Detroit Lions Preseason Debut: Ups and Downs
Football is back. And more specifically, Detroit Lions football is back! Detroit kicked off the preseason in a positive fashion at Heinz Field with a display of improvement on the impressive 6-2 finish to the 2015 campaign. With new faces in new places, the Lions have plenty of kinks to work out, but it came with some glimpses of potential and playmaking ability that many believed left Detroit with the retirement of Calvin Johnson.
The main goal in preseason is to create competition to not only bring out the best in your players, but to find out what kind of depth you have at each position group. The receiving group showed up Friday, showing that even in the depths of the roster the Lions possess playmakers. Andre Roberts shined in his Lions debut with 57 yards on 3 catches, who took a hot throw 28 yards for the score. Jeremy Kerley led the team in receptions with 5, and Quinshad Davis made a great catch on a rub route combo for a 2 point conversion.
Another highlight for the offense was the rookie quarterback Jake Rudock from UM. Rudock, who went 8/11 for a touchdown and a 120.3 passer rating and looked solid all night. Excellent decision making, blitz recognition, and mobility outside of the pocket gives Rudock a real chance at this roster and maybe even competing for the back up position with Dan Orlovsky, who played well despite a throw away ball gone rogue that resulted in a pick six.
As a team, the Lions went 12-19 (63%) on third down while holding Pittsburgh to 2-12 (16%) on third down conversions. Controlling the time of possession and gaining twice as many yards on offense was good sign of tempo, offensive ability and defensive depth. Defensive highlights include rookie Anthony Zettel from Penn State registering his first NFL sack and cornerback Johnson Bademosi forcing a fumble which was recovered by defensive end Brandon Copeland. The defense played well and created opportunities to create turnovers. All this without their two top playmakers in Deandre Levy and Ezekiel Ansah.
Though he only had four touches, 7th round selection Dwayne Washington showed explosion and promising ability with his first NFL touch going for 96 yard kick return touchdown. to open up the second half. The next Lions possession he had 2 carries where he showed vision and burst through the line as well as a reception where he showed his open field ability with a nice cut and acceleration for 16 yards. Washington was first on the list for my my 5 Preseason Playmakers article , so keep an eye out for him.
While it is preseason and playbooks are vanilla, the Lions run game had little to no impact on the game. Even though the Lions were efficient on third down, they got into a ton of third down situations. Aside from Washington’s two carries, and a 12 yard carry by Zach Zenner, the Lions running backs were ineffective and struggled in pass protection as both Stafford and Orlovsky spent a lot of time picking themselves off the ground. Ball security is another issue as the Lions had five fumbles as a unit. Three of those came from the quarterback position.
Every preseason it is important to take everything with a grain of salt. Understanding that preseason success means little (see 2008) but using the film as an opportunity to grow is the real goal here. After watching the game, the Lions need to address pass protection. Immediately. Lets head to 3rd and 9 with 10:56 left in the 1st quarter. Pittsburgh brings 4 men on the line and blitz a safety who comes from the deep half. Right Guard Larry Warford seems to see the blitzing safety and freezes up on deciding if he should take the defensive end tackle or the safety and lets the tackle go. The Running back also decides to address the blitzing safety and the lineman has a clean lane to Stafford. Stafford , hit as he throws, finds Marvin Jones on a corner route with a gorgeous pass to the left sideline between two defenders. Check out the play here.. Yes Stafford made the throw, and yes the first down occurred, but Warford absolutely blows his assignment and all it takes is one play to lose Stafford for the year. Protect the quarterback.
Later on the drive, it is 3rd and 12 after a penalty by the Lions. With the ball in field goal range, the best bet is to run a conservative play and get points. The Lions instead choose to challenge the Steelers vertically and James Harrison absolutely schools the rookie LT Taylor Decker, strip-sacking Stafford in the process. It seems slightly confusing that on a 3rd and long scenario, no protection was slid to help the rookie, who had a future hall of famer lined up across from him. This is an error attributed to both Stafford and the coaching staff. A draw or screen could’ve resulted in an easy 3 points and a successful first drive.
Overall, the game was a success and a pleasant outing for Lions fans. Yes there are things to improve, but with all starters on the offensive line having played 5 seasons or less, it is expected for there to be some kinks in the system. I expect the experience and chemistry to grow as the season progresses. The Lions will host Cincinnati next Thursday and we will see how well Coach Caldwell can improve on this performance to prepare the Lions for the regular season.