The Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their annual preseason Week 3 dress rehearsal game Friday night. It was a wet and sloppy affair that saw the Buccaneers dominate for a majority of the night before two late Detroit touchdowns swung the game in the closing minutes. Here are a few things we learned from the match up.
The linebackers must improve
General manager Bob Quinn has made it a point to invest in the Lions linebacking corps the past few years and for good reason. The defense’s second line has been the team’s biggest weakness in recent history. Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones were all added to the lineup over the past two seasons to fix their concerns, but if this preseason has been any indication, the problems still exist.
Davis struggled yet again, missing a few key tackles even after getting himself in perfect position to make a play. Reeves-Maybin, who has previously been lauded for his ability in coverage, was torched by running back Ronald Jones for a huge gain in the first half. Jones and Kennard were not particularly bad but they did not do much good on the defensive side of the ball either. If this was truly the game that will give us the best look at how Detroit will play in 2018 then it is clear that the linebacking corps is still a problem.
Hakeem Valles is a potential contributor
Hakeem Valles was a player that was entering this preseason on the roster bubble. New free agency additions Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo were brought in to be immediate contributors and second-year player Michael Roberts was set to step into an expanded role.
Through three weeks of preseason Valles has been the only one in the bunch that has stood out. Wilson has only played a limited amount as he is set to start anyways, but Toilolo and Roberts have both been mediocre at best. Valles impressed again on Friday night with three receptions for 38 yards and was one of the lone bright spots on offense in the first half. It is hard to imagine the Lions not keeping him around after the 53-man roster cut, and there is a very real chance he climbs up the depth chart and sees regular playing time this season.
The starting spot across Darius Slay is still wide open
While the Lions All-Pro corner Darius Slay has had his starting role locked up since the beginning of training camp, the starting role at CB2 across from him may still be wide open. Nevin Lawson was the listed starter again on Friday night, but the Buccaneers spent the entire first half picking on him. Lawson was liable for a couple of penalties and let Tampa Bay’s receivers beat him all over the field.
The door was wide open for second year player Teez Tabor to step up and impress but he had a relatively quiet night. Newly signed Sterling Moore did not see playing time until very late in the game and DeShawn Shead was absent yet again. The Lions have two weeks to figure out who they need to start at CB2, and right now it looks like none of the options are the right answer.
The run defense is bad, but Ricky Jean Francois is good
Detroit’s inability to stop the run has been one of the major story lines of this preseason. In back-to-back weeks the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants have been able to run all over the Lions and that didn’t change on Friday night. Peyton Barber carried the Buccaneers offense down the field on the team’s opening possession before finally gashing the Lions for a 14-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
While the front seven as a whole looked poor defending the run, there was one reprise. Newly signed Ricky Jean Francois looked great on the interior of the defensive line. The defensive tackle has been previously heralded for his gap-stuffing ability and he showed why on Friday. He stuffed a few runs inside and made things harder for opposing running backs by eating up space in the middle. Francois finished the game with six total tackles, second to only Lawson.
This team does not look good, at all
While it was nice to see the Lions finally put one in the win column, Friday night’s game was a disaster. The first and second string offensive line was bullied by the Bucs defensive front, the defensive line was a mess outside of Francois, the linebackers made many crucial errors and the secondary was picked apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. Players that are expected to be major contributors this season failed the team all over the roster. This was supposed to be the week that told us the most about how the Lions will play in the upcoming season, and it was probably their worst preseason performance yet.