Niyo: Lions' win over Jets is free of revelations

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford throws In the first quarter against the Jets.

Detroit — This is the preseason. That’s always a necessary disclaimer.

But this is still NFL football, or so the season-ticket holders are told. So everyone still shows up looking for something.

Saturday night, the Lions at least could offer a first-hand look at their new den, finally showing off $100 million-plus worth of renovations inside Ford Field, where an announced crowd of 50,705 marveled at those mammoth video boards and enjoyed a host of other updated amenities.

“I just wanted to see the fans’ reaction to it all,” team president Rod Wood said.

The early reviews were positive, he added. And on Tuesday, Wood and Lions owner Martha Ford will give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a tour, along with a friendly sales pitch, perhaps, as the Lions hope to host the league’s annual draft weekend one of these years, if not another Super Bowl.

So that’s something, I suppose.

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As for the football, though, most reactions are overreactions. And if you took anything from Saturday night’s preseason game, please, I’m begging you, let that be it.

This wasn’t just a preseason game. This was a preseason game against the New York Jets, a team widely expected to be the worst in the league in 2017.

Not primed for takeoff

The Jets are effectively tanking this season. Or as much as any team can in the NFL, shedding so much of their veteran talent after last year’s 5-11 embarrassment — Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, Brandon Marshall and so on — that owner Woody Johnson was pleading with fans this spring to judge the Jets on “how we improve during the year” rather than, you know, wins and losses.

There’s still enough talent up front defensively that this Jets team probably won’t go 0-16 this season, but they just might give it a run the way the Cleveland Browns did a year ago.

Did you see Christian Hackenberg with that pump fake Saturday night, the play on which he ended up spiking the ball into the turf on accident? Yeah, that was actually one of the better plays for the Jets’ first-string offense in this game.

Far better than that first third-down attempt for New York, when the Lions showed a double A-gap blitz at the line of scrimmage and so flustered the Jets that nobody bothered to block defensive end Cornelius Washington, who hit Hackenberg like a freight train. Or maybe an 18-wheeler, as Washington later described it, on “the highway of love.”

Hackenberg went on to complete 2 of 6 attempts for 14 yards, which meant the Jets were a net negative-3 yards in the passing game at halftime. The second-year pro out of Penn State tried to credit the Lions’ game-planning for that — “They did a great job based upon what we did on tape last week,” he said — but that’s giving them way too much credit.

Even Matthew Stafford said as much after the game, noting how little film study and game-planning goes into these preseason games, across the board.

That’s why he wasn’t much worried about the results, good or bad. There was plenty to like about Stafford’s night, as he showed good command again and finished 8-of-10 for 84 yards while leading the offense to 10 points in three possessions. The final one was an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped by pretty 5-yard touchdown on a corner fade to Marvin Jones — the kind of red-zone success that was too often missing from the Lions offense last season.

Line item

Beyond that, there wasn’t much else to grab your attention, other than maybe the fact the Lions finally had their starting offensive line together for an extended time.

Right guard T.J. Lang, the Pro Bowler signed away from Green Bay, has been brought along slowly after offseason hip surgery. But he started and played about 20 snaps, while the rest of the starters up front played the entire first half. And while there were some obvious hiccups, both in run blocking and pass protection, neither the starting quarterback nor the head coach sounded at all concerned. Jim Caldwell described the line play as “OK” and “decent” and even “solid,” at first glance, even though the Lions averaged 3.2 yards per carry in the first half and finished the night with just 82 yards on 31 carries.

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“Those offensive linemen don’t study those defensive linemen like they would in a regular game week, so it’s obviously a little hit-and-miss,” added Stafford, who was sacked once and absorbed a hit on the touchdown throw to Jones. “But when the pocket was good, man, it was really good. And that was fun.”

It wasn’t fun watching another potential starter limp off the field, as T.J. Jones — vying for the No. 3 receiver job with rookie Kenny Golladay — did late in the first half with a hamstring injury. Caldwell didn’t have an update on the severity of that one after the game, but there didn’t appear to be any other significant losses Saturday.

And when it comes to NFL preseason football, that’s a victory in itself.