Bills vs. Lions: Detroit's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 4
So the preseason is finally over, and the Lions leave with a record of 2-2, their worst preseason record since 2007.
And that's as irrelevant this year as it was in 2007.
What is relevant is that with final roster cuts less than 24 hours away, the Lions have to determine which of their players has made enough of an impact to crack the final roster.
Although it's likely that about 80-90 percent of the roster was already set before this game even kicked off, there are still a few roster battles yet to be resolved, and this game was the final stage for those battles to play out.
So who stepped up? Who is about to step down? And how much should Lions fans be excited about either?
WINNER: Jonte Green
Jonte Green played for most of the game with a good portion of the secondary banged up, and the experience was undoubtedly good for him.
The sixth-round rookie is the only one of the three corners Detroit drafted in 2012 who was healthy enough to play in this game, which is already a plus in his column. Perhaps more importantly, no healthy corner looked particularly valuable in this game, with some (Alphonso Smith) looking just atrocious.
Green's day was punctuated with a pick-six that capped off a 28-point first quarter for the Lions. Now granted, Tyler Thigpen's pass had about as much zip on it as a button-down shirt, and I wonder if even I could have stepped in front of that floaty WR screen and taken it to the house.
But still, if Green had his weight shifted wrong, or his feet in the wrong position, he wouldn't have gotten there in time. It looked like an easy play by NFL standards, but Green is a rookie corner just trying to get his sea legs. He made an impact in a pinch in this game.
LOSER: Jonte Green
That was the good news. The bad news is that Green also had a number of very notably bad plays.
This type of inconsistency is typical of a rookie, so you can't be too hard on him. But Green's play today is indicative of why Gunther Cunningham hates playing rookie corners.
Green had a great play and a couple of good ones, but he also gave up two touchdowns, and even committed pass interference on one of them. He had one solo tackle, after an 18-yard reception, and didn't show very good ball awareness on any play except the interception.
Green will probably make the roster simply because the secondary is frighteningly thin, but even with the splash play on the pick-six, this was probably a minus game for Green overall. He's talented, but has much to learn.
WINNER: Mikel Leshoure
He was far from dominant, and he technically averaged less than three yards per carry, but Mikel Leshoure was impressive in this game in ways the stat sheet won't show.
Just to get this out of the way, I'm not going to waste a slide on it, but the run blocking in this game was mostly atrocious once again, especially late. There were some surprises when the Lions got decent push around the goal line, but for the most part, it was just bad.
And honestly, this was a big part of the reason Leshoure looked so good despite pedestrian stats. Some of Leshoure's best runs of the night were zero-yard gains. But they were great runs because they weren't three-yard losses.
Leshoure had to shake guys in his backfield all night long, especially later in the game, where it seemed like he had a man to beat in front of him every time he received a handoff.
Some of those players barreled into the backfield through blockers, some came unblocked off the edge, but Leshoure was dodging negative yardage from somewhere on almost every play. And the great thing is, he was mostly successful.
There weren't really any examples of Leshoure breaking a tackle and turning it into a big gain. It was more like Leshoure would stutter-step on a man who had him dead to rights, run through an arm tackle and fall forward for a gain of one instead of being hit square for a loss of four.
Now, that may be a damning indictment of the Lions' overall run game, if the greatest success of the evening is avoiding negative yardage plays. But what Leshoure did on those plays wasn't a team effort. Those were great individual efforts that bailed out his teammates' mistakes. That much, at least, is encouraging.
LOSER: Carmen Messina
Slowly, quietly, Carmen Messina was making strides toward a possible roster spot. He was showing well on defense, and playing on special teams as a reserve.
After the Lions went up 31-24 in the fourth quarter, Messina made a great tackle right around the 10-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. It should have been great film for him.
Turned out there was a reason Messina was the first man to the ball. He was called for offsides on the kickoff. A shot of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman showed him shaking his head and mouthing the word, "Really?" over and over on the sideline.
Messina went back to the sideline to receive some of Crossman's wrath, and then was sent out for the re-kick. On this kick, Leodis McKelvin fielded the ball at his own goal line, ran right through Messina's attempted arm tackle, and took the ball 100 yards for a touchdown.
It was basically the worst collection of special teams plays Messina could possibly have made, and for a depth player whose roster value this year is likely to be determined by his special teams value, that series might have cost him a job.
WINNER: Ryan Broyles
Broyles looks like he's finally rounding into game speed, and was the leading receiver in this game with three receptions for 54 yards. Broyles showed soft hands, good quickness and the savvy he needs to get open.
Broyles' potential and talent was never in any particular scrutiny. Any of those who questioned the Lions' selection of him in the second round did so either because he was a receiver, or because he was recovering from ACL surgery.
Preseason or not, this game was probably a good sign that Broyles has put the ACL injury in his rear-view mirror, just as he did a number of defenders.
LOSER: Ryan Donahue
I was fully prepared to hand Ryan Donahue the starting punter's job.
Fully prepared. Donahue was going to win it, and I would have no questions.
Until today. Today, Donahue looked shaky. He did kick a high punt that was fair-caught close to the 10-yard line, but he also popped up a 35-yard punt from around his own goal line, and failed to get it on the opposing side of the field.
Meanwhile, Ben Graham kicked a 44-yard punt, then ran up and made the tackle on the play to stop a 20-yard return. And in the late stages of the game, Graham angled a 49-yard punt with absolute precision to land about a half-yard out of bounds, eliminating any chance of a return while maximizing distance.
It occurs to me that despite me considering it a foregone conclusion, Donahue may not have won this punting battle. At the very least, Graham decisively won the final round, and it seems the Lions might be thinking along the same lines—Graham was in on holding duties for Jason Hanson, too.
Because I have a deadline, but six players just isn't enough, here's a quick rundown of other high/lowlights.
Lance Long, WR: Long put up similar numbers to Broyles in this one, and could be a good player to keep around. Too bad he's not eligible for practice squad work.
Patrick Edwards, WR: A non-factor in the passing game, but finally posted a decent punt return, which will help his stock.
Everette Brown, DE: Had a mostly quiet day against a pretty solid Bills line, but getting a piece of Thigpen's arm to force the wobbly INT on the final play of the game just reminded everyone what a good preseason he's had. He'll play for someone this year.
Kevin Barnes, CB: Gave up penalties, touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Luckily he plays cornerback, and the Lions might not be healthy enough to cut any cornerback right now.
Joique Bell, RB: Put up good numbers receiving passes, but the rushing magic has worn off. He finished with less than two yards per carry, and at one point he had minus-six yards rushing on four attempts with a fumble.
Second-half special teams: In the first half, special teams looked amazing. Kick returners couldn't make it to the 20, the Lions recovered a fumble inside the 10-yard line and Edwards found the corner on a punt return.
In the second half, there was a 20-yard punt return, and 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and Nate Hughes returning kicks to about the 17-yard line. Yeech.