Last week, the first unofficial official game of the Matt Patricia era was a hit and miss bag. Some good, some not so good, and some downright bad things happened in Detroit’s preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders.
After a week of joint practice between the Detroit Lions and New York Giants in Allen Park, the two square off in just a couple of hours at Ford Field in Detroit, and there’s plenty to pay attention to. Here are three positions, and a player at each of those positions to keep a watchful eye on in tonight’s contest.
“And runnin’ runnin’, and runnin’ runnin’...”
In the ‘3 positions to watch’ article last week, the tight ends, running backs, and linebackers were all areas of particular interest, and even though the running backs were the clear standouts, they make the list once again this week.
Last week’s performance wasn’t fool’s gold, not in the slightest, but nobody should be ready to pronounce the running game to be completely fixed either—at least not anybody in their right mind.
The Giants defensive line boasts some impressive talent with the likes of Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson anchoring the interior, so the challenge for Detroit’s running backs is just as great, if not greater, than what they faced against Oakland last week.
Player to watch:
It sure would be easy to peg Kerryon Johnson as someone to watch for once again this week because how could you not be ready to watch some more of this?
His @NFLfantasy value? @Lions rookie RB Kerryon Johnson's (@AyeyoKEJO) preseason Week 1 highlights! pic.twitter.com/K80XbHQlmj— NFL (@NFL) August 12, 2018
But the more intriguing guy to capture your attention this week? Everyone’s last favorite rookie sensation: Ameer Abdullah.
A week ago, I said the Abdullah experience had come and gone in Detroit, adding he could “stick around as an insurance policy against injuries, but the team has plenty of other intriguing options.” As an Abdullah truther, I’m right back in line to get back on the ride, but I can do that because I bought the fast pass. I know my rights.
Kerryon Johnson’s first bit of NFL action sparked the imagination of Lions fans everywhere. His ceiling is probably not being quite Barry Sanders at this point, but let’s not forget how hype trains operate sometimes.
Abdullah’s four carries for 16 yards and a touchdown were filled with impressive reads, cuts, and power running near the goal line as our own Mansur Shaheen outlined in his film review earlier this week, so let’s see if Abdullah can keep things trending in the right direction for a second week in a row.
Wide open for WR5
Will Detroit keep a fifth receiver? A couple weeks ago, Hamza Baccouche made the case for why the Lions should only keep four wideouts on the roster—which was the case last season—but with a new head coach, there’s always the chance roster construction could take a different shape.
Right now, it seems as though the Lions are a lock to keep the following receivers: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, and TJ Jones. Beyond that, the roster is full of camp darlings like Teo Redding and fan favorites like Jace Billingsley who didn’t do much in the matchup with Oakland last week. There was, however, one player who grabbed my interest last week after hearing relatively little about him throughout training camp.
Player to watch:
The Lions leading receiver a week ago was Brandon Powell, an undrafted free agent from Florida who earned the richest guarantee of anyone Detroit brought in after the draft.
Chad Meredith ($25k gtd) & Teo Redding ($15k) made big impressions in minicamp. For those who've asked, here's the top guarantees Lions gave to UDFAs:— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) June 19, 2018
Brandon Powell: $44k
JoJo Wicker: $40k
Mike Ford: $27,500
Chris Jones: $22k
Ryan Santoso: $21k
Al-Rasheed Benton: $20k
Originally a running back when he joined the Gators as a freshman, the 5-foot-8 Powell converted to receiver and earned a chance with Detroit this training camp. He made the most out of his opportunities in his first bit of NFL action—leading Lions receivers in snaps against Oakland (30). Powell also led the Lions in receptions and receiving yards, catching five passes for 34 yards.
Powell also possesses some special teams ability, an absolute requirement of any player Bob Quinn brings in to fill out the bottom of a roster. In last week’s game against Oakland, Powell logged Detroit’s only kick return, taking a ball from the Lions goal line to the 29-yard line.
If Detroit were to keep a receiver on their 53-man roster, Powell might be a more realistic candidate than Teo Redding because of how NFL ready his body is, and how translatable his skillset is from the college game to the NFL level.
How was the defensive line so offensive?
It wasn’t a good showing from Detroit’s defense last week in Oakland, but in particular, the defensive line looked to be void of any push or pressure, and it didn’t fair so well against the Raiders running backs either—Oakland rushed the ball 31 times at 4.7 yards per carry.
Many believed the Lions would target defensive line help early in the draft this year, but didn’t make any additions until they moved up in the fourth round to select Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand. Hand, as both a pass rusher and a run defender, put together a nice little performance against the Raiders, but for the rest of the depth along the defensive front, and even some of the starters, there wasn’t much in the way of disruption.
#Raiders lead Lions 13-7 at halftime. Connor Cook 11/19 for 141 yards, 1 TD and a 98.8 QB rating. pic.twitter.com/FduPIIJrA2— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) August 11, 2018
When Connor Cook is getting almost seven seconds to throw the ball in the red zone, it doesn’t matter how talented your secondary is, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Player to watch:
One of the few bright spots on Detroit’s defensive line a year ago was A’Shawn Robinson, a player saddled with even more responsibility when Haloti Ngata was lost for the season due to injury.
In the preseason opener, it was pretty surprising to see Robinson lead the defensive line in snaps (30), but it was even more surprising reflecting on how much he struggled last week. Earning a name as a run stuffer in his first two seasons in Detroit, Robinson was certainly a contributing factor to the Lions ceding so many yards on the ground to Oakland, and he was nowhere to be noticed as a pass rusher.
The Giants were faced with completely rebuilding their offensive line this offseason, and that’s not an exaggeration. New York signed Nate Solder from the New England Patriots to take over at left tackle, drafted Will Hernandez to beef up the interior, and added former Jacksonville Jaguar guard Patrick Omameh early in free agency. If there was an opportunity for Robinson to have a bounce back performance, it could very well be against a still-molding offensive front.