O’HARA’S BURNING QUESTIONS: Should Lions be concerned about preseason record?

CLEVELAND – Lions-Browns burning questions: A faltering offense in the Detroit Lions’ backup quarterback battle, plays by a rookie receiver and the defense in a 20-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the final preseason game:

Question: Battle of the backups: It’s the question of the night, and who was the winner – Tom Savage or Josh Johnson – in the competition to be Matthew Stafford’s backup?

Answer: The truth is I don’t know, and nobody will know until the roster cuts are made. That will give us the answer on who won the job.

Based on Thursday night’s game only, Johnson had the clear edge. Savage played the first half and managed to produce only two first downs and one was on a penalty. The entire offense was terrible, and the offensive line didn’t do anything to help him with penalties and giving up sacks.

It was a different story when Johnson took over in the second half. He got the ball out quicker, was a little quicker to run away from trouble, and he scored a touchdown on a run on first and goal that completely fooled the Browns’ defense.

Johnson directed the offense to six first downs in the third quarter, and he led a second scoring drive that ended in his TD pass to rookie tight end Isaac Nauta.

Q. Preseason record: Any concern about the Lions’ 0-4 preseason won-loss record?

A. Not really, although there were stretches when they didn’t get much done. The loss in the opener to the Patriots, when they gave up nine sacks and got their only points on a field goal in the fourth quarter, was one of them.

Like a lot of teams, the Lions’ starters played sparingly. A concern might be that the backups didn’t play better. That could indicate a lack of depth.

Q. Defense: Rate its performance.

A. The Browns didn’t play their starters, either, and they have some real firepower on offense. Having said that, the defense gets some credit. It scored the Lions’ first points, forcing a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety that cut Cleveland’s lead to 3-2 in the second quarter.

A third-quarter interception set up a touchdown, and another pick in the third gave the offense another opportunity that it failed to convert into points.

Q. First impression, Eric Lee: The Browns had third and one on their first possession when Eric Lee broke through from his position at outside linebacker to throw the running back, forcing a punt. How much does a play like that help a player make the roster?

A. Nobody makes the roster with one play, but that wasn’t the only play made in the preseason by Lee, a third-year vet. He had two tackles for loss in nine games with the Lions last year, and he played for the Patriots in 2017.

He batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage later in the first half and was in on a sack early in the second half. Those plays don’t mean he’ll make the roster, but they didn’t hurt his chances.

Q. Double trouble: Who were those guys making the defensive plays for the Lions on Cleveland’s second possession? The press box announcer gave credit to two Lions on offense.

A. It was a mistake that happens often in the preseason. On consecutive plays, fullback Nick Bawden (46) and running back Ty Johnson (38) were given credit for pass breakups. The plays actually were made by cornerbacks Amani Oruwariye (46) and Mike Ford (38).

View photos from the Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns Preseason Week 4 game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 in Cleveland.

Q. Travis Fulgham, offensive bright spot: The Lions’ rookie receiver had a long catch in the first half that was wiped out by a successful challenge by the Browns, and a 17-yard catch late in the second quarter that gave the Lions their first offensive first down of the half.

But was he the Lions’ offensive bright spot of the half?

A. Forget bright spot. Give him credit for one good sideline catch that didn’t count, and a good catch and run that did count. He’s shown some things in his bid to make the roster, but there were no bright spots for the Lions’ offense.

The only other first down by the offense in the first half was on a penalty against the Browns’ defense.

Q. Preseason bottom line: How would you evaluate it?

A. The answer to how well prepared the Lions are will come on Aug. 8 – in the regular-season opener on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.

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