It’s been a pretty busy day so far at thesilverdomeblues.com, and really Lions fans in general. Dave gave us his notes from the 50 yard line to whet your appetite. Jeffery followed that up by giving ups the post game wrap up. The excellent folks at detroitlionsdraft.com also gave us some quick hitting observations from last night’s victory. All that’s left is for me to continue the trend for this preseason and cover the players from an individual and positional standpoint. There’s a lot more to the players’ performance in the Lions Vs. Jets than what you can see on a box score, so here’s what I saw from the game.
Matthew Stafford looked better poised in the pocket, and he’s making those who questioned his footwork take note. That said, he occupied a mostly clean pocket and rarely had to work with his feet. Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson was money, and in fact Stafford ONLY completed passes to Johnson. Shaun Hill finished up the first half after scoring the Lions’ only offensive Touchdown. Hill threw two very well placed passes to Matt Willis, but aside from that was wild with his throws. Never a big armed QB, Hill seemed to have even more trouble forcing the ball downfield, and his placement was off on several passes. I’m less concerned since Hill is rarely a great Preseason QB, though. Kellen Moore, obviously the favorite to win the 3rd QB job if the Lions choose to keep one, played all of the 3rd and almost all of the 4th quarter. His arm strength is better, but still noticeably lacking. The Lions ran out routes repeatedly to test him, it’s clear they understand it could be a liability. As Dave mentioned, the offense seemed deflated with Moore running the squad which is even more concerning to me since most of those guys are fighting for a roster spot and should be riled up. His improved ‘command of the offense’ appears to have been greatly inflated. Thaddeus Lewis came into the game late and did little of note either positively or negatively. I feel there is little chance the Lions keep a third QB at this point, and if they do it is a pick your poison type of situation.
Reggie Bush showed what he can do on outside runs and more importantly what he can do on his own. The blocking was exceptionally poor on his first run of the day with Hilliard and Nate Burleson whiffing on blocks on the outside, but Reggie was too quick for them and made yards up anyway. Best block on that play went to a surprisingly solid Pat Edwards, who kept his man out of the play for it’s entirety. Running up the middle behind Raiola wasn’t happening, though, and I’ll cover the blocking later. Mikel Leshoure showed us what he didn’t last season, that he can hit the hole hard and keep his feet moving. He ran several times and in every situation the hole was small and he hit it anyway, keeping himself moving. Bell didn’t show much as a rusher as he was only given a few opportunities, but he showed his soft hands and quick first move on several Shaun Hill passes against very soft coverage. He’s as good a closer as ever. Theo Riddick showed a lot of versatility but was very inconsistent. He hits the hole hard and runs well, but he would follow-up a nice run with a dropped pass, a poor run with an EXCELLENT ST tackle. One of his strengths was that of a receiver, but he dropped the only two catchable passes thrown his way (the third was uncatchable). He needs to improve to secure a roster spot. Montell Owens didn’t do anything in this game. Steven Miller didn’t do anything as a runner, and sadly looked indecisive behind the line, shuffling around rather than hitting the hole like he ought to (Which was also a big draw to his game). Shaun Chapas looked like an okay FB, but Michael Williams received most of the work as Hback. Overall, an up and down unit with Bush and Bell looking the same and Leshoure improving.
One of the groups I was most excited about coming out of Training Camp, they really underwhelmed. They weren’t targeted often and were ineffective when they were. Pettigrew wasn’t targeted, Scheffler was overthrown once and made a very nice run and catch (With some good blocking as well) on a second. Joseph Fauria caught a short drag for only 2 yards. Other than that, the unit was a non factor receiving. As blockers, the only standout was new Hback Michael Williams with some solid blocking, though he would make a very sloppy move on a poorly called ST play late in the game (More on that later). As a group, the Tight Ends underwhelmed.
Another group I was excited about, this was another mixed bag. Johnson was Johnson, no surprise there. Patrick Edwards was only targeted twice, and both were incomplete. Once was a streak up the sidelines while being covered very tightly by Dee Milliner. Edwards had Milliner beat, but Milliner recovered with the ball in the air to bat it away. The second was severely overthrown by Hill, though this was a possible miscommunication on route assignment. Kris Durham was targeted once on a drag route, which is not normally his forte. He pimp slapped his corner (I am DESPERATELY searching for a picture of that), however, and immediately separated on the drag, and his long strides kept good distance when he turned up field beating several defenders. Mike Thomas had some very nice moments, though he never broke a big one, on short routes and had an end around on 4th and 1 that went for good yardage (Formerly Nate Burleson’s job). The talk of the day was Matt Willis. The former Broncos STer made some fantastic and difficult catches and may have thrown himself firmly into the 4th or 5th WR race. Terrence Austin made some nice catches on a couple slants and a couple flats, but outside of those two routes he just couldn’t get any separation, resulting in a drop and two passes deflected (one negated by penalty). Two of those were in the end zone. Micheal Spurlock had one slant and was otherwise nonexistent as a receiver (It was also a slant). Cody Wilson only saw the field late and didn’t make an impact. Chaz Schilens was targeted once, but it was a poor thrown and he was otherwise unused. The receiver group as a whole ran a lot of slants, flats, drags, and outs. It looks like the team is going for a shorter passing field to draw in the defenses and it appeared to work pretty well as Calvin Johnson was singled up on the outside pretty early.
