, if they make the trip? Absolutely,” Stafford said. “I’ve got nothing but great relationships with people over there, so have a lot of respect for the organization, the team, the ownership. It will be just another football game once the ball is snapped.”

Goff offered much of the same. “Pregame may be different emotionally, seeing some of these guys, old teammates, old coaches. But once the game starts, it’s all the same,” he said on 97.1 The Ticket. “It really is. We’re so focused on our own stuff right now, we’ve got so many things to worry about cleaning up and getting right and making it work on Sundays, that I don’t think me being selfish and making it more than it is will help us in any way.”

Campbell did acknowledge that these types of media storylines can add pressure on players’ shoulders, and it’s something he’s empathetic to. “As it pertains to this week, I think it’s really how do we give him the best plan possible to have success?” Campbell said. “I would do that with anybody, not just him. Shoot, I remember, last year, it was the Tom Brady and Drew Brees deal. You don’t think a lot about it, but those two guys going at it, that was all that was being pushed that week. It was a huge story and sometimes you take it for granted, the amount of pressure that those guys are under to perform.

“I know this is a little different, but in the same regard, I know it will be a big story,” Campbell said. “So how do we calm it down, just to where he can go and play fast and efficient? And us help him offensively — run game-wise, play action, anything that we can do that’s going to take a little bit off and help him play fast.”

The Trade

Monday saw Rams head coach Sean McVay revisit his handling of the trade that saw these teams swap signal-callers. “Yes, I wish there was better, clearer communication,” McVay told the media. “To say that it was perfectly handled on my end, I wouldn’t be totally accurate in that. I’ll never claim to be perfect, but I will try to learn from some things that I can do better, and I think that was one of them without a doubt.”

In the trade’s aftermath, Goff told the LA Times he hadn’t talked to the Rams since their season ended against the Green Bay in the playoffs. The trade left him “disappointed and upset.” Eventually, he grew to like the idea of playing in the Motor City. “Talking to the Lions,” Goff said, “is what made me go, ‘oh my God, this is how it’s supposed to feel. This makes me feel great,’ how excited they were, how fired up they were.”

Goff went back on 97.1 The Ticket on Tuesday and was asked if McVay’s comments meant anything to him. “I mean, yeah, that’s good to hear, of course. That’s good to hear,” Goff said Tuesday on the Karsch & Anderson Show. “But at the same time, it was handled the way it was and there’s really not many hard feelings. It’s just the way the business is. We’ve had our talks obviously since the trade, back when it happened, but it’s alright. I mean, I appreciate him saying that, but it was handled the way it was.”

With or without this storyline, the Lions will be looking for their first win without Matthew Stafford since 2011. They are 0-14 in that stretch. To close this out, here is where the Lions and Rams are in the standings. Let’s look to see if the outcome of this game changes their divisional standing.


Detroit Lions: 0-6, 4th in NFC North. A win or loss doesn’t change their standing in the NFC North. The Vikings and Bears both have three wins, so they’re not losing ground to a one-win Lions team or a still winless Lions team.

Los Angeles Rams: 5-1, 2nd in NFC West. A win or loss won’t change their standing in the NFC West, even if the Cardinals lose to the 49ers. The Cardinals have a better head-to-head record, and therefore will retain first place even with a loss.

Featured Photo Credit: Daniel Mears/Detroit News

If you enjoyed this content, or hate it and want to argue with me, follow me on Twitter @LovelyDegree160! Also, read up on the rest of the NFL content PFP has to offer here!

Sony Michel Trade Had to Be Done

Patriots’ 2018 first-round pick running back Sony Michel was traded to the Los Angeles Rams early Wednesday morning for two conditional picks. If the Rams are awarded a fourth-round compensatory selection, the Patriots will get that instead of the two picks (a fifth and a sixth) in 2022. Patriots fans may be reactionary about this deal. The response is already not that great. Though, I feel that Patriots fans may be overvaluing the fourth year running back from Georgia.

