Follow @LBeasley313It wasn’t pretty but the Detroit Lions were able to gain a close win against the Jacksonville Jaguars under the bright lights of Ford Field with a final score of 13-12. While I hate to be redundant, I have no choice but to say that I saw a lot of the same problems continue for the Lions in this game, starting with unnecessary things like penalties and turnovers.
Now I know that the Lions won this game and I am not going to take this win away from them but I want you to keep in mind that the Lions could have easily loss this game. If they had loss this game it wouldn’t have been because the Jaguars are a great team it would have been because the Lions continue to let the little things turn into big mistakes, starting with the penalties and turnovers.
The Consistent Penalties and Turnovers Continue to Hurt the Lions
Again I know it is pre-season and mistakes are expected, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Lions continue to hurt themselves with penalties. The Lions won this game but they barely did that when you count the 15 penalties that they had and keep in mind that those 15 penalties were evenly spread through the offense and defense. On the defensive side of the ball, I honestly felt the Lions were hurt by the penalties because the penalties allowed the Jaguars to continuously move the chains and although the Lions did a good job of bending and not breaking , the Lions have to know that every offense won’t be like the Jaguars, there are plenty of teams, who will be able to capitalize off of the Lions defensive penalties.
The same thing goes for the Lions offense, the penalties may have hurt the Lions defense in terms of stopping and slowing down the Jaguars offense but the penalties on the offensive side of the ball literally stopped the Lions offense from scoring. If you go back and look at this game you will see that the Lions had no problem catching a rhythm and moving down field. The problem is that the Lions weren’t able to get back in rhythm once they dug themselves into a hole with the penalties. Just like I said earlier, you may look at the score and say the Lions pulled out the win, so stop with the complaining but once again you must understand that the Lions can’t afford to lose points because of unnecessary things like penalties. They must do a better job of staying discipline because the good drives that were disrupted in this game were mainly because of penalties and you can bet that those continuous penalties will come back to haunt them, if they allow it too.
“It’s painful now as a coach and it’s one of those things that I think bothers you and you have to get them straightened out because they are preventable.” Coach Caldwell speaking on how he plans to correct the penalties. “We have officials at practice, give them a chance to see on a daily basis where we’re making mistakes if we are making any, and we stress them that way. Then we talk about them consistently, it’s an emphasis. There’s an old coaching adage, ‘You achieve what you emphasize,’ so we just have to keep emphasizing. I don’t expect it to go away overnight, but I expect it to improve in a hurry.”
“You know, for the most part I haven’t seen too many of them that were just simply physical that they couldn’t do anything about it. I think they all, a great majority of the ones we had were preventable and that’s what we’ll work on, we’ll site, we’ll look at them closely and see what the issues are and see if we can get those straightened out.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to have them, for sure.” Stafford speaking on if the penalties concern him. “I know there’s emphasis on certain things in the preseason and you don’t really know how that’s going to carry over into the regular season, but anytime the penalties are going in the upward direction, it’s not good. We’ve got to take care of those, play smarter football. They weren’t all late in the game. It was throughout the game and we’ve got to do a better job.”
Which leads me to my next point, which is the turnovers. The Lions had three turnovers in this game and just like the 15 penalties, that is unacceptable, mainly because each turnover could have been avoided. The first turnover was by quarterback Matthew Stafford who attempted to throw a pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson but was intercepted. Now this turnover could have been avoided for the main fact if Stafford hadn’t thrown the ball late and telegraphed the pass the entire way. The second and third turnovers of the game came from running backs George Winn and Mikel LeShoure and just like Stafford’s interception, this could have been avoided. When it comes to Winn, he may be a rookie but he is a rookie who is trying to make an NFL team and the fact that this is his second fumble of the pre-season isn’t good. You can be a great play-maker all day long but if you can’t take care of the ball, your play-making abilities don’t count as much. The same thing goes for LeShoure, who also fumbled the ball in this game.
As I mentioned earlier, the little things continue to hurt the Lions. The Jaguars may not have a great team, but they have capable play-makers and I think the Lions have learned once again that if they have continuous penalties and turnovers, they can stop their own momentum and hurt themselves in the long-run against a better team.
