The Detroit Lions made some significant moves this offseason to bulk up their defense that struggled last season. It’s far, far, far, far, too early to make any kind of sweeping statements about how much progress they’ve made, but Friday night’s win over the New York Giants in the preseason opener was a step in the right direction for the defense.
Granted, most of the starters on both teams didn’t play, but Detroit’s defensive depth was on display. The Lions allowed just 16 points all game, holding the Giants to just 207 net yards before the final drive of the game. Bolstered by four collective sacks from the Okwara brothers (three for Julian, one for Romeo), Detroit’s defense kept the Lions in the game while the offense went through a lot of struggles with Nate Sudfeld at quarterback for the first three quarters.
But Adrian Martinez came in the fourth quarter and led the Lions to a go-ahead touchdown with 1:51 left in the game. The defense closed it out.
Here’s how the entire game played out.
The Lions started with the ball but they didn’t hold it for long. Nate Sudfeld dialed up a big pass to Jameson Williams, but it was easily picked off by Giants safety Jason Pinnock after Sudfeld got hit on the blindside and the ball hung up.
PINNOCK FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME!— New York Giants (@Giants) August 11, 2023
: NBC4 pic.twitter.com/BveDZ4HbC7
The good news is that the Lions defense held the Giants to a field goal after Derrick Barnes made a nice run stop, and Isaiah Buggs knocked down a second-down pass. 3-0 Giants.
The Lions second offensive drive didn’t fare much better. After a run for loss by Jahmyr Gibbs on first down, the Lions worked their way back into a fourth-and-1 situation. Sudfeld targeted rookie Sam LaPorta downfield, but the tight end couldn’t come up with the contested catch, and the Giants took over at the Lions’ 27-yard line.
Again, the Lions defense bailed Detroit off. Tackles for loss by rookie Brian Branch and veteran John Cominsky pushed the Giants back, and they again had to settle for a field goal. 6-0 Giants
The Lions offense finally started going a little on drive three, thanks to Gibbs. He picked up 18 yards on a third-and-long, and another 8 on the next play on the ground.
18 yard reception for Jahmyr Gibbs on a checkdown pic.twitter.com/oCigHDxsTR— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 11, 2023
Detroit kept the ball moving despite a drop from Jameson Williams on a perfectly-thrown deep shot.
Deonte Banks first time tested in the NFL vs Jameson Williams pic.twitter.com/Kdbq2Vw80c— Justin Penik (@JustinPenik) August 11, 2023
Eventually the Lions’ drive would tall just short of the red zone. Riley Patterson’s kick from 39 yards put the score back within 3—capping a 14-play, 63-yard drive. 6-3 Giants.
The Giants successfully converted a pair of third downs to move into Lions territory as the first quarter came to an end.
The Lions looked like they got a stop on a fourth down, but Romeo Okwara jumped the snap a little too quick and an offsides call gave New York the first down on a fourth-and-5. But the Lions got another shot at a stop, and rookie Jack Campbell combined with Jalen Reeves-Maybin for a tackle for loss on a fourth-and-short, giving the ball back to Detroit.
Detroit’s next drive got off to a promising start with a 24-yard pass to Antoine Green on a slant, but it stalled at midfield after Sudfeld overthrew Drummond.
New York successfully drove to about midfield, but on a third and long, James Houston provided a pressure that forced Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito to throw it away.
Sudfeld continued his rough half, overthrowing Williams for another easy interception for New York.
And on the very next play, the Giants cashed in with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Sweeney with Reeves-Maybin in coverage. 13-3 Giants.
That Don Bosco connection— New York Giants (@Giants) August 12, 2023
: NBC4 pic.twitter.com/IIERTCCZau
Detroit answered nicely with a 32-yard pass to James Mitchell on an effective play-action.
Another catch by Mitchell got Detroit into the red zone. With just 57 seconds left in the half, the Lions opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, and a fade pass to an open Drummond was dropped.
With no timeouts left, the Giants took knees and a 13-3 lead into halftime.
Detroit’s defense quickly got off the field thanks to a third-down sack from Julian Okwara. On the ensuing punt, Maurice Alexander spun his way to an impressive 95-yard punt return touchdown.
A pass to Jameson Williams tacked on a two-point conversion to make it 13-11 Giants.
After another quick three-and-out from the Lions defense, Sudfeld—still in the game—led the Lions to a methodical drive. After 14 plays and 46 yards, the Lions had to settle for a field goal, as Parker Romo knocked one through from 28 yards to give them a 14-13 Lions lead.
The defense continued its solid overall game with Julian Okwara shutting down another drive with his second sack of the game.
Adrian Martinez finally took over the Lions offense, but Detroit quickly went three-and-out after an offensive pass interference penalty wiped out an 18-yard catch by Chase Cota.
The Giants opened the subsequent drive with a 33-yard run right up the gut. However, this time it was Romeo Okwara’s turn to tally a series-ending sack, with this powerful pass rush.
Giants quarterback DeVito responded with a six-play, 39-yard drive capped by a 48-yard field goal from Graham Gano to give the Giants the lead back with 7:59 left. 16-14 Giants.
Martinez quickly took the lead back for Detroit thanks to some solid run blocking and good runs Benny Snell Jr. Facing a third-and-7, Martinez escaped pressure and picked up just enough to set up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. A few plays later, Martinez sneaked it in to give the Lions a 21-16 Lions lead with 1:51 left.
The Lions closed out the game by pressuring the quarterback and eventually tallying the game-ending interception by Brandon Joseph.