Posted Sep 1, 2016

Mike O'Hara shares his final thoughts heading into Thursday's Lions-Bills preseason matchup.

Final thoughts, Lions-Bills preseason Game 4: Rookie QB Jake Rudock stays focused on the present; based on recent events, what I’d do with starting QB Matthew Stafford; Game 4 performance impact on roster cuts and positions to watch; good reviews for the offensive line, and blocking the Bills’ pass rush.

Jake’s take: Rudock’s mindset for what he wants to accomplish in the last preseason game hasn’t changed with the prospect of his most extended playing time of the preseason.

Just play, baby. It isn’t more complicated than that.

“Just get the offense down the field,” Rudock said. “That’s how a quarterback is judged -- get first downs, and go from there.”

Head coach Jim Caldwell hasn’t specified how he’ll handle playing time or substitutions, but based on the plan from the last two years, don’t look for Stafford play, or for backup Dan Orlovsky to be in very long. That means the most playing time of the preseason for Rudock.

“He’s going to get more than he’s gotten,” Caldwell said. “I think he can benefit from it, that’s for sure.”

Rudock, a sixth-round draft pick from Iowa (2011-14) and Michigan (2015), played in the first three games with mixed results. He went eight for 11 for 72 yards and a touchdown in the opening-game victory at Pittsburgh. In Game 2 against Cincinnati he was eight for 11 for 90 yards and an interception. He went 0 for 6 in mop-up time last week at Baltimore.

Obviously, playing several possessions benefits a quarterback.

“You get in a little bit of a groove,” Rudock said. “That’s always helpful to a quarterback. That’s something positive. You’re here to play football. You go play football. It’s always fun.”

Rudock is enjoying his experience with the Lions – from the practice time and game competition, and the help he’s gotten from Stafford and Orlovsky.

“It’s cool; it’s like a fifth-year guy with a freshman,” Rudock said, making a comparison to college. “They’ve seen it and done it all. They know so much. If you’re not sure about something, you can ask them.

“I’ve learned so much in this offense – what defenses do, what different teams try to do. There’s so much I have to learn. I just want to keep that going. It’s football, at the end of the day. It’s always fun to go out and compete against somebody else.”

Protecting the QB: In the last week the Cowboys lost starting QB Tony Romo for an extended period because of a back injury sustained on the third play of the game, and the Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater for the season with a knee injury in practice Tuesday.

With that backdrop of injuries to starting quarterbacks, I would not be cautious with Stafford in Game 4. I’d be overly cautious. Maniacally cautious. If I was a head coach, I’d be that way for any starting quarterback.

During the game, I wouldn’t let him near the sideline. In fact, I’d make him stand behind the bench – with five offensive linemen in front of him.

Last impressions: Game 4 has no meaning for some players, particularly starters who won’t play. But further down the depth chart, the game could mean everything to players facing the last chance in to win a roster spot.

“It’s really important,” Caldwell said. “They don’t take it lightly. It’s been months and months of an interview process. In some cases, this might be the final interview for some, so they want to put in a great showing.”

Some positions to watch:

Defensive line: It’s strong and deep, especially at tackle where Khyri Thornton has made a strong showing behind starters Tyrunn Walker and Haloti Ngata and rookie A’Shawn Robinson. Another pass-rushing end would help, but there are never too many of those. Somebody with the talent to make a roster won’t be on the final 53 come Saturday night.

Safety: There are only so many opportunities for backups to win a job based on special teams. Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush are leading the competition to start opposite Glover Quin. Vet Don Carey is a proven commodity on special teams, as is cornerback Johnson Bademosi. Rookie safety Miles Killebrew should figure in the mix somewhere.

Offensive line: Backup strength behind the starting five, already a juggling act, is further complicated by the injury that has kept rookie center Graham Glasgow out since Game 2. There’s a need to have a backup behind starting center Travis Swanson in the opener, to go with backups at tackle and guard.

Quarterback: A decision on whether to keep two or three could be impacted by the need to keep an extra player at another position. It’s not an easy call.

Tight end: Wide open behind Eric Ebron, the starter and top receiver at the position.

Abdullah’s personal review, forecast: Abdullah was satisfied with his opportunities and performance in his first appearance of the preseason last week at Baltimore, and he was even more encouraged by the play of the offensive line.

He carried four times for 16 yards, had a 15-yard TD run called back on a holding penalty and was targeted for one pass. It was incomplete.

“I always want to do more, but it was good enough,” Abdullah said. “I got some carries, and I was involved in the passing game. What else is there for a back to do?”

His critique of the offensive line is heartening for what it could mean in the future.

“That’s where it starts,” he said. “They did some great things, looking at the film, as far the run game. Great things. It was very encouraging to see that effort. That's kind of been their identity. Guys that want to give really good effort, no matter what’s placed in front of them.

“As a young running back that’s very encouraging to see these guys busting their butts for the guys behind them. I’m excited by what I saw.”

Blocking Bills’ rush: No matter who plays up front for the Bills, putting pressure on the quarterback is a big part of head coach Rex Ryan’s defense. Protecting the quarterback doesn’t fall only on the offensive line.

“It’s very important every week,” said running back Zach Zenner. “The Bills make it challenging. It’s certainly going to be something we need to do -- just like every week of the year.

“I’m sure they know what they’re doing, and I’m sure they’ll be ready to bring some pressure. They have some things they do that are unique to them, but there are some similarities there as well.”