Thursday night was an ugly night for Detroit Lions football no matter how you look at it. If your goal as a fan was to gain confidence in the team’s depth, they failed miserably. If you were hoping to see some rookies make a play or two, the team failed there, too. Even if your hopes were for the Lions to make it out of the opening preseason game, the Lions unfortunately failed there, too.
But look close enough and there were tiny signs of optimism. So here are three winners and five losers from the Lions’ preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
Winner: Lions run defense
Let’s start with something positive to cleanse the palate a little. While the Lions allowed 133 rushing yards on the night, that came on 40 carries. Take away the three kneel downs, and the Lions ceded 136 yards on the ground on 37 carries for an average of just 3.7 yards per carry. That’s a very acceptable number for a defense that’s looking to stuff the run on a weekly basis.
Add in the fact that the Lions were without just about everyone of note on the defensive line and the linebacking corps, and that should give you at least some confidence that Detroit could maintain a stout run defense if injuries continue to hit the front seven hard this year.
Loser: Lions pass defense
Brian Hoyer was nearly perfect against the Lions’ second-team defense. He went 12-of-14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns for a near-perfect passer rating of 150.0.
Every aspect of the Lions’ pass defense was just awful on Thursday. There was no pass rush, the corners in coverage were consistently giving up a step or two on their receivers, and tackling—something the Lions have actually been pretty good at under Matt Patricia—was an issue.
There was some optimism that the Lions’ depth in the secondary was actually better this year, but they took a huge step back on Thursday night.
Winner: Ty Johnson
He only had three touches, but the Lions’ sixth-round pick made the most of his limited opportunities against the New England Patriots. He had runs of 17 and 13 yards (though the 13 yarder was called back due to a hold). On a night in which the Lions literally did not have a single highlight, Johnson came the closest.
Former Terp Ty Johnson continues to impress in his NFL debut for the Detroit Lions. Big gain here to get the first down. pic.twitter.com/LdCg4L1r9O— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) August 9, 2019
Loser: Tyrell Crosby and the rest of the reserve offensive linemen
Kent Lee Platte warned y’all after Tuesday’s joint practice with the Patriots. Here he is from his stock report earlier in the week:
The first team offensive line had some ups and downs, but the second and third team groups only had the latter. The aforementioned Andrew Donnal was a chief offender, but Tyrell Crosby also saw his share of beatings, at one point getting spun around so badly that I thought he injured himself. The interior guys were also getting routinely beaten, Luke Bowanko, Leo Koloamatangi, and Beau Benzschawel included. Neither Tom Savage nor David Fales had time to breathe, and neither are great in those situations.
That mirrors almost exactly what we saw on Thursday night. Crosby was getting routinely beaten around the edge as the Lions allowed a total of nine sacks on the night—including three in the first 10 plays of the game.
This should be especially concerning considering the Lions rotated guys like Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins and Oday Aboushi throughout the entire night. Though the main offenders were the tackles, at least two of those aforementioned guards are going to be starters, and their play wasn’t particularly inspiring, either.
Winner: Tom Savage
It’s hard to call Savage a winner since he left the game due to an injury, but in the limited snaps he played, he actually made a couple of very nice throws, including an impressive threading-of-the-needle to Brandon Powell for 24 yards. We’ve seen Savage display some arm strength all training camp, and that play was a perfect example of why arm strength can be so important in the NFL.
Hopefully Savage will be okay in the long term, because I think he will actually be an adequate backup to Matthew Stafford.
Loser: Matt Patricia
For the second straight preseason, the Lions have come out flat and put out an embarrassingly bad product. Sure, the preseason doesn’t matter and most of the starters were out, but this game was frighteningly similar to last year’s preseason output, and we saw how flat the Lions looked to start the regular season.
It’s far too early to start thinking the Lions will be doomed in 2019, but if this sort of performance continues throughout the next three weeks, one has to start questioning Patricia’s ability to get his team in regular season shape during training camp.
Loser: Amani Oruwariye
The Lions got a good, long look at their fifth-round pick, as Oruwariye played almost the entire first half. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for the rookie. Though he was credited with two pass breakups on the night, he was mostly a liability out there in coverage. Oruwariye ceded the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night after being unable to locate the ball while in decent position.
This doesn’t mean Oruwariye is a bust or he’ll get cut or anything like that, it was just a rough go for the rookie in his first ever NFL game.
Loser: David Fales
Fales wasn’t helped out by a bad offensive line performance, but at least a few of those sacks were on Fales’ indecision that we’ve seen all throughout training camp. If Savage’s injury is serious enough to affect his regular season availability, there is no doubt the Lions will need someone to find someone else to back up Stafford. Fales just isn’t good enough to be a backup quarterback right now. 5-for-14 for 62 yards against third-string Patriots is all you need to see.