Let’s start this off by looking at the rest of the Patriots’ running back room. He was clearly going to be the odd man out. With how well third-round selection Rhamondre Stevenson has played, it was only a matter of time. Damien Harris and James White are basically locked for the 53-man roster. Meanwhile, even second-year undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor has been killing it in camp. Sony Michel, on the last year of his rookie deal, had to be traded. A fourth-round pick at best sounds like a solid deal for the Patriots, who didn’t really need him.

Let’s face it, Sony Michel was never going to garner a first-round selection in return. Michel hasn’t done anything to demand that type of value. Last season he only rushed 79 times for 449 yards and 1 touchdown. Not adding much in the receiving department with 17 catches for 114 yards and a score. He wasn’t all that available in 2020, and it’s a common truth that in the Patriots locker room, the best ability is availability. He hasn’t had that since his breakout rookie campaign. Sure, he had a terrific 2018 post-season, and even a solid sophomore output, but he got outplayed and replaced by Damien Harris. As well as not doing enough to separate himself from Taylor and Stevenson.

Patriots’ Running Back Room From Here

Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson has 'worked his butt off' since failing  conditioning test, per Ivan Fears -

Simply put, the Patriots do not get any worse from this Sony Michel trade. Sure, the return isn’t the best of value, but that’s not why it was made. Trading Michel simply makes the team that much more flexible at the running back position. Michel is no longer demanding carries. Come week one, Rhamondre Stevenson could be seeing some real playing time. Meanwhile, Taylor can take over that Rex Burkhead role that we missed a good chunk of last season when he tore his ACL. James White and Damien Harris can continue their usual duties, and maybe Brandon Bolden sticks around on this roster for his value on special teams.

I’m very excited to see what the Patriots have to offer in the run game. They have quite the diversity in their backfield. Plus with Cam Newton adding his rushing threat at quarterback? This team is poised to be a top-five rushing attack again in 2021.

Saying Goodbye to Sony Michel

Look: Sony Michel receives Super Bowl ring for New England Patriots

I have never been Sony Michel’s biggest advocate. I’ve always felt like the Patriots took the wrong Georgia running back in the 2018 NFL Draft, and should have gotten Nick Chubb if running back was the route to go in. Though, I would be foolish to not acknowledge the good he did in his time as a Patriot. His 2018 playoff performance is second to none. Shattering a ton of rookie postseason records, and even scoring the lone touchdown in Super Bowl LIII to give the Patriots a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Their sixth Super Bowl title in 17 years.

Unfortunately, the time has just come. He didn’t separate himself enough from the competition to justify taking away snaps from younger players. This is Damien Harris’s backfield now. With James White as the premier pass catcher, and Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor carving out roles for themselves.

Nevertheless, Sony Michel should be celebrated for his contributions as a Patriot. In spite of injuries and growing pains, he was a serviceable player for New England. Even if a trade had to be done, it’s hard not to have a good feeling thinking about his rookie campaign.

If you enjoyed this content, or hate it and want to argue with me, follow me on Twitter @KalebEmcee! Feel free to check out the work I do on Foxboro Beat! Also, read up on the rest of the NFL content PFP has to offer here!

Should the Rams Move On From Johnny Hekker?

There may be no position in American football that receives less fanfare than that of a punter. I’d like to take a moment to shine some light on one of them: Johnny Hekker. A veteran punter for the Los Angeles Rams out of Oregon State and former high school quarterback for Bothell High School of the greater Seattle metropolitan area, Hekker went undrafted in 2012 before signing with the then St. Louis Rams.

That may have been the best signing of the 2012 class for rookie general manager Les Snead.

Simply put, Hekker is NFL punting royalty. The man has four All-Pros to his name and is a member of the 2010 NFL all-decade team.

Many fans loath Super Bowl LIII (53) for its lack of scoring but, while the Rams wilted, Hekker shined. That night, Hekker punted nine times. Two punts were returned for a total of two yards. His net was 46.1 yards. Five punts were downed inside the 20 with zero touchbacks. He set a Super Bowl record with a 65-yard punt. Hekker finished his 2018 season with a very solid outing. That game, however, would be the start of a turn in his career.


