After the Detroit Lions’ loss to Cleveland in their first preseason game of the year, head coach Jim Schwartz was not pleased. Schwartz was especially disappointed with the team’s effort in the second half, in which Detroit blew a 14-3 lead, eventually losing 19-17.
A loss is a loss, even in a preseason game. But while Schwartz was anything but pleased with the game, I found a few reasons that it wasn’t all bad.
Matthew Stafford looked a bit off, no way around it. In his first series, he made a bad decision on third and short, then threw a bad interception in his second series. The Lions were able to move the chains with Stafford at the helm, but didn’t score- something Schwartz was quick to note after the game.
I’m not concerned about Stafford- he solidified himself among the league’s elite by throwing for 5,038 yards last year. What I was concerned about was the running game, and it exceeded my expectations.
Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams, and Joique Bell all ran hard, combining for 188 yards. As a unit, Detroit averaged 6.0 yards per carry, a welcome sight for worried Lions fans.
Smith got the party going as the starter for Detroit, and ripped off a couple nice runs before being sat down with the rest of the starters early in the game. Williams took over for the rest of the first half, gaining 71 yards on just nine carries. Williams showed both good burst and power in the carries he saw. He broke some long runs for first-downs and punched it in from five-yards out in the second quarter.
Joique Bell, who is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, also had a solid showing. Bell handled much of the rushing duties in the second half, and led the Lions with 89 yards on 16 carries.
Rookie Riley Reiff had a good first game in a Lions uniform, and helped clear holes for Detroit’s runners for most of the game. Reiff played with the second offensive line unit, which saw a majority of the action in this game.
While the offense ran the ball well, the passing game struggled and the Lions simply weren’t able to score points. Rookie quarterback Kellen Moore looked very pedestrian, completing just 4 of 14 passes. Veteran Shaun Hill was the bright spot in Detroit’s passing game, completing 8 of 12 passes, including a touchdown. Hill looked his ageless self, and at 32 years old, he is a great veteran to have on the roster.
The defensive unit was, well, the Lions defensive unit. While I saw many things I liked, the box score revealed the glaring problem in Detroit. Cleveland was able to throw for 326 yards with guys named Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Seneca Wallace, and Thaddeus Lewis(?).
The Lions’ secondary was as poor as advertised, and if the likes of Lewis and McCoy can combine for 11 of 16 for 178 yards, I don’t want to think about what Aaron Rodgers will do.
With the dark spots, there were also some bright ones. Rookie corner Bill Bentley had a few good plays, including an interception he plain stole from Browns receiver Greg Little. The pick was nice to see, but Bentley also gave up a 34-yard completion and dropped an easy interception that could have gone for six.
Schwartz was critical of the defensive line, but they had several very nice plays. Ndamukong Suh was hitting hard early in the game, and knocked down starting quarterback Brandon Weeden as well. Willie Young made his presence felt, forcing Weeden to fumble, albeit on a questionable call. DE Ronnell Lewis made a sparkling play as well, stopping running back Adonis Thomas in the backfield on a two-point conversion that would have given Cleveland the 18-17 lead late in the game.
As with any game, there were positives and negatives. The defense had some solid plays and forced turnovers, but allowed Cleveland to pass the ball effectively. The offense was able to move the ball on the ground, but failed to keep drives alive and put points on the board.
Detroit’s task in the next week will be to improve on their negatives and keep refining their positives.
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