Going into this game, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was hoping to gain some clarity for his backup quarterback battle.
“We need somebody to really take the reins here,” coach Dan Campbell said on Thursday. “I mean, somebody needs to step up out of the two and I thought they both progressed last week. Now, somebody needs to step up and run this offense, play efficiently, play smart, take care of the football, get us the first downs, and when we get down to the red zone score touchdowns for us.”
The Lions rested starting quarterback Jared Goff to get a good, long look at both Tim Boyle and David Blough. Unfortunately, neither quarterback stepped up to the occasion, as the first-team offense sputtered with both players behind center. Boyle finished the game just 5-of-15 for 64 yards and an interception, while David Blough was 17-of-31 for 160 yards and one touchdown—bolstered mainly by fourth quarter success.
On the positive side, the Lions defense held up well against the Steelers’ first-team offense. Detroit’s defensive starters held Pittsburgh to three three-and-outs out of four offensive drives, and kept them out of the end zone entirely.
Ultimately, the offensive struggles decided the game, though, as Detroit’s ended the preseason with a 19-9 loss to Pittsburgh. This is how it happened.
The Lions got the ball first, and—notably—reserve running back Justin Jackson returned the kick to the 29-yard line.
Tim Boyle started the dive promisingly, side-stepping pressure and finding TJ Hockenson for 15 yards. But the Steelers stacked the box and stymied the Lions’ run game early, forcing a 5-yard loss and a third-and-3 draw play.
The Lions defense quickly forced a three-and-out, thanks to a good combination of coverage and pass rush. Mitch Trubisky was forced to tuck the ball and was taken down by Tracy Walker for a 1-yard sack, followed by a split-sack by Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris on third down.
The Lions couldn’t take advantage of solid field position, as the running game continued to struggle and Boyle overthrew Hockenson on a third down pass that wouldn’t have counted anyway because of a declined illegal formation penalty.
Trubisky and the Steelers offense finally broke the stalemate on the next drive. A deep shot to Diontae Johnson picked up 38 yards, after he beat Amani Oruwariye and DeShon Elliott was just late to get there. But a couple of holding penalties on the Steelers caused them to stall in the red zone, and Pittsburgh settled for a 45-yard field goal attempt. 3-0 Steelers.
Detroit’s next offensive drive seemed doomed after a Taylor Decker holding call, but Jermar Jefferson picked up 27 yards on a third-and-17 draw play.
The quarter ended with an Amon-Ra St. Brown 9-yard catch that moved them into Steelers territory.
It was a rough start to the second quarter for Boyle. He took a sack on an all-out blitz from Pittsburgh, then saw his second-down pass batted down at the line for the second time by Cameron Heyward. On third-and-long, Boyle threw it right to Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton for the easy interception.
The Lions would mitigate the damage quickly, though. Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah picked up a tackle for loss on first down, and he forced the third-and-out by breaking up a pass to George Pickens. The Steelers knocked through the 34-yard field goal to make it 6-0 Steelers.
The Lions gave David Blough a shot on the team’s fourth offensive drive—with the rest of their first teamers still out there. Blough scrambled for 7 yards on a third-and-8, giving the Lions an opportunity to go for it on fourth-and-1. However, Justin Jackson was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, turning it over deep in their own territory.
Again, the defense bailed out the turnover from the offense. The Steelers failed to move the sticks, after Alex Anzalone defended a third-down pass for Trubisky. But the good field position gave the Steelers an easy 38-yard field goal. 9-0 Steelers.
A couple of decent gains to St. Brown and Josh Reynolds got the Lions to midfield, but Blough took a sack that put the team behind the sticks. His third-and-17 pass was almost picked off, but Detroit got to punt instead.
Detroit pulled most of their defensive starters for Pittsburgh’s next drive, keeping only Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez on the field. The Steelers were only able to pick up one first down before punting back to Detroit, setting up the Lions with an opportunity for a two-minute drill to end the half.
With mostly the second-team offense in, Blough couldn’t move the ball downfield, throwing two straight incomplete passes and leaving plenty of time for the Steelers to retaliate. But a nice punt from Jack Fox and a special teams tackle from Malcolm Rodriguez, Trubisky would have to start inside his own 10-yard line.
A couple of penalties, including a pass interference call on Saivion Smith, got the Steelers out of the shadow of their own end zone. Trubisky found rookie George Pickens for a 22-yard pickup, then hit tight end Pat Freiermuth with Derrick Barnes in coverage for a 32-yard gain, setting the Steelers up at the 6-yard line with 16 seconds left. On the next play, Trubisky found Steven Sims, who beat Smith for an easy score. 16-0 Steelers.
With Kenny Pickett finally in the game for the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s offense continued to mostly struggle. Although Pickett connected Gunner Olszewski (with AJ Parker trailing) for 14 yards, the Lions defense held them without a second first down.
Detroit opted to bring back Boyle for the next offensive drive, starting on his own 15-yard line. The Lions got a splash play from running back Justin Jackson, who first laid a nice block, which leaked out for a short catch that he took and ran for 32 yards, down to the Steelers’ 44-yard line.
Detroit worked their way into the red zone after an 8-yard run from Jackson, but back-to-back passes by Boyle were batted down, forcing the Lions to attempt a 36-yard field. Austin Seibert put the Lions on the board. 16-3 Steelers.
Pickett responded with a pretty impressive drive. He connected with Miles Boykins for this pretty 29-yard gain
But Detroit’s defense stiffened in the red zone, and Mark Gilbert batted away a third-down pass from Pickett. The Lions special teams came up with a big play, as Austin Bryant blocked the 29-yard field goal.
Boyle remained in for the next offensive drive, but inaccuracies and poor pocket presence caused back-to-back incomplete passes after a nice first-down gain from Jackson. Detroit failed to capitalize on the special teams play and punted after just one first down.
Pickett continued to pick on the Lions reserve cornerbacks, moving the Steelers steadily down the field between the 20s. Back-to-back nice plays from Chase Lucas stopped Pittsburgh once they crossed over into Detroit territory. Tight coverage forced an incompletion on second down, and a nice open-field tackle forced a 2-yard loss on third-and-10. The Steelers converted on a 54-yard field goal to push the score to 19-3 Steelers.
With Blough back in, Craig Reynolds got the drive off to a nice start with a 16-yard run thanks to a solid block from left guard Logan Stenberg. A bullet to Maurice Alexander for 18 and a third-and-short pickup by Tom Kennedy worked the Lions into Steelers territory. A couple more rushes from Reynolds (5, 17 yards) moved Detroit into the red zone. But after Kennedy dropped a nice pass from Blough, and a third-down pass bounced off Igwebuike’s facemask, Detroit opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Blough had Kalil Pimpleton for the touchdown, but the rookie receiver dropped it.
After another quick possession from the Steelers offense, Blough got one more opportunity to impress the Lions coaching staff. He led Detroit on a fairly solid drive, including this nifty pass to Igwebuike.
Perhaps his gutsiest play came just a few moments later, converting another fourth down—this one fourth-and-7, while absorbing a big hit that also drew a roughing the passer penalty.
Facing another fourth down, the Lions were bailed out by another roughing the passer penalty after Blough’s pass was batted away. That gave Blough another couple of opportunities and another savvy shovel pass got the Lions in the end zone (finally) with a 5-yard score to Quintez Cephus. 19-9 Steelers
Chase Lucas recovered an onside kick for Detroit, but Detroit would not advance the ball much beyond that.