The Detroit Lions wrapped up their preseason opener Friday night with a 16-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders. It was a sputtering start to the season that many would like to forget. Here are a few things we learned from Preseason Week One’s mess of a football game.
The team still needs work
Despite all the hype and excitement entering Friday night, the team came out cold. The offense had trouble getting going under the direction of Matt Cassel, and the defense had trouble containing backup quarterback Connor Cook. Detroit looked sloppy all night and properly executing plays was an issue. There is still a lot of time for the team to figure things out before the games actually matter, but last night they showed that they clearly are not yet ready for the upcoming season.
The Lions are continuing to struggle generating a pass rush
The Lions’ biggest need this offseason was addressing one of the league’s worst pass rushing units in 2017. They made some small changes, bringing in Devon Kennard and Da’Shawn Hand, and they knew the return of Kerry Hyder from a torn Achilles would help a little.
The pass rush still does not look great, though. Ezekiel Ansah, the team’s best edge rusher, was not in the lineup Friday night, and none of his replacements gave anything to be excited about. Cook and Derek Carr had all kinds of time in the pocket in the first half as Detroit struggled to create any sort of pressure, even against the Raiders second offensive line unit. The return of Ansah should help, but at the moment it still looks like the pass rush will be a huge concern in 2018.
Stopping the run is still a concern
The Lions rush defense was a problem for much of last season, ranking 28th in the NFL by DVOA in 2017. Oakland ran all over them in the games early stages, and running back Marshawn Lynch even broke off for a long touchdown run that was called back for a questionable holding penalty. Backup running backs DeAndre Washington and Chris Warren both averaged over six yards a carry. Defensive tackles Sylvester Williams and A’Shawn Robinson are both primarily run stuffers rather than pass penetrators, and their failure to plug up the run inside is reason for early concern.
The Lions have a wealth of talent at running back
While the running game as a whole had early struggles, the Lions running backs had a great game in Oakland. LeGarrette Blount showed his ability to power through defenders even when his blockers failed him early on in the game. Ameer Abdullah was the star of the Lions’ lone touchdown drive, and his flashy, dazzling footwork was too much for the Raiders defense to keep up with. Kerryon Johnson saw a majority of his carries in the second half as the rookie showed his incredible vision out of the backfield, while also putting together a few flashy runs himself. Johnson even had a highlight worthy 58-yard run called back due to a hold.
All three of the running backs that should play a role for the Lions this season averaged over four yards per carry and the running game looked better than it has in a very long time.
Abdullah has special teams plans
Staying on the topic of running backs, Abdullah may have a second path to the roster. The running back opened the game as the team’s starting punt returner over Jamal Agnew. Agnew plans to play a larger role on the team’s defense this season, meaning Detroit is more likely to limit last season’s first team All-Pro’s reps at returner to help keep him fresh.
While Abdullah wasn’t great in his second role, only averaging a yard per punt return, he did have a great season as a kick returner in his rookie year. Abdullah has proven that he can be effective in this role in the past, and his versatility should help him lock down a roster spot.
If Matthew Stafford gets injured, the Lions are in gigantic trouble
Matthew Stafford sat the Lions preseason opener out as the 10-year veteran has nothing to prove at this point. It was a night for the two backup quarterbacks to shine but neither showed anything to get excited about. Matt Cassel got the start under center and was ineffective with the first team in his first couple of drives. The veteran would be replaced by Jake Rudock in the second quarter before making a return late in the game.
Cassel finished with 10 completions on 18 attempts for 81 yards. He was also sacked three times and fumbled once. Rudock may have been worse than Cassel. His accuracy was everywhere, and he held on to the ball way too long in the pocket at times. He finished 12-for-19 for 84 yards.
Detroit’s passing game was off all night, and both quarterbacks look like losers coming out of the opening round of the backup quarterback battle.