Sounds like the Lions are still ... the Lions
ESPN Staff Writer
DETROIT -- Pay no attention to the score. For the purposes of what the Detroit Lions were trying to do and needed to see Friday night, the score means little. That’s the myth of the preseason, that final scores matter. The Lions, more than almost any other franchise, should understand the value -- or lack thereof -- of preseason records as predictors for regular-season success. After all, in 2008, Detroit went undefeated in exhibitions and winless once the games counted.
But the reality is much different than New England's 30-28 win over Detroit, and that has to leave the Lions concerned. When the starters played and when one of the best teams in the NFL fielded the majority of its top-line players, the Lions were overmatched. The offense could barely function. The defense couldn’t pressure QB Tom Brady and therefore struggled to cover.
So sure, the game ended up being close. But when it mattered, it wasn’t. And for a team that believes it has a chance to be competitive this year, that has to be at least a bit worrisome.
QB depth chart: It’s still pretty much set. Matthew Stafford is the starter, and he had a rough outing -- completing 15 of 22 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Jake Rudock came in midway through the third quarter and went 10 of 13 for 113 yards and a touchdown. Brad Kaaya finished the final 3:41 of the game and threw one incompletion.
Matthew Stafford completed 15 of 22 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Patriots. Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports
When it was starters vs. starters, the Lions looked...: Terrible. Atrocious. Pick your putrid adjective. Defensively, the pass rush was nonexistent and Brady had time to shred the secondary. Offensively, the Lions couldn’t do much right, either. The team’s first three drives resulted in a turnover and two three-and-outs. It was ugly. About the only positive for the Lions was the play of safety Glover Quin, who had an interception in the second quarter and continued to be a solid veteran in the back.
One reason to be concerned: Just one? While this game doesn’t count in the standings, the Lions looked nowhere close to one of the NFL’s premier teams. They were outclassed on offense and run over on defense, and the special teams were mediocre. If Detroit looks like this in the regular season, it could be a long season. The good news for the Lions -- not every team is the Patriots.
That guy could start: This might end up being more out of necessity after linebacker Tahir Whitehead left Friday’s game with a knee injury, but Jalen Reeves-Maybin made a quick impression. He’s shown good instincts throughout the preseason and has the speed to make plays -- including a couple against the Patriots. He got some first-team work as the third linebacker earlier Friday, but his role could expand. The question, of course, is whether the Lions feel comfortable with two rookies as their main linebackers -- if Whitehead’s injury is serious. At the very least, Reeves-Maybin looked like a player who could one day start for Detroit.
Rookie watch: Not the best outing for middle linebacker Jarrad Davis. The Patriots picked on him early with passes over the middle and it didn’t go well. Reeves-Maybin got some first-team linebacker work at the Sam spot in a rotation with Paul Worrilow and Antwione Williams. Kenny Golladay got a lot of first-team work at receiver but didn’t do much, with one catch for 2 yards on two targets.
Whitehead’s injury could be an issue: The Lions already had one rookie linebacker slotted into the lineup (Davis). Depending on the severity of Whitehead’s injury, it could leave Detroit with a very inexperienced linebacker corps. There’s a chance Detroit could go with two rookies as the main linebackers if the coaches decide Reeves-Maybin is the best option. Or they could go with Worrilow, who was signed in the offseason to fill the role Whitehead was in. It’s too soon to really know what’s going on -- and it’s not clear when he suffered the injury -- but anytime a player is immediately ruled out, it’s not the best sign. Considering Detroit’s issues in the front four, losing Whitehead for any amount of time would be a big problem.
Dwayne Washington should not be Detroit's kick returner, but the talent is there: He got the first couple of reps there but didn’t look comfortable. Last year, his vision to see holes and cuts and read them correctly was a problem that doesn't appear to be corrected. Jamal Agnew wasn’t much better, but he looks to have a better chance of breaking one. Right now, it seems he should be the leader for the gig. If not Agnew, then perhaps receiver TJ Jones when he comes back from injury, or Jace Billingsley if he makes the team. Billingsley had a couple of nice plays Friday, including a 19-yard punt return.
Much like last preseason, there were flashes of what Washington could be -- and that is what makes him enticing. His acceleration is high-level and he has good top-end speed. That showed on the touchdown reception he had in the third quarter, when he found a large hole and was able to take advantage of it. The skill set is tantalizing, and it’s why the Lions will likely keep him on the roster, but everything else has to get better.
Marvin Jones looks sharp: Jones' strong preseason continued against the Patriots -- one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal night for the team’s starters. The receiver had four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. It’s the second straight week he’s had a nice touchdown grab, and considering the struggles he had at the end of last season, this is a good sign for him. If Detroit can get consistent production out of Jones and Golden Tate, who had five catches for 62 yards, that's a good start for the offense.