After defeating the Cleveland Browns with a final score 13-12, I think it’s safe to say that the Detroit Lions started the 2014 preseason and the Jim Caldwell era in a solid way. Nonetheless, with every win, comes positives and negatives and in this case, the Lions had plenty of both.
Let’s start with the offense. To start off the game, the Lions offensive starters came out ready to go, minus wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who sat out this game. Now, you have to keep in mind that you can never truly judge the Lions offense when Johnson is off the field. I know it’s only pre-season but no one can deny that Johnson makes an impact when on the field and since his impact is so great, it causes teams to adjust to him accordingly. A perfect example of my point is the fact that the Browns were able use man-to-man coverage against the Lions and not have to worry about double teaming or triple teaming Johnson, which was key.
Nevertheless, while I do believe that you can never truly judge the Lions offense when Johnson is off the field. I still think that it is important to know what the Lions offense can do without Johnson on the field because at the end of the day this is football and as much we want Johnson on the field, we need to know how to win without him if necessary.
With that being, let’s start with what I saw during the Lions first offensive drive with the starters. To start off, I thought quarterback Matthew Stafford looked relaxed. Unlike in the past, Stafford looked like the game had slowed down for him, meaning that he didn’t look rushed. On top of that, I thought he did a good job getting the ball out quickly and accurately. He did botch a touchdown throw to wide receiver Kris Durham, by over throwing the ball but for the most part, I thought Stafford did a solid job. However, that’s not saying much since Stafford only participated in one drive. I’m not taking anything away from him but there is no way to accurately asses Stafford on one drive.
“Yeah, I think so.” Stafford speaking on if he got a feel for the new offense.” I think it’s going to be an ongoing process throughout the preseason. It was good to get our feet wet, mix some personnel groupings. Caught a lot of different type of plays and had some success. We were obviously set up by a great kick return and had a decent little drive, got some points. So it was a good start.”“We are very multiple. I think we can give the defense a lot of different looks, whether it be the personnel, the alignment, the play type. We have a lot of different plays in this offense and a lot of different ways to run them, and looks and all that. So I think that’s a fun part as a quarterback to be able to play a little bit of that chess game.”
Besides Stafford, I really like what I saw from Golden Tate. I know he only caught one pass, but during his brief stint on the field, he looked good in the slot and most importantly he showed great hands and the ability to make something happen after the catch. Same thing goes for running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush. Again, I know they only played one drive but from the brief drive I saw, I like what I from those particular guys.
Now when it comes to the rest of the offense, there were some negatives and positives. Let’s start with the positives, for me it was really great to see wide receiver Ryan Broyles on the field, making an impact. He didn’t score a touchdown, but he had three catches for 27 yards. While those stats may not seem impressive, keep in mind that Broyles did a great job of catching the ball consistent and most importantly, creating yards after the catch, he even helped the Lions gain a few first downs. Wide receiver Jeremy Ross, did the same thing, plus he was great as special teams, giving the Lions a few big kick returns.
The reason I bring up Broyles, Ross and even Tate, is because all three of these guys, did a great job of creating yards after the catch, which was huge and will continue to be huge for the Lions’ offense this season.
Although, there is a lot of pressure on Stafford to go out and be accurate and consistent, there is just as much pressure on the wide receivers to step up. Now, when I say step up, I’m not talking about making “Megatron’ like catches, because there are few who can do that. I’m more so talking about the ability to get open, catch the ball consistently and create after the catch. We all know that Stafford can throw the ball a country mile, but he shouldn’t have to rely on his arm strength all the time for his receivers to make a play. He should be able to through short and intermediate passes at times and count on his receivers to make things happen after the catch. That’s what Broyles, Ross and Tate did a good job of doing.
