Week 3 of the preseason is generally considered as the dress rehearsal for the NFL season. Teams will play their first team offense and defense for a substantial amount of time, sometimes into the third quarter. This ensures them a full two weeks of rehab for the regular season, and gives them a strong taste of what they need to improve upon for Week 1.
The Detroit Lions are coming off of two wins in the preseason over the Colts and Jets, two teams considered to be at their lowest points currently. Indianapolis is struggling with key injuries, while the Jets are in full rebuild mode. Detroit had the upper hand on each of them throughout both games, but many fans are left concerned as to whether those games have any merit.
That will all change Friday evening, as the boys in Honolulu blue will be taking on last season’s Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. Win or lose, this game will have a positive impact on the Detroit Lion’s season, as it will show either how far behind from the top-tier they are, or how ready they are to take the next step. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Detroit’s offense so far this preseason has been efficient, but still showing some holes that could be somewhat exploited by New England. The top concern for the Lions, yet again, is their running game. The offseason signings of RT Ricky Wagner and RG T.J. Lang aided to solidify and improve the offensive line, but the loss of Taylor Decker has set them back a bit. Greg Robinson will be a key figure to watch in this game and how he holds up under true first teams reps. He has done well so far this preseason, but a fair amount of his play has been against second string players.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been extremely efficient so far this preseason, completing 10/13 passes for 120 yards, with one touchdown and one interception– that was not necessarily his fault. What is even more impressive this season is the timing and chemistry that Stafford is having with his receivers. The usual screen passes and quick outs are still there, but there have been four throws in particular that have been very impressive.
1) Week 1 vs. Indianapolis Colts to T.J. Jones
On a play action pass, the pocket immediately collapsed on a failed block by Ameer Abdullah. This forced Stafford to step up quickly and he then delivered a beautiful touch pass to T.J. Jones in stride for a 20+ yard gain. It showed that his mobility has gotten even better, and he is continuing to hone his craft to not be just a gunslinger, but a quarterback that receivers like to catch balls from.
2) Week 2 vs. New York Jets to Golden Tate
The first play of the game for Detroit on offense was a play action pass, where Stafford hit Golden Tate on a crossing route. Tate received a pretty big hit immediately after catching, but because the ball was thrown with touch and hit him in stride, he was able to catch and secure it much faster than if it had been an aggressive throw.
3) Week 2 vs. New York Jets to Marvin Jones (twice)
This play appeared to be a boring nine yard gain, but it was a timing curl route to Marvin Jones where the ball was out of Stafford’s hand before Jones had hit his cut. The amount of timing and chemistry they are creating is showing flashes of Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson with throws like that. It will be fun to see how their chemistry on the field continues to grow.
The other throw to Jones was the touchdown pass. It was a beautiful throw into the corner of the end zone where only the receiver could get it. Last season, for every good end zone throw, there was one where Stafford appeared to throw it to no one, a fault of the quarterback and receiver not being on the same page. It is apparent that both Stafford and Jones are beginning to read each other and understand where they need to be and where to put the ball. Jones could be on the verge of a big season this year if this continues.
These are the kinds of play that the Lions’ offense needs to make on a consistent basis, and Friday’s matchup versus New England is their best opportunity to see how they fare against the best.
Detroit’s defense has been the strongest part of the team this preseason, albeit versus weak offensive opponents. Despite the loss of Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland for the season, the defensive line has been wreaking havoc. In just two games, the line has sacked the opposing quarterback eight times, and many other instances they have forced bad throws, quick throws, and put a hit on him. A few notable players that have surprised are Cornelius Washington, Akeem Spence and Anthony Zettel. Detroit’s defensive line philosophy is rotating players constantly to keep them fresh. If even the second line is showing this kind of pressure, the Lions could have one of the most underrated defensive lines in football. Let us also keep in mind that Ziggy Ansah has not played a down in the preseason yet either.
The linebacker core has shown progression through the preseason but is still a bit of a weak spot, mainly due to their youth. If the season started now, Detroit would start Jarrad Davis, a rookie, and Antwoine Williams, a second year player. In the past, the Lions have had experience lead the way in the linebacker core with players like DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. This linebacker core is the opposite, as they are young and fast, but lack a significant amount of snaps in a game like Friday’s matchup versus the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots. Tom Brady has been taking advantage of young defensive players for the last decade, so if the Lions can put up a good fight against him that will bode well for the season.
When Bob Quinn took on the position of general manager in 2016, he made it clear that depth and position battles are a key to successful teams. Look no further than Detroit’s secondary to see this in action, as the Lions have only two positions that are solidified; Darius Slay and Glover Quin. The second cornerback, nickel cornerback, and opposite safety position are up for grabs, and there are a half dozen players that are stating their case for those. This matchup versus New England is a great opportunity for these players to earn themselves a starting role on the defense.
Overall, anytime Brady steps on the field, the weakness of the defense is exploited. Granted, in the preseason there is not as much prep put into opposing teams, but I have a feeling the “GOAT” will try his best to make the Lions’ defense look bad on Friday night. A strong showing by this defense will bode well for their confidence going into the regular season, so it will certainly be something to watch.
This is an exciting time to be a Detroit Lions fan. The team is improving every year in the right places, and we seem to be a few small pieces away from making that next step. The Lions are notorious for not winning the big games and not performing in the big moments. The first half of Friday evening’s matchup versus the New England is an opportunity for Detroit to show how ready or not ready they are to take on the big moments this season.
Stay tuned to Blue HQ for news and analysis of all your favorite teams.