There were probably more bad plays than good plays for the Detroit Lions on Friday night as they opened the preseason against the Oakland Raiders. It was a humbling experience and a stark reminder that change doesn’t happen overnight.
That being said, there were plenty of good things that came from Detroit’s Week 1 preseason game, and it’s far too early to make any sweeping generalizations about how the team will perform.
With that in mind, here is the Lions’ first report card of the season.
I’ll admit it. I was one of those people that saw Jake Rudock improve last preseason, and was hoping he could take another step this year to develop as a legitimate backup quarterback.
If Friday’s game is any indication, we may have already seen Rudock peak. He looked uncomfortable, indecisive and inaccurate all night. He made a few bad decisions, was nearly picked off, and just couldn’t move the offense at all.
Unfortunately, Matt Cassel wasn’t any better. The veteran quarterback barely completed 50 percent of his passes, was sacked three times and just couldn’t seem to find his receivers.
Collectively the two averaged 4.5 yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 70.2. Stay healthy, Matthew.
Running backs: A-
The running backs were the stars of the game, with the Lions’ top three backs that played all averaging at least 4.0 YPC.
The good news is that Ameer Abdullah (4.0 YPC), LeGarrette Blount (4.2) and Kerryon Johnson (4.9) were all very efficient with their runs.— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) August 11, 2018
Not only were the Lions efficient in the running game, they were able to get a few big plays on the ground. Obviously the 57-yard run was called back, but both Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount had 10+ yard runs. The Lions had almost no long running plays last year, so if this is a sign of things to come, it’s a welcomed addition to this decent offense.
Wide receivers: C-
It’s hard to properly judge the receivers when the quarterbacks were so bad, but none of the Lions’ wideouts really seemed to jump out of the film. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. didn’t play much. Kenny Golladay had a bad drop on a worse pass. Teo Redding had an extremely quiet debut.
However, Brandon Powell and TJ Jones looked pretty solid, balancing out this unremarkable unit’s performance on Friday.
Tight ends: C-
For what was billed as an interesting camp battle, the Lions’ top three tight ends were basically invisible in their preseason debuts. Michael Roberts, Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo combined for exactly zero catches on two targets.
It was the reserves who really stuck out late in the game. Hakeem Valles made a couple of nice catches for first downs and Marcus Lucas gave the Lions a shot to win the game late. Outside of them, however, it was a quiet night.
Offensive line: C+
There was some growing pains early in the game, as the first string offensive line struggled to create running lanes, but held up pretty well in pass protection—outside of Joe Dahl, who looked brutal in place of the absent T.J. Lang.
After that, the running game seemed to open up, and although the offensive line (and Tyrell Crosby) got called for a couple of penalties, I thought they held up considerably well, even with the four sacks surrendered. As pointed out by our own Hamza Baccouche, Leo Koloamatangi stuck out among the reserves.
Defensive line: D-
The Lions defense didn’t pick up a sack all night, and they probably didn’t get more than a couple pressures, either. They also allowed 147 yards on the ground at an unacceptable rate of 4.7 yards per carry.
While you can brush off some of the concerns because both Ezekiel Ansah and Ricky Jean Francois didn’t play, there are a lot of reasons this could be a really big problem in the regular season.
Both A’Shawn Robinson and Sylvester Williams—two guys who are expected to play a ton this season—played deep into the first half and couldn’t maintain gaps, create any penetration or tackle. Robinson did have four tackles on the day, but he should have had a lot more.
The only standouts in a positive way on Friday night were rookie Da’Shawn Hand, who had two big stops in the running game and Anthony Zettel, who was the only player to get any pressure on the quarterback all night long.
Well, the front seven certainly lived up to their lack of hype against the Raiders. Once the Oakland running backs reached the second level, the linebackers were nowhere to be found. They were either failing to shed their blocks, plugging the wrong holes, or just flat-out missing tackles.
At one point, it looked like Jalen Reeves-Maybin was going to come in and save the day. He started out his night with an excellent pass defended, but then followed it up by letting Raiders running back Jalen Richard catch about 23 passes in a row with little pushback.
Glover Quin, Darius Slay, Jamal Agnew and Rolan Milligan all picked up pass defenses on Friday night, but it was an up-and-down day for the unit overall. Milligan had a rough outing all night, while Quin looked really slow on the Marshawn Lynch touchdown run that didn’t count.
Overall, however, the Lions defensive backs weren’t really responsible for many big plays, good or bad.
Special teams: B
The Lions’ punters split time on Friday and both looked pretty good. Sam Martin averaged 48.8 yards per punt, while Ryan Santoso averaged 51.3.
Ameer Abdullah looked a bit awkward as the team’s punt returner, while Brandon Powell looked solid in Detroit’s only kick return of the night.
There wasn’t a lot going on here, but the Lions coverage units looked solid and no big mistakes were made.
I refuse to give out a grade for coaching a preseason game, but Matt Patricia has won 100 percent of his challenges as a head coach and that has to count for something.