The Offensive Tackles
Riley Reiff was mostly perfect. Like Jeff Backus before him, however, when Reiff missed on a play it was bad. He had a blatant hold after giving up the inside resulting in a sack and again later giving up the inside for another. Outside of the two sacks he allowed, his blocking was very good, especially when moving laterally on the outside. Having a much better day was Jason Fox on the right side, who made a very strong case for the starting job being his to lose. Corey Hilliard? Not so much. The worst play of the night came on the Shaun Hill to Matt Willis touchdown where Hilliard made a sorry attempt at a cut block (I think) despite the play going the opposite way. It didn’t look designed at all. LaAdrian Waddle also looked good in pass protection on the blind side in the second half, a good sign for making the roster. Austin Holtz did little to impress, but held his own aside from a sloppy facemask penalty. Derek Hardman lined up inside at Guard, but wasn’t’ impressive. Overall, the Tackles did much better than expected and the group as a whole is starting to take shape with Reiff/Fox the likely starters and Hilliard/Waddle the likely backups.
Rob Sims played as well as he always has. Dominic Raiola showed some veteran savvy pulling defenders offsides, but it was disappointing to see him yet again stood up and pushed back on bull rushes and being practically ineffective in the run game. Dylan Gandy had some nice moments, particularly in the running game where he helped spring nice inside runs for Leshoure and Riddick, but was ineffective as a pass blocker and his snap placement was spotty which could be a problem if he’s forced to play Center considering how much the Lions run shotgun. Larry Warford had some nice moments, especially as a run blocker, but never shied away from attacking as a pass blocker. Rodney Austin did well as a guard, but fumbled a snap when he was asked to play Center (Which I had been calling for the Lions to do). Jake Scott played both Guard positions and looked okay at both, actually getting some decent run blocking in which is not normally his forte. I’m not sure Darren Keyton even made an appearance, and Leroy Helton was once again out due to his knee. The interior line looked very strong in pass protection overall, with the weak spot being the Center position. Their run blocking leaves a lot to be desired, however, though Gandy/Warford/Fox on the right side was surprising at times.
MVP of the game easily goes to Willie Young, who as I mentioned before really needed a strong performance. Young disengaged his blockers well, even showing some sly moves on the inside. What’s surprising is that neither of those things were a strength of his last season. It was Young that caused the pressure on Mark Sanchez that led to him throwing a pick six on the first drive. Speaking of Pick 6′s, I think a lot of doubters were silenced on just how NFL ready Ziggy Ansah is after quickly reading the play and jumping the underneath route. Many have referred to his int as a pick off a screen, but the play was NOT a screen since the RB was running a flat with no blockers in front of him. Ansah also showed good run defense skills and his pursuit was top notch (Kyle Vanden Bosch would be ecstatic). Oh, and it bears mentioning that the Left Tackle that Ansah was facing off against was D’Brickshaw Ferguson, who is nothing like the Bears and Packers Tackles Ansah will face off with more often. If it were just those two, I’d have little to say, but as it turns out Ronnell Lewis got the memo about his job being on the line. Lewis made some excellent plays from LDE both as a pass and run defender, and showed strong instincts to jump on a Devin Taylor caused fumble. Speaking of Taylor, an up and down day for him and it was more up than down. The only real flaws from the DE position came from bottom of the roster Braylon Broughton. Broughton was poor as a rusher and poor as a run defender and might not be long for the team. Surprisingly, Jason Jones started at DE and played fairly well, but may see Willie Young pushing him soon. The biggest drawback from how the DEs are performing right now is it is impossible to guess with any kind of accuracy who makes the roster and in what spot on the depth chart. I hate not knowing, but right now it’s a good position to be in.
