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Positional grades for Lions vs. Bengals: While Stafford shines, the defense does not

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The Lions lost their second preseason game, but let’s take a look at how the team performed at each position.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions didn’t win in Week 2 of the preseason. They were beat pretty handedly by the Bengals, 30-14. It’s not going to do you any good to get worked up and bent out of shape about the final score of Thursday’s game, but the Lions were better, and worse, in some areas. Here’s how the Lions fared at each position in their second game of the preseason:

Quarterbacks: B+

Stafford looked great against this Cincinnati defense. In his first drive, much like in Week 1 against the Steelers, Stafford’s decision making and accurate throws were paramount in moving the offense down the field and getting points. If it wasn’t for a dropped pass by Golden Tate in the end zone, the first drive would have ended with six instead of three. The second drive was stalled after the offense couldn’t move the ball on the ground and Cole Wick couldn’t block Carlos Dunlap.

As for Orlovsky, another week and another pick-six. This time, however, it was completely on Orlovsky. Bad read and an even worse throw. He did redeem himself a bit with a couple of good throws late in the second quarter that got the team its second field goal. In subsequent drives, Orlovsky was hit and miss in putting together a pretty forgettable performance.

And then we have Jake Rudock who finally threw a ball further than six yards down the field. The first one was a 22-yard toss to Orson Charles that earned oo’s and ah’s from the fans who stayed for the Rudock show... and then he tried to do it again: the second time he attempted a pass further than six yards it ended up landing into a group of Bengals defenders for an interception.

Running backs: C

The Lions have to be hoping that Ameer Abdullah is ready to go come Week 1 because Theo Riddick looks out of place. He did a better job at picking up blitzes, and he did have a nice run by spinning out of a closed hole and getting to the outside, but other than that, Riddick didn’t contribute much of anything to the running game.

Zach Zenner is emerging as the second-best option the team has for a rusher behind Abdullah, and I think at this point, it’s his job to lose. Zenner did a nice job of getting to the hole and finishing his runs with his feet moving and falling forward for yards. The stat sheet doesn’t reflect this, but just know the offensive line did a pretty poor job in run blocking and Zenner did everything he could with what was in front of him.

Wide receivers: A-

Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are going to be a lot of fun to watch in this offense. As alluded to earlier, Tate’s only drop came on a ball that was thrown to him in the back of the end zone that he got his hands on, but it did look like there was some early contact on the play. Jones’ four catches for 65 yards was a team high, and it included this 32-yard grab on second-and-11 during the team’s first drive on offense:

A receiver who continues to struggle and not make the most of his opportunities is TJ Jones. He did have a couple of catches, but he had bad showings as a returner and he slowed up on a Dan Orlovsky throw that I thought he had a chance of snagging had he kept in stride.

Tight ends: D-

Cole Wick is about as bad as a tight end can be at blocking. No, he’s really, really bad. For all of his ability as a pass-catcher, it isn’t worth the liability he is as a blocker. Matthew Mulligan is so entirely one-dimensional that the Lions are playing their hand a bit by having him in the game. Say what you want about Bob Quinn’s moral compass when it came to the signing of Andrew Quarless, but the Lions desperately need help at the position while waiting for Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew to get healthy.

Centers: D+

A spot where the offensive line looked to be at its weakest was right up the middle. The Lions were routinely getting pushed back or getting completely beat, letting rushers go unblocked as they blew plays up in the backfield. Both Travis Swanson and Graham Glasgow didn’t have their best showings against the Bengals.

Guards: D+

For the second week in a row, I was pretty disappointed with the interior line play by both Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson. Warford managed to look better than Tomlinson when trying to handle all of the man and machine that Geno Atkins is, but that’s only because Atkins put Tomlinson in the spin cycle.

Whether it was trying to block for runners or establish a pocket for Stafford, all of it was a difficult task for the Lions’ guards tonight.

Offensive tackles: C-

Of any members along the offensive line, the tackles were the group that I thought performed the best, but that’s not saying very much. I thought Decker played better than he did in his first NFL game against James Harrison. He did whiff on a crack toss near the end of the first quarter where he tried to make a block at the second level, but I thought that he was definitely better in pass protection than what the film showed us in Week 1.

Also, Riley Reiff seems to be taking well to his move to right tackle. After all, it is a contract year for Reiff and he has every incentive to go out and add some versatility to his resume.

Defensive ends: C+

There wasn’t much to be excited about the play of the Lions’ defensive ends. They did manage to do a nice job of getting a push and taking the tackles back into their quarterback, squeezing the pocket and speeding up throws. Ezekiel Ansah looked like his usual quick self off the line when rushing the passer, but he also dropped back and played some shallow zones.

Some of the depth at defensive end, however, was sort of quiet. Brandon Copeland, a player who I thought had a really good Week 1 — and played pretty early in that Pittsburgh game — didn’t do a lot to stand out. Kerry Hyder also lacked discipline on what would have been a three-and-out when he hit AJ McCarron way after the fact and drawing a roughing the passer penalty.

Defensive tackles: C+

A definite positive for the Lions last week in Pittsburgh was the play of the interior linemen on defense. Against Cincinnati, not so much. The Lions defensive tackles, for the most part, were escorted by Bengals linemen to designed gaps that opened up the holes they wanted to create for their running backs. Remember, not all pushes deep into the backfield are necessarily good pushes if the offensive line is smartly just directing traffic for their runner. The defensive line showed some general lack of awareness, getting turned around, and looking a bit lost when searching for where the ball was on running plays.

A’Shawn Robinson had a couple of plays where he was baited into getting too upfield, but he made good adjustments and made some nice plays possible for his teammates. Robinson isn’t the starter right now, but if he continues to show this knack for learning on the fly and correcting mistakes, he could be by season’s end.

Linebackers: B

The first-team group of linebackers, led by Tahir Whitehead played well on Thursday. Whitehead was consistently sniffing out plays, making valuable tackles and even notching a key tackle at the line of scrimmage to force a fourth down at the end of the first quarter. Another standout from the linebacker corps was Kyle Van Noy, who is certainly making a case to not just make the team, but see a good amount of playing time when the Lions aren’t in their nickel package. Van Noy had a particularly good showing at the end of the first half where he played strong, tough and fast when attacking the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks: B-

The cornerbacks played rather well with a few miscues, missed tackles and a couple of tough penalties while in coverage. Top man Darius Slay Jr. — who played his first preseason game of the year on Thursday — missed on a tackle, but later had a nice pass defended. Quandre Diggs got into the backfield to make a tackle for a loss and he looked fine in pass coverage.

One player who I think has absolutely played himself onto this field is Darrin Walls, a free agent signing this year who is the tallest corner on the Lions roster. Against Cincinnati, Walls got his nose in on a play early in the third quarter where he forced a run to the inside, managed to clip the runner and set up Chi Chi Ariguzo to clean up the play. He’s looked fluid in his movement and ability to stay with receivers, so I like Walls to be a contributor on defense.

Safeties: B

One safety’s play who stood out was Tavon Wilson, who had a nice tackle for loss to start the second half and was able to chase down a scrambling AJ McCarron to force a fourth down. One little thing I noticed on the tackle of McCarron was how he made sure he was going to take the quarterback down, but he also attempted to make a play on the ball and try to punch the ball out.

Kickers: A

Prater made his field goals, but it probably had a lot to do with Don Muhlbach’s snaps of great velocity and accuracy.

Punters: A

Sam Martin got some work tonight, kicking a couple punts and placing two of them inside the 20-yard line. Even Devon Bell had a punt near the end of the third quarter that put the Bengals on their own four-yard line. All of the Lions players that were kicking footballs did awesome.