As the Detroit Lions get ready to head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens on Friday, let's take a look back at what happened last Friday when the Cleveland Browns came to town. The Lions were defeated by Cleveland thanks to a last-minute field goal, but the score hardly means much in the preseason. Individual performances deserve more attention not only because players are battling to move up the depth chart, but also because players are battling to simply make the team.
You can only take so much from one preseason game. It's important to remember that a player's performance on one night won't necessarily make or break his chances of making the team. Especially for younger players, the first preseason game should be taken with a grain of salt, so it's important to not overreact.
With all of that said, there were some clear winners and losers from the first preseason game. Of course, a player considered a "winner" right now could end up on the "loser" list after the next game and vice versa, and in a few weeks these observations may seem extremely outdated. Even so, let's take a look at who emerged as winners and losers from last Friday's game.
RB Keiland Williams: Williams rushed for 71 yards on nine carries (7.9 average) and had one touchdown. He looked really impressive coming out of the backfield for the Lions and showed more speed than we saw last year. The play that stood out to me was when he went for 33 yards on one carry. The Lions opened up a huge hole and he burst right through it to go for a big gain. He certainly improved his chances of not only making the team, but of getting into the rotation, as evidenced by him getting first-team reps in practice this week.
RB Joique Bell: Bell took some time to get going, but he came on strong as the game progressed. He finished with 89 yards on 16 carries (5.6 average) and also improved his chances of making the team.
Second-team offensive line (especially Riley Reiff): I was really impressed by the play of the second-team offensive line, which got quite a bit of playing time. The O-line opened holes in the run game, and it also gave Shaun Hill a ton of time to throw the ball. There were a couple plays where Hill had all day to throw, and it was because the offensive line was doing such a good job. Reiff especially stood out among the second-team offensive linemen. He didn't look like a rookie, which is a great sign moving forward.
DE Willie Young: Young has been hyped up all offseason as a player who is on the verge of breaking out, and he certainly lived up to the hype against the Browns. He was consistently beating blockers and was putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. His best play was when he forced a fumble on a sack of Brandon Weeden and then managed to recover it thanks to the ball rolling around. He looked really impressive and seems to be one of the rising stars on defense for the Lions.
DE Everette Brown: Because of how deep the Lions are at defensive end, Brown isn't likely going to make the team unless there is an injury or a trade. However, he certainly looks to be deserving of a roster spot. Like Young, Brown was blowing by blockers and putting pressure on the quarterback. He finished with 1.5 sacks on the night and was a standout among the backups on defense.
CB Bill Bentley: Bentley got off to a rough start by allowing a long pass early in the game, but he rebounded by showing his potential. He jumped a route and should've had a pick six on one play, and although he did drop the interception, it was still a good stop. Later, he did pick off Weeden by jumping another route and stealing the ball from the intended target. The pick set up the Lions' first touchdown, and it showed how much potential he has as a cornerback in the NFL.
QB Kellen Moore: One of the biggest stories coming out of the Browns game was Moore's performance. He went 4-of-14 for 40 yards and one interception, and he just didn't look very good. While Jim Schwartz came to Moore's defense and said that he needed more protection, Moore just didn't look like a player who is deserving of making the 53-man roster. Of course, it's worth noting that many rookie quarterbacks struggle early on in their career, and by the end of the preseason we may be singing a different tune on Moore. However, his lack of arm strength was apparent in live game action. Better reads and improvement in that department could potentially make up for the arm strength issues, but based solely on the Browns game, I don't think Moore is even ready to be a third-string quarterback.
QB R.J. Archer: How can a player who didn't even see the field be on this list? Well, that's exactly why he is. The fact that the coaches didn't give Archer any reps is probably a good indication of his chances of making the team. Perhaps this will change in Baltimore and the Lions won't go with strictly Moore to finish the game, but if Archer can't even get on the field in an exhibition game, he isn't going to beat out Moore.
Third and fourth string defenders: This shouldn't come as a surprise, but in the second half when more and more players on the very bottom of the depth chart got into the game, the tackling was a mess. This is a very general complaint, but there were far too many broken tackles for the Browns, and in general the defense just played really sloppy in the last part of the game.
Special teams unit: Aside from a made field goal by Derek Dimke, there wasn't much that went right for the special teams unit. The Lions gave up a 45-yard punt return, continuing their coverage struggles from last season. The Lions' punters also didn't impress. Both Ben Graham and Ryan Donahue averaged around 38 yards per punt, and neither really took a step forward in their quest to start. Also, the Lions' return units didn't do anything noteworthy, and Jason Hanson missed a field goal. It just wasn't a good night for the special teams.
Replacement officials: I haven't been as hard on the replacement officials as most simply because even the regular officials make a lot of pretty bad mistakes. However, in the Lions-Browns game there just seemed to be a lot of questionable calls. I honestly wasn't too upset with them because most of the calls went the Lions' way, but in general the officials didn't seem very good. Perhaps there will in fact be more blown calls than usual if replacement officials stick around.