As one of the 60,000 some in attendance at Ford Field for the first Preseason football game, I saw why the Lions are favored to return to the playoffs and also why some are skeptical. Clearly as most diehard NFL fans know one cannot get too excited or too concerned over preseason game performances and outcomes. (See the 2008 preseason record of 4-0 in comparison to the 2008 regular season record of 0-16 as proof.)
Injuries are a big factor in the preseason – some starters do not play at all or play sparingly to save them from injury. This clouds the big picture of how all the pieces will fit together come September – but it is also the right and safe call for the coaching staff to make.
A careful viewing of these games can provide a window into what can be expected once the regular season kicks off. Preseason is a great opportunity to see the rookies and newcomers and try to figure out where they fit into the team.
I liked what I saw from Cornerback Bill Bentley. He started opposite Chris Houston – a trouble spot for the Lions with the loss of Eric Wright and the troubles of Aaron Berry – and performed as you would expect a rookie to perform in his first NFL action (some good, some bad).
Two other rookies that stood out were Left Tackle Riley Reiff and Defensive End Ronnell “The Hammer” Lewis. Reiff played backup left tackle to incumbent Jeff Backus and played the second and third quarters holding up pretty well in his first game action. Lewis – who earned his nickname The Hammer at Oklahoma for some big hits on special teams – made several key plays in the second half. Both should be locks to make the team.
I look at how the Lions did in the first half and early second half against the opponents first and second units. If you figure that each team will keep 53 players, the starters and second units make up 44 of those 53 players. The Lions clearly had more depth in their top 44 players than the Browns did – even factoring in injured players. The Lions lost the game in the fourth quarter, but did so with players that have a long shot to make the team.
It is important to remember that NFL teams play very vanilla offensive and defensive schemes in the preseason. Not a lot of complicated blitzing, not many trick plays. Why put your best stuff on film for 31 other teams to see before the regular season kicks off? While it is hard to get a true feeling for how the schemes will work in the regular season, I did notice a re-commitment to the running game that was missing in 2011. The passing game did not look sharp but I expect that to improve as the timing and rhythm return.
Defensively, I think that we are younger and have less depth at linebacker than a year ago. The defensive line remains the headline on this side of the ball. It will be an interesting numbers game to watch come player cut down time as we have eleven players vying for nine or ten spots. The secondary remains the biggest concern. I think the depth has gotten better but that the Lions may still struggle against elite passing teams. I think everyone will in the NFC North when you look at the respective secondaries of the Packers, Bears and Vikings.
Special teams looked shaky in game one. Veteran kicker Jason Hanson has been a mainstay with the Lions for over two decades but on Friday night he missed a 46 yard field goal and failed to place many kickoffs deep into the end zone, leaving the Lions open to at least one long kickoff by the Browns that I can recall. Field position is critical in the regular season. Punting duties will go to either Ryan Donahue or Ben Graham – neither of which stood out in the first game. Returner Stefan Logan was kept at bay on punt returns.
I have been a diehard Lions fan since 1991. I played football in high school and began a college playing career at Wayne State before hanging up the cleats. I will try to provide a perspective on my favorite NFL team as the season progresses for the Patch.