In the third and final week of the NFL preseason, the Detroit Lions traveled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the game not counting towards the standings, there was a lot on the line against the Steelers. With final cuts just a few days away, many players were competing for one of those coveted roster spots.
Starting quarterback Jared Goff, as well as running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were out of the lineup today, leaving the offense shorthanded—with the Lions losing to Pittsburgh 19-9.
What can we glean from the final preseason game of the year?
Lions are improved in the trenches
There are areas to improve on the roster, but the Lions have legitimate talent in the trenches. After a few issues out of the gate, the offensive line held up well enough in pass-protection against a defensive front that includes reigning defensive player of the year T.J. Watt, and carved out some big running lanes on the ground, especially later in the game. Another year to gel as a unit should bode well for core players like offensive tackle Penei Sewell and All-Pro center Frank Ragnow.
On the other side of the ball, second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson continues to look like the real deal, and Charles Harris appeared to find his rhythm as a pass-rusher. On money-downs, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky rarely had a clean pocket to work out of, leaving the Steelers settling for field goals even when they had favorable starting field position.
Jared Goff is one of the most important players on the roster
Not a lot of teams in the NFL can claim their backup quarterback situation is ideal. Competent quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, and if there aren’t 32 players worthy of being starters at any point in time, then having a capable backup becomes nearly impossible. Still, things aren’t looking good for whoever ends up backing up Goff.
Coach Dan Campbell wanted either Tim Boyle or David Blough to come out and take the reins, and both fell short of where they needed to be. Boyle consistently struggles with accuracy, while Blough makes even the simplest of throws look difficult.
This takeaway may speak to just how vital it is to have adequate quarterback play. Not many people are penciling Goff into the MVP race, but with the drop-off being as steep as it is, he is still one of the more indispensable pieces of this team.
Austin Bryant continues to ball
Has anyone had a more impressive training camp than fourth-year defensive end Austin Bryant? He forced a holding against the Steelers, blocked a field goal, recorded a tackle for loss, and appears to be a lock in the defensive end rotation.
With both Romeo Okwara and Julian Okwara recovering from injuries, Bryant may be leaned on early in the season to spell Hutchinson and Harris.
Jeff Okudah is your starter opposite Amani Oruwariye
If you’re Jeff Okudah, I’m not sure you could have asked for a better way to cap a crucial preseason. Just look at this perfect rep against former University of Georgia receiver George Pickens.
On top of that pass break-up, he was in on two other tackles, including a tackle for loss. Okudah was never going to be handed a starting position but should have things locked up after a strong performance in the Steel City.
Stack linebacker play is improving
The Lions’ linebackers will likely not be considered among the league’s best in 2022, but compared to what we saw earlier on in training camp, things look like they are trending in the right direction.
Derrick Barnes is slowly figuring things out, Malcolm Rodriguez is vastly outperforming his draft stock, and veteran Alex Anzalone looked solid in his only preseason action of the year. If Barnes and Rodriguez can continue to develop over the course of the season, we could be looking at a fun linebacker duo in 2023 and beyond.