Another August has passed and with it has come another mostly steady showing from the Detroit Lions in the preseason. While the talent and ability of most of the Lions’ starters were well established long before this preseason, a lot was learned about what Detroit has to offer behind the starting string. And while a preseason can only be taken with a grain of salt, the Lions showed something we’ve seen so often from them in recent history: moments of poor discipline and poor execution as well as moments of sound fundamentals and electrifying play-making.
The preseason showed seemingly all forms of the Lions; two tight, tough defense, power-football 13-12 victories against Cleveland showed a lot of miscues but also a lot of grit; a faster paced, air-it-out, vintage Detroit offense 26-27 loss to Oakland showed very talented offense; and an all around decently executed 23-0 shutout in Buffalo this past Thursday.
Preseason statistics don’t offer very much for regular season predictions, but the numbers the Lions put up the last four weeks leave mixed feelings. Through the preseason, Detroit finished 17th in points per game, 20th in yards per game, 24th in rush yards specifically per game, with the offense only going 36% on third down. Yet on the other side of the spectrum the Lions also averaged around a four minute advantage in time of possession, doubled their opponents in touchdowns, generated an impressive 11 sacks on defense, and perhaps most importantly held a +4 turnover ratio.
For the first time in a long time, the Lions seem to be sporting a competent (at least functional) QB trio going into the regular season. Undoubtedly Matthew Stafford looks perfectly ready for New York, going 21-30 (70%) for 204 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a 97.1 rating; enough arm work to get a sweat but still stay just warmed up. Dan Orlovsky gave most fans what they’d probably expect: modest but not earth shattering numbers (36-57 (63.2%) for 355 yards but with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 80.7 rating. But perhaps least predictable (and most pleasant) was the performance of third year pro Kellen Moore, who registered a 108.4 rating by going 35-51 (68.6%) for 361 yards and three touchdowns with no picks.
On the ground we don’t know very much about the Lions’ running back core beyond Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, who both flashed their combination of lightning and thunder. What we do know is that Mikel Leshoure’s time in Detroit has transpired after getting a sizeable 31 carries but only making 116 yards out of, not even reaching four yards per carry nor getting into the endzone once. Elsewhere on offense Ryan Broyles finished a strong exhibition campaign with 11 receptions for 144 yards and Eric Ebron showed good potential with 7 catches for 88 yards and a 12.3 average; slot receiver numbers for a quick tight end. And finally, the offensive line showed good poise, giving up only five sacks and now goes forward with Riley Reiff, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Larry Warford, Corey Hilliard, LaAdrian Waddle, Travis Swanson, and Cornelius Lucas on the 53 man squad.
For the Lions to truly be competitive in an overly loaded NFC and a thoroughly talented NFC North, they will have to do more than just rely on outscoring opponents; Detroit’s defense is integral to their success this year. Headlining the Lions’ defensive performance this preseason was 3rd year LB Tahir Whitehead who exploded onto the scene with 21 tackles and 3 assists and now looks primed to join veterans Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy in a very tough nosed linebacker group. LB Travis Lewis also created a splash during the preseason with 17 tackles of his own and is poised to be a key cog on the Lions’ special teams units.
Also encouraging was Detroit’s secondary, which racked up seven interceptions and 85 return yards. For a group that is still looking for an identity and a clear lockdown corner, the Lions’ defensive backfield generated a lot of hype and now shows a lot of raw promise going into the season. An honorable mention goes specifically to FS Isa Abdul-Quddas who tied with Lewis for second in tackles at 17 and also showed a knack for lowering his shoulder on receivers over the middle.
Roster Cuts (as of August 30th)
Per usual with the conclusion of the preseason, the Lions have trimmed up the roster thoroughly to get to the 53 man roster size for the regular season. Intriguing cuts thus far have been steady and developing WR Kris Durham and athletic DT Andre Fluellen. Thus the following is the list of cuts by position as of yesterday:
QB: no one
RB: Mikel Leshoure, George Winn, Emil Igwenagu
WR: Kris Durham, Andrew Peacock, Patrick Edwards
TE: Michael Egnew, Jordan Thompson
OL: Rodney Austin, Garrett Reynolds, Michael Williams, Darren Keyton
DL: Darryl Tapp, Andre Fluellen, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen, Xavier Proctor
LB: Brandon Hepburn, Julian Stanford, Shamari Benton
CB: Mohammed Seisay, Chris Greenwood
S: Nate Ness
The Bottom Line
At this point it almost goes without saying, but once again the Lions go into the season with the exciting ability to headline the league as its most exciting offense, win against good clubs, capture a playoff berth, and even perhaps host a playoff game. Of course history does not lie and the converse is true; the Lions could hover around at 7-9 or 8-8, being dominated by Green Bay and outplayed by Chicago, disappointing in a season that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.
No matter the result, the bottom line for Detroit comes down to discipline. On offense this means that Matthew Stafford cannot afford to have another season with a sub 60% completion percentage; he needs to play with more cultivated QB discipline that we haven’t seen yet in his career. 68% may still be a dream, but Matthew Stafford’s accuracy is the Achilles heal on his stat sheet that could propel him to full stardom if he improves. Fortunately for Lions fans, Stafford has a long proven QB development guru in coach Jim Caldwell and will enjoy the additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to an already thorough litany of weapons. So long as Calvin Johnson remains in Detroit, Matthew Stafford will have the potential to be a premier, top 10 QB and more importantly, a playoff poised and potent leader. With seasons of 4,650, 4,967, and 5,038 yards in the past three years and a total of 90 passing touchdowns, better discipline behind center can only make the Lions more dangerous.
On defense, the story is just as much about discipline and even more about fundamentals. There is no doubt the Lions have talent on the line, ranking 6th last season in rush yards allowed and 8th in rushing touchdowns conceded. But with tough tackling and hard hitting has also come over aggressiveness and poor discipline for the Lions really since the start of the Jim Schwartz era. This is a team that was in the top tier last year for unnecessary roughness penalties and struggled to seize opportunities to create turnovers (only one turnover max created in 9 games). Tulloch and Levy are good defensive quarterbacks who have shown good command of the defensive system throughout the preseason, making them essential leaders to keep the unit organized and opportune. And while the secondary is still young and raw, the potential does remain there for the Lions to maintain its bronze first defensive mentality as well as play with more savvy and turnover brains.
Whatever happens, the Lions are sure to be an entertaining team as usual and once again Detroit starts another season with all the key players to put together a quality season and a truly memorable playoff run.