Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
DETROIT — The images were far too familiar. Matthew Stafford dropping back, seeing his offensive line accordion in front of him.
When he was on the sidelines, he saw his defense do exactly the opposite: Allow his quarterbacking counterparts to get all the time they needed to find an open man and complete a pass. Or have a running back have an easy lane to run through.
This was a theme of 2017 for the Lions – lack of protection for Stafford and lack of pressure on opponents. And it was among the things Detroit supposedly had fixed heading into this season, particularly the bit about keeping Stafford upright. Yet in the second preseason game, none of that really happened.
Stafford, when he was in for three series, was sacked twice. All night, Detroit’s running backs had little to no room to run. Giants backup quarterback Davis Webb had enough time to complete 14 of 20 passes and not get sacked. And New York’s top two running backs – neither of whom was super rookie Saquon Barkley – averaged over 5 yards per carry.
If all of this sounds like a repetition of past years, well …
“It looked bad,” offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins said.
Yes, it is still early. Preseason being preseason, everything should be viewed with the caveats of the lack of game-planning and nuanced play-calling along with players themselves getting into shape and fewer reps to find a rhythm. But as many veterans know and what has played out year over year is this: Early can get late in the NFL faster than any player or coach would like. So a performance like this, preseason be darned, is reason for concern heading into when games really count three weeks from now.
This isn’t a judge of the final score of either preseason game. It’s more that when the starters were in, nothing looked particularly good other than a play here or there. The players and Matt Patricia said all the things you figured they’d say after a game like Friday – they have to get better, it’s still early, it’s preseason. But there was also some acknowledgement of, well, how rough it looked.
“It’s disheartening to see us not perfect our technique. It’s disheartening to see us not execute what we’ve been executing all week,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “It’s disheartening not to see certain things that you sit in a building from morning till night going over and then when you get on the field you don’t see it done.
“Like I said, we got two more weeks and [Saturday] is the first day to start correcting these situations and start correcting to stop that run. Because if you don’t stop the run you have a lot of great NFL teams in the league that have good running backs and O-lines that can just move that ball whenever they choose to.”
Every area had issues. Matt Prater missed a field goal. TJ Jones had a drop that led to an interception. The Lions looked discombobulated and at points without any sort of energy.
Had Stafford and the starters played an entire game it’s possible things would have looked different. But based on the small sample size, the Lions look far away from the team they need to be to have success this year. Patricia acknowledged as much, calling what the Lions have to do a “big job in front of us” and that his team didn’t play well at any position.
There’s no denying any of that. It looked like it live. The tape essentially confirmed it. And while yes, it is early, if the Lions don’t get things fixed over the next two weeks things could be really problematic once games start counting in September.
“We have to come together as a group,” Jean Francois said. “The coaches can talk until they’re blue in the face. We have to come together as a team and we have to show Matt Patricia that we can master everything that he asks us to do.
“Because if we don’t, it’s going to be a long season and we ain’t trying to have a long season around here.”
Photo: Rick Osentoski/Associated Press