Which brings me to some of the negatives I saw of the Lions offense, the first thing being turnovers, seeing that the Lions had two turnovers in the game. Now, last season, the Lions were their own worst enemy when it came to turnovers and to start off pre-season, they were their own worst enemy again. Their first “almost” turnover actually came during special teams, when running back Steven Miller fumbled the ball on kick return. However, since they couldn’t determine who recovered the fumbled ball, the ball stayed with the Lions. Nevertheless, the Lions had two key fumbles late in the game. The first one came from running back George Winn, late in the third quarter, when the Lions were making a nice drive down the field. While, the second turnover came on botch snap, nevertheless, it took place late in the fourth quarter when the Lions were in red-zone territory and if you ask me both of those fumbles almost cost the Lions a chance to win this game. I know it’s pre-season and wins aren’t the most important thing and I know the fumbles took place when the starters weren’t in the game but you never like to see the Lions botch any scoring opportunity or any good drive for that matter with a turnover.
Which leads me to my next issue, that issues being dropped passes. I saw a few to many drop passes in this game. If you watched the Lions last season, you know that the Lions had a problem with dropped passes last year. As I said before, we can’t get mad at Stafford or any other quarterback on the Lion roster for that matter, if receivers aren’t catching the ball. Which leads me to my next point, while the Lions didn’t have a whole lot of penalties, they still had some costly penalties that cost them yards and set them back.
The reason I bring these three areas up, is because the three issues I mentioned above are the type of issues that cost Lions games last season and we don’t want that to be the case this season.
Nevertheless, let me reiterate that it wasn’t all bad for the Lions offense. Besides some of the bright spots that I mentioned earlier, there were a few more bright spots on the offense. The first one being Michigan native and Lion running back George Winn. The former University of Detroit-Jesuit High School product did a great job of hitting the holes provided for him, he had a nice burst off the line, he showed that he had no problem with going up the middle or to the outside. Plus, he also showed the ability to be a receiver out of the back-field. The only knock on Winn is the fact that he fumbled the ball late in the third quarter, when the Lions were making a nice drive, as I mentioned earlier. Besides Winn, I also thought tight end Joseph Fauria had some solid moments along with wide receiver Andrew Peacock and running back Steven Miller.
After that, I have to give credit to quarterback Kellen Moore, who did a good job of helping to lead his team to victory, with game winning drive. He finished the game completing 11 of his 13 passes for 121 yards and touchdown. I’m not ready to call him the next great quarterback or anything but I not to long ago I said, if he was given an opportunity, he could surprise some people.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years in this business is that you certainly don’t stand up here and make a whole lot of decrees because the minute you look at that film, you’re never as good as you think you are when you win and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose – so I’ll temper that.” Coach Caldwell said.” But there were some guys, young guys that stood out. Kellen (Moore) did a nice job, his numbers were pretty good. George Winn – other than the fumble, was certainly effective. (Ryan) Broyles did a nice job in the first half with some good catches and not only that – I think it was only three for 27 yards, but I think the run after the catch was key, converting some first downs”
Now when it comes to Lions defense, I don’t know about you but I wasn’t really impressed with the Lions defense in this game. However, before I break down the defense’s performance, let me say that from the defensive starters, there were some missing, in particular, defensive end Ziggy Ansah, not to mention that most of the Lions defensive starters like Ndamukong Suh, Glover Quinn, Cassius Vaughn didn’t play much after the first drive.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop the fact that I saw a lot mis-communication out there and at times plenty of mis-tackles. When it comes to the mis-communication, that’s to be expect because they are still learning a new system and playing with new players. However, mis-communication, has nothing to do with defensive awareness. To many times in his game, it seemed like players, particularity in the secondary weren’t aware of where their man was and at times I questioned if they knew where their first down marker was. That may sound harsh but it’s the truth.
Even more disappointing was the fact that the Lions continue to have problems with tackling their opponent. Considering the fact that tackling or a lack of tacking has been a problem for the Lions for sometime now, I don’t feel like dealing with that again this season. The Browns didn’t score any touchdowns in this game but they were able to get down the field and a lot of time, it was because the Lions were not defensively aware and kept missing tackles in the open field.
