Detroit Lions Preseason: Complete Report Card Following Week 2 Win

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IAugust 21, 2011

Detroit Lions Preseason: Complete Report Card Following Week 2 Win

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    Another week, another Detroit Lions win

    It's just too bad it isn't the regular season we're talking about. Still, even though it doesn't count towards anything, winning feels better than losing, at least.

    But enough talking about the ultimately insignificant outcome of the game, let's get down to the meat and potatoes. Who stepped up on the (relatively) big stage? Who signed their ticket out of town? How did each position group fare?

    These are the questions Lions fans should be asking, though many make the mistake of asking about something as trivial as the score.

    Preseason games are just elaborate practice sessions that happen to involve another team. They're easy to sell as games, and the NFL makes lots of money off them, but they're as much a part of the Lions season as two-a-days, and no more, and so we will analyze them like practices.

    Only with a grading system.

Overall

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    For anyone who was flying high about the Lions' systematic dismantling of the Cincinnati Bengals, this should be an appropriate cool-down.

    The Lions spent most of this game trailing the Browns (not important), and looking pretty bad in the process (far more important).

    The game was, for the most part, very sloppy, riddled with mistakes, and pretty much a major letdown. Really, this is more like what the first preseason game should have looked like.

    With limited time to practice, some 90 players all getting reps, and not nearly enough preparation time, preseason games are supposed to be ugly and sloppy. That isn't any great surprise, the problem is the Lions were so crisp against Cincinnati, they fooled us into thinking they were in midseason form.

    Granted, some players looked like they were. Matthew Stafford impressed again, Drew Stanton looked uncharacteristically sharp, Nate Burleson made Calvin Johnson's absence a non-issue, and Brandon McDonald continued to make his case for a bump or two up the depth chart.

    But the Lions were penalized 14 times for 123 yards (three of those gave Cleveland first downs in the same drive), and this after Jim Schwartz talking about increased discipline. The run game couldn't get going early, the special teams were atrocious aside from Jason Hanson and Dave Rayner, and mental errors were happening all over the field.

    The first string wasn't terrible, but this is ultimately not the performance fans should have been looking for, especially after the execution seen against the Bengals.

    They pulled it together late, but that's not a good sign in a preseason game. That just means the bottom-tier guys performed better than the second string.

     

    Grade: C-

Quarterbacks

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    This Drew Stanton always shows up when we're looking to dump him off and abandon him somewhere.

    It's worth noting he usually shows up in the preseason while playing in the second half, too.

    After last week, in which Stanton looked so-so and relative unknown Zac Robinson went 2-for-2 with a deep touchdown pass, there was some talk (and I'll admit to perpetuating some of it) that Robinson might have an outside shot at usurping Stanton's roster spot.

    That chance still exists, but Stanton dealt a blow to it by drilling his receivers all day and throwing two touchdowns on eight total passes. He did have a fumbled exchange with a running back in the red zone, just so we'd know it was still him.

    Robinson, on the other hand, looked lost. His passes were shaky and he blew a fourth-and-one opportunity by either doing the wrong thing or telling his huddle the wrong thing; all we can say for sure is that he turned around to hand the ball off, and nobody was there to take it. 

    Matthew Stafford had another promising day, going 6-for-10 for 85 yards and a touchdown (passer rating: 120.8). It's worth noting that two of those incompletions were from Stafford tossing the ball out instead of running out of bounds and taking a sack.

    I did see one interesting thing, though. Stafford was flushed out of the pocket and chased to the sidelines on one play, and that was fine. But on the very next play, Stafford dropped back to pass again, and the pocket held. But Stafford sensed danger where there wasn't any, and again rushed to the sideline and tossed the ball out of bounds.

    One play isn't enough to make this determination, but his happy feet there made me hope his injury history hasn't made him a bit jittery in the pocket. I wouldn't blame the kid if that were the case, but I'm not his coach, either. Again, not drawing any conclusions, but I'm making a mental note of it to see if this becomes a recurring thing.

    Last and least, Shaun Hill had a downright blasé day. He was the only Lions QB to take a sack, and he didn't move the offense at all. He was a slow starter last year, too, and he's a veteran, so I'm not too worried about him in the long run.

    But still, if I'm calling it as I saw it, Hill was indecisive and not terribly accurate. If this was the first time I was watching him, I would say he was the guy in danger of getting cut, not Stanton or Robinson.

     

    Grade: B 

Running Backs

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    The running game got off to the worst start imaginable. Jahvid Best played one drive. He had two carries for -1 yards and a fumble which led to the Browns' opening touchdown.

