In the final week of NFL preseason action, the Detroit Lions took on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once again on the road, Head Coach Dan Campbell looked to get a final evaluation of each player on the roster. During media availability Saturday, he said, “We certainly want to find out who can solidify those last few spots for us, but we’d like to get everyone in if possible to give everyone an opportunity to get some film.” Campbell has been very vocal about about giving each player a chance to prove their worth to the team. The Lions entered the game as the underdog on most major sportsbooks at +6.5 on the spread and +222 on the moneyline. Detroit looked to keep their winning ways going as the regular season approaches, but the Lions struggled in their preseason finale.
Here are my takeaways from today’s matchup:
Starters See Action:
As Dan Campbell confirmed earlier this week, the starting lineup did see an entire half of play. Of course, injured players (listed below) sat along with starting QB Jared Goff and runningbacks D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The offense was inefficient early on, failing to make gains in the first half. After getting shutout in the first half, the Lions looked to bounce back in the second. Defensively the Lions were strong up front with the interior NASCAR package, John Cominsky and Aidan Hutchinson, helping cause a TFL early. Similarly, the edges played great with Hutchinson and Charles Harris creating multiple holding calls against them. They held the Steelers to nine points, entirely on field goals, before the reserves came in at the end of the second. Not taking too much time off before the season is good for the starters, but keeping them healthy was of course the main focus as they came out fairly early. As noted in my preview, this was what we had expected.
Notable injured players:
- Jason Cabinda (PUP)
- WR Jameson Williams (NFI)
- EDGE Romeo Okwara (PUP)
- EDGE Josh Paschal (PUP)
- CB Jerry Jacobs (PUP)
- EDGE Levi Onwuzurike (IL)
The Lions couldn’t get anything going in the first half. They were held to 63 passing yards and 47 rushing yards in the first half, failing to score at all. The shocking part was the offensive lines performance. The starting group had three penalties and didn’t dominate as they have in the past. Opening holes, creating running room, and sealing blocks for the passing game. Receivers also struggled to get open with the Pittsburgh secondary playing fantastic in coverage. The struggles continued with the backups in the second half. The same issues plagued the Lions, but slow reading QBs were still the biggest issue. The team was held to xxx passing yards and xx rushing yards. On the bright side, the offensive lines issues today shouldn’t stick around. A higher IQ QB and better runningback play will most definitely make their jobs easier in the regular season.
David Blough and Tim Boyle Duel:
The backup QB situation has really heated up these past few weeks. Blough and Boyle have swapped depth chart positions multiple times already, but that didn’t happen today/and that happened again today. Boyle started for the Lions, and played terribly early on. He made poor reads and stalled multiple drives before throwing an interception that got him benched. He returned to start the second half, but continued to struggle. Boyle finished the game with 5 completions for 64 yards and an interception. Unlike his last performance he was inconsistent and played with a low IQ. With his last shot to make the team, Blough came in and tried to show the coaching staff why he should be the backup. Unfortunately, the offense still couldn’t move the ball after the swap. He didn’t return to the game until the fourth quarter. When he did, the Lions went down the field, but failed to get any points after a dropped touchdown pass on fourth down. He did lead a touchdown drive at the end of the game, but still struggled for the most part. Blough finished the game 17/31 with 160 yards. After last week’s performance, I had Boyle slightly edging out Blough for the job, but now I fully believe a backup trade is necessary. The Lions will have no answer if Goff goes down during the season.
Camp Battles in their Final Act:
Throughout training camp, multiple battles have become the forefront of depth chart discussions. Today, they came to a close.
Standout receiver Tom Kennedy has been a preseason star for the Lions, but entered today’s game competing for a roster spot. His main competition has been Kalil Pimpleton, the undrafted free agent with immense upside. Kennedy has been significantly better than the rookie in preseason, but the coaching staff’s decision won’t just be based off stats. Proving he was human with a dropped touchdown pass, Kennedy had 3 receptions for 15 yards. He looked better than Pimpleton who had 3 receptions and 31 yards. Pimpleton, who has had up and down performances so far, was solid but the dropped passes make me doubt his ability. This will come down to whoever the coaches think has more rotational upside, after today, that looks like Kennedy.
Defensively, Will Harris and Jeff Okudah have also been in a battle throughout camp. Competing for the number two cornerback position alongside Amani Oruwariye. Okudah, to me, has been the clear winner so far. His consistency and play recognition have been unmatched in live reps, whereas Harris mainly has lowlights in preseason action. Today, that continued, as Harris struggled yet again to find his footing and play proper coverage. He wasn’t terrible, but he did get beat on multiple plays. Luckily for him, Mitch Trubisky, the Steelers QB, didn’t capitalize on it. Okudah, on the other hand, was once again impressive. Other than a great pass breakup, he had a quiet game, which is good for a corner. The less action they allow, the better. I still believe Okudah has the upper hand here, and the coaching staff seems to agree. Okudah got the start today and most likely will in week one.
Malcolm Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes Week One Starters:
The hidden gem of the Lions draft class, Malcolm Rodriguez has shot his way up the depth charts throughout preseason. After starting against the Colts, Rodriguez looked to have earned his spot as the starter alongside Alex Anzalone. Derrick Barnes, the sophomore linebacker, also impressed during preseason though. In fact, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said Barnes is ready for a breakout season. Both players were solid today, with Barnes getting to start. Barnes skillset was highlighted against the Steelers run game, as he made numerous stops including a TFL from reading plays and filling gaps. His high IQ was on full display which should help him win the starting role. Rodriguez had a quiet game, but played really well in coverage. His zone reading was especially good today as he continued to improve his pass defense. The coaches will have a tough decision on their hands, but to me Barnes should start week one. I know it isn’t the popular opinion, but he provides more consistency then Rodriguez with his game IQ. Rodriguez will have plenty of rotational reps to try and change that during the season though.
Catch the Lions on HBO’s Hard Knocks Tuesday night to recap the events of the week. They will return to action week one against the Eagles on September 11.
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