Lions' O-line makes strides in exhibition loss to Bengals

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News

Detroit — It was a step in the right direction for the Detroit Lions’ offensive line in the team’s second exhibition game, an otherwise lackluster 30-14 loss the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field Thursday night. 

Under the microscope, following a shaky performance in the exhibition opener, the first-unit blockers did some positive things against the Bengals during their four offensive series, particularly when it came to protecting the quarterback. 

Starter Matthew Stafford, who was on the field the first three drives, primarily operated from a clean pocket. He was sacked just once and didn’t absorb any additional hits behind the line of scrimmage.

BOX SCORE: Bengals 30, Lions 14, exhibition

And even that sack couldn’t be blamed on the line. It was rookie tight end Cole Wick who blew the block that led to Stafford getting hit, and stripped, by Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The Lions did manage to recover the fumble. 

Stafford finished his day with an impressive line, completing eight of his 11 passes for 113 yards. Marvin Jones was the quarterback’s top target, catching four balls for 65 yards. Golden Tate chipped in three receptions for 41 yards, but couldn’t hang on to a third-down throw in the end zone. 

But while the aerial attack was clicking for the first-team offense, the ground game still sputtered. Starting running back Theo Riddick, working in place of the still-rehabbing Ameer Abdullah, had little room to operate. He took seven handoffs, gaining just 17 yards before taking a seat in the second quarter. 

Riddick gained three or fewer yards on five of his seven carries, losing yardage twice. Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker badly whiffed on a block in the red zone during the Lions’ game-opening drive, resulting in one of the negative plays. 

“We just didn’t create any cracks for the backs and they didn’t make any on their own,” coach Jim Caldwell told Fox 2 at the half. “So we’ve got to get a little work to do.”

The Lions would settle for a 24-yard Matt Prater field goal on that opening possession, the only points generated by the starting offense. 

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Defensively, the Lions’ starters stumbled out of the blocks. With every top player available, except linebacker DeAndre Levy, Detroit allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to complete all five of his throws on his team’s opening possession, which running back Jeremy Hill capped with a nine-yard touchdown run off left tackle. 

But Detroit’s starting defense turned things around in short order, forcing the Bengals into a pair of three-and-outs following the touchdown. The score remained 7-3 into the second quarter, when the first wave of backups took the field. 

“We really wanted to try to set the tone and get off the field, and it didn’t happen,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata told Fox 2 at the half. “They scored a touchdown, but then we kind of got our pads set and then we got off the field the next two series. Hopefully, we can just start faster and get better run fits when we’re in blitz calls.”

Linebacker Tahir Whitehead was a standout in the opening half, recording five tackles, including a stop for a loss. He also stuffed Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard for no gain on a third-and-1 snap late in the first quarter. 

The Bengals were able to expand their advantage to 13-3 in the second frame thanks to an ugly mistake by Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky. 

Looking for running back Zach Zenner in the right flat on a third-and-2 play near midfield, Orlovsky instead found Bengals safety Derron Smith, who raced down the sideline for a 60-yard interception return.  Cincinnati missed the extra point. 

It was the second consecutive week Orlovsky threw a pick-six, but unlike the error in Pittsburgh, the quarterback faced no pressure from the opposing pass rush. 

And like he did in Pittsburgh, Orlovsky responded to his turnover by leading a scoring drive. Completing four throws, including a pair of 24-yard gains to Wick and TJ Jones, the veteran quarterback steered the Lions 65 yards on 10 play before the offense again stalled in the red zone, settling for a second Prater field goal.  

The Bengals countered with a long drive of their own. Backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, playing his first series, completed five of his eight throws, finishing the drive with a 12-yard touchdown toss to rookie Tyler Boyd with just 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter. That sent the teams to the locker room with the Bengals up, 20-6, at the half.

Orlovsky remained in the game to start the second half, but after an inefficient nine-play, 24-yard drive, he left the contest to booing from the Ford Field crowd.

Third-string rookie Jake Rudock temporarily re-energized the sparse crowd that stuck around for the end of the game, connecting with tight end Orson Charles for a 22-yard gain on his first throw. But three plays later, the drive ended with an interception, on a pass thrown directly to Bengals safety Floyd Raven.

The Lions finally managed to find the end zone in the final minute of the contest on a five-yard run by Dwayne Washington. The rookie running back also converted the two-point conversion. 

Rudock ended his day 8-of-11 for 90 yards, zero touchdowns and the interception.

Twitter: @justin_rogers