    Oh boy.

    It didn't get much better for anyone in the first half, which is thoroughly discouraging. It's starting to look like the Lions might rely on swing passes to the running backs and end-arounds to receivers if the north-south running game won't work.

    Speaking of the north-south running game, somebody is going to have to explain to me, in detail, why Jerome Felton doesn't get more carries.

    I don't know if Scott Linehan owed him a favor or something, but Felton got two carries in this game. On the first, he exploded through the line and rumbled ahead for 16 yards. He doesn't run like a fullback when he gets in the open field, but he does at the line. He slammed into a brick wall on the next carry, but managed to churn out four more yards by moving the pile.

    Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell continue to be interchangable, both in style and relative ineffectiveness. Round two goes to Harrison, who averaged a yard-and-a-half more per carry than Bell (4.5 to 3.0), but neither of them seemed willing to hit the holes intended for them. They both tried to bounce their runs outside, and that didn't work.

    Aaron Brown was notable in that he came in with the first team after Jahvid Best was pulled early due to what was finally confirmed to be a mild concussion. But Brown gained more yards on one swing pass (12) than six rushes (11), and doesn't appear to be a viable option between the tackles.

    Perhaps the best back of the day (aside from Felton) was Ian Johnson, who came in for the fourth quarter and started running down the clock. He averaged almost five yards per carry, and he did it by running right up the gut. He hit his holes hard, lowered the shoulder when he needed to, and kept his legs moving straight ahead.

    This is the second straight game Johnson looked better than either Harrison or Bell. I would be interested to see him get some work earlier in the game, to see if he's really a viable option, or if he's just taking advantage of the weaker defenders.

     

    Grade: D+

Wide Receivers

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    With Calvin Johnson out nursing a shoulder bruise (a minor injury that he would have played through if there was any good reason to), this game became the Nate Burleson show.

    In addition to a number of great downfield blocks, Burleson had three touches in the game. One was a 30-yard bomb he hauled in from Stafford.

    One was 26-yard end-around, in which he earned the last 10 yards by lowering the shoulder along with Will Heller and bowling over a cornerback.

    The other is depicted in this video, and I'll let it speak for itself.

    After Burleson took his final bow of the evening, he turned the spotlight over to Maurice Stovall, who led all receivers in the game with four receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.

    Stovall was a quiet signing by the Lions, but he is getting progressively louder as he sees more game action. He was targeted four times in the game, and made four catches. He is doing an excellent job of shielding defenders off the ball with his big 6' 5" frame.

    Derrick Williams continues to play like he doesn't have any interest in an NFL career. He was targeted twice, and had two drops. The first was in the back of the end zone, the second while streaking down the sideline.

    It's possible that a defender may have ever-so-slightly deflected the first would-be-touchdown pass, but it still hit him in the hands. I'm not giving a third-year player with a sordid history of drops the benefit of the doubt on that one.

    Bottom line: In two preseason games, Williams has one catch and four drops. I don't care what the guy does in practice, it can't make up for him having Teflon hands in game action.

     

    Grade: B+

Tight Ends

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    Going in, the story was Brandon Pettigrew coming in, and Tony Scheffler sitting out. And while Pettigrew did haul in a deep pass pinpointed to him from Matthew Stafford, he wasn't the real focus.

    Will Heller made the most of his time by hauling in a couple passes and showing off his blocking ability, particularly on the Burleson end-around. He doesn't put up big stats like your prototypical receiving tight end, but watch him block for a couple plays and you'll see why the Lions keep him around.

    Later, Joe Jon Finley came in and reminded everyone that 1) he has an awesome name, and 2) he can play some football, too.

    It would be a catastrophe if he made the roster over the three-headed monster of Pettigrew, Scheffler and Heller, but remember that Dan Gronkowski was in Finley's position last year, and the Lions got a former second-round corner out of trading him before roster cuts.

    The tight ends as a whole were mostly quiet, but solid today. Although they didn't blow me away, I was very satisfied with them overall.

     

    Grade: B

Offensive Line

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    Here is Matthew Stafford, once again getting all the time he wants to throw. It's probably the best picture I can show to illustrate what the offensive line did in this game.

    Well, maybe if I could couple this picture with another one of a running back getting mugged two yards behind the line of scrimmage, it would paint a more accurate picture.

    Seriously, if we were take the first two games of the preseason as a microcosm of the line's capability (admittedly, actually doing that would be stupid, but just go with it for now), it might be the first time in league history an offensive line is simultaneously the best pass-blocking unit and the worst run-blocking unit in the NFL.

