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Detroit Lions: Observations from Preseason Week 3

The third preseason game is supposed to be the dress rehearsal for the regular season, but the Detroit Lions looked as if they were unaware. After eight first-half penalties, the Lions entered the second half down 20-6. Their three personal fouls were reminiscent of the Jim Schwartz era.

Not only was the offense kept out of the end zone, the first string unit is still yet to score a touchdown this entire preseason. That should be a huge point of concern. Despite the sloppy play, it is only “fake” football and the Lions will need an immediate turnaround in order to push for a playoff bid. Ultimately, expecting anything more at this point in time may be considered overly bullish.

Below are the biggest takeaways from the Detroit Lions loss to the mediocre Baltimore Ravens:

Welcome back:

Two important pieces of the team made their preseason debut this week. Ameer Abdullah and DeAndre Levy both dressed and played a couple of series each. Neither suffered any setback and looked to be their usual selves.

No injuries:

The Lions squeaked away unscathed. The Ravens weren’t as fortunate as they lost starter TE Benjamin Watson to a season-ending Achilles rupture and promising rookie RB Kenneth Dixon to a knee sprain. Lions starting MLB Tahir Whitehead stopped gameplay after writhing in pain to only end up jogging off the field on his own power. He appeared again later in the game confirming his passable health status.

Safety battle:

Perhaps the biggest and most undetermined position battle is at the safety position opposite Glover Quin. Tavon Wilson earned the start while previous starter Rafael Bush was the first to relieve him. Wilson spent a majority of his time close to the line of scrimmage and occupied the role of what last year’s No. 32 (James Ihedigbo) often fulfilled.

Rookie Miles Killebrew saw some looks in the first quarter as a pseudo-linebacker. He lined up against the tight end in obvious passing situations in lieu of a smaller nickel corner or slower backer.

Linebacker Depth:

Kyle Van Noy appears to have the strong side linebacker spot on lockdown. When in nickel situations, he was the first to leave the field, as should be expected. After Levy was removed and Tahir Whitehead went down with an injury, Zaviar Gooden and Antwione Williams were forced into action with an inactive Josh Bynes. Needless to say, the Ravens run game greatly improved once those two were inserted.

Defensive line battle:

Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker played a majority of the first drive. A’shawn Robinson was first to sub in. Not too long after, Khyri Thornton set up next to him. Thornton and Ngata probably made the most plays of any tackle, both stout against the run and registered a sack each. The fifth DT was a bit of a surprise as defensive end Wallace Gilberry moved inside on third and long situations.

At defensive end, after incumbents Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor, the order went Gilberry, Brandon Copeland, Kerry Hyder, and then rookie Anthony Zettel. Zettel was the only aforementioned DE who did not see significant first half play. The sixth-round selection out of Penn State now appears to be on the outside looking in for a roster spot. He is a solid practice squad candidate.

Overall, the line generated minimal pressure but held their own against the run. In order for the defense to succeed this year, they will have to do better than what they showed.

Kickoff return duties:

Running back Dwayne Washington received the first two looks on kickoff return. He didn’t do anything special but had a decent second return demonstrating good burst. Even with Abdullah back, the Lions brass seems serious about giving Washington full-time return duties on kickoff. T.J. Jones was the first punt and second kickoff returner, followed by Andre Roberts. All three have been considered bubble players but greatly increased their odds of sticking with their special teams value.

Landes>Muhlbach?:

Rookie 6th-round pick Jimmy Landes received all of the long-snapping duties. The Lions know exactly what they have in the steady Don Muhlbach, but it’s not a good sign for the 13-year veteran. Landes had a high snap on the first field goal attempt and then bounced one off the turf on his third. Muhlbach still is the better snapper but costs about a half million dollars more this season.

Corners struggle:

The Ravens do not have big-time playmakers at the receiver position but they still were effective against every string of the Lions secondary. Nevin Lawson gave up two post routes on the opening series but slightly atoned his mishaps with tight coverage on third and long forcing a Justin Tucker field goal. Joe Flacco went his direction a total of four times in the first drive alone. Darrin Walls and Crezdon Butler played in front of last year’s third round pick, Alex Carter. None played exceptionally well, but it’s important to note that it looks as if another high Martin Mayhew draft pick is going to be out of a job soon.

Drops:

Yet again, the third preseason game and the third drop for RB Theo Riddick. Golden Tate was another perpetrator of a couple dropped passes. Both players were one of the most reliable in terms of catching a year ago but have shown otherwise of late. Let’s hope it’s just preseason lack of focus. Abdullah and Quinshad Davis also dropped difficult third down passes which subsequently evoked punts from Sam Martin. Longshot WR Jace Billingsley dropped a slant and dark horse favorite Jay Lee had another rather disappointing performance as he couldn’t come down with a difficult yet catchable deep ball.

 

Cole Wick continues trends:

With injuries, the UDFA started once again at tight end. Much like in previous games, he showed strong hands when catching but struggled blocking defensive ends. He was cited for holding on a would-be Abdullah touchdown. Without his hold, it would have been difficult for Abdullah to score. It may be tough to make the team as a reserve tight end with sub par blocking abilities. The return of Eric Ebron can’t come soon enough.

Newly signed tight end Andrew Quarless was a non-factor and doesn’t appear to be an imminent threat to Wick’s job. Quarless was the last TE to receive any playing time.

Starting O-line sufficient:

The first team offensive line played into the second half. They gave up three sacks in their extended look–not great but not all their fault either. One came on a safety blitz in which the defender was unblocked and caused a Matthew Stafford fumble. Another was after rookie GVSU product Matt Judon got around RT Riley Reiff and knocked the ball out of Dan Orlovsky’s hand. Orlovsky probably could have stepped up into the pocket and employed better pocket awareness.

After-the-play penalties were issues for Reiff and OG Laken Tomlinson. Neither was egregious but important to note. Reiff also committed a false start. Not his best night. There were two separate occasions where Reiff lost his helmet while pass blocking but didn’t draw an illegal hands to the face penalty. Apparently, he just needs to buckle the straps.

Receiver order set:

Marvin Jones is undoubtedly the best receiver on the team right now. He continues to make catches in traffic and toe-tapping grabs. Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin are reliable and well-known commodities as far as what they can do. Third-year receiver T.J. Jones was the first wideout in line after the big three followed by Andre Roberts.

Both Jones and Roberts can return punts and are jack-of-all-trades type players. Even though UDFA’s Quinshad Davis and Jay Lee look the part, they may just be developmental practice squad material. Jeremy Kerley was non-existent as even Jace Billingsley received reps in front of him.

Riddick impresses:

Theo Riddick was one of the few bright spots on the Lions offense. Abdullah is the clear-cut early-down back, but Riddick dazzled with his opportunities. Continuing where he left off last year, he caught a swing pass his first play in the game then made pro bowl safety Eric Weddle whiff on the attempted tackle. The highlight of the night was Riddick’s 34-yard run up the middle where he spun off a tackle and busted it loose.

Also an interesting development, Riddick lined up at receiver on multiple occasions. Possibly something we could see more of in the regular season.

Say goodbye:

Running back George Winn, receiver Jeremey Kerley, defensive tackles Caraun Ried and Gabe Wright, tight end Andrew Quarless, and cornerback Alex Carter all didn’t see much action until late in the game. It might as well be a death sentence as the late playing time usually is an indication of just how much the Lions value their ability.

Summary:

Overall, it was not a good night for the Lions starters. No touchdowns despite Matthew Stafford playing a full half and then the starting defense gave up points on four of five of their first-half drives. There will be plenty to work on and clean up before the September 11th opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

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