FIRST DOWN: STAFFORD STARTS
There was plenty of talk this week when it came to the status of quarterback Matthew Stafford and his availability for the Detroit Lions' third preseason game.
Stafford did start Friday’s night’s game vs. Buffalo. He played into the second quarter – five offensive series total.
“I think anytime you can go out there and play full on tackle football, where I don’t have a red jersey on and go play, the more experience you get the better,” Stafford said after the 24-20 preseason loss to the Bills.
“There’s going to be plays that I had tonight that I’ll learn from both good and bad. Every time I step out there it’s a learning experience. I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure we score a bunch of points, but at the same time I’m going to learn from it.”
Stafford completed 12-of-19 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown with no turnovers in a quarter and a half of work. He finished with an efficient 102.3 passer rating.
He managed to hook up on some big plays with newcomers wide receiver Danny Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson, and with rookie running back Ty Johnson on an 11-yard touchdown.
SECOND DOWN: NEXT MAN UP
The loss of defensive captain and MIKE linebacker Jarrad Davis to a right leg injury just two plays into Friday’s game could be a huge loss for Detroit’s defense, if it turns out to be a serious injury and he misses any extended time.
Rookie second-round pick Jahlani Tavai and third-year player Jalen Reeves-Maybin filled in for Davis Friday night vs. the Bills, but it’s going to take a whole team effort on defense to fill the role of Davis, who was one of just two players in the NFL last year to have at least 100 tackles and 6.0 sacks.
“Injuries happen and you’ve just got to have that next man up mentality and make sure that the whole defense just stays whole no matter what,” Tavai said after the game.
Tavai stepped in and played a lot of the MIKE role while Davis battled an undisclosed injury for a couple weeks early in training camp. He’s made some plays, but like all rookies, he’s still adjusting to the NFL and has to continue to adapt to what’s going on around him as he gains experience.
If thrust into a bigger role, he knows he has to continue to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates.
“I think one of the things going through the process of the draft and when we were looking at him and some of the things that we really liked, was he had a good maturity about him from a football standpoint and his football intelligence,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of Tavai.
“He’s one of those college kids that’s had a bunch of different coordinators, a bunch of different schemes, a bunch of different positions, and honestly, he was able to talk about all of them at a high level. You knew the football part of it was pretty good – the football off the field, the study and the things like that were excellent.
“I think as far as the rest of the defense, there are a lot of other really good players out there who are helping, so I don’t really feel like anything is on his shoulders from that standpoint. I think he just has to go out there and try to do his job to the best of his ability and we’ll just evaluate that.”
Detroit’s linebacker corps has been one of the deeper and more talented units on the roster throughout the preseason. Veteran Devon Kennard said everyone in that room is ready to do their part to fill the void, if needed.
“I think it’ll be by committee though,” Kennard said. “We have a linebacker room that’s very capable and there’s a lot of talented guys in our room and I think we’re all leaders. It’s next man up and we’re all going to step up and fill that void.”
THIRD DOWN: PRESEASON PLAY
There's always debate around the NFL on whether teams should play their starters in the preseason or sit them to avoid the risk of injury. We’re seeing teams place higher value on joint practices with other teams. Starters seem to being playing less and less in the preseason.
That debate grows louder yet when teams suffer the kind of injuries Detroit did Friday night to key starters like Davis and center Frank Ragnow.
“Anytime those things happen, it’s not fun,” Stafford said. “We understand it’s a part of the game, it is a little more frustrating considering it is a preseason game, but these things happen.”
Stafford admitted after the game that there’s sometimes a little trepidation heading into preseason games for players because of the risk of injury playing in games that don’t count in the standings.
“You think about it maybe on the sideline or something,” Stafford said. “Or when it happens to someone else… that’s when you think about it. But they snap the ball and blow the whistle, let’s go play. You’re going to play football like you’ve always played.”
Kennard was adamant that playing in the preseason is a must for him.
“For me, I want to be out there,” he said. “This is the time of year where you get into a rhythm and you build that camaraderie as a unit, understanding terminology and communication and all that and I think this is a pivotal time for that. It’s unfortunate (injuries happen), but that’s just a part of the game.”
There’s an argument for both sides, and hindsight is 20-20, but the Lions had a plan and stuck to it. Injuries happen, and unfortunately, they hit the Lions in two key spots.
FOURTH DOWN: IMPRESSIVE ROOKIES
The two rookies who have probably impressed the most throughout training camp and the preseason are tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back Ty Johnson.
Both players showed out in front of a national audience in Detroit’s third preseason game Friday night, a game that was treated for most of the first half as a regular-season tune-up for the starters.
Hockenson caught three passes for 52 yards, including receptions of 32 and 15 yards, to set up Detroit’s lone touchdown of the contest. He did, however, drop a potential touchdown grab later in the second quarter, which has been a rare occurrence for him.
Stafford hit the speedy Johnson for an 11-yard touchdown that showed off Johnson's speed in the open field and ability as a pass catcher. Johnson might be the fastest player on the roster, and that speed has stood out.
“It’s a lot of what you’ve seen in practice,” Stafford said of Hockenson and Johnson. “Those guys have done a nice job. Nobody is perfect, I think Hock (Hockenson) would like that one (drop) back going to his right. I’m sure Ty has a play here or there he wants back, too, we all do, but I was proud of those guys stepping in there playing against a really good, physical Buffalo defense.”