Lions stock report: Starting defense holds its own against Steelers

Detroit News

Pittsburgh — Here’s a look at who is trending up and who is trending down coming out of the Detroit Lions’ preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

► Stock up: Starting defense

Different teams, different situations, but Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has feasted on the Lions in the past. But outside of a long completion on an admittedly perfect throw to beat the coverage of cornerback Amani Oruwariye, the Lions’ starters held Trubisky and the Steelers’ first-team offense offense in check.

Sure, Pittsburgh scored on three of their first four possessions, but given they twice inherited the ball deep in Detroit territory (once on an interception and another on a turnover on downs), the fact they were held out of the end zone is noteworthy.

The Lions got encouraging playmaking from all three levels, with sacks from Tracy Walker and Charles Harris, tackles for a loss by Jeff Okudah and Derrick Barnes and a pass breakup at the goal line by Okudah.

► Stock down: Quarterback Tim Boyle

Let’s be clear, neither of Detroit’s backup quarterback options played particularly well, but the offense functioned better when David Blough was under center.

On the lone Boyle-led scoring drive, which netted a field goal in the third quarter, most of the damage was done on a low-degree-of-difficulty screen pass. More critically, he made an ugly mistake in the second quarter, failing to see cornerback Cameron Sutton on a long target for Josh Reynolds, putting the ball directly into the chest of the defender for an interception.

Boyle also had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.

► Treading water: Running back Jermar Jefferson

With D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams precautionarily held out, Jefferson got the start. He was largely unproductive, netting minimal gains on five of his six carries, while bobbling one of two passes his way, eliminating a chance for any damage after the catch.

Still, Jefferson salvaged something positive from his day when he found daylight on a draw, effectively utilizing his blocking in the open field to convert the third-and-long with a 27-yard pickup.

► Stock up: Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez

As if Rodriguez hasn’t been trending up all offseason, the sixth-round draft pick continued to validate his case for a starting job, consistently finding himself in good position on run plays, which twice led to teammates scoring tackles for a loss due to his redirection.

Rodriguez also came up with a tackle on special teams, stopping the return man for a loss on a long Jack Fox punt, burying the Steelers inside their 10-yard line.

► Stock down: Cornerback Saivion Smith

Playing with Detroit’s second-team defense, Smith had a brutal stretch to end the first half.

The Steelers took over with 1:34 remaining and went after Smith. He committed a 14-yard pass interference infraction early in the drive, before surrendering a 22-yard completion taking the Steelers across midfield a few plays later. He capped the forgettable series getting beat on a slant pattern by Steven Sims for a 6-yard touchdown.

► Stock up: Cornerback Jeff Okudah

Okudah played fewer than two quarters, but only showed up in positive ways, recording an early open-field tackle, cleaning up hulking running back Najee Harris for a 5-yard loss and breaking up a pass to big-bodied rookie receiver George Pickens, who has been a tough cover during the preseason.

On the breakup, Okudah played with clean technique, staying in Pickens back pocket on a slant pattern and breaking up the throw with his inside hand without relying on hooking the receiver from behind with the other arm.

► Stock down: Starting offensive line

Detroit’s starting offensive line is going to be fine, but this wasn’t an ideal final audition heading into the regular season.

Right tackle Penei Sewell got beat badly by T.J. Watt for a tackle in the backfield, Taylor Decker was flagged twice and Jonah Jackson stumbled, allowing his defender to prevent a fourth-down conversion. The starting left guard also got beat on a later play, drawing a hold that negated a nice ground gain.

More: Niyo: Healthy again, Lions’ offensive line ready to play ‘bully’ ball

► Stock up: Running back Justin Jackson

For the second consecutive preseason game, Jackson was Detroit’s most explosive tailback, gaining 44 yards on eight carries and 39 more with a pair of receptions. He did get stuffed on a fourth-down attempt, but that was more symptomatic of Jackson missing his block.

Jackson did have shaky ball security on one carry, having the ball ripped from his arms, but the officials questionably ruled him down before losing the fumble.

► Stock down: Special teams discipline

Detroit’s special teams were a bright spot during last year’s dismal 3-13-1 campaign, but they’ll have to clean up some penalty issues heading into the regular season after key contributors Chris Board and Anthony Pittman were flagged with holding, negating decent returns.

In fact, discipline was an issue across the board as Detroit committed 10 infractions, costing them 89 total yards.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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