I know when you look at the score, you think to yourself that the Lions defense did a pretty good job considering the Browns only score 12 points but I have to disagree. I honestly feel the Lions did a good job of bending but not breaking, meaning they allowed their little mistakes to help the Browns get down the field but were able to step up once they got close to red-zone and limit them to a field goal. While it is nice to see them Lions defense step up and limit the Browns to field goals, keep in mind that every team won’t be like the Browns, certain teams like the Bears and Packers, will score, if the Lions allow them to get in red-zone territory.
After that my only complaint about the defense, would be the fact that the defensive line didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback. Again, it’s preseason, so the heart of the Lions defensive line was not in the game but it would have been nice to see some of the younger lineman initiate some pressure but unfortunately they didn’t. I’m not saying the Lions won’t be able to create pressure once the season gets going but I would still be nice to see them initiate some pressure now during preseason.
Just like the offense, it wasn’t all negative for the Lions defense, there were a couple of positives and bright spots for the Lions defense, the first one being rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Throughout the game, he showed great aggression and a nice burst off the line of scrimmage. If that’s not enough, he helped to slow down the run game and pressure the quarterback. He even helped to cause a turnover, he didn’t receive credit for it, because the referees, decided to call it an incomplete pass but it doesn’t change the fact that Van Noy was impressive.
“I was happy to be out there on the field.” Van Noy speaking on his first NFL preseason game. “It’s a dream come true tonight. I’m really blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the Detroit Lions organization, as well as being around great guys. I have great teammates and to have them cheer you on and to earn their respect is just awesome.”
Besides Van Noy I was also really impressed with the play of veteran safeties, Quin and Vaughn in the secondary. I know they only played for one drive but while they were on the field, they did a great job of keeping everything in front of them, Vaughn even had a nice pass break-up in the end-zone which stopped the Browns from scoring a touchdown. I also like the secondary play of rookie corner-back Nevin Lawson and the safety production of Jerome Couplin and Isa Abdul-Quddus. Lawson did a solid job, showing his good. Couplin did a good job of tackling in the open field and making thing difficult for quarterback and Abdul-Quddus intercepted the ball towards the end game, ending any chance the Browns had to come-back and win.
Overall, I would call this a solid performance for the Lions. Throughout the game, they showed some negatives but they also showed some nice positive and bright spots. Preseason is the time teams take to learn and I think that is what the Lions are doing right now. At the end of the day, it was a solid way to start the Jim Caldwell era but there is still plenty to learn as the season gets closer.
“For the first preseason game, I really thought overall that the first half our offense, the No. 1 offense, played about seven plays, I think total – took the ball down the field and were able to put some points on the board. We certainly would have loved a touchdown in that situation, but we got a field goal. I thought our No. 1 defense played well, tough. There was kind of a bend-but-don’t-break sort of a first half for us. We kept them out of the end zone, but it might not have looked pretty all of the time. I think toward the end of the game, one of the things we wanted to talk about, and we’ve been talking about all year is the fact that we want to be able to finish. No matter who is in the ball game. I think in the second half we did finish. I think the special teams came up with some big plays to give us some good field position. I think the defense got the ball back for us, obviously with a couple turnovers there. The offense showed some poise, particularly Kellen (Moore) at the end. He had a pretty good drive and George (Winn) took it down the field and ended up having a snap that went off his knee, but he didn’t let that bother him. He came back and was able to take the team down and put it in the end zone. At that time, you could tell our team was pretty excited about it. Any time you can get a come-from-behind type of victory with your third unit in there, you feel pretty good about that. But, the fact of the matter is that it’s the first game. We have a lot to learn. It wasn’t as clean as we’d like. We had a bunch of mistakes, obviously, that we have to make certain we correct. But, we have something to build on.”
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
For more of L-Beasley’s (Lauren Beasley) sports news and in-depth sports content, click here.