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Detroit Lions report card: Offense has its struggles, but defense shows up in preseason win over Giants

Handing out grades for the Lions’ first preseason game against the Giants

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

We all know wins and losses don’t matter in the preseason, but with that said—it was still nice to see the Detroit Lions pull out a 21-16 win in their first preseason game of 2023 against the New York Giants.

In front of what was a packed Ford Field crowd (especially for an exhibition game), the defense made enough plays down the stretch. And with plenty of starters not dressing, there were a plethora of opportunities for younger players and roster-hopefuls to make their mark. Let’s take a look at how everyone graded out.

Quarterbacks: C-

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld got off to a rocky start, throwing an interception on the Lions’ first offensive series of the game. The pass was intended for second-year receiver Jameson Williams, but Giants’ safety Jason Pinnock had a beat on it from the jump, resulting in an easy turnover for New York on the first play of the game.

Sudfeld’s second interception was maybe just as ugly, this time sailing a pass well over Williams’ head in traffic for his second interception of the game.

Adrian Martinez didn’t make the mistakes Sudfeld did, but like most of training camp—the rookie’s play did not do much to warrant him getting extended looks next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Thank the football gods for general manager Brad Holmes and newly signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Running backs: C-

With the starting offensive line not dressed, obviously things were more difficult for ball carriers against the Giants. Still, 97 yards on 33 carries isn’t something to write home about. Newly signed free agent Benny Snell was the most productive of the backs with six carries for 23 yards.

Tough to expect much more when the only “starter” to see any action was rookie back Jahmyr Gibbs.

Tight ends: B

Seeing second-year tight end James Mitchell eat was nice, including his 32-yard reception where he showed off some his YAC ability. Beyond Mitchell, rookie Sam LaPorta got some run, with newly-added Daniel Helm seeing the second most snaps of the group behind Mitchell.

Seeing how tight end snaps are spread out in the coming weeks will be something to keep an eye on as we move towards the regular season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Wide receivers: C-

As usual, Lions’ coach Dan Campbell was a man of his word, with second-year receiver Jameson Williams seeing extensive work against the Giants. Williams had a pass bounce off his hands early, but bounced back later in the game—including bringing down an impressive one-handed snag on a two-point conversion.

Beyond Williams, other young receivers like Eastern Michigan’s Dylan Drummond, Chase Cota, and seventh-round draft pick Antoine Green made the most of their opportunities. The position battles at the bottom of the receiver depth chart should continue to be hotly contested.

Offensive line: D+

As stated before, not one of the Lions’ typical starters along the offensive line was dressed—giving coaches an extended look at those individuals vying for backup roles on the roster. Unfortunately, things didn’t go so smoothly for the unit.

Backup tackle Matt Nelson had an especially rough day through three quarters of play, and as the case has been throughout the most of camp, those vying for roster spots behind the starters did little to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Defensive line: A-

Brothers Julian and Romeo Okwara had quite the evening, with Julian notching three sacks against New York, and Romeo chipping in one of his own. Defensive tackle Benito Jones also logged a sack, and second-year linebacker James Houston applied consistent pressure off the edge.

On top of the pressure applied to opposing quarterbacks, the defensive line did a solid job of slowing the Giants’ running game to 81 yards on 22 carries. And after some of the Giants’ misdirection was giving the Lions’ defense issues during joint-practices, it was nice to see them bounce back during the exhibition game.

Linebackers: B+

Another unit that contributed to the Giants’ running game being slowed to a bit of a crawl was the linebacking unit. Led by Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, and Jack Campbell, the unit did a good job of playing downhill and filling running lanes.

Seeing Campbell’s size and speed in person is truly a treat. Not many people that size can play sideline to sideline like he can, and he appeared to be more comfortable in coverage as well.

Secondary: B-

Like in another areas of the roster, the coaching staff got an extended look at players they need to make decisions on. Will Harris had his ups and downs on the outside, while rookie Starling Thomas continued to make his case for a roster spot.

Elsewhere, rookie defensive back Brian Branch continued to make his presence felt—this time in the form of a big-hit on a Giants’ receiver in the flat. Since he first stepped foot in Allen Park, it seemed like the coaching staff was going to have a difficult time keeping him off the field.

There weren’t any big plays given up on the back end, and at first glance, I really liked how members of the secondary rallied to the football when the Giants’ offense did complete a pass.

Special Teams: A

The easiest preseason A I have given out since my time at Pride of Detroit. Wide receiver Maurice Alexander made a house call on a 95-yard punt return, sending the Ford Field crowd into a frenzy.

Punter Jack Fox had himself a nice day, averaging 51 yards over three attempts, and kickers Riley Patterson and Parker Romo made all three of their kicks.

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