Detroit News reporters Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss the pros and cons from the Lions' 24-20 loss to the Bills. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Detroit — Following the Detroit Lions' third preseason game, a 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and a second viewing of that contest, here’s who is trending up and who is trending down coming out of the contest.
Stock up: Linebacker Jahlani Tavai
Tavai was probably in line for a sizable workload regardless, but he was quickly thrust into a first-team role when Jarrad Davis suffered a leg injury on the game's second snap.
After further evaluation, Davis' injury turned out less severe than initial appearances, but if he needs to miss time in the regular season, Tavai showed well in his audition to be a stopgap. The 251-pounder was aggressive filling his run gaps and disrupting carries. Officially, he recorded just one tackle, but he was in on multiple plays and routinely made Buffalo's backs slow their feet.
Stock down: Tight end T.J. Hockenson
There were things to like about the rookie tight end's performance in the third preseason game. First and foremost, he got open. And for the most part, he made the most of his targets, catching three balls for 52 yards. But he also put one on the ground, something he typically doesn't do. Sure, it was a weird pass, from an unconventional angle, but quarterback Matthew Stafford managed to sidearm it into Hockenson's chest in the red zone and it should have been a touchdown.
A bigger disappointment than the drop was Hockenson's blocking, where he whiffed on multiple occasions. He failed to tag his target on an early Kerryon Johnson run, limiting the gain. Hockenson missed again on a C.J. Anderson carry, hooking the arm of defensive end Shaq Lawson as he ran by and unintentionally dragging him into Frank Ragnow's leg, injuring Detroit's starting center.
Treading water: Cornerback Justin Coleman
Cole Beasley proved to be a tough draw for Coleman in the limited snaps both players saw in this one, but the veteran nickelback came up with one of Detroit's biggest plays, punching the ball free from the slot corner for a first-half turnover.
In run defense, Coleman was the last man between Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and the end zone, but failed to make the tackle on the end-around.
Stock up: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
It certainly wasn't a flawless performance from Stafford, but after a training camp mired with uncharacteristically bad decisions, the franchise quarterback had an efficient evening, completing 12-19 for 137 yards and a score.
Stafford's best throw was the touchdown, showing good timing and touch on the tight-space toss to rookie running back Ty Johnson. The quarterback was robbed of a second score by Hockenson's drop, despite a creative throw under pressure, and Stafford was a little late on another throw into the end zone, allowing the defender to recover and knock the ball away from Marvin Jones.
Stock down: Wide receiver Travis Fulgham
If you were looking for clarity in the battle for Detroit's fourth and fifth receiving jobs, you'll have to wait another week. None of the candidates did much of note, with the best play coming from long-shot contender Jonathan Duhart, who drew a lengthy pass interference play.
Fulgham was also involved in a pass interference, of the offensive variety, when he ran a clunky pick on a third down. But the real black eye from the rookie receiver's performance came in the closing minutes, after he hauled in his only reception of the night.
Looking to take a late lead, Fulgham's 15-yard reception should have given the Lions a first down in the red zone. Instead, he allowed the ball to be stripped away. The Bills recovered the fumble and were able to run out the clock.
Treading water: Running back C.J. Anderson
Continuing to serve as the top backup in Detroit's backfield rotation, Anderson had a couple of nice runs, highlighted by a thunderous stiff arm in the red zone on a 10-yard gain.
But if Anderson is the de facto third-down back, following Theo Riddick's departure, the blocking has to be better. Twice, out of play-action, Anderson was badly beaten by a pass-rusher, resulting in rushed throws.
Stock up: Backup running backs
The depth chart beyond Anderson continues to do good things in the preseason. We already mentioned Ty Johnson's touchdown grab, which carried a reasonably high degree of difficulty to execute. The rookie also picked up a first down with a pair of back-to-back runs in the third quarter.
Zach Zenner also continued to run well, gaining 21 yards on four carries. Mark Thompson, who has a murkier path to a roster spot, continued to bulldoze for efficient gains, plowing forward for 34 yards on eight totes, including a 1-yard touchdown.
Stock down: Guard Beau Benzschawel
When talking about disappointing performances, you can take your pick from Detroit's backup offensive linemen. Benzschawel, an undrafted rookie who has made steady progress on the practice field in recent weeks, but wasn't able to carry that success into this contest, missing multiple blocks and putting a dent in his roster chances.
Stock up: Quarterback Josh Johnson
The Lions flipped Johnson and David Fales' reps this week, moving the latter into the top backup spot after his stellar showing against Houston last week. But Fales struggled in his encore.
Johnson, meanwhile, delivered some crisp balls downfield, leading the Lions on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive and steering the offense into the red zone for a potential game-winning score prior to Fulgham's fumble.
Stock down: Linebacker Anthony Pittman
It's easy to want to root for Pittman, a local standout who starred at Birmingham Groves and Wayne State, but he regularly looked outmatched with his edge assignments against the Bills.
Pittman is listed at 224 pounds, and while he's probably packed on a little weight since that was recorded, there's no question he's still undersized. When attempting to rush the passer or set an edge on Friday, he was often physically overwhelmed.
Special teams offers another avenue for Pittman to shine, but as the first man down in punt coverage, he couldn't make the tackle on the return man.