Lions vs. Raiders: Detroit's Biggest Winners and Losers from Preseason Week 3
The Detroit Lions lost their second game of the preseason against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night, 31-20. It was only preseason, but for the Raiders it might have meant a little more than usual.
The Lions stole a game away from Oakland in Week 15 last season. It was a dramatic come-from-behind win for Detroit, and the Raiders didn't forget. This victory was at least a little redemption.
Detroit was behind for the entire first half as its offense looked sluggish and failed to capitalize on great field position, courtesy of two turnovers by its defense.
Oakland moved the football, but it ultimately couldn't put the game out of reach. Detroit scored on a Brandon Pettigrew touchdown shortly after halftime, and the Lions looked poised to pull away
It never happened. Oakland's Terrelle Pryor entered the game and ran roughshod over Detroit's defense.
How serious their injuries are remains to be seen, but given the team's preexisting health issues, it's concerning either way.
It wasn't the Lions' best performance for sure, but it's only preseason. There were some bright spots along the way.
Here are the winners and losers from the Lions' third preseason contest.
* All stats courtesy of ESPN.com
Loser: Replacement Refs
It's safe to say that everyone's expectations for these guys are pretty low. Then again, replacement refs aren't the first to blow calls, are they?
With that said, their decisions really killed Detroit.
They overturned Oakland's goal-line fumble which took a turnover away from Detroit and put points on the board for Oakland.
They should have made the touchdown call to begin with. There wasn't enough evidence from the replay to overturn the call they did make.
Then they made two phantom calls in the third quarter. A hold on Riley Reiff and an illegal hands-to-the-face call. The hold turned a first down into a fourth down. The other call negated an Alphonso Smith interception.
A few minutes later, Smith was beat for a touchdown.
Winner: Willie Young
What can you say about Willie Young except his legend continues to grow exponentially.
He was initially getting the starting nod when Cliff Avril was holding out. Now that Kyle Vanden Bosch is being held out due to a knee issue, Young finds himself starting at defensive end in his place.
Regardless of what side he plays from, he continues to impress. Although he didn't get to the quarterback against Oakland, he did pull down an interception.
It was a key play because it gave the Lions the ball on Oakland's 7-yard line.
KVB will eventually return and reclaim his starting job when the regular season begins, but Young is staking his claim for major playing time.
With his big-play potential, the Lions can't afford not to give it to him.
Loser: Lions Cornerbacks
As if the Lions didn't have enough concerns about their secondary, they lost both starters due to injury against Oakland.
Bill Bentley went out in the first series of the game with a shoulder injury. Later in the first quarter, Chris Houston, the other starting cornerback, was pulled from the game with an ankle injury.
There's no way of telling the seriousness of these injuries, but it's never good when both starters go down.
This is not an elite unit to begin with. That was evident in the first half as the Lions secondary made Oakland receiver Darius Heyward-Bey look like a young Jerry Rice.
It didn't get any better in the second half. Oakland's rookie receiver Juron Criner absolutely abused Jonte Green, Justin Miller and Alphonso Smith.
The Lions corners have a lot of work to do. An improved effort, and healthy starters, will be anticipated next week against Buffalo
Winner: Mikel Leshoure
Mikel Leshoure didn't rack up massive yardage, and he didn't put points on the board, either. He didn't show off blazing speed, and he was only given a handful of runs.
However, he passed the eye test, and that was a big step. He looked quick and made several tacklers miss.
Leshoure is a rare player who combines the physicality and size of a fullback with the agility of a runner. He's a huge part of the Lions' plans this season.
It wasn't his fault he was met by two or three defenders every time he touched the ball. I'll get to that later.
Losers: Lions Offensive Line
The knock against the Lions offensive line has always been their subpar run-blocking. They did nothing to disprove that against Oakland.
Detroit's rushers had little room to maneuver and, more often than not, were met by Oakland defenders immediately when they got the ball.
The Lions totalled a pitiful 65 yards rushing and 2.7 yards per attempt. The running backs cannot be blamed. It was clearly a lack of blocking.
Unfortunately, their pass protection—usually their strength—was not great, either. Stafford faced more pressure than usual, ultimately resulting in his injury. His backup, Shaun Hill, was running for his life.
The offensive line play was the biggest reason the Lions' high-powered offense stalled for most of the game and had to settle for field goals.
Winners: Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew
Nate Burleson—the Lions veteran wideout—had been quiet most of the preseason, but he had his best game on Saturday.
He didn't score, but he showed why he's still an important part of the offense and not yet ready to step aside and let Titus Young pass him on the depth chart.
In the Lions first drive, he made two receptions and showed some speed around the edge on a reverse. The drive led to a Jason Hanson field goal.
In the third quarter, on 3rd-and-3, he pulled down a tough catch with a defender on his back for a 16-yard gain. That drive led to a touchdown.
Like Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew had been quite this preseason, but he turned in a strong performance against Oakland as well.
He had four catches for 31 yards and scored his first touchdown. He looked like the player fans have grown accustomed to seeing.
While the Lions offense looked sluggish all night, these two were shining stars.
Losers: Lions Defense
It wasn't a complete loss. The Lions defense played well at times. They forced turnovers and had a nice goal-line stand (that wasn't, but should have been).
Ndamukong Suh had a sack, and Stephen Tulloch and Willie Young played well.
Ultimately, the first-team unit continued their bend-but-don't-break tendency that fans got used to last year.
With that said, expectations are much higher. They failed to get consistent pressure on Carson Palmer. Their saving grace was that Palmer was not at his best, and that clearly helped their cause.
Detroit's second unit fared much worse. It let Terrelle Pryor run around like Michael Vick on his way to a career night. He amassed 90 yards rushing, 137 yards passing and added two touchdowns.
Needless to say, Gunther Cunningham will not be a happy camper on Sunday.
Winners: Lions Special Teams
After a dismal performance last week against the Baltimore Ravens, you'd think former Lions special teams coach Stan Kwan had come back to town.
Not so. It was just a bad day. The Lions special teams showed up against Oakland and had a great night.
The coverage units gave up nothing. Two players fighting for a roster spot, Reshard Langford and Nate Hughes, delivered big hits which limited Oakland's returns to only a few yards.
Justin Miller also showed off his speed on a 73-yard kickoff return which will undoubtedly bring new intrigue to the starting returner discussion.
Finally, Jason Hanson rebounded from a rare miss last week by going 2-of-2.
The Lions were looking for their special teams to step up, and that's exactly what they did.