“That’s the first thing we’re going to clean up is the penalties and the turnovers.” Reggie Bush said. ” Those are things that will get you beat. During the season against good teams, those kind of games will get you beat. That’s something we have to correct and we have to pay attention to because we did win the game, but there are a lot of things that will get us beat during the regular season that we have to correct right now.”
Defensive Line Shows Improvement but the Secondary Remains Inconsistent
In the Lions first two pre-season games, I brought up the fact that the Lions defensive line didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback. However in their win against the Jaguars, I am happy to say that I saw an improvement from the Lions defensive line. Now I know what you’re going to say, the Lions played the Jaguars, who don’t have a good offensive line and while that may be true it doesn’t change the fact that the Lions defensive line took advantage of the Jaguars’ weak and inconsistent offensive line.
For starters, I like that they made a point to control the line of scrimmage and make the Jaguars one-dimensional by putting an end to the Jaguars running game. If you think I am exaggerating, just know that the Jaguars had 25 rushing yards at halftime and ended the game with 85 rushing yards. Then if that’s not enough, the Lions defensive-line also did a good job of pressuring the Jaguars various quarterback and racking up a few sacks. Again I know it’s the Jaguars, but it’s important that the Lions defensive line take advantage of weak offensive lines because what they do now, can and probably will translate into the season, when they face better offensive lines.
“Yeah, I thought they played well and played tough.” Coach Caldwell speaking on the defense. “But like I said, the thing that happened- We had so many drives that were extended because of the fact we had a penalty here and there which kind of really marred a pretty good performance out of that group. I think they controlled the line of scrimmage, which is something you look for. We were able to get two turnovers, not the number one group but overall. But I think the number one unit ran to the ball well. I think they closed on the ball well. They limited big gains, and I think they were pretty solid except for the penalties.”
Which is bring me to the Lions secondary who continues to be the weak link in pre-season because of their consistent mis-communication, poor defensive awareness and poor tackling. I don’t know about you but at this point, I feel there continuous problems are becoming unacceptable, especially with the season being right around the corner.
When it comes to the mis-communication, I feel there were a few to many plays, where the middle field was wide open, then to make matters worse, there was plenty of plenty of mis-communication that led to botched coverage in the secondary. Luckily for the Lions, the Jaguars are still a young and growing offense so they didn’t capitalize on a lot of their opportunities like they should have but again the Lions have to understand that every team won’t be like the Jaguars, better teams will take advantage of the Lions misc-communication and botched coverage.
The same thing goes for the secondary’s poor defensive awareness and poor tackling. The Lions may have only allowed the Jaguars to score one touchdown in this game but that touchdown came because the Lions secondary could not wrap up and tackle. I don’t know about you but at this point, I shouldn’t have to worry about miss tackles, this is the NFL, if you can’t wrap up and tackle, I have to wonder what are you even doing in the league. I feel the same way when it comes to Lions defensive awareness and execution. To many times in this game, the Lions secondary was not defensively aware, in particular, I saw a few defensive backs like Darius Slay and Bill Bentley not identify where the ball was, which allowed plays to be made through the air. Then you had those moments, where the secondary was defensively aware but couldn’t execute on the ball, in particular, corner-back Rashean Mathis and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who both dropped easy interceptions that could have turned into points for the Lions. Again, I am not trying to disrespect the Lions effort here but the things I am constantly mentioning are the things that can effect how the Lions win games this season.
“You know, when you let those opportunities slip out of your hands, more often than not when they do typically, quarterbacks and offenses in this league will move the ball.” Coach Caldwell speaking on how important it is to secure potential interceptions. “So, when you get those when they do throw it to you and hit you in the hands, you have to be able to pull those in. They work at it, they catch balls after practice and those kinds of things. But we have to keep getting better so we have to be able to take advantage of those.”
Nevertheless, while there were some negative moments in the Lions secondary, let me add that there were some bright spots in the defense as well. Besides the defensive line, I was really impressed with safety Nate Neese and corner-back Jonte Green. They didn’t necessarily do anything super special or amazing but they did take advantage of what the Jaguars offense gave them and intercepted passes, which was a plus for me, after seeing so many drop interceptions in the game earlier. Besides that, I was also impressed with the play of linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who was tackling machine in this game, as he caused plenty of havoc in the backfield with three sacks.
