Lions backup quarterbacks struggle in preseason loss to Steelers

Detroit News

Pittsburgh — If there was a clear takeaway from the Detroit Lions’ preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, it’s that the team is in deep trouble if anything happens to starting quarterback Jared Goff.

With Goff held out for the dual purpose of keeping him healthy for the regular season, while providing ample opportunity to evaluate the team’s backup options, Detroit’s offense sputtered all afternoon in the 19-9 loss to the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.

Tim Boyle got the start and led the Lions on drives of 12, 1 and 36 yards with the longest ending in a interception Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton returned 45 yards to the Lions’ 19-yard line.

David Blough briefly replaced Boyle to end the second quarter, giving both quarterbacks some playing time with the starting offensive line and receiving options. But things didn’t get much better as Lions remained scoreless through the first half.

BOX SCORE: Steelers 19, Lions 9

On the plus side, Detroit’s starting defensive unit showed marked improvement in their first action since the preseason opener against Atlanta. The unit held Pittsburgh to three field goals in the first half, which was impressive given two of the opponent’s drives started inside Detroit’s 30-yard line.

The defense ended the Steelers’ first possession with back-to-back sacks forcing a punt. Safety Tracy Walker recorded the first, chasing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky out of bounds as he rolled away from the pressure, while defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris combined on the second.

The Steelers got on the board their next series, in large part due to a 38-yard completion from Trubisky to Diontae Johnson on a deep ball down the left sideline. But self-inflicted wounds in the form of three penalties ended the threat, leaving Pittsburgh to settle for a 45-yard Chris Boswell field goal.

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Boswell added two more field goals in the second quarter, a 34-yarder after Boyle’s interception and a 38-yard effort after the Lions turned it over on downs when running back Justin Jackson was stuffed on a fourth-down run.

The Steelers expanded their early lead to 16 before both teams headed to the locker room, taking advantage of Detroit subbing out their defensive starters. Backup cornerback Saivion Smith struggled during a 2-minute drive, committing a pass interference infraction and giving up two receptions, including a 6-yard touchdown to Steve Sims with 14 seconds remaining.

Boyle returned at quarterback to start the third quarter and snapped the Steelers’ shutout effort. The big play on the possession was a 32-yard screen pass to Jackson, leading to a 36-yard Austin Seibert field goal.

The Steelers responded with a 12-play, 44-yard drive that ending in a 54-yard field goal for Boswell, making it 19-3 early in the fourth quarter.

Flipping back to Blough, the offense put together its best drive. Running back Craig Reynolds had carries of 16 and 17 yards, while also hauling in one of Blough’s two third-down-converting passes.

Once inside the 20-yard line, Blough twice put the ball on the hands of a receiver in the end zone, but Tom Kennedy and Kalil Pimpleton weren’t able to complete the grabs, resulting another turnover on downs.

After the defense forced a punt, Blough steered the Lions down the field on a plodding, 16-play drive aided by two personal foul infractions committed by the Steelers on fourth down snaps. With 30 seconds remaining, he flipped a pass to receiver Quintez Cephus for Detroit’s lone touchdown, but a failed 2-point conversion attempt all but sealed the Steelers’ victory.

Boyle finished his day going 5-for-15 for 64 yards and the interception — good for a 19.9 passer rating.  Blough, meanwhile, completed 17-of-32 for 160 yards and a touchdown, doing most of the damage in the final quarter against the Steelers reserves.

Detroit finishes its preseason with a 1-2 record. The team is required to get down to its 53-man roster by Tuesday at 4 p.m. and are scheduled to open the regular season at home against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 11.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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