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Lions-Steelers recap: Sluggish start raises concerns about Detroit’s depth as Lions lose, 26-20

Live update from the Detroit Lions’ second preseason game of the 2021 season.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It was an ugly, ugly start for the Detroit Lions. Really, it was an ugly first three quarters, as the Pittsburgh Steelers had the edge in just about every aspect of the game.

For those hoping to see the starting Lions lineup against the Steelers, who used the game as their dress rehearsal, Detroit didn’t do you any favors. The Lions scratched several key starters, including Jared Goff, Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, Tyrell Williams, Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Jamie Collins Sr., and Alex Anzalone.

Still, there were plenty of concerning developments from Saturday night’s game, whether it was from the Lions starters that did play, or their concerning depth at specific positions (see: linebacker).

That being said, the Lions had a few promising things happen in the fourth quarter which drew this game to a score much closer than the first three quarters would indicate. In the end, the Steelers would walk away with the meaningless 26-20 victory. Here’s how the whole game broke down.

Go Lions!

First quarter

The Lions defense took the field first, with its full first-team secondary on the field, but the rest full of reserves. They were able to get Ben Roethlisberger off the field quickly thanks to a three-and-out forced after Will Harris knocked down a pass to Eric Ebron (who also may have dropped it).

The Lions offense, led by Tim Boyle, managed a couple first downs. However, Boyle threw back-to-back poor passes to end Detroit’s first drive at midfield.

The Steelers offense got things going on the next drive thanks to a huge play from Roethlisberger. He found Diontae Johnson for 43 yards after the wide receiver had soundly beaten Jeff Okudah in coverage and Will Harris was late in over-the-top help.

Six plays later, Roethlisberger found tight end Pat Freiermuth for an 11-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 Steelers lead.

The Lions went three-and-out on offense after another overthrow from Boyle on second down and a third-down pass batted down at the line.

On the very first play of the drive, Roethlisberger dumped off a pass to running back Najee Harris, and despite reading the play well, Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai couldn’t make the tackle, and Harris turned it up field for a 46-yard gain.

A few plays later, Roethlisberger would find Freiermuth in the end zone again, this time with Jalen Reeves-Maybin in coverage:

14-0 Steelers.

The Lions offense went three-and-out again after Boyle was called for a questionable intentional grounding penalty and Amon-Ra St. Brown couldn’t corral a deep pass.

Mercifully, the Steelers replaced Roethlisberger with Mason Rudolph on the next offensive drive.

Second quarter

Rudolph was able to drive the Steelers down field, utilizing his tight ends and running backs against Detroit’s struggling linebackers (Tavai and Reeves-Maybin). But on a third-and-2, Rudolph tested Okudah over the top, and the second-year corner was able to help break up the pass to Juju Smith-Schuster and force a 35-yard field goal. 17-0 Steelers.

The Lions were able to convert a couple first downs on their next offensive drive. In fact, it looked like they were set up nicely at midfield, but a questionable pass interference call on Breshad Perriman put the Lions in a second-and-20 situation they couldn’t recover from. Punter Jack Fox, though, was able to pin the Steelers at their 3-yard line.


The Steelers were able to get out of the shadow of their own endzone, however. Just as it looked like the Lions defense forced a big three-and-out, Austin Bryant was rightfully flagged for a grabbing of the facemask penalty. A big play to Ebron (with Reeves-Maybin in coverage) and a fourth-down conversion later, and Pittsburgh was suddenly in position to add to their lead before the end of the half.

Detroit’s defense was able to finally get a stop, but not before the Steelers drove all the way down to the Lions’ 4-yard line. Pittsburgh chipped in the field goal with only nine seconds left in the half, and Detroit kneeled out the half. 20-0 Steelers.

Third quarter

Boyle came back out to lead the Lions offense on the first drive of the second half, but it was more of the same. A three-and-out gave the ball right back to the Steelers. Despite a good Jack Fox punt, returner Mathew Sexton took the ball all the way into Lions territory, giving Pittsburgh good field position for their first drive of the second half.

Pittsburgh would drive into the red zone, but a third-down pass was nearly picked off by Lions rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes. Again, Pittsburgh settled for three. 23-0 Steelers.

David Blough took over with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter. He gave the offense a little life, not with his arm but with his legs. A pair of 13-yard scrambles got the Lions into Steelers territory for the first time of the day. A fourth down conversion by Godwin Igwebuike and a personal foul on the Steelers got the Lions into the red zone as the clock turned over to the fourth quarter.

Fourth quarter

On the first play of the final quarter, Igwebuike took a draw in for the 9-yard score. Blough couldn’t find Kennedy on the two-point conversion.

23-6 Steelers.

Pittsburgh looked ready to score another touchdown, but Barnes shut them down quickly once in the red zone. First, he broke up a pass intended for tight end Kevin Radar. Two plays later, the Lions sent him on a delayed blitz and he wrapped up Mason Rudolph for the third-down sack. Still Pittsburgh was able tack on another three to the score. 26-6 Steelers.

For the second straight drive, Blough was able to lead Detroit to a touchdown. Craig Reynolds was able to pick up 26 yards on the ground, as Blough capped the drive with a patient touchdown pass to Javon McKinley:

26-13 Steelers.

Detroit was able to recover a perfect onside kick from Randy Bullock, giving Blough a chance to bring it to a one-score game. Tom Kennedy broke free on a fourth-and-2 play, giving Detroit a first-and-goal at the two-minute warning.

A play later, Reynolds would punch it in from 3 yards. 26-20 Steelers.

The Lions chose not to onside kick it a second time, but with less than two minutes left, Pittsburgh’s one first down was enough to bleed the rest of the clock and walk away with the victory.

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