    Last week, the Lions gave up no sacks and two total hits on all quarterbacks.

    This week, one sack (attributed more to Shaun Hill's indecisiveness than anything), and a couple pressures. Stafford was chased to the sidelines a couple times, but didn't take any damage, and the second time was more happy feet on his part than the pocket actually collapsing.

    But then there's run blocking. No running back has been able to get going consistently in either game so far. Jahvid Best finished his day with negative yardage and a fumble behind the line of scrimmage. It got progressively better later on, but the fact that Dylan Gandy and Dan Gerberry were better run blockers than Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman does not fill me with joy.

    It's like on pass plays, defenders run into a brick wall; but on run plays, they find out it was just a prop wall made of wet cardboard and painted brick red.

    Obviously, I'm happy the line isn't letting quarterbacks get drilled every play, but maybe they could find some middle ground or something.

    Pass blocking grade: A-

    Run blocking grade: D-

    Overall grade? Let's split the difference.

     

    Grade: C

Defensive Line

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    If I had to sum up the Lions' defensive line in a single word, I might call it "tepid."

    But maybe I'm spoiled. Is it fair to expect the defensive line to completely dominate every single game? The Browns' offensive line is actually considered a team strength, and the Lions brought some pressure, they just didn't wreak the kind of havoc they did against the Bengals.

    Cliff Avril delivered a good shot on Colt McCoy, but that was really the only time anybody got to him (or any Browns quarterback) all day. Part of that is because the Browns gameplanned well for pressure, and McCoy was sharp in getting rid of the ball before anyone closed on him.

    This might be a good time to point out that I was actually impressed with the Browns overall. They may have quietly put together a pretty decent team. I'm almost a little relieved we don't play them in the regular season. They put on a sharp offensive performance even without Peyton Hillis.

    Willie Young was quietly effective again, but not the terror he was against Cincinnati.

    Corey Williams busted into the backfield a time or two to disrupt the Browns running game, and continues to be easy the most underappreciated player on the team, and one of the most underrated in the NFL.

    I feel like overall, the defensive line performance was fine, but by the standards I have for them, they were disappointing.

    In a weird way, it makes me feel kind of good that a "decent" performance from a Lions unit is a disappointment. This team has come a long way in two seasons, hasn't it?

     

    Grade: C+

Linebackers

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    This should probably be about Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, and DeAndre Levy, the starting linebackers who are quite good individually, but don't appear to have their chemistry together just yet.

    Instead, I'm going to make this the "Bobby Carpenter is Awesome Happy Hour."

    Seriously, if the Dallas Cowboys or Miami Dolphins were watching Carpenter fly around the field making plays Friday, they had to be thinking "Where was this guy when he played for us?"

    I don't know if it's just that the Lions' scheme agrees with him, or if he finally figured out what he was doing out there, or what. But this Bobby Carpenter is not the same guy that bounced around the league looking for a home after being a first-round bust.

    The Lions did well in the offseason finding Durant and Tulloch to bolster the Lions' linebacker corps, and because of those signings, Carpenter will be relegated to a backup role. But I would have no qualms with sending this Carpenter in as a starting linebacker if it came to it.

    Hopefully he will excel in his likely role as an important reserve player. He's versatile enough to play any linebacker position, though the Lions would rather leave him on the outside.

    Doug Hogue had another solid game, and appears to be picking up the NFL game at a faster pace than many expected. He still has a long way to go, but the fact that he is already learning the game this well and coupling it with his natural athleticism is a good sign.

    As a unit, the linebackers were like the defensive line: Effective, but unimpressive. There were some bright spots individually, but they don't seem to be playing well as a unit just yet. That will come eventually, we just have to hope there aren't a lot of 81-yard touchdown runs yielded in the meantime.

     

    Grade: B-

Cornerbacks

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    It is very, very tempting to look at Colt McCoy's three touchdown passes in this game and call it a loss for the secondary.

    To an extent, that is true. There's no way to play around with statistics and pretend the Lions didn't give up three touchdown passes. But I can supplement that with McCoy's final stat line: 10-for-18, 96 yards and three touchdowns.

    Not all that impressive anymore, is it? Still good, especially since he threw no interceptions and many of those incompletions were drops.

    But let's also throw in the fact that McCoy wasn't actually facing the Lions' starting secondary at any point Friday. Eric Wright played hobbled, Chris Houston was held out of the lineup, and Alphonso Smith hasn't played a snap all preseason.

    Of course, nobody knows better than Lions fans that injuries are part of the game, so I'm not trying to take anything away from McCoy's performance by giving the injury report. Rather, it's better to focus on the people who were playing.

