Well, the “dress rehearsal” game is over. The Detroit Lions were able to pull a come-from-behind victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, I can’t say the overall outlook is very optimistic after yet another underwhelming performance from the starters. The Lions trailed by 21 points early in the third quarter. At the very least, it was great to see some depth players lead the Lions to a 33-30 triumph.
Here are some observations:
Matthew Stafford had just an okay night. He went 9 of 18 for 113-yards in a little over a half of play. Two critical drops from Golladay and Jones didn’t help.
Perhaps most concerning was the two red zone stall-outs from the starters after nice drives. Many of the same issues the Lions experienced last year seem to be present in the preseason this year– red zone struggles being one of them.
In the backup battle, Matt Cassel was the first quarterback behind Stafford to take snaps. This was probably Cassel’s best game in a Lions uniform. He went 7 for 11 and even surprisingly pushed the ball downfield. Not to be outdone, Jake Rudock took over late and was able to successfully maneuver the offense to the game-winning score. Both Cassel and Rudock had a touchdown pass along with 60 and 58-yards passing respectively.
Oh look, @kgxix's open! 👀
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) August 25, 2018
RB Kerryon Johnson was the first back to relieve “starter,” LeGarrette Blount. Despite starting, Blount still had spot duty at the end of the third quarter and picked up a tough 4th down conversion.
It was RB Ameer Abdullah who took the bulk of the second string carries. Abdullah has looked quick but also has been tackled with relative ease if a defender gets a hand on him. Going back to Johnson, when he was given the rock, he looked like the best pure runner on the team. The rookie averaged 6.3-yards per carry on four attempts. Actually, the top four running backs all averaged over four yards per carry.
There was really no rhyme or reason as to the order of running back appearance. They all subbed in and out pretty regularly depending on game situation. I personally would have liked to see Johnson get a little bigger of an opportunity in the early goings.
Hakeem Valles continues to be the most notable tight end in the passing game. He had a few first down catches while Levine Toilolo was inches away from losing a fumble on his lone catch. If you didn’t notice Michael Roberts or Luke Willson, that probably because they both had a very unnoticeable game. Roberts had a nice third-down conversion, but it was late in the third quarter with the backups. Willson actually ended his night on the trainer’s table with a knee injury. Valles has played well enough to deserve a roster spot, but at whose expense?
The Lions did try to get creative and use a rather unusual three tight end set on a pass play in the opening drive. Considering the Lions have backup quality tight ends across the board, it’s not a formation I would hope to see much. The play resulted in Stafford having to scramble after nobody could get open.
I do need to point out that Marcus Lucas caught four passes and the final touchdown. He is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster.
No player has made a bigger case to make the team this year more than UDFA WR Brandon Powell. He leads the NFL in receptions (15) and is electric with the ball in his hands. That explosiveness translated into a punt return for a touchdown as well. Jace Billingsley and Teo Redding were the fan favorites at the beginning of the preseason to potentially grab the final receiver spot, but Powell has made a very strong push.
The starting wideouts seemed to be in sync with Stafford for the most part. There were times in which the receiving unit struggled to get open and Stafford had to hold on to the ball, but that was the deal last season as well.
Somewhat worrisome, Kenny Golladay‘s drops are becoming too much of a trend– both in training camp and the games. His big plays overshadowed his bad habit last year. Golladay has all the talent you look for, but he will need to become more reliable catching the ball to take his game to the next level.
— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) August 25, 2018
Overall, the Lions offensive line provided open running lanes and did an average job protecting the quarterback. Stafford was sacked and forced to scramble a couple times, but it was better than getting hit three times on seven dropbacks like a week ago.
Frank Ragnow switched over to the right guard spot where he faced off against all-pro DT Gerald McCoy. McCoy beat Ragnow for his first sack allowed which forced K Matt Prater into a 62-yard field goal attempt right before halftime. The long kick came up short and was returned for a touchdown… Can’t fault Ragnow too much for looking like a rookie against the seasoned veteran. You have to imagine the position switch was by design to really push the limits of the Lions first-round pick.
📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/m2ARslB7cv
— NFL (@NFL) August 25, 2018
An injury-riddled Buccaneer’s offense had no problem scoring an opening touchdown on our healthy starting defense. If that’s not bad enough, the third-team Buccaneer’s offense did the same against the Lions STARTERS again on the opening drive in the second half. It is just preseason, but I’m not even sure a defensive mastermind can turn this into an above average unit in the span of two weeks.
The Lions were at least able to get one sack this week (courtesy of DT Sylvester Williams) after coming away empty-handed the two weeks prior. You would have hoped for more considering the number of injuries the Buccaneers have up front though.
Da’Shawn Hand started the game again at defensive tackle. Hand’s former Alabama teammate, DT A’Shawn Robinson, looks to be a rotational player at best right now based on his late game usage. A major disappointment for a guy who many were expecting to be a major cog in the defense.
On a positive note, DT Ricky Jean Francois had a great game and probably played the best out of any defensive starter. I must admit, I assumed Francois would be just a depth piece at the time of his signing, but his reliability and familiarity with the defense have him in line for a much bigger role. His ascendance could also be credited to the lackluster performance of Robinson.
Both Anthony Zettel and Kerry Hyder also had a few nice reps.
One thing is clear– linebacker Jarrad Davis has to play under more control and take better angles. It plagued him his rookie year and it doesn’t seem like anything has changed. He is left attempting arm tackles far too often which result in missed tackles. He missed three ball carriers including one which would have been a sack on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The rest of the unit was quiet with no real standout plays. Reserve LB Jonathan Freeny did have a tackle for a loss and racked up the most solo tackles (3) out of the linebackers.
Jarrad Davis missed a tackle on that touchdown — making it two straight weeks he was culpable for a TD — but Devon Kennard was wiped out on that play too. That's your top two linebackers.
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) August 25, 2018
Nevin Lawson allowed seven catches including a second-half touchdown against a third-string quarterback and a receiver who is on the roster bubble. Add on a holding call, albeit a rather weak one, and it was a very forgettable night for the incumbent second corner.
You know it’s a bad night when even All-Pro Darius Slay allows a touchdown and multiple catches to obscure NFL names.
Rookie safety, Tracy Walker, had another sneaky-good performance. He came away with some nice hits and a game-ending interception. It is yet to be determined if he can have success against higher quality players though.
Something I noticed regarding the tackling of our safeties was their trajectory. Given the new leading with the helmet rules, the Lions safety group as a whole were hitting hard and aiming low. For example, Quandre Diggs put a good lick on WR Mike Evans’ lower back which essentially ended Evans’ night. Due to Diggs leading with his shoulder, not being able to wrap up, and targeting the midsection, his similar style hit on TE OJ Howard resulted in Diggs bouncing off of Howard like a ping pong ball just a couple plays later. No matter the case, it appears the Lions coaching staff has worked with the defensive backs on how to properly hit without drawing a flag.