Pro Football Focus (PFF) punting data is available dating back to 2013, Hekker’s second season. In that time, there are some noticeable trends. For example, median punting grades among qualified punters were on a slight downward trend from 2013-2018 but have risen in each of the past two seasons.

Alternatively, top five punting grade averages saw steep declines from 2013-2018 with marginal upwards trends since 2019.

With these trends in mind, we can observe Hekker’s grades dating back to his second season.

Johnny Hekker was ranked as a top-five punter by PFF in 2013-2016 and 2018 (6th in 2017). Considering that average punting grades have decreased among the top five punters over that time frame, a reasonable expectation would be to expect his grades to decline, as they have. The decline relative to his peers, however, tells a more accurate story. Hekker plummeted from the second-ranked punter in 2018 to the 12th in 2019. He continued that free fall into 2020, finishing as the 21st ranked punter. To better understand why we need to examine both seasons.


2019 in isolation can largely be chalked up as a down season. Nearly all NFL players will have a similar experience if they play for an extended period of time. When compared with 2020, a troubling picture begins to form.

Including the playoffs, Hekker punted in 17 games in 2020. His first eight games (Weeks 1-10) resemble improvement from 2019 with a grade of 72 through Week 10 and the 10th ranked punter among those qualified. Beginning in Week 11 in Tampa, his numbers fall off a cliff. From Week 11 through the divisional playoff, Hekker’s grade sat at 50.9, second-worst among qualifying punters over the same period. What changed?


No stand-alone stat can tell a full story. This is especially true of punting. A 31-yard punt downed at the 19 yard-line has a better net outcome than a 50-yard punt that results in a touchback. Average yards per punt does not factor in the outkicking of coverage or whether or not a punt is returnable. Five seconds of hangtime is impressive out-of-context, but useless if the ball only goes 30 yards unless the offense happens to be punting from inside their opponent’s territory.

Context in punting data may be more important than for any other position in football. Over Hekker’s first eight games, his percentage of returned punts was 25 percent and his average hangtime sat at 4.41 seconds. Over the final nine, both numbers went in opposite directions. His return percentage skyrocketed to 44.2 percent and average hangtime dropped to 4.25 seconds. This is causation, not just correlation. The sample sizes were relatively similar: 36 punts through Week 10 and 43 punts after.

The Rams never placed Hekker on the injury report through the 2020 season. While NFL teams are not immune to misreporting injuries (ahem Seattle), there’s no written evidence he was hurt.

To continue our journey, we need to dive into the tape. We will look at two games that I believe define Hekker’s 2020 season-best: Week 4 versus the New York Giants and the Wildcard playoff in Seattle against the Seahawks.


Punt 1

Hekker’s first punt is a 61-yard bomb that hangs in the air for almost 5 seconds. The coverage is slightly outkicked and leads to a return of 15 yards. A net of 46 yards, is a good, but not great, result for an open field punt.

Punt 2

His second punt of the day was another open field bomb of 58 yards, landing right near the New York goal line. The returner fakes a catch, spoofing the coverage team and enabling the ball to bounce into the endzone. This punt nets only 38 yards, but Hekker does his job.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 46-yarder that is returned for 9 yards, a 37-yard net. The ball hangs long enough for the coverage team to swarm the returner, but they fail to do so adequately. An extra two-tenths of a second of hangtime would make this a great punt, but Hekker handles his business while the gunners do not.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is yet another open field bomb of 60 yards. New York brings pressure, speeding up Hekker’s punting process. The ball is over kicked and sails out the back of the endzone for a net of 40 yards.

Punt 5

The fifth and final punt is a long, open field, 54-yarder that lands at the New York 14. This punt hangs for nearly 5 seconds but slightly out-kicks the coverage. That, combined with an experienced returner, leads to a 6-yard return and a 48-yard net. With every second precious for NY late in the game, the outcome is a net positive as the return bleeds a few extra seconds off the clock.


