HOUSTON – Burning questions: Slow start on offense, Matthew Stafford sitting – again -- good (turnovers) and bad (breakdowns) on defense, a muddled picture at backup quarterback and questions to answer as the Detroit Lions hit the halfway mark of the preseason with a 30-23 loss to the Houston Texans.
Question: What was the biggest question left to be answered by the Lions’ overall performance?
Answer: The biggest question is how close the Lions are to being ready to start the regular season in three weeks, and how important Game 3 against the Buffalo Bills is next week at Ford Field.
Game 3 traditionally is the so-called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. The 31-3 loss to the Patriots in the opening game left far more questions than answers, and many were still left unanswered by the performance against the Texans.
The Lions were better in some areas, and the way the offense moved the ball in the second half showed that they might have some depth. There was no evidence of that against the Patriots.
Q. Defense, slow start: How concerning was it that the Texans drove 75 yards in 11 plays – plus one penalty against the Lions – to score a touchdown on the opening possession? It was starting quarterback DeShaun Watson’s only series of the game.
A. The biggest issue of that first possession was how the Texans took command so quickly. They gained 61 yards on their first five plays. The defense tightened up somewhat on the possession after that, but not enough to keep the Texans out of the end zone.
They converted a fourth-and-one to keep the possession going. The Lions were victimized twice on that play. The Texans gained enough yards on the play to get the first down, and there was a penalty on the Lions’ defense that would have given them the first down, anyway.
That possession ended in a TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins. The defense tightened up after that, before giving up a second TD pass late in the half.
Q. Defense, strength: What was it?
A. Turnovers. Defensive end Romeo Okwara forced a fumble that rookie safety Will Harris returned for a touchdown, and safety Andrew Adams intercepted a pass when the Texans were in the red zone. Adams also was involved in the coverage on the Texans’ second TD of the first half.
However, the Lions stress turnovers – something they were deficient in getting last season – and it was good to see them get takeaways.
Q. Stafford: He didn’t play for the second straight game. Was that a surprise, and was it the right strategy?
A. It wasn’t a shock, although I thought he would start and play a possession or two. A lot of teams – the New England Patriots being a prime example – have kept their veteran starters on the bench for the first two weeks.
I don’t think Stafford’s season will be affected one way or the other by whether he played 10-15 snaps in the second preseason game.
Q. Offense – biggest improvement. What was it?
A. The easy answers are pass protection overall and scoring in the second half.
The offensive line gave up nine sacks in the last week. After playing only the first series in the first week, the starters got extended time. The starting guards – Joe Dahl on the left side, Graham Glasgow on the right – played the entire first half.
The offense still couldn’t score a touchdown in the first half, but at least starting quarterback Josh Johnson wasn’t overwhelmed the way Tom Savage and David Fales were against the Patriots.
That might have been the best sign of the night for the offense.
View photos from the Detroit Lions at Houston Texans Preseason Week 2 game at NRG Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
Q. Backup QB: Did either quarterback take a grip on the backup job?
A. Probably not, although Fales certainly helped his cause with two TD passes in the second half.
Johnson started and played through the first possession of the second half. He didn’t get much done, which was understandable. He had been with the team for a week, and he wasn’t with any team before that.
Fales led the Lions to a touchdown on his first possession. He connected with Travis Fulgham and Andy Jones on two long balls, and he finished off the possession with a five-yard pass to Zach Zenner on a rollout for the score.
Overall, he looked more decisive, and he got the ball out to his receivers.
The backup job is still one to watch, but more important is how the starters look against Buffalo next week.