Preseason is unique. There are four preseason games and, simply put, the starters only play one series in the first game, the first half the second game, and into the third quarter the third game. By the fourth game, the first team is shut down to prevent injuries which gives the backups their last chance to shine. That’s the framework of an NFL preseason.
So, the final score really doesn’t matter. The win-loss record doesn’t mean much more. What does mean something is how well your offseason went in building your depth. For example, everything in the preseason is very vanilla. No one is opening up their playbook. Each game is more about execution than it is about scheme and adjustments during a game. Which presents this year’s Lions with an evaluation that is promising from a viewpoint that has been severely criticized this year. The defense.
Injuries happen in the NFL. Detroit has been severely criticized for not addressing their defensive line, especially at defensive end. Their star DE, Ziggy Ansah, hasn’t played or practiced so far but the greater loss is Kerry Hyder, last year’s sack leader, and Brandon Copeland, who are both gone for the season. All of this begs the question, can the Detroit Lions hold up with the roster they have at defensive end. So far, the answer is a qualified yes. Hey, Detroit’s defensive line has started backups and have already logged 8 sacks.
Small sample size
Two things; this is a very small sample size and two, you play who’s on the schedule. Against the Colts the Lions didn’t see either starting QB, the Colts’ Andrew Luck, and the Jets’ Josh McCown. The Jets played their likely backup, Christian Hackenberg, who was playing for a chance to start but his performance was anything but stellar. Again, you play who you play and it’s the player’s job to step up no matter who’s on the field. And that’s where Detroit looks like they’ll have a decent if not a good season. Here’s why.
The Colts and Jets are not elite teams. Only the Colts are considered a playoff team and that’s borderline. Those are the kind of teams on everyone’s schedule. To make the playoffs you have to beat those teams and so far the Lions are. The Lions’ starters have held the starters for these two teams to zero points. Mind you, it is a small sample size, however, on offense Detroit has posted ten points, which was around their average last year for the first half of games. What I’m saying is, against the weaker teams on the Lions schedule Detroit has a roster that has starters who are winning the execution battle. Their reserves are winning the rest of the game which goes to GM Bob Quinn’s mantra of better depth.
Together, two preseason games won’t show the end result but it does show Detroit has a roster capable of competing for eight wins because that’s usually the mix in a 16 game season – 8 easy teams and 8 tough teams. Hey, you play who’s on your schedule. Win those easy games because of a better roster and then you’re left with the other half of your schedule where it’s back to scheme and live adjustments as to who wins. That’s where home-field advantage comes in because it’s never an even split of 4 tough at home and 4 tough away, but win a couple of those tough home games and it’s not a hard sell to get the Lions in the playoff hunt again.
Matthew Stafford is 10 of 13 this preseason with one TD and one INT. His completion percentage is above 75 percent and his QB rating is slightly below 100. He’s led the Lions on two scoring drives for 10 points. Now the job is to keep Stafford healthy and the offense will do its part.
One of the keys to keeping Stafford healthy is a healthy running game, which hasn’t exactly shown up yet. It’s just as dismal as last year’s running game. Against a Jets defense, which did produce three Pro Bowl players last year, the Lions only rushed for 82 yards on 31 carries and 11 of those came on a Jake Rudock scramble and he won’t be playing once the regular season starts. That drops the stats to 71 yards on 30 carries and a miserable 2.3 yards per carry. To be fair this was the first game for T. J. Lang, the Lions high priced free agent at RG.
Still, it goes back to depth and along the offensive line, the Detroit Lions do not have quality depth. And again, these first two games were against the Colts and Jets, not exactly last year’s Super Bowl teams but next week is because the Patriots do come to town and not just for a preseason game but two practices as well.
Look, this all comes down to the starters. The third preseason game is as close to a regular season game as we’ll see until September. Throw in a couple of joint practices with the Patriots this week thus giving Bob Quinn and Jim Caldwell a better evaluation of where their rosters is. As a team, winning is always better than losing. As far as individuals go, no one stood out this week. From a roster stand point, there are two linemen, T. J. Lang on offense and Ziggy Ansah on defense, who will make a huge difference when they do return.
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