    One of those players is Brandon McDonald, who seems all but locked in for a roster spot. He made some early noise when he sniffed out a swing pass to the fullback. He stepped up and absolutely flattened the man, despite giving up at least 30 pounds on the matchup.

    McDonald could have gone for the pick while the fullback was bobbling the ball, but you have to like seeing a corner step up and lay the wood like that in a man-to-man scheme. Normally man corners tend to shy away from contact.

    The question now is how high will he climb on the roster? He has been very possibly the most productive corner on the team in the first two preseason games. For all the talk of Smith, Nathan Vasher and Aaron Berry, McDonald may now have the inside track at the nickel corner position.

    While the corners weren't consistent playmakers in this game, and McCoy did a very good job of picking apart the soft spots in the coverage (sometimes for touchdowns), nobody really got burned for a big play.

    Quite possibly the worst play by a corner was Vasher committing an egregious pass interference call on a deep pass at about the five yard line. And it isn't that Vasher got beat; he was pretty well in step with the receiver. He just didn't turn his head nearly in time, and put his hands all over the receiver before locating the ball. It was an easy call.

    Corner is a frustrating position right now because there is lots of potential, and injuries are holding it back. But I can't really justify giving a grade based on who didn't play or how they could have performed, I have to go on who was in the game.

     

    Grade: C-

Safeties

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    If this was my first time watching the Lions, and you told me to watch both starting safeties and figure out which one has an additional year of experience, a fan-favorited nickname and a higher draft history, I would have chuckled after the first quarter and said Amari Spievey.

    I would have punctuated it with a "Duh," and told you it was a stupid question.

    Spievey looks phenomenal so far, both in preseason and training camp. He's been so good, he has almost taken all the attention off of the fact that Delmas has been slightly disappointing.

    Now, Delmas knows his starting job is in absolutely no danger, so it's entirely possible (and understandable) that he's not going full tilt in the preseason. The last thing he needs is to suffer another lingering injury in a meaningless game.

    While that may irritate some purists who subscribe to the "Play every down like it's your last" philosophy, I would much rather see him giving 100 percent in December than in August. I might actually be a little irritated seeing him playing with reckless abandon in this game. I don't mind Delmas saving it for when it counts, as long as he uses it when it counts.

    There isn't much that can be said about Erik Coleman. He's a good football player, and quite frankly I feel bad for him. If not for the rapid development of Spievey, he would be a solid starter, miles better than C.C. Brown was last year. Instead, he's a high-quality reserve, which is important, too.

    Charging up from out of nowhere is Ricardo Silva, who has notched a bunch of tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in two games so far. He won't supplant any of the guys mentioned above on the roster, and John Wendling will eat up a safety spot for his special teams play, so Silva is facing an uphill battle.

    Still, Silva looks like this year's Randy Phillips, a UDFA who is a consistent preseason playmaker with an outside shot at the final roster. Maybe Silva's story will turn out a little better than it did for Phillips, who was released last week.

    Either way, with young talent developing, a steady veteran in place, and strong rookies looking for work, the Lions are looking at a veritable embarrassment of riches at safety right now.

     

    Grade: A-

Special Teams

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    Maybe the surgery and the half-season off was good for Jason Hanson's old bones, because he's back to booming kickoffs like he hasn't in years.

    And yes, I know kickoffs are five yards further in now. I also know an offsides call on the opening kickoff forced Hanson to kick from the 30, and he still drilled the ball six yards deep in the end zone.

    Last year, Hanson was struggling to put the ball inside the opponent's 10 yard-line on kickoffs. This year, he's putting them out the back of the end zone. You can blame some of that on the rule change, but not all.

    It's a good thing Hanson is back, because he and Dave Rayner (who will be highly successful wherever he ends up) were the only bright spots on an abysmal special teams performance.

    I don't even know where to begin. Penalties, bad coverage, shanked punts, more penalties, no blocking on returns, fair catches inside the 10, it was a nightmare.

    If not for Hanson and Rayner booming their kickoffs deep and each nailing field goals of almost 50 yards (both of which would have been good from 60), the special teams would get an F. It's making me queasy just thinking about it now. The special teams units are better than this, so it's disappointing to see them fall flat like that, but they can and should clean it up by the end of the preseason.

    On a side note, it's too bad Dave Rayner is a kicker, because he will definitely end up with another team and be very, very good. But no team in their right mind gives anything up in a trade for a kicker, so the Lions are going to be forced to let him go for nothing. Mark my words though, he won't clear waivers.

     

    Grade: D-