Some big surprises from the bottom of this group, but thankfully none at the top. Suh and Fairley are a mean force in the middle, and Mosley was an excellent complement. What was intriguing was the rest of the group. Jimmy SMQ (Saddler-McQueen) made some excellent plays intermixed with some pretty weak ones, but I feel he did enough to warrant more playing time in the preseason. Ogemdi Nwagbuo may have had the hit of the night on Greg McElroy, throwing off his pass and making it incomplete. The only DT that looked like a liability is recently acquired Xavier Proctor, while Andre Fluellen did not make an impact. This Defensive Tackle squad has the potential to be very, very nasty and it is no longer only a three-horse race.
There were some plays made by the Linebackers that made you really feel good. DeAndre Levy, Ashlee Palmer, and Travis Lewis all made plays in coverage where there was no chance of knocking the ball down, but they each squared their shoulders and quickly switched to tackling mode. Too often last season guys would go for the play even when they had no chance, putting themselves out of position. Ashlee Palmer also made a couple of nice run stops, though it was uncontested and he wasn’t shedding blocks (A big flaw in his game). Outside of that, the Linebacker crew was a mess. Many will look at the box score and assume the secondary wasn’t doing their job, but in reality it was primarily against the Linebackers that the Jets were abusing coverages. Carmen Messina had one good play where he jumped and managed to tip a pass, but aside from that was a massive liability in pass defense. Nearly every linebacker had at least one play where coverage was blown, and the lone Sanchez Touchdown was on a severely blown coverage by Travis Lewis. Brandon Hepburn and Jon Morgan came in late in the game and proved that even the guys at the bottom of the roster were going to have troubles there. The center of the field is going to be a problem unless the Lions dramatically improve their Linebacking corps.
How many passes were against the Lions corners? Not as many as you’d expect given the box score. Rookie Darius Slay didn’t allow any passes. Chris Houston allowed one. Bill Bentley, the incumbent Nickel, allowed at least three, missing a tackle on one and falling down, and straight up tripping on another. It would have been the worst corner of the day if not for Dominique Johnson (Who at the game I thought had done well). Johnson made some nice tackles at times, but he allowed three passes in his coverage, all curls, but missed two tackles and that third curl he dropped to his knees early and let the receiver get an extra 3 yards. Add in a Defensive Pass Interference and it was the worst performance of any Lions corner. There were a few allowed by the corners later in the game, but if we’re talking pass defense a greater deal of the completions and yards allowed in this game was from the Linebackers and occasionally the Safeties. When it WAS a corner, it was either an inside route (All of Bentley’s) or a curl/comeback (Johnson, Houston). It’s early, but this unit looks strong in coverage. Tackling is a problem.
Glover Quin is the best Safety on the roster, both in coverage (no catches allowed) and as a run defender. After him it’s Don Carey, who was solid overall with only one play where Bentley had lost his man who Carey was late to react to. After those two it’s a pretty steep dropoff to Hope, who looked very poor, and Tyrell Johnson, who had some pretty bad lapses. Amari Spievey looked good at times, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the team again as a reserve. Neloms and Coston barely played. The Lions are top-heavy at Safety, and depth is still a concern. It may end up being a very young group as the veterans don’t seem to be doing well.
David Akers did one thing that surprised me. No, despite being a critic I wasn’t surprised that he both of his kicks from good distance. What surprised me was that he practiced in the net ALL THE TIME in the first quarter, whenever he wasn’t on the field kicking. What that says to me is one of two things. He’s either worried he’s not loose enough due to healing from his last surgery; or he is sincerely worried about Rugland. Rugland made both of his kicks from 49 and 50. The 49 yarder could have been good from much farther, but the 50 yarder barely made the uprights. Rugland’s kickoffs leave much to be desired, but there’s a reason that might not matter.
People are going to regret calling Sam Martin a bad draft pick. As a kickoff specialist, Martin was booming punts right to the back of the end zone. Just enough leg that it’s deep in the end zone, but pulled back enough that a returner might make that choice to bring it out from 6-9 deep. Martin made one poor punt with a man in his face after a very poor Joique Bell block, but aside from that he was strong and accurate. Blake Clingan looked fine in his showing, but didn’t manage the control that Martin had with the ball. He was backed up for all three of his punts, which plays to his strengths, and I’d like to see him punting with a shorter field.
The veteran favorite is Micheal Spurlock to take a roster spot, but he wasn’t given an opportunity to return. Patrick Edwards may not have shown much as a receiver, but he tore it up as a returner with a nice long run back early in the game. Steven Miller also wasn’t given much of an opportunity as he was waved off on one kick and on the one chance he had to return the play was called by Bonamego to the OTHER side of the field, so the blocking just wasn’t there. Given the lack of opportunities, I’d still call the returner spot wide open, but the edge has to go to Patrick Edwards right now.