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2018 Lions vs. Giants report card: Defensive improvement overshadowed by offensive line failure

The defense actually improved on Friday, but I’m not sure anyone noticed.

NFL: New York Giants at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to watch the Detroit Lions’ preseason game a second time before giving them marks for the 30-17 loss to the New York Giants on Friday night. Having been at the game, I didn’t have the benefit of a DVR to watch replays at my will, and I had a sneaking suspicion the game would look a little different from the broadcast version.

So upon second viewing of the game, here is my Lions Preseason Week 2 report card.

Quarterbacks: C-

Matthew Stafford looked a little hesitant in his 2018 debut. He also had a couple overthrows when he did release the ball. It’s nothing too worrisome or egregious, but it does go along with the narrative of slow starts from the franchise quarterback.

As for the backups, nothing I saw on Friday night improved my confidence in the group. Jake Rudock’s final statline looks impressive (23-30, 171 yds, 1 TD), but he spent the entire game checking down to running backs and tight ends, and he couldn’t consistently move the offense until the final 10 minutes of the game.

Running backs: B-

The Lions’ running game fell into a familiar pattern against the Giants, but it’s hard to fault the backs much. LeGarrette Blount, specifically, made the most of the opportunities he had, and Theo Riddick had the play of the game, with his 42-yard reception from Stafford.

However, there were some mistakes made by this unit, headlined by Ameer Abdullah’s two fumbles. For a guy that has been looking to shake the ball security issues, Abdullah gave fuel to that narrative on Friday night.

Wide receivers: B

It was a pretty quiet day for the wide receivers, which is exactly what happens when you have a checkdown machine quarterbacking for three-quarters of the game. Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford and TJ Jones all stood out as positives, but no one really moved the needle enough for this unit to earn high marks.

Tight ends: C-

Michael Roberts was a guy I thought needed to prove himself on Friday night, and he started the game with a false start penalty early. He followed it up by getting worked into the backfield while run blocking. He would eventually pick up a nice 16-yard game late in the night, but I don’t think the good outweighed the bad.

The rest of the unit continues to underwhelm. While there weren’t any specifically bad plays, Luke Willson (one catch, 3 yards) is still somewhat invisible out there, and even training camp star Hakeem Valles only pulled in two catches for 5 yards.

Offensive line: F

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The offensive line was bad, and it had the entire Lions fanbase screaming at the television when Stafford came back out for a third series.

The biggest concern here is that unlike in Oakland, it wasn’t just the reserves struggling. The Lions’ starters—Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Rick Wagner—all had some really bad plays out there, and we saw just how quickly that can derail the entire offense. Stafford got hit five too many times, the running game was gone, and the Lions had just as many three-and-outs in the first half as they did points.

Defensive line: C+

When it came to the starters, we finally saw a flash of hope when it came to pass rush. Led by Devon Kennard (he’s basically a lineman) and Ricky Jean Francois, the Lions were able to get Davis Webb out of the pocket early in the first quarter. They didn’t record a sack, but they made Webb uncomfortable, which can be just as important sometimes.

Perhaps more notably, however, was the Lions’ impressive run defense. The final statline doesn’t look amazing, but 56 of the Giants’ 96 rushing yards came in the final quarter. In the first three quarters, the Lions held the Giants below 2.0 yards per carry, and much of that was due to the defensive line’s gap integrity.

But while the Lions’ defensive line looked much better than last week’s performance, there is still a ton of room for improvement. Detroit still doesn’t have a sack this preseason, guys like A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams and Kerry Hyder Jr. have yet to make an impression, and a good performance against guys like Ereck Flowers isn’t enough to impress me.

Linebackers: B-

I’m not going to sit here and defend the play in which Jarrad Davis was embarrassed by Wayne Gallman on an inside route, but that play tends to overshadow what was a somewhat solid game from him and the linebacking crew. Davis notched the first three tackles of the game, two of which were for losses. He was also credited for a pass breakup later in the game.

Outside of Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin continues to look like the team’s best coverage linebacker, and Freddie Bishop (four solo tackles) continues to stand out from the reserve linebacking corps. That’s good news considering Steve Longa reportedly tore his ACL and will miss the entire season.

Secondary: D+

Darius Slay is still very good, no worry there. But for the rest of the secondary, it was a rough outing. Guys like Jamal Agnew and Nevin Lawson were in position to make big plays on the ball... but they didn’t. The Lions gave up way too many big plays through the air (plays of 40, 31 and 27), and considering the Giants were without Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., that’s not exactly great news.

I’m not that concerned with this unit overall, but when you allow a guy like Davis Webb connect on big plays—many of which came on third down—you’re going to get downgraded quite a bit.

Special teams: D

Matt Prater missed a chip-shot*. Ameer Abdullah fumbled a kickoff. A good punt return by Brandon Powell was called back due to a penalty.

It just wasn’t a great day for the Lions’ special teamers, but Powell did admittedly look good as both a kick and punt returner.

*Note: I consider anything under 50 yards a chip shot for Matt Prater.