“All this week I just prepared really hard, just to try to take advantage of the opportunity.” Whithead speaking on his performance. “I just came in, did my job and the goal coming into this was simply be there for my teammates and do the best I can do.”
First Team Offense Gets Off to a Slow Start but Still Show Some Good Signs
Now when it came to the Lions first team offense, they got off to a slow start, which had a lot to do with quarterback Matthew Stafford going back to his old habits. In their first two pre-season games, I said Stafford looked like the game had slowed down for him, meaning that he didn’t look rushed. However, to start this game, Stafford looked rushed. Despite receiving solid protection, Stafford went back to his old habits of holding the ball to long and telegraphing plays, which lead to a couple of incomplete passes and an interception. While it was disappointing to see Stafford go back to his old habits, I do like the fact that he was able to adjust and move past his mistakes.
Despite, having a rough start, Stafford was able to remain compose and put the mistakes behind him. For starters, I like the fact that he made the correct adjustments, which included him getting the ball out quicker and making the right reads and going through right progressions. After that I really like the fact that after he threw the interception, he came right out on the next drive and led his team down the field. Now I know the Lions didn’t score on that particular drive but it spoke volumes that Stafford came right back out and led his team 90 yards down the field, while completing all five of his passes for 63 yards.
“I think me just being patient.” Stafford speaking on the difference in his game after a slower start. “I felt like the first pass we had, the second play of the game, could have taken CJ (WR Calvin Johnson) for a gain of two and gotten us a first down on a second-and-one. The guys were blocking so well up front that I just tried to move around and make a play and I shouldn’t have done it, you know, just to keep us ahead of the chains. That defense was dropping deep and I’m not sure we threw many balls over 20 yards downfield tonight. They were making us take the underneath stuff and once we started doing that and staying ahead of the chains we had some good drives going.”
If that’s not enough, I also like the fact that Stafford made use of his different weapons. As I mentioned earlier, Johnson did play in this game but unlike in the past, Stafford did spread the ball and not just rely on Johnson, which will be key for the Lions this season. Plus, it was nice to see the versatility of the Lions receiving core. Wide receiver Golden Tate, continues to show that there is no limit to what he can do in space, as he continues to be a good creator after the catch. Tight end Eric Ebron showed his good hands and versatility, as he provided some nice plays to move the chains for the Lions. On top of that, Ebron also provided a critical block to spring Bush on an 86-yard touchdown run. While no receiver stuck out in particular, keep in mind that Johnson, Tate, and Ebron all had 15 plus yard gains in this game, which is good sign as the Lions continue show that they have a nice amount of offensive weapons at wide receiver.
After that, I have to give credit to running backs Reggie Bush and Joique. When it comes to Bush, he actually scored the Lions’ first touchdown in the game. While it’s not surprising to see Bush score, I really like how Bush scored the touchdown, meaning that instead of his normal juke fest, Bush made one man miss with nice juke move and then accelerated up the field for the touchdown. While that may not seem like a big deal, it stands out to me because that is what Bush should be doing all the time. In the past, he has been known as energizer bunny who jukes like he has to go to the bathroom. However, in this game, he did a good job of making one hard move and taking what the defense gives him. The same goes for Joique Bell, who also had some solid carries, while averaging close to four yards a carry. I also have to give credit to the Lions offensive line, who doesn’t get the consistent credit they deserve for protecting Stafford and opening holes for the running backs.
“It was good to see Reggie get out and be able to take it the distance.” Coach Caldwell speaking on Bush’s 86 yard touchdown. “It is difficult in this league. As many fast guys as there are in this league, to get a run of that length and distance, those are uncommon. You just do not see them very often, as you all know because you cover the game quite well. And to see him get out and finish it that way is pretty nice to see. He still is who he is, right? A guy with a lot of speed and burst and can still run away from some of the young fellas out there.”
It may be pre-season and we may have not seen a lot of scoring in this game by the Lions, but I do see the potential of this offense and as long Caldwell keeps the offense balance and disciplined, there is no reason to think that the Lions can’t have great success on offense.
Overall, I feel the Lions are showing growth which is what preseason is all about. However, at the end of the day, Lions needs to start showing more discipline and continue to improve on their weak points because the season is right around the corner.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
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