This performance is what Hekker’s fans and coaches have come to expect over his 9-year career. While the end results are not perfect, nearly every punt is a bomb that gives the coverage team an opportunity to do their job and flips the field for the Rams defense. The margins between an elite punt and a solid punt are razor-thin, and sometimes beyond the control of the punter. PFF awards Hekker with a grade of 69.1, a quality grade for a quality outing. Next, we’ll look at Hekker’s seven punt wildcard performance in Seattle.


Punt 1

His first punt is an open field 40-yarder that hits at the 20 and bonces laterally out-of-bounds. It is a short kick that nets 40 with the same end result as a touchback. Hekker isn’t rushed. The coverage has outrun the punt, often a sign of a poor kick. This punt was recorded as one of his two punts inside the 20.

Punt 2

The second punt is an example of why general punting stats alone do not accurately describe the quality of a kick. The ball travels at a low trajectory for 39 yards, hitting at the 20 and taking a few hops to the 10 where it is picked up and returned for 10 yards. Hekker outkicks his coverage due to a line drive punt. The returner originally wants to let the ball go, rather than run under it, but the bounce enables a return. This was the second of Hekker’s two punts inside the 20. Not good.

Punt 3

The third punt is an open field 44-yard boot from the Rams 7-yard line. In this instance, negating a return is paramount. Hekker skies the kick, the gunners create a triangle around the returner, and a fair catch is forced at the Seattle 49. The stats won’t show it, but this is an excellent punt in the context of the game.

Punt 4

The fourth punt is a well-kicked open field sky-ball that goes for 45 yards. The punt is placed near the sideline. While the punt is returned, this is largely due to a failure on the coverage team. The weak side gunner is blocked away from the returner and takes a bad angle, approaching him from the side. The strong side gunner is blocked to the ground out of the play, nowhere to be found. The punt nets 37 yards, but Hekker has done his job.

Punt 5

Hekker’s fifth punt is an ugly one. Officially, it is a 46-yard open field punt that bounces into the sideline. The ball hits down at the Seattle 44, having traveled just 37 yards before taking a Rams bounce to the 35. This is a dreadful open field punt that is salvaged only by a bounce out-of-bounds. Had the ball bounced in any other direction, either the stats would show a very short punt, or there would have been a return. This is Hekker’s worst punt of the day.

Punt 6

The sixth punt is another ugly open fielder. The ball hits at the Seattle 46, just 34 yards before taking a Rams roll to the Seattle 31 for an additional 15 yards. The returner backs off because the kick is short, letting it bounce. This time, the coverage team is awaiting, and the returner opts to not take it on the bounce. Hekker is bailed out by his coverage team and another lucky bounce.

Punt 7

The seventh and final Hekker punt of the game is another poor open field punt. The ball lands at the Seattle 34 having traveled 37 yards. His process is rushed as the personal protector is nearly blocked into the punt. The kick has enough hangtime for the coverage to get around it, but the ball bounces towards the Seattle endzone. It is picked up by the returner at the 27 and take to the Seattle 35 where the ball is fumbled and recovered by the Rams. The stat sheet records a 44-yard punt with a 35-yard net.


Joe buck sums up Hekker’s performance in the wildcard round well with his call on the seventh punt: “Another ugly punt. Hekker has really not hit many good ones (today).” While a few were rushed processes, the majority were just bad balls. Hekker lacked command on the ball that he showed early in his career and even in the first half of 2020.


Above all else, Hekker lacked any consistency over the final nine games of 2020. His booming leg was still there, evidenced by multiple 60 plus yard bombs over that time span. Unlike previous seasons, there were far more short, ugly punts in between them.


This is a question the Rams are asking as well, and the answer should come following the preseason. This offseason, Los Angeles signed veteran punter Corey Bojorquez, formerly of the Bills, to compete with Hekker. From 2013-2020, STL/LA had never brought in veteran competition with regular-season experience at the punter position. Should Hekker not improve this preseason from his dismal finish to 2020, he will likely be trying to right the ship in another uniform.

For more analysis and thought-provoking content, check out the rest of our draft content and opinion pieces. Otherwise, head home for our entire array of articles.