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PFF grades: Detroit Lions’ defensive front dominates in Indy

The defense played to a much different tune on Saturday in their second chance at preseason football.

Detroit Lions v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Dan Campbell secured his first preseason victory as head coach of the Detroit Lions on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, but accolades such as that get forgotten—and for good reason. However, what won’t be lost to Campbell and his coaching staff is the effort and improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 of the team’s reserves. Without many of their starters taking the field, Detroit’s depth shined on screen, and Pro Football Focus’ grades back up what many saw a couple days ago.

Here are some numbers of interest from Detroit’s defensive performance in their second preseason primer ahead of the 2022 season.

Defensive Interior

Top score: Demetrius Taylor (80.8)
Low score: Jashon Cornell (51.4)

For a second week in a row, Cornell has recorded the low grade amongst the defensive interior. After impressing many at the beginning of training camp, Cornell has yet to translate that success to the games. Not to say Cornell hasn’t played fine—he did record a pressure against the Colts—but others along the defensive interior have just made more noise.

Taylor was consistently penetrating into the Colts’ backfield, firing past offensive linemen with a quick first step on his way to the second-best grade on Detroit’s defense—and their second-best run defender according to PFF.

EDGE

Top score: John Cominsky (79.3)
Low score: James Houston IV (52.1)

You could be wondering why you don’t see Austin Bryant’s name for that top spot considering the performance he had in Indy on Saturday. In addition to recording a team-high four pressures, Bryant also registered four defensive stops per PFF, so his grade (78.0) is still reflective of a very productive afternoon for arguably this year’s biggest breakout player this side of Malcolm Rodriguez.

With Josh Paschal sidelined as he recovers from hernia surgery, Detroit’s defensive staff is looking for someone who can step in and provide productive run defense at that “Big DE” spot. Both Cominsky and Eric Banks fit that mold and both guys put together impressive performances on Saturday. Cominsky led the team in defensive stops (6) while Banks earned the third-highest defensive grade on the team.

Linebackers

Top score: Derrick Barnes (77.2)
Low score: Chris Board (41.1)

Detroit’s second preseason contest was all about bouncing back, and one of the biggest bounce-back performances was turned in by potential starter Derrick Barnes. After a rough outing against the Atlanta Falcons, Barnes played a clean game by avoiding any missed tackles and providing three defensive stops—more than all the other linebackers combined.

Board only played 11 snaps, but a lapse in coverage that resulted in a 19-yard reception brought down Board’s grade. It’s worth noting, though, that Board recorded a solid 71.3 special teams grade after being involved in key blocks for both big kick returns.

Cornerbacks

Top score: Jeff Okudah (75.6)
Low score: Mark Gilbert (29.9)

A sight for sore eyes, seeing Okudah earn the top mark among this group—and the sixth-highest grade on defense—is not only a welcome sight, but also an indication of Okudah starting to inch ahead of cornerback Will Harris for a starting job outside.

The battle for nickel cornerback is an interesting one in Detroit. Assumed to have inside track for the job was last year’s starter AJ Parker, and that may still be the case, but the Lions are clearly giving veteran Mike Hughes and rookie Chase Lucas a long, hard look for the spot. Against Indianapolis, Parker earned the best grade of the three (67.7) while surrendering just one reception for five yards.

Safeties

Top score: JuJu Hughes (68.3)
Low score: Kerby Joseph (39.8)

JuJu Hughes and Joseph each played all the defensive snaps for Detroit on Saturday, and there’s plenty of tape for the defensive staff to comb through and see where Hughes and Joseph played their best ball. Both safeties moved around a bit, and while Joseph provided some sound tackling, JuJu Hughes played a better overall game according to PFF.