One of the best offenses in the NFL last season, the Detroit Lions have some work to do on that side of the ball this summer. At least with their second-string.
Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs showed off his explosiveness with 37 yards on seven touches in one quarter of work, but Jameson Williams and Sam LaPorta dropped key passes and Nate Sudfeld threw an interception on the Lions’ first play of the preseason game in which they won, 21-16, on Friday at Ford Field.
Sudfeld threw two interceptions, both on passes intended for Williams.
His first turnover came on a deep shot to Williams that fell well short of its target when he was hit by Giants linebacker Tomon Fox as he threw. Fox beat swing tackle Matt Nelson for the pressure.
Sudfeld completed 12 of 23 passes for 165 yards with starter Jared Goff on the sideline and new backup Teddy Bridgewater in attendance, and he wasn’t helped by his receiving corps.
LaPorta, the Lions’ second-round tight end, dropped a fourth-and-1 conversion on the Lions’ second series under tight coverage from Giants safety Jason Pinnock. Williams had a second-and-2 pass glance off his fingertips that would have gone for a long gain inside the 10-yard line. And Dylan Drummond could not hang onto an underthrown fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone just before halftime on a breakup by Cor’Dale Flott.
Sudfeld’s second interception came with just over 5 minutes to play in the first half, when he threw high to Williams in traffic over the middle of the field. Williams, the No. 12 pick of last year’s draft, had trouble getting off a jam at the line of scrimmage by rookie cornerback Deonte Banks.
The Lions finished fourth in the NFL in total offense and fifth in points scored last season, but retooled their skill position groups this offseason. They drafted Gibbs 12th overall, added LaPorta with the 34th pick and signed or traded for receivers Marvin Jones and Denzel Mims.
Williams played sparingly last season as a rookie because of a college knee injury and is suspended the first six games of this year, but the Lions are hoping he can be a productive part of their passing game when he returns.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said he planned to “douse” Williams with reps this preseason to try and expedite his learning curve, and Williams played the entire first half – long after Gibbs and LaPorta had left the field.
Williams finished the first half with two catches on six targets for 18 yards. He was tackled immediately on both catches, and appeared to signal “first down” after the second, an 11-yard gain on second-and-15.
He did make a nice catch on a two-point play in the third quarter, when Giants defensive back Zyon Gilbert appeared to be clutching Williams left arm as Williams pulled the pass in with his right.
More observations from the first half
∎ Sudfeld will have to be better in the final two preseason games to make the 53-man roster. He probably should have gone to a different read on his second interception, when Williams was surrounded by Giants defenders, though Williams could have made a better effort on the ball. He didn’t lead Drummond enough on his final pass of the first half in the end zone, and he had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage two plays before his incompletion to Drummond when Chase Cota ran a winning route that should have ended in a touchdown.
∎ Gibbs had six carries for 19 yards, gained 18 yards on his lone catch and most importantly looked the part of a first-round back in his quarter of work.
Gibbs showed his burst on a 3-yard run on the Lions’ lone scoring drive of the first half, when he accelerated past diving Giants linebacker Carter Coughlin in the backfield to get to the left edge.
On his lone catch, Gibbs snuck out of the backfield late on third-and-7 with no one to block, caught a ball on his back hip as Sudfeld rolled to his right and turned upfield for the big gain.
∎ The Lions sat most projected starters on both sides of the ball Friday. Along with Goff, David Montgomery, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Jones and the Lions’ top six linemen sat on offense, and Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, Alex Anzalone, Charles Harris, Cam Sutton, Jerry Jacobs, C.J. Gardner Johnson, Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph did not play on defense.
∎ Rookie linebacker Jack Campbell led the Lions with four first-half tackles and was part of two short-yardage run stuffs early in the second quarter. Campbell and Brodric Martin teamed for a tackle on third-and-2, and Campbell came in late to help Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Levi Onwuzurike one snap later on fourth-and-1 from the 18.
Fellow rookie Brian Branch (three tackles) made the hit of the half when he leveled Cole Beasley on a shovel pass from Giants quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the Giants’ second possession. Branch played mostly as a slot cornerback Friday, though he did line up on at least one snap at safety with Saivion Smith in the nickel.
Branch has done enough to be a significant part of the Lions’ defense this fall.
∎ Two more defensive notes: James Houston strung together two nice pass rushes to force a Giants punt late in the second quarter. Houston pressured Tommy DeVito into bad throws on both his rushes. He came in unblocked as a left end on the first, and dipped under right tackle Korey Cunningham on the second.
∎ Maurice Alexander made his bid for a roster spot with a punt return for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Alexander spun out of one tackle and picked up a nice block from Starling Thomas V on his way to the end zone.
∎ Ross Pierschbacher started at center in place of Frank Ragnow, but left early with an injury. Nelson, Darrin Paulo, Colby Sorsdal and Germain Ifedi also started up front for the Lions.