Lions rookie report: First-year players step up with big role in win over Cardinals

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The Detroit Lions put on their best performance of the season, defeating the 10-win Arizona Cardinals in their return to Ford Field.

There are many players who deserve credit for the team’s fantastic showing, including several members of Detroit’s 2021 rookie class.

The two rookies on the offensive line had an exceptional game. First-round pick Penei Sewell started at right tackle and once again made sure his starting quarterback wasn’t sacked. Filling in for Jonah Jackson at left guard was undrafted rookie Tommy Kraemer. Kraemer had a rough go of things in his last start, but he more than made up for it against Arizona. The rookie committed no penalties and held his own against the Cardinals’ top-ranked defense.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has really established himself as the top option in Detroit’s receiving corps this season. The rookie out of USC had eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown against Arizona. He also showed some positional versatility, lining up as an outside receiver, in the slot, and even taking handoffs from the backfield.

On defense, AJ Parker made his return and instantly became a major contributor at the nickel cornerback position. Parker had started at the position for nine games this season before going to injured reserve with an ankle injury. The undrafted rookie had six tackles and two pass breakups in this matchup. One of those pass defenses was a combined effort by him and newly-signed rookie safety Brady Breeze late in the game to prevent a Cardinals touchdown.

Kicker Riley Patterson appears to be the answer for the Lions’ special teams woes. The rookie was perfect on his five kicks, contributing 11 points to the 30-12 victory.

Tight ends Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra were relegated to blocking duties for most of the game. Zylstra had one first-down catch for 16 yards while Wright was targeted once but couldn’t come away with a reception. Wright had some big rookie mistakes, committing two penalties.

Derrick Barnes saw plenty of action at inside linebacker again. Unfortunately, the rookie had his fair share of struggles. He seemed one step behind in coverage on several plays and whiffed badly on at least two tackles. While Arizona’s offense wasn’t exactly moving the ball well, Barnes did not contribute much to the Lions’ strong defensive stand.

Defensive linemen Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike both appeared in this game but only came away with one tackle each. Other than that, the two had very little impact on this game.

Running back Jermar Jefferson had a very limited role and did not put on his best performance, taking five carries for nine yards.