The Detroit Lions lost their final preseason game of the year 27-17 at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. This ends the Lions exhibition campaign with a 2-2 record, the two losses coming in their final two contests. But, with Detroit benching nearly all their starters and most of the second unit Thursday night, winning wasn’t the top priority. Rather, this preseason closer provided the team one final chance to decide who should make the final 53-man roster. Here are three takeaways from the Lions week four exhibition defeat.
Detroit Lions Preseason Week Four Takeaways
Tion Green Steals The Show
Tion Green broke out as one of the few bright spots for the Lions on Thursday. Green told the Detroit Free Press in May that he wants to be a “franchise special-teams player.” But against the Bills, he did a whole lot more than that.
The undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati carried the ball eight times for 63 yards and caught four passes for another 84 yards. Those 147 combined yards made up nearly half of Detroit’s 317 they totaled on Thursday.
Green also posted Detroit’s longest play from scrimmage in their preseason finale, taking a fourth-quarter screen pass 74 yards for his lone score of the game.
Running backs Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington still sit comfortably atop Green in the depth chart. However, the 23-year-old’s promising finish could be enough to convince the Lions that they should keep him on the 53-man roster as back number five.
Nevertheless, Detroit Free Press reporter Dave Birkett thinks not, keeping Green out of his final 53-man roster prediction. Green impressed, but going five deep at the running back position is unnecessary.
Last season, the team stuck with Abdullah, Riddick, Zenner and Washington heading into the regular season. And this year, it looks like it’s going to be the same way. Green will remain on the practice squad, though, and could provide insurance in case one of those four backs struggles with injuries yet again.
The Wide Receiver Battle
Heading into their final preseason game, the Lions were still searching for someone to stand out as their number five wide receiver. But after a rough contest in Buffalo, that race is looking cloudier than ever.
Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and T.J. Jones have already secured their spots. That leaves Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and Dontez Ford as the three receivers competing for the likely one seat left on the 53-man roster.
Billingsley, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Eastern Oregon, managed only two yards on two catches Thursday. The 24-year-old also muffed a punt and kick return, though he was able to recover both before any further damage was done.
The 5’9” fan favorite had a nice exhibition season, leading the Lions with ten catches and 106 receiving yards. But in his final shot to break away from the pack and show that he deserves a spot on this team, he just didn’t impress. Lucky for him, neither did anyone else.
Abbrederis was only able to total one 16-yard reception, a catch that was subsequently fumbled by the 26-year-old and picked up by the Bills. The four-year NFL veteran finished the preseason with eight catches for 84 yards, including one touchdown. But like Billingsley, he failed to do anything Thursday that would secure him a job through the fall.
Ford, meanwhile, had the best week four performance out of Detroit’s entire receiving crew. The undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh caught three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown, one of the team’s two scores on the day.
However, Ford’s odds at making the roster are still low. His 31 yards only lifted his preseason total to a meager 53, and this race for the final wide receiver position is likely between Billingsley and Abbrederis. While neither shined against the Bills Thursday, they are Detroit’s best two options to make up that number five receiver spot.
Obviously, the Lions could just stick with four receivers like they did last year. But when it comes down to it, they’ll make room for Billingsley to take that final job. He led Detroit in both receptions and receiving yards throughout the preseason. Despite his rough game in Buffalo, he has the potential to be a nice complement in the slot both this season and in the future.
Defensive Line Flounders
Following Kerry Hyder’s injury, the defensive line has emerged as one of Detroit’s biggest concerns leading into the 2017 campaign. After Thursday’s debacle in Buffalo, those worries may have hit a new peak.
The Bills ran all over the Lions, scoring all three of their touchdowns on the ground to go along with 205 rushing yards. Detroit managed only one sack by linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and didn’t force a single turnover.
As the preseason came to a close, rookie defensive ends Alex Barrett, Jeremiah Valoaga and Patrick O’Connor were competing for the final two spots on this struggling group. But like the wide receiver battle, none of them proved their worth against the Bills.
Both Valoaga and O’Connor had one tackle apiece Thursday. Barrett led the trio with three tackles, but also added two penalties. In the end, Lions general manager Bob Quinn is likely going to find some defensive line help before the season begins anyway. The position is too shaky for him not to do so. But for now, there are still two roster spots to fill.
In the end, it will be Barrett and Valoaga who make that final 53-man roster. Both totaled ten preseason tackles compared to O’Connor’s three, and both sat above O’Connor in the depth chart all summer. Don’t expect either of them to contribute much once the games start to matter, but they will serve as depth in a weak spot for the Lions.
This year, Detroit will end the preseason with an even 2-2 record. In 2016, they finished the exact same way. Therefore, shouldn’t the Lions be able to emulate their 9-7 playoff run from last year? Perhaps. Or Matthew Stafford will regress after his payday, the offensive line will severely miss Taylor Decker and the defensive line will perform as bad as they did against the Bills.
No matter which road they eventually take, though, it all begins at Ford Field September 10 against the Arizona Cardinals.