Saturday evening finally arrived and the Detroit Lions had their first away game of the 2021 season as they rolled into the steel city of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh ran out into a 23-0 lead and looked comfortable before a late Lions rally with the 3rd stringers and a recovered onside kick left the score looking far more respectable than the Lions deserved.
What did we learn from Week 2?
Many offensive weapons were entirely rested, with no Goff, Swift, J Williams, T Williams, Hockenson, Decker or Ragnow.
In their place, we saw a heavy dose of backups. The presumed week 1 starters who did suit up saw about 11 snaps, apart from Sewell who saw one more series and 21 snaps total.
From those starters, the offense really struggled to move the ball off the back of a poor game from Tim Boyle, who finished with 7/15 for 44 yards and a PFF grade of 55.1. His time on the field was encapsulated by a 9 play, 20 yard drive ending in a punt. He consistently lacked composure and touch with his passes.
Boyle however wasn't helped by his O line. Jonah Jackson, Matt Nelson and Penei Sewell, 3 of his starters, were the three lowest-ranked Offensive players per PFF (42.5, 35.9 and 35.7 respectively). Sewell in particular really struggled, he was dominated at least once, leaving him on his back and was beaten on other several occasions. It was a difficult outing but remember, it's only his second game at RT since high school.
Darren Fells also had a really bad day. He had one false start, and two holding penalties (that were both declined). He was still effective in the passing game.
Amon-Ra also struggled. He had a couple of balls that were hard to catch but a player as well drilled as him would hope to have made one of them. He finished 2/5 for 12 yards.
Quintez Cephus had a good game on his first outing of preseason. He finished with 2/3 for 15 including the very first offensive play of the game and had solid hands going over the middle.
David Blough had a great day. He moved the ball well in his 36 snaps, with 12/17 for 143 and a TD. He seemed far more in sync with the rest of his teammates.
Craig Reynolds continues to push himself into contention on the roster bubble with 5 carries for 29 yards and a TD. Godwin Igwebuike also showed promise on his move from safety to RB with 7 carries for 21 yards and a TD.
Tom Kennedy also ended on top of the receiving charts for the second game in a row with 4/4 for 61 yards. He seems mediocre in most ways, but makes the most of his talent and keeps showing up.
Finally, in the battle for TE3, Alize Mack had another bad day. He finished with 2/3 for 16 yards but consistently struggled with his blocking despite that impressive frame. Brock Wright caught a rare ball and his blocking was otherwise unremarkable. It increasingly appears that that TE3 will come from outside those currently on the roster.
The first half was an odd mismatch of a half starter, half backup roster playing together. On defense, the DBs were entirely the starters for the first 25 snaps, which was about the first quarter and a half. The starting LBs of Collins and Anzalone sat, leaving Tavai and Reeves-Maybin to take the starter reps. The DL/OLB/EDGE positions had the most players out, with Flowers, Brockers, Hand, Romeo Okwara, Nick Williams and John Penisini either sat or nursing injuries leaving the starter reps to Harris, McNeill, Cornell and Bryant.
Of those who did start, the best play was seen on the defensive line. Pittsburgh didn't have a great deal of success all day running the ball. McNeill, Julian Okwara, Strong all played well, although Cornall struggled.
However, the good play against the run was offset by terrible play against the pass. The LB pairing of Reeves-Maybin and Tavai were a liability in coverage which really helped Roethlisberger and Rudolph move the down the field consistently. Okudah was burned for one long pass over the top but was otherwise solid, notching up a PBU.
Going into the second half, more depth was played, as expected including 2021 2nd round pick Onwuzurike, 4th round pick Barnes, UDFA NB AJ Parker as well as safeties Jalen Elliott and CJ Moore, however, Dean Marlowe did not play in a worrying development for his roster chances.
By far the most impressive day was had by AJ Parker. He was all over the field making plays all evening. He had a PBU and 8! tackles. He lodged a 90.8 PFF grade including a 90.7 coverage grade.
Levi Onwuzurike also had a solid outing with 17 snaps including a pressure and a tackle.
The other impressive performance came from Derrick Barnes. He was all over the field, seemingly impacting every play. His sack was on a well-executed blitz leaving the QB with no chance, he also had 4 tackles and had 2 PBUs.
With 5 more players being cut on Tuesday, several players have put themselves at risk with poor performances. None more so high profile than Victor Bolden. He had a very good start to camp but has seemingly flattered to deceive and I wouldn't be surprised to see him walk.
Damion Ratley also didn't do himself any favours in that respect.
All in all, there have been positives and negatives from both games so far. Unfortunately, most of the negatives appear to be with the starters and whilst these games are allowing players down the roster the chance to stake their claim (looking at you AJ Parker and Derrick Barnes), there is a nagging feeling that this team will struggle once the regular season comes around. Here's hoping when Hockenson and Swift take to the field that the offense looks A LOT more slick.
Cover photo from Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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