The Detroit Lions' youth movement on defense is no longer a plan for the future. It's a reality of who's going to start on gameday.
That's what we learned from Sunday's 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Four players from the Lions' 2022 class of eight draft picks started and played significant roles on defense.
Among the other things we learned include the following: Cornerback Jeff Okudah is more than a cover corner; it's a good sign that the Lions' new kicker did his job Sunday without fanfare; and the stats show how the offense has declined in two weeks from their former lofty position.
We start with the four rookie defensive starters:
Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson (first round) and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (sixth round) have been starters since Week 1. Safety Kerby Joseph has started the last three games. And defensive lineman Josh Paschal (second round) was active for the first time Sunday and started.
The Lions were high on their potential, and they're high now on what they've seen from them in action.
"They're young guys and they're growing now," said head coach Dan Campbell. "They're guys we selected for a reason. They're football guys. They have some ability.
"Having hose guys, letting them grow and get a little better, I think will pay good dividends for us."
Here's how the four fared in what was probably the Lions' best defensive performance of the season:
Hutchinson: He did not match his three-sack effort in the win over the Commanders in Week 2, but it was Hutchinson's best overall performance of the season. He had 1.5 sacks, 3 tackles, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits.
Hutchinson boosted his sack total to 4.5 for the season to keep him on pace for double digit sacks – a noteworthy accomplishment for a rookie defensive lineman.
Paschal: He did more than the two tackles he was credited with indicates. He was a powerful force inside, as he was at Kentucky in his college career. He gave the Cowboys problems in their running game.
Like Hutchinson, Paschal played 56 of the 63 defensive snaps. That was a heavy workload for Paschal, considering it was his first game.
Joseph: He has shown some range, similar to how he played at Illinois and caught the Lions' attention. Joseph had four tackles, a quarterback hit, a pass defended and a forced fumble.
That's an impressive four-bagger.
Rodriguez: A quiet day for Rodrigo. Three tackles, and one tackle on special teams.
Okudah, on the record: Okudah arrived hitting Sunday and never stopped. On the second play of the game he was in on the tackle that limited Ezekiel Elliott to a two-yard gain and set the table for Hutchinson to sack Cowboys QB Dak Prescott on the next play.
Okudah had 15 tackles – 12 solos, three assists. According to the Lions' research, that is the most by a Lions cornerback since 1994, when the team began keeping statistics on that.
Quiet time: Michael Badgley had a quiet day in his first game as the Lions' kicker. He attempted two field goals and made both, from 40 yards and 53.
No drama. No big deal. And that's a good thing.
Shrinking stat: The Lions were at the top of the NFL after four games with an average of 35 points a game. After a shutout in the loss to the Patriots and scoring six points in the loss to the Cowboys, that average has dropped to 23.3 points per game – barely in the top 10.