Lions Roster Review: A 'Tuff' Look At Preseason Game No. 3

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 25: Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions throws a seven yard touchdown pass over Phillip Wheeler #52 of the Oakland Raiders during the third quarter of an NFL pre-season football game at O.co Coliseum on August 25, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The preseason game between the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders was not much fun for Lions fans. The offense had problems with consistency and the defense gave up too many big plays. The entire effort by the Lions was unimpressive. It felt like the Raiders just wanted the game more than the Lions did.

The worst part of the game was the number of injuries that Lions players endured. We can be thankful that none of the injuries appear to be serious. Still, it caused a lot of the Lions starters to leave the game early. That was probably a contributor to why the team looked out of sync.

Offense

The Lions offense was in the red zone three out of their first four possessions. While that might sound like the Lions were moving the football well, that is not really the case. One red zone possession was on a long kickoff return by Justin Miller and another was due to an interception by Willie Young. Out of the three possessions in the red zone the Lions managed only six points. The 15 points that the Lions lost by not scoring touchdowns would have made a very big impact on the outcome. The Lions could have gotten a two-touchdown lead and altered the entire trajectory of the game. I cannot say that those missed opportunities led to the loss, but the Lions did lose by only 11 points.

Lions quarterbacks had several passes batted down by the Raiders defense. That is not always the fault of the quarterback. Stephen Peterman did not help Matthew Stafford on one play where he played upright and allowed Dave Tollefson to get his hands up in the air. If the offensive linemen would block lower and stay engaged then it would force the defensive linemen to bring their arms down. That would result in fewer blocked passes.

Shaun Hill managed to guide the first string offense to their only touchdown of the day in the opening drive of the second half. The offense still looked out of sync, but Hill was able to gain some yards with his legs on quarterback scrambles, and the Raiders aided the effort with penalties. A more disciplined defense would have probably stopped the drive, so we have to give partial credit to the Raiders.

The offensive line did a particularly poor job of blocking Raiders outside linebacker Rolando McClain. Rob Sims was late to get on the outside linebacker for Mikel Leshoure’s first carry in the NFL. Nobody blocked McClain again in Leshoure’s second carry. McClain repeatedly met Leshoure in the backfield for a loss or a very short gain.

Leshoure ran the ball well despite poor run blocking by the offensive line. He did not get many yards, but he displayed the elusiveness and power that we were expecting. Leshoure missed a blitz pickup early in the second quarter that resulted in Tollefson getting pressure on Stafford. Stafford had to hurry his throw and could not complete the pass to Titus Young on third down, which forced the Lions to punt.

Nate Burleson was much more involved in the offense against the Raiders in this game. He made several solid catches and had a run on an end-around play. Burleson's contributions were positive and important even if they were quiet.

Lance Long was a standout in a late drive that was engineered by Kellen Moore. Alex Gottlieb was also an important contributor to the drive. Long may have displaced Patrick Edwards in consideration for a spot on the roster.

Defense

The Lions' first-string defensive line was stout against the inside run, though pressure on the quarterback was inconsistent after the first few plays. They allowed several outside runs to go longer than they should have because of poor contain on the edges.

Ndamukong Suh sacked Carson Palmer in the first defensive play of the game. The sack was aided by good coverage in the secondary.

On the second play of the game, Willie Young had Darren McFadden slip away from him in the backfield. It was almost a great play, but turned into a 13-yard gain instead. It was a great read by Young, but he was tripped by the Raiders' right guard, Mike Brisiel. Brisiel actually stuck his leg out to trip Young on the play and a flag should have been thrown. Young made another fantastic play when he intercepted Palmer by tipping the ball to himself.

Stephen Tulloch was much more active in this game and he made some excellent gap fills to stop runs for short gains and had an interception as well.

Justin Durant read the run well and was consistently involved in tackling the ball carrier consistently.

Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whitehead were victimized by Terrelle Pryor on a pair of quarterback scrambles that resulted in a Raiders touchdown. The Lions linebackers failed to contain Pryor in the pocket on blitzes and that left him with lots of open field to run in.

The Raiders were able to find the seam between the linebacker and safety zones when the Lions were in cover two. That is not unexpected because Palmer is an experienced NFL quarterback that has some talent. We will probably have to get used to seeing this all season since the Lions do not have safeties that can close quickly enough from their zones to challenge those plays. It is a devil’s bargain for the Lions. They cannot pull the safeties in closer to lessen the gap between them and the linebackers without opening more opportunity to beat them deep down the seam. The deep safety zones will probably be a fixture all season. The Lions will surrender the 15-yard "out" route in an effort to avoid giving up the big play. The downside is that this will allow other teams to march down the field until the field shortens up in the red zone. This is one of the factors that makes the Lions a "bend but don’t break" defense.

The secondary as a whole was susceptible to the quick slant route and short "in" routes. The Oakland receivers routinely gained separation and caught these short passes for first downs. This was a result of the coverage playing soft and not jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Justin Miller missed a tackle on Taiwan Jones late in the second quarter that allowed him to get to the outside for a first down. He made up for it with a big play on special teams. Miller looked a bit shaky on defense, but he still may be playing well enough to make the team when you consider everything he brings to the table.

Alphonso Smith jumped offside to jam an Oakland receiver and got flagged for it. Later in the game he jumped a route and missed the football, which left the receiver open for a 22-yard gain. Smith stayed true to form by also registering an interception that was erased by a Lions penalty. He is still very inconsistent and that is probably what you will always get with Smith. This is his fourth season so he probably has realized most of his upside by now. It is not impossible for the switch to flip on late, but he is running out of time as the coaches run out of patience.

John Wendling made a nice play to knock the ball out of the hands of an Oakland receiver, which was then caught in the air by Tulloch. The interception stopped a drive by the Raiders that could have given them more points before halftime. Unfortunately, the offense failed to get a first down and still handed the ball back to the Raiders with enough time for them to kick a long field goal.

Special Teams

After the last two preseason game, I am surprised to say that the special teams looked very good against the Raiders. They were one of the few bright spots in the game.

The kickoff and punt coverage units were outstanding. The Raiders regularly found themselves in poor field position for the start of drives thanks to these units. The gunners were quick and made tackles, especially Reshard Langford. The Raiders had very little room to run the ball on returns and that is just the way that Jim Schwartz wants to see them play. One of the few negatives was when Tahir Whitehead was called for a penalty when he lifted up before the snap on a punt.

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