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7 takeaways from the Detroit Lions’ preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Erik Schlitt and Jeremy Reisman team up to identify the top takeaways from the Detroit Lions second game of the 2023 preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions dropped to 1-1 in the preseason after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars 25-7. For this week’s takeaways, both Erik Schlitt and Jeremy Reisman teamed up to deliver seven storylines worth paying attention to.

Bridgewater will need more time to acclimate

Despite slowly being worked into practices during the week and only having three under his belt, Teddy Bridgewater did indeed get the start against the Jaguars. It didn’t take long for the tone to be set for the day on offense.

On the first play, the Lions executed a play-action slanting the offensive line to the left, with Bridgewater rolling out the back door to the right. Unfortunately, the defensive end on that side was left unblocked, and while the quarterback ducked the initial sack attempt, former Lion Jeremiah Ledbetter cleaned it up and sacked Bridgewater.

Bridgewater would finish his time in the first half, completing just five of his 11 attempts for 34 yards, averaging just 3.1 yards per passing attempt. — Erik

The Lions may have found their kick returner

While the Lions' offense was stuck in neutral for the entire game, the return units were constantly giving them good field positions. Starling Thomas V was the starting kick returner and he averaged 33.0 yards on his two returns. There was a noticeable lack of spark when Jermar Jefferson took duties over for him in the second half.

Thomas was already inching towards roster lock with his play as a reserve corner, but if he can prove dangerous on kick returns, too, he won’t have to be by his phone on cutdown day. — Jeremy

Rookies getting opportunities to start

With the Lions resting most of their starters, and a few established rookies (Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta, and Brian Branch), Detroit leaned on several of their rookies to start this game.

On offense, wide receivers Dylan Drummond, Antoine Green, and Chase Cota all started, along with offensive lineman Colby Sordal (left guard) and Brad Cecil (center). On defense, Starling Thomas and Steven Gilmore started at outside corner, while MIKE linebacker Jack Campbell entered for the second series. On special teams, as noted above, Thomas got the nod at kick returner, while Cota opened as the team’s primary punt returner.

Defensive tackles Brodric Martin and Cory Durden, along with safety Brandon Joseph found the field in the second quarter. While Connor Galvin (left tackle), Ryan Swoboda (right tackle), and Chris Smith were in the trenches to start the second half. Avery Davis (84) and Trevor Nowaske (59) found the field in the fourth quarter. Fourth-string quarterback Adrian Martinez did not play.— Erik

James Houston starting to show three-down potential

Houston exploded onto the scene last year as a pass rushing menace. This offseason, the Lions challenged him to grow as a more well-rounded player, particularly asking him to occasionally drop in coverage and improve setting the edge. This play, in particular, has got to be exactly what the Lions are looking for:

Houston drops into his zone, reads the play, closes with great speed, and makes a difficult open-field tackle on a running back. For over a half’s worth of play, Houston tallied four tackles for loss, including a sack.

He was still making plays into the third and fourth quarter, too:

— Jeremy

Rookies learning from mistakes

With multiple rookies getting starting opportunities, several showed an impressive ability to quickly learn from their mistakes.

Gilmore got beat deep (48 yards) on third down early in the first quarter, and despite being in good position, he failed to turn on time and didn't play through the ball. Later in that drive, the Jaguars went back to the well and tried that play again, this time in the end zone. Gilmore was up for the challenge, recognizing the play early, locating the ball, and executing a textbook pass breakup.

Gilmore would go on to have another pass breakup and an interception on the day—showing nice awareness to bring in a tipped pass from Tracy Walker.

On the opposite side of the defense, Thomas gave up too much space on a quick out pass inside the red zone that led to a touchdown. On the next series, Thomas stayed tight to his man on a third-down crossing route and made an immediate tackle short of the sticks, getting the defense off the field.

We saw similar results from the Lions' rookie wide receivers. After failing to get a second leg down inbounds on a third-down conversion, Cota was able to get open on third down on the next drive and this time, secured the reception for the first down. Drummond also failed to convert on third down, dropping a Bridgewater pass, then went on to open the second half with a big 23-yard gain. That series would go on to end with a Cota reception for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. — Erik

Run defense issues

It’s always worth pointing out that the large majority of the Lions' first-string defense did not play in this game, but against the second and third-stringers, the Jaguars rushing attack gave Detroit problems.

In the first half alone, the Jaguars rushed for 72 yards on 15 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Take away the kneel-downs at the end of the game, and the Jaguars finished with 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.

With backups in, there is no cause for concern. Still, after a promising 2023 preseason debut from Levi Onwuzurike and Benito Jones, it was a disappointing encore for the interior defensive line. This is a unit that had serious issues in 2022, so let’s hope the starters show a little more fight up the middle when the season starts. — Jeremy

Craig Reynolds takes hold of RB3 job

The Lions may have shown their hand for the third running back battle after giving Craig Reynolds all the snaps in the first half, turning to Jermar Jefferson in the third quarter, then to Benny Snell in the fourth quarter. Devine Ozigbo did not play.

Reynolds’ stat line wasn’t overly impressive, turning 12 touches into just 13 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards, but he wasn’t getting many holes from the Lions’ second-string offensive line. Overall, he looked like the more confident back, making decisive decisions and trying to gain yardage where he could.

Jefferson got a look as the team's second option on kick returns—behind Thomas—and managed just 24 yards on six carries and two receptions on offense. Snell produced 15 rushing yards on three touches but was working a much less stout defense at the time. — Erik

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