It wasn’t exactly a fair fight on Saturday night. The Detroit Lions trotted out most of their second-string players against Pittsburgh Steelers starters and it showed. After the Lions forced a quick three-and-out for Ben Roethlisberger, it was all Steelers after that. Detroit looked overmatched, because they were.
But that doesn’t excuse some of the performances from Detroit. There were some undeniably bad performances from players who have no business struggling. There were some good moments, too, with most coming in the second half of the game.
For now, let’s focus on the offensive side of the ball. Here’s my report card for the Lions offense after their loss to the Steelers on Saturday night.
There’s no way around it, Tim Boyle was just really, really bad on Saturday. He missed open receivers early in the game, nearly threw a pick to a defender he clearly didn’t see, got tagged for an intentional grounding penalty (though it was a bad call), and led the Lions on zero scoring drives.
Even when the Lions trotted him back out in the second half, hoping he’d improve with Steelers backups in, Boyle led Detroit to a quick three-and-out.
David Blough, on the other hand, led the Lions on three offensive drives. The Lion scored touchdowns on all three drives, and Blough displayed poise, intelligence, and the ability to extend drives with his feet. His accuracy is still a bit hit-and-miss, but he was the clear better quarterback on Saturday. Statlines can be misleading at times, but these ones are not:
Boyle: 7-for-15, 44 yards, 2.9 Y/A, 53.5 passer rating
Blough: 12-for-17, 143 yards, 8.4 Y/A, 115.6 passer rating
In case that isn’t obvious enough, here’s the drive log under both quarterbacks:
- 5 plays, 17 yards, punt
- 3 plays, 4 yards, punt
- 3 plays, -5 yards, punt
- 9 plays, 20 yards, punt
- 3 plays, 8 yards, punt
- 14 plays, 74 yards, TD
- 10 plays, 87 yards, TD
- 7 plays, 54 yards, TD
Running backs: B
Just about every running back had at least one good play on their resume. On Jermar Jefferson’s first carry, he displayed a nice cut upfield for 10 yards. Dedrick Mills had a nice, decisive 7-yard run in the second quarter. Godwin Igwebuike scored a touchdown, and Craig Reynolds once again led the team in rushing yards and found the end zone, as well.
In total, this unit rushed for 81 yards on 19 carries, good for a respectable 4.3 yards per carry. That RB3 race heated up on Saturday, and there’s a really good chance that spot won’t be decided until the final preseason game next week.
Tight ends: D
With no T.J. Hockenson, it was Darren Fells’ opportunity to shine early in the game. Unfortunately, all of things Fells was signed to do, he struggled with against the Steelers. Detroit plans to use Fells predominantly as a blocker, but Fells got dinged with two holding penalties on Saturday night.
The rest of the depth chart also struggled to block, but at least all three—Fells, Alize Mack and Brock Wright—all picked up at least one reception against the Steelers.
Wide receivers: C-
It’s hard to assess the wide receiving corps when the quarterbacking early in the game was so bad. Breshad Perriman had a couple opportunities for big plays, but Boyle missed him. He also got called for a bogus offensive pass interference, but I won’t ding him for that. Amon-Ra St. Brown could have had a diving grab, but couldn’t corral it.
It’s clear this unit missed not having Breshad Perriman, but the missed solid quarterback play more.
Unsurprisingly, the second-half receivers made more plays. None shined brighter than Tom Kennedy, who for the second week in a row led the Lions in receiving yards. His best play came on a quick slant on a fourth-and-2 that he nearly housed:
Tom Kennedy picks up 3⃣1⃣ yards to take the #Lions inside the 5-yard line#DETvsPIT | FOX pic.twitter.com/FzgzSOkA0q— Detroit Lions (@Lions) August 22, 2021
Geronimo Allison had a big 22-yard gain, but Sage Surratt had a drop on his only target of the night.
Overall, there was more bad than good, but it’s hard to put much of the blame for the offense’s struggles on the receiving corps.
Offensive line: B-
Offensive line play is tough to judge live, but both run blocking and pass protection were better than they were last week. Even with no Frank Ragnow or Taylor Decker, Boyle managed to escape the first half unsacked. Most of the Steelers’ five quarterback hits on the day came in the final two quarters, which tracks given the Lions’ lack of depth on the offensive line.
Penei Sewell is still taking his rookie lumps, but he also didn’t have any egregious errors like we saw early in his preseason debut. Overall, I thought this was a big step in the right direction for the offensive line, especially against a decent Steelers defense.