Detroit Lions first-round pick Penei Sewell had a rough start to his NFL debut. In the first series of the first preseason game, Sewell was beaten by fellow first-round pick Gregory Rousseau and arguably allowed a sack.
But Sewell’s day was much more than just one play. In all, he played in 22 total snaps—two series’ worth of plays. While the narrative following Sewell is that he struggled in his debut, the full scope of his performance on Friday night should truly be much more positive, as his PFF grade of 66.5 indicates (Frank Ragnow got a 67.4).
So I rewatched every single one of Sewell’s 22 snaps, and made notes on each. Let’s break it down.
Play 1: First-and-10, incomplete pass
Sewell is left one-on-one in pass protection. The ball is out within two seconds, but Sewell’s pass protection is perfect.
Play 2: Second-and-10, run to left for no gain
Sewell darts to the second level and completely whiffs on a block.
That linebacker is in on the tackle, but Jamaal Williams likely would’ve been taken down anyways.
Play 3: Third-and-10, Jared Goff sacked
Gregory Rousseau vs. Penei Sewell pic.twitter.com/ebAzJrwXHE— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) August 13, 2021
The breakdown of this play has already been exhausted. Sewell gets into a good set but seems surprised by Gregory Rousseau’s strength. Though Halapoulivaati Vaitai was really the one who allowed the sack, it wasn’t exactly a good rep from Sewell.
Play 4: First-and-10, run up the middle for 4 yards
He successfully seals Rousseau off, though the defender isn’t giving much effort there. When the run goes by the two, Rousseau suddenly tries a bit harder, and Sewell eventually drives him into the ground.
Play 5: Second-and-6, short pass for 5 yards
One-on-one with Rousseau again. Sewell sticks with him for a couple of seconds and begins to lose leverage to the outside. He eventually recovers, and while they’re deep into the backfield, Sewell remains in front of him and gives Goff around three seconds of protection, which is plenty.
Play 6: Third-and-1, run for 1 yard
Super timid just 3 plays later. pic.twitter.com/5CInr0lUHf— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) August 14, 2021
(Note: Geoff Schwartz is being sarcastic)
With a little help from Darren Fells, Sewell completely pancakes Rousseau and roughs him up on the way down, as well.
Play 7: First-and-10, run for -1 yards
Another good rep from Sewell, as he drives the interior defender—former first-round pick Ed Oliver—a couple of yards back from the line of scrimmage. It creates a significant hole on the right side, but Kalif Raymond isn’t able to get to his block on time. Eventually, Oliver does spin free, but Williams would already be behind him on a well-blocked play.
Play 8: Second-and-11, pass for 3 yards
Timing off the snap is perfect, and his kick out gets him into a good position. His initial block attempt is swatted away Darryl Johnson, but Sewell is able to recover nicely due to his athleticism. He successfully shoves Johnson out wider, giving Jared Goff an easy throwing lane.
Play 9: Third-and-8, Goff scramble/sack (illegal contact on defense)
The Bills try to confuse Sewell by showing a potentially-blitzing linebacker right in front of him. He backs off at the snap, and the linebacker outside of him (at the wide-9 position) pass rushes. Sewell is there waiting for him, takes on the brunt of a bull rush, and can re-anchor and stymie the defender completely.
Play 10: First-and-10, pass for 0 yards
Play-action. Sewell acts like he’s blocking the defensive tackle, down to his left. As the defender eventually catches on to the play-action and reverses course to the right, Sewell is there to give him a shot.
It’s a well-blocked play that would have worked if Jason Cabinda was a bit faster.
Play 11: Second-and-10, pass for 9 yards
One-on-one with Johnson, Sewell successfully counters the edge defender’s inside move. Johnson eventually tries to spin out of it, but Sewell has him ensnared.
Play 12: Third-and-1, rush for 1 yard
Sewell plows a huge hole, successfully walling off Efe Obada. After pushing him to the other hashmark, he disengages and tries to push the pile forward. Love to see those little glimpses of grit.
Play 13: First-and-10, pass for 13 yards (holding on Frank Ragnow)
Again, Sewell is out of his stance in perfect timing. He’s waiting for Rousseau, is able to drive him back with his hands, and then rides him harmlessly past the quarterback.
Play 14: First-and-20, run for 5 yards
He successfully gets Rousseau to run wide, as Jamaal Williams runs right by him on the draw play.
Play 15: Second-and-15, pass for 20 yards
Rousseau initially tries to use his speed to beat Sewell to the outside. No luck. But then he rips to the inside. Sewell is able to keep his hands on him, but there’s an obvious jersey pull there. No holding was called, but it would’ve been justified had they called it.
Play 16: First-and-10, run for 2 yards
Nice work here from Sewell to first help Darren Fells gain leverage on his defender, then heads to the second level and doesn’t whiff this time. Again, there is a visible rushing lane, but Kalif Raymond’s block is ineffective.
Play 17: Second-and-8, run for 1 yard
Hard to tell what happens here, as the broadcast feed cuts in amidst chaos. Somehow, Frank Ragnow has crashed into Sewell, knocking him backward, and the rookie isn’t able to get his hands on anyone before the draw play is already by him.
Play 18: Third-and-7, pass for 9 yards
Left on an island against Johnson, Sewell is just able to out-physical him. Johnson initially tries to go around him, then lowers his shoulder to try and go through him. Sewell is able to re-anchor and engage him enough so that Johnson’s feeble attempt to knock the pass down is unsuccessful.
Play 19: First-and-10, pass for 10 yards
The ball is out quickly, so not much here. But Sewell is able to shove Rousseau harmlessly inside and out of any passing lanes.
Play 20: First-and-10, run for 2 yards
Another good run blocking rep from Sewell. He is able to wrestle Rousseau to the other side of the line.
There’s plenty of room on that right side, but Jonah Jackson and fullback Jason Cabinda take on the same player, leaving Williams to take on an unblocked defender.
Play 21: Second-and-8, incomplete pass
Sewell initially takes on his block, before nicely passing him off to Halapoulivaati Vaitai. It’s a stunt from the defensive line, and while Sewell is slightly late to notice it, his athleticism allows him to recover without incident. It’s a well-blocked play that nearly resulted in a touchdown.
Play 22: Third-and-8, 5 yard scramble from Goff
Sewell is way too late out of his stance, which allows Johnson to run right past him. Sewell is able to catch up a bit, but the pressure draws Goff’s attention and forces him up into the pocket where he takes off for 5 yards instead of forcing a ball into coverage.
I thought Sewell was fantastic as a run blocker, even when he had to go up against a supreme talent like Ed Oliver. In pass protection, the Lions left Sewell on an island for the entire game, and I thought he mostly responded well. There were some teachable moments, but nothing that looked like a serious problem. Oddly enough, his worst reps were two in the first drive and his very last snap on offense. Perhaps some early jitters and a small lapse in focus late.
Otherwise, I thought this was a very promising debut.