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5 takeaways from the Lions’ preseason loss to the Falcons

How did the Lions fare in their first taste of preseason football?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

The first preseason game of the Detroit Lions’ 2022 season is in the books! A win eluded the Lions as they fell late to the Atlanta Falcons, but in an otherwise meaningless game, there are more takeaways to be had than just the scoreboard.

Is this what an elite offensive line looks like?

It was just one drive against a fairly weak Falcons defense, but the offensive line lived up to the hype. Detroit was methodical on their 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, and the offensive line was a key reason why. After getting stuffed on the first play of the game, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams combined for 31 yards on five carries, thanks in part to some massive holes created by the offensive line—it’s nice to have Frank Ragnow back. The offensive line was stellar in pass protection too, a much needed part of a Jared Goff-led offense. If they can keep the starters healthy, they could be among the best lines in the NFL.

Run defense woes loom large

The Lions’ run defense needs to shake off some rust. The Falcons ran all over the Lions defense, with both running backs and quarterbacks doing some damage on the ground. Detroit was gouged by the run last season, and the early signs point towards that trend continuing:

There are a few reasons to be optimistic, however. Firstly, this was the very first preseason game of the year, and run defense is difficult to replicate in training camp, especially when padded practices are limited. Alim McNeill and Michael Brockers saw limited action against the Falcons, so the Lions were without their starters for most of the game, as well as two important backups in Levi Onwuzurike and Josh Paschal. The linebackers are still a point of weakness, but Alex Anzalone didn’t play, Chris Board has limited starting experience, and Malcolm Rodriguez is just a rookie playing in his first game—there should be some improvement down the road. It’s also worth noting that the team hasn’t had the opportunity to practice against quick quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder.

I’d keep an eye on the run defense in the coming weeks, but I wouldn’t hit the panic button just yet.

The battle for QB2 heats up?

Tim Boyle was the first quarterback to replace Jared Goff, and he was very much the Tim Boyle we knew from 2021. He had a spectacular dime to Kalif Raymond, and a nice touchdown pass to Devin Funchess, but also an interception and a fair share of ducks. As Jeremy put it so succinctly:

David Blough, meanwhile, looked more comfortable leading the Lions offense. He was surprisingly mobile, finishing as the Lions’ leading rusher. That being said, the offense was still limited with him at the helm, mustering just a pair of field goals, both of which came at the end of extensive drives. Blough had a botched shotgun snap that turned into the game-winning score for the Falcons, ending the game on a sour note.

If the Lions opt to keep two quarterbacks, they will have a tough choice between Boyle and Blough. Boyle has the better arm, but is quite inconsistent. Blough has better pocket presence, but his limited skillset means he has a tough time making up for his mistakes. The Lions aren’t in a great position with their backup quarterbacks, and it makes you wonder why they didn’t address it this offseason, be it a signing or draft pick.

A logjam at tight end

T.J. Hockenson is the starter without question, but every spot beyond him is up for grabs. Rookie James Mitchell is a frontrunner for the TE2 title, but his injury has led to ample opportunities for others on the depth chart. Devin Funchess had the biggest impact against the Falcons, notching a touchdown and a few first down receptions to boot. Brock Wright and Garrett Griffin had catches of 18 and 11 yards, respectively, with Griffin chipping in at fullback due to Jason Cabinda being unavailable. Nolan Givan and Shane Zylstra also chimed in with short catches, while Givan helped spring a David Blough fourth down run.

The Lions could keep anywhere from two to four tight ends come September, and it’s anyone’s guess who will get the nod. The Lions will likely want a balance of blocking and hybrid tight ends behind Hockenson, so the coming weeks of games and practices will be crucial.

Can Tom Kennedy beat the numbers game?

A 100-yard receiving performance is impressive regardless of the circumstances. Tom Kennedy was stellar against Atlanta, easily slotting in as the go-to option for both quarterbacks. With a long of just 26 yards, he didn’t pad his stats on a single long play either—it was a complete performance.

While a game like this should certainly put him in contention for a spot on the 53-man roster, he has an uphill battle. The top four of DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Kalif Raymond are set in stone, while Jameson Williams lurks on the Non-Football Injury list. If the Lions opt to keep six receivers—there’s no guarantee they do—he will have to contend with Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson.

With St. Brown and Raymond capable of playing in the slot, it might be rich for the Lions to carry a third slot receiver in Kennedy. Both Cephus and Benson are outside receivers, a position with limited depth for Detroit. Benson also has added value as a gunner on special teams and possibly a kick returner. In contrast, Kennedy has seen limited action on special teams.

Then again, if Kennedy continues to perform like this, it would make for a very difficult decision come cutdown day.

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