Lions-Giants Report Card: Offensive battles, but defense appears

We all know wins and losses don’t matter in the preseason, but even so – it was nice to see the Detroit Lions go 21-16 in their first preseason game in 2023 vs. New York Giants.

In front of what was a packed Ford Field crowd (especially for an exhibition game), the defense put in enough play down the stretch. And with so many under-dressed debutants, there has been a plethora of opportunities for young players and roster aspirants to make their mark. Let’s take a look at how everyone is rated.

Midfielders: C-

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld got off to a rocky start, making the Lions’ first offensive streak of the game. The pass was intended for second-year receiver Jameson Williams, but safety Jason Pinnock was caught off the jump, which led to an easy turnover for New York on the first play of the game.

Sudfeld’s second interception was perhaps just as ugly, and this time he sailed a pass over Williams’ head into traffic for his second interception of the game.

Adrian Martinez didn’t make the mistakes Sudfeld did, but like most of training camp – the rookie’s play didn’t do much to justify him getting an extended appearance next week against Jacksonville Jaguars.

I thank the football gods for general manager Brad Holmes and newly signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Backs: C-

With the offensive line not dressed up first, things were clearly getting more difficult for the ball carrier against the Giants. However, 97 yards on a 33-car is nothing to write home about. Newly signed free agent Benny Snell was the most productive of the running backs with six carries for 23 yards.

It’s hard to expect more when the only ‘rookie’ to see any action is rookie linebacker Jahmir Gibbs.

Tight ends: b

Seeing sophomore tight end James Mitchell was great, including his 32-yard reception as he showed some of his YAC ability. After Mitchell, rookie Sam Laporta got some running in, as newly added Daniel Helm saw the second most number of snaps in the group behind Mitchell.

Seeing how tight end snaps pan out in the coming weeks will be something to watch as we move into the regular season opener vs Kansas City Chiefs.

Wide receptors: C-

As usual, Lions head coach Dan Campbell has been a man of his word, with sophomore receiver Jameson Williams seeing intense action against the Giants. Williams bounced off a pass in his hands early, but bounced back again later in the game—including hitting a terrific one-handed block on a two-point conversion.

After Williams, other young receivers like Eastern Michigan’s Dylan Drummond, Chase Cota, and Antoine Green took advantage of chances they had in the seventh round. Position battles at the bottom of the receiver depth chart should continue to be hotly contested.

Offensive line: D+

As mentioned earlier, none of the Lions’ typical starters have dressed all along the offensive line — giving coaches an expanded view of those individuals vying for backup roles on the roster. Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly for the unit.

Backup tackle Matt Nelson has had a particularly tough day through three quarters of play and, as has been the case for most of camp, those vying for roster spots behind the starters have done little to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Defensive line: A-

Brothers Julian and Romeo Okwara had a quiet evening, Julian notching three sacks against New York, and Romeo cutting one of his own. Defensive tackle Benito Jones also recorded a sack, and second-year linebacker James Houston applied steady pressure off the rim.

On top of the pressure applied to the opposing quarterbacks, the defensive line did a solid job slowing the Giants’ running game to 81 yards on 22 carries. And after the Giants had some misdirections giving the Lions defense issues during combined drills, it was good to see them bounce back during the exhibition game.

Fullback: B+

Another unit that has slowed the Giants’ running game somewhat is the linebacker unit. Led by Derek Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez and Jack Campbell, the unit did a good job of playing downhill and filling the running lanes.

Seeing Campbell’s size and speed in person is a real treat. Not many people his size could play the sidelines like he could, and he seemed more comfortable covering up as well.

Secondary: B-

As in other areas of the roster, the coaching staff has taken an extended look at the players they need to make decisions about. Lowell Harris has had his ups and downs on the outside, while rookie Starling Thomas has continued to make his case for a roster spot.

Elsewhere, rookie defensive back Brian Branch continued to make his presence felt – this time in the form of a huge jab at the Giants’ flat receiver. Ever since he first stepped foot at Allen Park, it looked like the coaching staff would have a hard time getting him off the field.

There weren’t any big plays given up on the back end, and at first glance, I really liked how the members of the secondary rushed the football when the Giants offense completed a pass.

Special teams: a

Easiest pre-season I’ve made since Pride of Detroit. Wide receiver Maurice Alexander made a home call on a 95-yard punt return, which erupted the Ford Field crowd.

Punter Jack Fox himself had a nice day, averaging 51 yards on three attempts, and kickers Riley Patterson and Parker Romo taking all three kicks.

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