PITTSBURGH – Maybe the Detroit Lions should consider burning that game tape in a sacrificial ceremony, and the linebacker room could be a good place to start.
The guys were separated in the Lions’ 26-20 loss on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, their second straight loss to open the preseason. That leaves new head coach Dan Campbell still on the hunt for his first win ahead of next week’s final against the Indianapolis Colts.
Detroit opens the regular season on September 12 against the San Francisco 49ers. And if the preseason is any indication, this club still has a lot of work to do before they are ready to open the doors to Ford Field.
Of course, the preseason is a notoriously unreliable predictor of regular season success. Read the lackluster Lions start at your own peril. The Steelers also played most of their starters, even leaving wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the game for two quarters and playing tight end Eric Ebron – yes, that Eric Ebron – in the third quarter.
The Lions, meanwhile, have sat most of their starters on both sides of the ball, and that includes anyone not named Alim McNeill in the top seven defensive end. So it was basically Lions saves against the Steelers starters for about half of the game, and it turned out as you’d expect. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put the Detroit defense aside, leading two long touchdowns in his three series and finishing 8 of 10 total assists for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions were outscored 285-65 in the first half and trailed 23-0 before the benches opened up in the fourth quarter, when quarterback David Blough stepped into the game for Detroit and was led three consecutive touchdowns to make the score respectable. Fullback Godwin Igwebuike (7-yard run), wide receiver Javon McKinley (10-yard catch) and running back Craig Reynolds (3-yard run) were the source of Detroit’s touchdowns, neither of which are expected. be part of the team.
Let us come to a few observations:
– Linebackers were awful, and maybe no more than Jahlani Tavai. He fell from the second-round pick to the roster bubble in just 28 months in Detroit, and if the first two shows are any indication, he could be on the wrong side of that bubble heading into the final. Tavai missed an assignment in Game 1 that led to a wide open touchdown pass, then had even more pass coverage issues in Pittsburgh. He missed a tackle on a check-down against Najee Harris that turned a 3-yard pass into a 46-yard play. He also appeared to follow the wrong man several times in the cover, leaving two Lions players covering one man while another was wide open.
– That said, it’s not like the other starting linebacker is much better. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was twice beaten on passes to Eric Ebron and was beaten by Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown. Reeves-Maybin will be on the squad because of what he can do on special teams, but like Tavai, he just doesn’t look ready to help the defense when San Francisco comes to town next month.
Jamie Collins and Alex Anzalone will debut as linebackers this season, and Detroit will better hope they stay healthy, as rookie Derrick Barnes is the only thing that separates them from really bad football.
– It wasn’t so bad on defense, as rookie AJ Parker continued his surprising rise from the depth table in the secondary. He was not drafted from Kansas State and opened camp behind Mike Ford and Corn Elder for cornerback, but has recently gained plenty of first-team reps. Then the Lions started their first-team high school against Pittsburgh, and it was Parker back in the slot. He was also one of the few defensive players to perform well, racking up six tackles in the first half and finishing with a team-high eight. He also separated running back Najee Harris from the ball with a massive blow. With just one preseason game to play, Parker seems closer to a starting spot than the roster bubble.
– No one needs to remember all the big plays allowed by Jeff Okudah as a rookie last season, and he allowed another one on Saturday night, getting set on fire for a 43-yard pass by Ben Roethlisberger in the first half time. But unlike last year, this is more the exception than the rule. Okudah has actually been very good at camp, and he’s been pretty good the rest of the way against Pittsburgh as well, including running into JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hip pocket on a second quarter pass into the end zone. . Smith-Schuster almost pulled off a spectacular TD take anyway, and probably would have done it without Okudah’s excellent coverage. So, yes, the former first-round pick was beaten deeply (although it’s possible he thought he would have Will Harris’ help on top of it, and Harris was late). But I don’t think it’s worth worrying about either.
– A few notable Lions players who haven’t played in Pittsburgh: quarterback Jared Goff, running back D’Andre Swift, running back Jamaal Williams, tight end TJ Hockenson, wide receiver Tyrell Williams , wide receiver Kalif Raymond, center Frank Ragnow, left tackle Taylor Decker, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, defensive tackle Nick Williams, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, edge Trey Flowers, edge Romeo Okwara, linebacker Alex Anzalone and linebacker Jamie Collins.
– Based on the rep cast, Tim Boyle is likely the favorite for the quarterback behind Jared Goff. He gets most of the QB2 snaps in training and then started in Pittsburgh. But the real question is when Lions should reconsider this approach. Boyle was horrible against the Steelers. Of course, he was surrounded mostly by backups, while Pittsburgh played most of his starters. Still, he only completed 2 of his first 8 assists while missing a wide open Breshad Perriman (twice) and Amon-Ra St. Brown. He finished 7 of 1 in 5 overall for the game and only gained 44 yards in the air. None of its six discs exceeds 20 meters. None even crossed their own 40-yard line. It was really bad.
–David Blough, on the other hand, provided an instant spark by leading three consecutive 74, 87 and 54-yard touchdowns when he entered the game in the second half. He scrambled twice for 26 yards in his first heat to finally bring the Lions into opposing territory for the first time, and fullback Godwin Igwebuike finished the run with a 7-yard touchdown. Blough returned to the next series and found undrafted rookie Javon McKinley for a 10-yard touchdown pass, before securing an excellent field position via a successful kick and leading a third straight TD. Blough completed 12 of 17 total passes for 143 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers and a 115.6 passer rating – not to mention 26 rushing yards. Yes, everything came against deep reservations. Still, you really must be wondering if the Lions could be better with him than Boyle.
– Darren Fells earned the start of TJ Hockenson on the tight end. He’s normally an excellent blocker and capable in the passing game, although he had a tough game in Pittsburgh, getting reported three penalties in the first half alone.
–It was a lousy football night in many ways for Detroit, although Jack Fox continues to do things with Jack Fox. Three of his five punts were sent across Pennslyvania for at least 60 yards, including one shot from 67 yards and another from 70 yards before going out of bounds inside the 5-yard line. He was one of the best punts I have ever seen, period.
–One-round pick Penei Sewell was among three starting offensive linemen who played, and he’s also been in the game longer than the rest as the Lions try to help him get rid of the rust. Sewell chose not to compete in Oregon last season and is now learning to play straight tackle for the first time since high school. I want to watch the tape before saying too much about how he played, but he looked pretty good, despite coming off the platform a few times in his passing sets against Melvin Ingram.
— Death. Taxes. Eric Ebron releasing a pass he held with both hands on the third try. In this crazy world, it’s reassuring to know that some things will never change.