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Detroit Lions preseason Week 3 report card: Grading the starters, depth vs. Bills

We take a look at how the Lions’ position groups played vs. the Bills.

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Detroit Lions just completed their dress rehearsal, we may as well treat Pride of Detroit the same. During the season, we’ll be handing out a report card for the Lions after every game, grading out each position group and analyzing their play.

This is particularly difficult for the preseason, since depth units perform drastically different. For example, what grade should I give the quarterbacks when Matthew Stafford played very well, but David Fales did not?

So for this week only (there won’t be a report card for next week’s preseason game), I’ll be handing out a starters grade and a depth grade.

Here’s the Lions’ report card for their preseason Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.


Starter grade: B+

Matthew Stafford had a pretty good night, especially after watching backups for a couple weeks. Stafford went 12-of-19 for 137 yards and a score, and he was victimized by at least three drops.

Stafford wasn’t quite perfect, though. He had Marvin Jones Jr. open for a touchdown in the red zone, but a throw behind the receiver allowed for a pass breakup. He also failed to pick up a single third down on the night.

That being said, his fourth-down conversion throw to Ty Johnson was perfection.

Depth: C-

David Fales was put in a tough position behind a struggling offensive line, but some of the bad tendencies we saw this training camp—mainly indecision and taking too many sacks—popped up again. Josh Johnson rebounded nicely after another week with the team, but there shouldn’t be a ton of confidence in the Lions’ backup quarterbacks right now.

Running backs

Starter grade: B

Kerryon Johnson only got three touches and looked fine. C.J. Anderson’s final statline doesn’t look great, but he ran hard, fast and looked the part of a decent backup running back.

The Lions’ game didn’t produce a lot of yards early on, but I wouldn’t put a ton of blame on the running backs here.

Depth: A

Ty Johnson continues to look like the prime reason why Detroit let Theo Riddick go, and he could actually play a pretty big part in the offense’s plans as soon as this year. Mark Thompson is putting out fantastic tape right now, and could even be making a case for Zach Zenner’s job. And Zenner is still doing what he always does: making the most out of his limited opportunities.

Tight ends

Starter grade: B

T.J. Hockenson had his breakout party, hauling in three catches for 52 yards. Jesse James had a big 13-yard catch. It looks like both could be an integral part to this passing offense in 2019.

However, I need to see more out of both as a blocker. It wasn’t a pretty day for either in that regard, and Detroit will need a better performance from both if they are to succeed at the offense they’re trying to run.

Depth grade: C

We haven’t seen much from any of the reserves all offseason. Isaac Nauta had one big play, but not much else. Meanwhile, Logan Thomas has curiously not received much playing time at all this preseason.

Wide receivers

Starter grade: C

Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay were very quiet in their preseason debuts, but Danny Amendola continued to show that his signing may be one of the most underrated this offseason. It’s clear he’s developing some serious chemistry with Matthew Stafford, and it could result in a lot of chains being moved on third down this year.

Depth grade: D

No reserve wide receiver had more than a single catch on Friday night. A lot of that has to do with limited opportunities, but these are the kind of players that need to make their own opportunities right now, and they just aren’t.

Offensive line

Starter grade: B-

Matthew Stafford was technically kept clean all game, but he was dealing with pressure here and there. Perhaps the biggest issue with the starting offensive line was their failure to create much in terms of running lanes. Graham Glasgow had a particularly rough game, but overall, there was still a little more positive than negative on Friday.

Depth grade: D

The Lions were able to run the ball late, but this unit—especially the reserve offensive tackles—haven’t given any reason for optimism. Andrew Donnal and Matt Nelson continue to struggle on the edges, while no one has emerged from the interior to justify a roster spot.

Defensive line

Starter grade: A

For the first quarter of the game, the Lions’ defense was very stout and a lot of it had to do with the defensive front. With all the starters in the game aside from Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand, the Lions were able to stop the run with relative ease, and they even got a good amount of pressure from Mike Daniels.

Depth grade: D

I thought P.J. Johnson rebounded nicely, but the Lions still struggled to generate any pressure from their reserves, and you could immediately tell the difference once the second-team defensive line came in. Case in point: the Lions allowed Bills running backs to rush for 24 yards on six carries in the first quarter. In the second quarter: nine rushes, 79 yards.


Starter grade: A-

If the Lions have to play the first few months of the season with Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Christian Jones, and Jahlani Tavai as their three main off-ball linebackers, Friday night will provide the optimism for that crew. Reeves-Maybin is becoming a well-rounded linebacker before our eyes—and had a nice interception that absolutely should have counted—while Tavai took on his added responsibilities admirably. Christian Jones gets recognition for the softest roughing the passer penalty in NFL history.

The Jarrad Davis injury will still be very impactful, but for a night, it looked like the Lions could survive this.

Depth grade: C

I can’t honestly say I saw many plays good or bad from the likes of Garret Dooley, Anthony Pittman or Malik Carney, so I’m going the safe route with a C.

Defensive backs

Starter grade: B+

A decent day for the Lions’ starting cornerbacks. Justin Coleman did give up what would have been a third-down conversion, but made up for it by punching the ball out of Cole Beasley’s arms and forcing a turnover.

It wasn’t a great day for Tracy Walker, but Quandre Diggs was still his reliable self. This was a solid, but unspectacular day from the Lions’ secondary.

Depth grade: D

I’m having a really hard time finding a reserve cornerback worth a spot on this team’s roster. Andre Chachere had a particularly rough night, while fifth-round rookie Amani Oruwariye struggled, too.

C.J. Moore and Will Harris did make some plays, however, and it looks like the Lions have a surplus of safeties that will make cut day particularly tough for Detroit.

Special teams

Overall grade: B

Matt Prater has still got it. Jamal Agnew had an up-and-down day with a great kickoff return but a near disastrous punt muff. The Lions’ coverage units were very good, too.


Overall grade: C

Let’s just address the elephant in the room: did Matt Patricia play his starters too long? Should the starter have played at all?

Those are impossible questions to answer now that we have the benefit of hindsight. It also very much depends on the individual you’re talking about.

I thought Matthew Stafford could use the live reps, so I was happy to see him out there. I do think they played with fire a little bit by keeping him in, even after his second-quarter touchdown, but that’s forgivable.

As for the starting offensive line, I had no problem with Patricia’s usage. The Lions had been toying with the starting five all training camp, and live offensive line reps are the hardest to replicate in practice. Those five needed some serious playing time to make sure they had the chemistry right. I had no problem giving Frank Ragnow—and the rest of the starters—a half of play on Friday.

It sucks that a couple key players got injured, and it’s impossible to quantify how important/unimportant those third-game reps were for Lions starters, but I can, at the very least, understand the decisions Patricia made. It certainly isn’t an easy decision to make.

Every other in-coaching decision was likely made with the purpose of evaluation, so I’m not reading too much into challenges, timeout usage or punting/fourth-down choices quite yet.