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3 key PFF stats from the Detroit Lions’ win over the Carolina Panthers

A look at three advanced statistics from the Detroit Lions’ win over the Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale.

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Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

On Friday evening, the Detroit Lions secured a winning record on the preseason when they closed out their exhibition season with a win over the Carolina Panthers, 26-17. Although they were winners, it feels like Detroit might end up on the losing end, stuck in a tough situation with so many bubble players making strong cases for a place on the Lions’ 53-man roster.

As we’ll do every week throughout the season for this Lions team, we have some data we can comb through courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and what to look forward to in the coming weeks. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the Panthers in Week 3 of the 2023 NFL preseason.

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3.00 yards after contact per attempt (YCO/A)

Headed into the preseason finale against the Panthers, the RB3 job for the Lions wasn’t set in stone. Injuries and lackluster performances led to this final exhibition being an important audition for Detroit’s running backs and it was Craig Reynolds, the incumbent from a year ago, who took advantage of his opportunity.

Reynolds put together the best game on the ground by a Lions running back this preseason, running the ball 11 times for 41 yards and a touchdown against Carolina. His physical running style—and improved ability in the receiving game displayed last week against Jacksonville—makes him the kind of reliable player Detroit could count on to play on any down.

“Craig has not changed one bit,” Campbell said after Friday’s game. “He’s just steady. And he just handles his business and he knows what he’s doing. We have a lot of trust in him and he’s just—he’s a reliable player. He’s a reliable player.”

A testament to Reynold’s physical running style was his 3.00 yards after contact per attempt (YCO/A) on his 11 rushing attempts against the Panthers, the fifth-best number for a running back with at least 10 rushing attempts in Week 3. His versatility on offense and special teams acumen make him a dependable RB3 for a team that will run the ball often this season.

32.3 yards per reception

While the RB3 spot was trending towards being Craig Reynolds job to lose, there wasn’t a wide receiver who had the inside track for WR5. Plenty of names had their day in the spotlight over the past couple of months. Whether it was the rookie minicamp standout Dylan Drummond or another underdog for the 53-man roster in Chase Cota, various names came and went without much staying power. Even the excitement for Denzel Mims was short-lived after he went from being “in the room” one day to not being on the roster the next.

Rookie seventh-round pick Antoine Green was a player that brought intrigue with his combination of size and speed, especially considering the Lions specific need for depth at X-receiver. But Green’s first training camp was marred by inconsistency.

“Yeah, I would say you know, inconsistent,” Campbell said during the week of joint practices with the New York Giants. “Man, he does some things that really show, and then it just, you know, it dips. And there again, he’s a young player. Does some things that really catch your eye, and then some things the opposite way. So just, he’s inconsistent right now. And the more that he can [...] lessen the inconsistency, the better off he is going to be. That’s part of what camp is for him.”

Fast forward to Friday’s game against Carolina and Green made the biggest play of the preseason for the Lions offense.

A 70-yard house call where Green’s long speed was the key to securing six points for Detroit. But had it been just one play, that wouldn’t have done much to push back against Campbell’s comments about Green’s inconsistent play earlier in training camp. Green would catch three passes for 97 yards, each reception resulting in a first down—or a touchdown—for Detroit, and gave him 32.3 yards per reception, the best average of any receiver with at least four targets in Week 3.

Both Green and Drummond saved their best for last against the Panthers, and the Lions must have a little more belief in the young receivers development over the course of the summer. If they have room for both on the roster, however, remains to be seen.

6.3 passer rating against

Before diving into the number below, it’s definitely worth acknowledging the way undrafted rookie Steven Gilmore put up a second impressive performance in a row. He broke up three passes and intercepted another with one hand for a touchdown. Last week against the Jaguars he earned adulation for posting a 38.7 NFL passer rating against in coverage and followed it up with a 35.6 NFL passer rating allowed against the Panthers. But he still finished second in that statistic among cornerbacks with at least 30 coverage snaps in Week 3.

From the outside of the roster bubble, second-year player Chase Lucas posted a ridiculous 6.3 NFL passer rating against against the Panthers. He also recorded a key interception in the red zone before the half, two other passes defended, and allowed just two receptions for 23 yards on six targets.

“You’re in one of these dogfights,” Campbell said after Friday’s win. “We’re going back and forth and you just, you know if you can get one it can change the game and sure enough, man, that was a heck of a play by Lukey (Lucas). And it did, it really flipped the tide.”

Speaking of dog fights, Lucas and Gilmore find themselves in a battle along with Starling Thomas V for spot on the Lions roster. Detroit has some very tough decisions to make over the next day or so when finalizing their group for the 2023 season.

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