Detroit News contributor Nolan Bianchi offers his observations after the first half of the Lions game against the Broncos.
The Lions came into this game with seven players elevated from the practice squad due to COVID-19 and the flu, and it’s been pretty apparent early on.
Practice squad corner Nickell Robey-Coleman was forced into action after Jerry Jacobs (knee) was forced out of the game early, and he immediately gave up a third-down pass interference that extended the Broncos’ opening drive and led to a 7-0 Denver advantage.
Then, as the Lions faced a third-and-5 on their opening possession, Dre’Mont Jones blew past third-team center Ryan McCollum on his way to a sack that forced an early Lions punt.
The Jacobs injury looks to be bad news, and on the Broncos’ second drive, Detroit lost defensive captain Alex Anzalone — who’d missed just four snaps all season entering Sunday — with an ankle injury. He’s questionable to return, and that’s a unit already missing Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
When it rains, it pours.
A couple exceptions
But here’s some sunshine to brighten up your day: The Lions’ backfield appears to be in safe hands without Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift.
Craig Reynolds has 60 yards on seven carries — a majority of it coming on a 35-yard carry in the second quarter — and that’s opened things up elsewhere for the Lions, in addition to getting them on the board. Jared Goff has played mistake-free football, even if it hasn’t been offensively gifted football, to keep the Lions within arm’s reach, and that’s been the recipe for Detroit’s close calls thus far.
Also of note: Rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill, drafted 72nd overall out of N.C. State, came up with the first sack of his career in the second quarter.
Broncos running over Lions early
The Lions came into the game without team tackling leader Tracy Walker, and lost Anzalone, second on the team in tackles, during the first quarter. And it showed: The Broncos scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to start a game for the first time this season.
The Lions simply could not stop the combo of Denver running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams in the second half, and missing key tacklers has been a big part of that. Gordon ran for 53 yards and a score on 13 carries, and Williams 34 yards and a score on eight.
Even when the Lions stopped the Broncos for a three-and-out near the start of the second quarter, it had more to do with Denver foolishly opting to pass than it did with the Lions making adjustments to stop the run. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Denver lean on their two horses in the backfield even more down the stretch. But if it tries to keep the ball in Teddy Bridgewater’s hands in the second half, the Lions would likely benefit.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.