Every week leading up to the regular season, M-FANS President Zane Harding will recap the major highlights from the Detroit Lions’ preseason games instead of bothering his friends and family with his thoughts on preseason football. We will assume that you are as hardcore a fan because you are reading this and that you are ready for some overreactions to the preseason. Enjoy!
Matt Patricia made his Detroit Lions (preseason) coaching debut last night, as the new-look Lions fell to Jon Gruden’s Raiders, 16-10. (That feels weird to say: Jon Gruden’s Raiders. In 2018.) With that said, nobody cares about the score of a preseason game. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the five biggest developments of last night’s game.
#1: The running game looks much better
No one expected Ameer Abdullah to have a big game last night. Then, on the Lions’ lone touchdown drive, Abdullah led the offense down the field. Abdullah only posted 16 rushing yards on the drive, but the Raiders posted 20 additional yards in penalties on his rushes, and Abdullah hauled in a seven-yard pass in the red zone before punching it in from the one-yard line. While it is unclear whether Abdullah will see regular usage on the team, last night definitely enhanced his trade value.
The second half of the game, meanwhile, was the Kerryon Johnson show. 57-yard carry that didn’t count due to a Tyrell Crosby hold aside, Kerryon Johnson posted 34 yards on seven carries and 33 yards on four receptions, making the most of his five targets. But hey, let’s watch that 57-yarder anyways.
With a new head coach comes a new run-block scheme, and early on, the results are positive. (Having the entire offensive line healthy, fingers crossed, and adding Frank Ragnow should help immensely, too.)
#2: Sam Martin looked very good
Sam Martin’s first two punts went for 44 yards and 42 yards, or, not that great. It’s the preseason for punters too though, and it looks like Martin just needed a little time to warm up, as his next two punts went for 52 and 57 yards. Martin only played the first half, but his 48.75 yards per punt average last night was much more in line with his 2016 season, in which he averaged 48.5 yards per punt, than last year in which he only averaged 43.4 yards per punt. Entering 2017, Martin was considered one of the premier punters in the league. He’s on his way to reclaiming that title this year.
#3: The Matt Patricia “bend-don’t-break” defense was in full effect
In 2017, the New England Patriots surrendered 5856 yards, fourth-most in the league, and 296 points, fifth-fewest in the league. Three of the four other top-5 scoring defenses in the league — Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia — surrendered 1441, 1278, and 952 fewer yards, respectively. Matt Patricia the king of bend-don’t-break defense, and it showed last night, as the Lions allowed 16 points on 345 total yards of offense from Oakland.
It’s hard to say how effective the defense will be in year one of Patricia’s tenure still, but even with the starters sitting, the strategy was there.
#4: The backup quarterback race is wide open
Jake Rudock and Matt Cassel looked bad last night, flashing the grim reality that this team is nothing without Matthew Stafford. That said, it wouldn’t be the preseason without a good backup quarterback competition, and the race is wide open following last night. Sure, Rudock posted a 63% completion rate compared to Cassel’s 55% completion rate, but both had some particularly ugly throws and did not handle pressure well whatsoever. Entering the preseason, the best-case backup quarterback scenario was that Cassel would show that he is capable and that Rudock would play well enough to enhance his trade value and possibly land the Lions an extra draft pick. While this could still theoretically happen, the team just needs one of the two backups to show that they could come into the game in a pinch this year at this point.
#5: Don’t make any judgments on the passing offense or the pass rush
The pass rush looked rough last night, but Ziggy Ansah and Ricky Jean-Francois did not play. The pass offense was stagnant all night, but Matthew Stafford and T.J. Lang did not play. It’s the preseason. The jury is still out on every single part of the team, but with the best defensive lineman and the team’s leader not playing, there is no reason to even overreact to the pass rush and offense.
All in all, the first preseason game gave Lions fans all they can ask for. The offensive line had some good performances (especially rookie Frank Ragnow), the running backs shined (especially Kerryon Johnson), and Sam Martin looked great. These were three of the biggest disappointments from 2017. It’s nice to see some improvement.
(Featured Image: D. Ross Cameron, Associated Press)