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4 winners, 4 losers from Detroit Lions’ preseason win over Giants

Who came away on top and who need some work for the Detroit Lions after the preseason opener?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

NFL Football was played at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday for the first time in seven months. Sure, it’s not regular season football—or better yet, NFL playoff football—but the Detroit Lions hit the field to take on the New York Giants. The Lions came back from down 13-3 and won, 21-16, coming out on top in their first preseason game of 2023.

The Lions didn’t see any of the veteran starters take the field on either side of the football, forcing the rookies to start over them. While some rookies started for the Lions, others had to come off the bench, and along with them were veterans fighting for a roster spot. There are plenty of jobs open for grabs and every possession matters for these players.

I didn’t just focus on the players themselves when picking my winners and losers of the game. There were some units, or styles of play that impressed or needed work. There was a lot to take away from the victory, but here are my winners and losers for the Lions after the first preseason game of the 2023 season.


Julian Okwara

A player that has had an inconsistent training camp, showing flashes of positive play, along with some moments of sloppy work, Julian Okwara came to play in the first preseason game. He finished with a team-high 3.0 sacks and made some big plays for the Lions' defense. In the final drive of the game, he was able to sack Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito to make it fourth-and-long, making it harder for the Giants to try and stay alive in the game. Julian almost got another sack on the last play, but the pressure he generated led to an interception that sealed the win for the Lions.

Julian was on the outside looking in heading into training camp. With a bunch of depth when it comes edge rushers, he really needed to show what he could do and how he could be a factor on this team. He did that tonight, but one game won’t lock him into a roster spot, unfortunately. He will still need to keep stacking the good game performance with good practices and more game performances.

If, for some reason, the coaching staff doesn’t see Julian making the team despite his efforts tonight, a solid preseason could make him a great trade candidate and give him a chance to shine elsewhere while the Lions benefit with a draft pick.

Jack Campbell

The first two series were quiet for the rookie linebacker out of Iowa as the only play he made was called back due to a penalty. After that, Campbell woke up as he made some big tackles and made his presence felt. He tied for a team-high 4.0 total tackles and added a pass deflection on a third down stop. Campbell came up big on a third and fourth-and-short as he assisted the front seven by helping clean up the stops in back-to-back plays in the second quarter.

Campbell didn’t get the start at the MIKE, that was left up to Derrick Barnes. Campbell won’t be given the starting job early on in his career, but if he can continue to play well and hard, he could eventually be given that chance to assume that role. Campbell has been playing with the starters and the backups in training camp, and this performance could help him play with the starters more in the future.

Front seven play

The Lions were ranked 29th in run defense last season and it was something they wanted to get better at heading into the 2023 season. Detroit’s defense stepped up and slowed down the Giants’ run game, holding them to just 81 yards on 22 carries.

While it wasn’t against running back Saquon Barkley and the Giants’ starting offensive line, it was still a good showing overall. The Lions’ defense needs to improve overall, and seeing an impressive run defense early on in 2023 is a sign that maybe it won’t be a weakness for the team this season.

Stopping the running game wasn’t all the front seven did. They were also efficient at getting to the quarterback and putting pressure on whoever was passing the ball for the Giants. Detroit finished with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss overall. Defensive end Romeo Okwara had two tackles and a sack. Defensive tackle Benito Jones was the other player to get a sack.

Maurice Alexander

Despite wide receiver/punt returner Kalif Raymond signing a contract extension earlier on Friday, the Lions still have question marks at who their starting kick returner can be this upcoming season. While it was on a punt return, Alexander was able to tally a 95-yard touchdown and would help cut the Giants’ lead down to four points. Alexander also had a catch for 7 yards in the game.


Nate Sudfeld

During training camp this year, Sudfeld has looked well as the backup quarterback, but he didn’t impress the coaches enough as they signed free agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Tuesday. After the signing, Sudfeld seemed to have regressed in practice and many were wondering if the signing of Bridgewater got into Sudfeld’s head.

Sudfeld’s first pass of the preseason was an interception, and while it wasn’t a good throw, part of it was due to left tackle Matt Nelson getting beat and the defender hitting Sudfeld as he threw. Sudfeld finished the game going 15-for-28 for 194 yards and two interceptions. Sudfeld still had a chance to make the roster entering the game tonight, but his lack of pocket awareness and the interceptions are not a good look for him and may have just sealed his fate. Unless Sudfeld has a solid Week 2 and Week 3 of the preseason, he is now in an uphill battle to stay as the backup quarterback in Detroit—or even make the roster.

Offensive line depth

None of the starting offensive linemen played for the Lions tonight, leaving it up to the backups to do their job. It was a rough start with Nelson, getting beat and allowing Sudfeld to get hit and throw an interception to start the game for the offense. Then center Ross Pierschbacher went down with an injury and wouldn’t return. The Lions can’t afford to have injuries to the offensive line depth right now, as that is a position group that has questions that still need to be answered.

These players are fighting for roster spots themselves and their play not only affects themselves, it affects the others the passing and running game and hinders the entire offense’s ability to perform. The Lions coaches are going to have to make cuts on this offensive line, but it will be tough as there isn’t enough separation to showcase who did better than someone else.

Mohamed Ibrahim and Jermar Jefferson

Looked at as possibly the top offensive undrafted free agent signing coming into the season, Ibrahim entered camp with an opportunity to compete for that third-string running back role. With running back Justin Jackson retiring earlier this week, and Craig Reynolds dealing with an injury, that opened the door for Ibrahim to take his chance and get the lead in the position battle.

Ibrahim wouldn’t play much against the Giants as he was dinged up. Even though he did return and played through injury, he didn’t show up much on the stat sheet—just four carries for 9 yards. Ibrahim still has a chance to make the roster, but if he misses practices due to an injury and he doesn’t step up in the next preseason game, he might be destined to make the practice squad.

Jefferson didn’t play tonight as well, and while Reynolds not playing hurts him too, he is the No. 3 back coming into the season. Ibrahim and Jefferson haven’t made this roster before like Reynolds has, and those two needed to play—and play well—to separate themselves from the rest. Now, Jefferson falls further behind, while Ibrahim barely moves himself forward.

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