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PFF grades: Detroit Lions’ running game paves way to victory, high praise

Detroit’s first preseason win was set up by a ground game that established itself early and often against the Indianapolis Colts.

Detroit Lions v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Earlier this week, we spent some time reviewing the grades given out to the Detroit Lions defense by Pro Football Focus. Now, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst Detroit Lions performances turned in by the offense in their second preseason game.


Top score: Evan Brown (70.3)
Low score: N/A

With the offensive starters getting the afternoon off, Evan Brown earned the start at center for Detroit. He was integral in Detroit’s ability to run the football early, but he was credited with a pressure allowed in pass protection. Brown played 41 snaps before Tommy Kraemer moved from right guard to relieve Brown at center for the other 33 offensive snaps.


Top score: Logan Stenberg (82.5)
Low score: Darrin Paulo (53.1)

After a less-than-impressive performance against the Atlanta Falcons, Stenberg played all 74 snaps on offense at left guard and carded the highest grade for any offensive Lions player. Stenberg was especially effective as part of the team’s running attack, earning an 81.6 run-blocking grade from PFF on 31 run-blocking snaps. The aforementioned Kraemer wasn’t far behind in overall grade, earning an 82.0 offense grade, but a team-high 85.9 run-blocking grade while splitting time at right guard and center.

Darrin Paulo played at left guard against the Falcons last week, but logged all his playing time this week against the Colts at right guard. Last preseason, Paulo played at right tackle for the Lions, so it seems like this coaching staff is working him at different spots to see if he can catch on as a utility player along the offensive front.


Top score: Matt Nelson (78.2)
Low score: Kendall Lamm (31.8)

Nelson, much like the rest of the second-string offensive line, struggled in the preseason opener against Atlanta. Penciled in as the Lions’ swing tackle, a bounce-back performance was just what Nelson needed as he helped provide the push up front for Detroit’s running attack by earning a 79.1 run-blocking grade per PFF. In 32 snaps at right tackle, Nelson surrendered just one pressure in pass protection and played well enough to keep him in the mix for that reserve tackle role.

When the Lions added Kendall Lamm, a veteran tackle with over 1,700 snaps of experience, was added to the mix, there was a legitimate chance for him to unseat Nelson for the swing tackle role. However, Saturday’s performance didn’t do anything to help Lamm earn that spot. Charged with five total pressures according to PFF—two sacks, one QB hit, and two hurries—Lamm put himself in a hole when it comes to making this roster.

Tight ends

Top score: Derrick Deese Jr. (81.2)
Low score: Brock Wright (62.1)

Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra were the team’s starting tight ends on Saturday, but Wright played sparingly before calling it a day after just 19 snaps. Zylstra, on the other hand, impressed as a run blocker, earning a 77.2 grade for his run blocking according to PFF.

Rookie James Mitchell received his first bit of NFL action on Saturday, earning a respectable 70.5 grade on offense despite a 9.2 grade in pass blocking for giving up a pressure on his only pass-blocking snap.

Wide receivers

Top score: Tom Kennedy (75.7)
Low score: Maurice Alexander (57.5)

To the surprise of no one, Kennedy earns top honors for the wide receiver room this week. Hauling in two touchdown passes will certainly keep Kennedy as the talk of the town as people campaign for him to make the 53-man roster.

Alexander’s big impact was in the return game, which isn’t reflected in the score above. He did earn a 91.2 kick return grade after returning four kicks for 152 yards with a long of 61. Trinity Benson is still hanging around for that last wide receiver spot. He earned the second-best offense grade among wide receivers (71.0) after catching four passes for 44 yards.

Running backs

Top score: Justin Jackson (81.5)
Low score: Jermar Jefferson (55.8)

With this performance, Jackson is firmly in the mix for a running back spot on this roster. The resume he put together with the Los Angeles Chargers shows that he can be an effective and efficient runner in the NFL, but 7.7 yards per carry last Saturday against the Colts showed what he can do in a Lions uniform. His grade was more than 20 points higher than the next Lions runner.


Top score: Tim Boyle (78.3)
Low score: David Blough (71.4)

The backup quarterback job is up for grabs especially after the way both Boyle and Blough played on Saturday. Blough did have the interception, the fumble, and averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt, but the two-minute drive he led at the end of the first half showed his ability to show poise and a short memory after the aforementioned blunders.

Boyle looked sharper in this one than he did last week against Atlanta, and after getting a chance to review their performances, even Dan Campbell admitted the competition for QB2 is “neck and neck.”

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