Wojo: Lions look weak, but it's too early to freak

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Wayne Gallman Jr. scores one of the four touchdowns the Giants put up on the Lions in Friday's preseason game.

Detroit — Close your eyes, click your sneakers and repeat, “It’s only preseason, it’s only preseason.” You will not freak out. You will not downgrade the Lions from an eight-win team to a four-win team. You promised you wouldn’t do it, and you shouldn’t.

But, but, but. Oh, that dazed look on Matt Patricia’s face after the lethargic 30-17 loss to the New York Giants on Friday night at Ford Field, followed by pointed words of frustration. And that pained look on Matthew Stafford’s face after getting sacked twice and having his arm smacked another time. And that meager total of 89 yards in the first half.

The Lions are 0-2 in the preseason, which means nothing. But they’ve shown no ability to control either side of the line of scrimmage, which could mean something. Toughening both lines was the overwhelming offseason emphasis from GM Bob Quinn and Patricia. So far, there is little evidence of it, which either is the normal byproduct of a transition to a new coaching staff, or a sign the Lions haven’t stocked up on enough beefy talent yet. (Or both).

I don’t think there’s significant alarm within the organization, but there can’t be much satisfaction as the Lions prepare for the key third exhibition Friday night in Tampa. In losses to the Giants and Raiders, the Lions averaged 3.4 yards per carry, although rookie Kerryon Johnson has shown a burst. In two games, the quarterbacks — Stafford, Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock — have been sacked eight times, while the Lions’ defense has collected precisely zero sacks.

'A lot of work to do'

You could pick out some young guys — first-round guard Frank Ragnow has held his own, rookie end Da’Shawn Hand has been impressive at times — to make yourself feel better, but Patricia wasn’t in the mood for it. He seemed surprised, even a bit embarrassed, how the Lions were pushed around early by the Giants.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed that we didn’t come out and compete better,” Patricia said. “Overall, we have to do a better job, and it starts with me. Obviously we have a lot of work to do. It’s the time of the preseason where we have to get going and we have to see some of that consistency, and start seeing some production. So we have a big, big job in front of us here.”

Asked specifically if the weak trench play was a concern, he preferred to spread the culpability.

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“I don’t think we played particularly well at all in any position,” Patricia said. “It’s easy to kind of pinpoint those (trench) guys, but I would say look at the perimeter and look at what’s going on in some of the other positions, and I’d say the whole thing needs to be improved.”

I’d say he’s right. I’d also say it’s not a complete shock, with Patricia installing a whole new defense and Stafford playing only three series Friday night and none in the opener.

On the offensive line, tackle Taylor Decker has been oddly out of sorts, and they need him to be much better. On the third series, the Giants’ Olivier Vernon easily slipped around Decker to sack Stafford. The Lions were missing guard T.J. Lang (foot) for the second straight game, and center Graham Glasgow got pushed back a couple times. As always on the line, health is a concern.

The offense surely will be more effective as it uses more of its pieces. Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah give the Lions legitimate running back depth, although Abdullah really can’t afford another fumble.

The defensive front seven was the major concern entering camp and has done nothing to alleviate the angst. The Raiders and Giants combined for 243 rushing yards (4.3 per carry) and the Lions have tallied the same number of interceptions as sacks — 0.

'Disheartening' display

Ziggy Ansah just saw his first action, and newcomers Devon Kennard and Sylvester Williams could be impactful. But third-year tackle A’Shawn Robinson hasn’t shined yet, and while Jarrad Davis is a fine run-stuffer, he struggles in pass coverage.

At least one veteran player isn’t willing to brush off the poor performance. Ricky Jean Francois, 31, has played 10 years in the NFL, including half of last season with New England. Patricia knows him, and apparently trusts him. Francois has been getting more reps at defensive tackle, and long after the locker room cleared out Friday night, he was still sitting there, sending a verbal message.

“It’s disheartening to see us not perfect our technique,” Francois said. “It’s disheartening to see us not execute what we executed the whole week. … 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 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 aren’t trying to have no long season around here this year.”

Some observers have suggested the Lions’ grueling camp, featuring 2.5-hour practices, a trip to Oakland, and back-to-back joint workouts with the Raiders and Giants, has worn on the team. Players won’t openly admit it’s an issue, but as a rookie head coach, Patricia might want to reevaluate the schedule.

In the second half, the Giants looked much fresher, and scored three easy touchdowns on runs longer than 10 yards.

“There’s no such thing as tired,” Francois said. “We should not be tired for no reason. You got enough time to go home, you got enough time to get sleep, you got enough time to study, you got time to take care of your body. There’s no excuses, we have no excuses.”

No excuses, and also not a lot of time until the Monday night opener Sept. 10 against the Jets. That’s a prime-time game, and now would be a prime time for the Lions to start looking like they’ll be ready for it.


Twitter @bobwojnowski