Detroit Lions' preseason debacle: Just cover your eyes, plug your nose and move along

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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It was pretty gross.

From the quarterback play (bad), to the protection up front (worse), to the lack of any pass rush and reliable coverage in the secondary (both disappointing), the Detroit Lions’ preseason-opening loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday was about as hideous a performance as a team could have in the preseason.

But the thing to remember about it most? It’s still the preseason.

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I know. Last year there were signs throughout the preseason that the Lions were headed for a nosedive coming off back-to-back 9-7 seasons. I wrote as much last August, calling it the least encouraging preseason I’d ever seen from an organization that hasn’t exactly been a bastion of success.

But that was based more on what was happening off the field than what was happening on it, because at this time of year, what happens on the field often is a liar.

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia on the sidelines during the 31-3 loss to the New England Patriots Thursday, August 8, 2019 at Ford Field.

Matthew Stafford didn’t play Thursday. Neither did Kerryon Johnson, nor Kenny Golladay, nor a bunch of other players the Lions will be counting on this fall.

And while the same could be said for the Patriots — Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Sony Michel and Stephon Gilmore were among the DNPs — can anyone really be surprised that an offense led by David Fales failed to move the ball?

If Fales takes a snap for the Lions in October, they’re toast. There’s a reason he’s been on four teams and played in just three games in his NFL career.

Same goes for backup Tom Savage, whose night was cut short Thursday by an apparent concussion after he was sacked three times in the Lions’ first 11 offensive snaps.

The Lions have a solid nucleus led by Stafford, Johnson, Golladay, Darius Slay (who for some silly reason played Thursday), Quandre Diggs and a menacing defensive line.

What they don’t have, and what Thursday’s performance really exposed, is great depth at any position, especially at the three positions arguably hardest to find in the NFL: quarterback, cornerback and offensive line.

That lack of quality depth is a real concern.

The NFL is a brutal game, as Jermaine Kearse’s ugly leg injury Thursday showed, and teams don’t make it through a 16-game schedule unscathed. Some of those second-string cornerbacks that were getting burned by backup receivers Thursday will be in the same position against better players on Sundays this fall.

But that’s why it was important to let guys like Amani Oruwariye and Mike Ford take their lumps Thursday and hope it helps their development ahead, and that’s why it’s important to give other young backups — Tyrell Crosby, Ty Johnson and Will Harris, to name three — plenty of work the next four weeks so they don’t look completely out of place come November when their number’s inevitably called.


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It’s still far too early to make any definitive judgments about what the Lions will be this fall. Their regular-season opener against Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals is a month away, and we’ve yet to see some of their best players — Damon Harrison, Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels — even take a rep in practice.

I don’t have the same sense of despair about this team that I did last season, and that’s despite watching Thursday’s curb-stomping live.

Detroit Lions receiver Jermaine Kearse is injured during the first half against the New England Patriots, August 8, 2019 at Ford Field.

Camp, to this point, seems different — or maybe it’s the players who seem different, more immune to Matt Patricia’s methods as head coach. 

All of that is liable to change as wins and success on the field are the best way to tell which way the wind blows. 

For that reason, the Lions would be wise not to have another episode like Thursday’s, where they were booed off the field at halftime by their hometown fans.

Sure, the Lions have plenty of question marks beyond their depth, the starting left guard spot chief among them.

But as for the game itself, cover your eyes, plug your nose and move along. There’s not really much to discern from preseason play.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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