By Beast, DLD Contributor
The Lions started out with a whimper and it looked like the trends from last season would continue with dumb penalties and miscues where they looked like the better team but the scoreboard doesn’t show it. At second half, they turned it around and put up a quality performance that we all expected before the season started. It was kind of a must win game because it’s a divisional opponent and both the Packers and Bears faced tough opponents to start out with. Obviously, the Bears won, but it put the Lions in good position in terms of NFC North standing.
1. Reggie Bush was as advertised and more.
At the start of the free agency market, the Lions put on a full court press to woo Reggie Bush into signing with the Lions. The front office clearly felt that not having Jahvid Best is a big blow to the offense, and they thought that Reggie Bush would be a good replacement. They signed him for 4 years ($16 million) contract. After today’s game, it felt that the Lions got a big time steal with Bush putting up a big show in running and catching the ball. Bush made the defense pay for rolling the coverage to Calvin Johnson and was able to take advantage of the defense not respecting the run. Bush is a mis-match waiting to happen especially when he has LB covering him in space. The 77 yard TD catch on a screen play was a big reason why the Lions brass really wanted to get Bush. He turned a 4 yard pass into a long run when he blew by Vikings LBs and DBs with his speed.
2. Joique Bell wasn’t too bad either.
While Bush had a phenomenal game, Joique Bell proved his worth as a backup RB by consistently getting positive yards and caught the ball well out of the backfield. Bell was decisive and was able to cut upfield to get positive yards. Bell is a great compliment to Bush with his power and ability to catch out of the backfield. All of the sudden, the Lions has a running game that they can rely on when it comes to crunch time or they need to get the offense going if the passing game falters.
3. Rumors of Nate Burleson’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In the preseason, Nate Burleson looked like he showed his age and really struggled to gain separation from the DBs. Burleson moved to slot WR when Ryan Broyles is still recovering from ACL injury. Burleson proved me right when I said that his best position is at slot WR. He caught 6 balls for 78 yards and looked real good. He helped pick up the slack that Calvin Johnson wasn’t able to provide due to the coverage. Not to take away his good performance, but it helps that the Vikings is let their best nickel corner, Antonie Winfield, walk in the FA market. It is an encouraging sign that Burleson still has some gas left in his tank.
4. Joseph Fauria is a keeper as an UDFA TE.
When I saw the Lions signed Joseph Fauria immediately after the draft, I proclaimed that he would be an automatic upgrade over Tony Scheffler because he is younger, cheaper and better than him. Two of the big reason why he went undrafted is his blocking skills and his speed. I was pleasantly surprised with his blocking and willingness to be aggressive. He displayed soft hands and has massive frame and wingspan that he is a weapon at the red zone. Fauria had a solid game today and caught his first career TD on a fade pass play where he used his height and wingspan to his advantage. He looked like a good keeper as a #2 TE where Stafford can trust him that he’ll get the ball in the middle of the field and would be a huge asset in the red zone on a fade route where he’ll likely to get one on one coverage.
5. Matt Stafford finally played a good game from start to the end.
For the first time in a long time, I felt that Matt Stafford played a very good game from the start of the game to the final buzzer. He was accurate, made good decisions and was able to distribute to different receivers. The best part is his footwork is consistent and not falling of his heels. If it continues, the sky is the limit for the Lions offense. They’re a force to be reckoned with. Yes, Stafford threw one INT but that wasn’t his fault when the ball got tipped at LOS. Otherwise, his stat line is clean.
6. Lions DL is a force to be reckoned with.
After last season disappointment with non-existent edge pass rush from DEs, they came back in a big way. They were able to generate consistent pressure from the edge as well as the interior. In addition to the pass rush, they were stout against the run. The DL gave no lanes for Adrian Peterson to run through. After allowing AD to run through 78 yards for a TD, AD ran for 15 yards for the rest of the game with an average of .88 yards per carry. Considering that AP is the best RB in the league, which is a very impressive performance by defense in terms of stopping against the run.
7. CB play is still a concern
For most of the game, Chris Houston and Darius Slay struggled in covering WRs. Chris Houston is usually dependable and consistent, but there were a couple of plays where Houston simply got beat and didn’t turn his head around when the ball is in the air. On the other side, Slay really showed that he is a rookie and got beat a couple times including the long passing play to Jerome Simpson (not completely sure whose fault is it). Slay was responsible for two TDs where he simply failed to break down in space to tackle AP. He was benched in favor of Rashean Mathis at halftime.
8. Sam Martin’s consistency still leaves a lot to be desired
Sam Martin continues to show inconsistencies as I noted in the article 5 Burning Questions That Must Be Answered In Preseason. Martin shanked his first punt 33 yards. The next punt, he boomed it 55 yards to flip the field and the illegal block above the waist by Xavier Rhodes added to the net yards. Martin then shanked the next punt 29 yards out of bounds on a short field. Granted, it’s on Minnesota 22 yard line but it is not encouraging to see Martin struggles in today’s game. His punt was a thing of beauty, pinning the Vikings to the 1 yard line thanks to a stellar special team coverage by Michael Spurlock. The good thing about Martin today is his kickoff duty where he pretty much boomed every ball to the end zone. This is a far cry from Jason Hanson, who is a great kicker in his own right, routinely kick the ball to the 5 yard line where teams would get a favorable return.
9. Forced Turnovers
Last season, the defense weren’t very good at forcing turnovers and it exacerbates their problems on inability to stop opposing offense in crucial situations. The defense was able to pick off Ponder 3 times and forced a fumble on Ponder as well. They had two potential pick six taken away due to Suh’s dumb penalty and Bentley’s inability to hold onto the ball. The trend of defense forcing turnovers during preseason continues to today’s game and that is a very good thing. Two years ago, the Lions were plus 16 in turnover margin. Last year, they were minus 11 in the same category. Having it trending towards the positive side can only help the Lions this season.
10. Penalties and miscues
As well as the team have played, they have made several dumb mistakes. In the first half I had a flashback of last season where the Lions looked like the better team but the scoreboard didn’t show it. They gave away points and let the Vikings hang in the game with foolish penalties like unsportsmanlike conduct, personal fouls and one turnover where Stafford had the ball deflected that resulted in an INT. They had a pick-six taken away due to Suh’s block below the waist that is completely unnecessary that DeAndre Levy was going to score anyway without it. That needs to be cleaned up before next week’s game.
I am pleased with the outcome of the game for the most part, but their play at 1st half frustrated me because they left so many points off the board and had several dumb penalties and miscues that cost them. I am sure that all of the Lions fans had flashback of last season and it certainly crept into my mind that maybe, just maybe it’s the same ole Lions. Alas, they came out of 2nd half on a mission and were able to take care of business. The offense has the potential to be the best in the league with Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush causing so much stress on defense that it is allowing the rest of the offensive players to contribute. The defense is solid but not great, but their run defense is excellent aside from the first play of the series. We’ll see how the defense performs with better QB and they’ll be tested against the Cardinals next week.
The Cardinals pose a different challenge for the Lions next week with better passing game. Carson Palmer looked much better with them than with the Raiders, and Larry Fitzgerald showed why he is still one of the best WR in the league. The OL will still have trouble holding up against the pass rush and the Lions DL should be licking their chops to get to Carson Palmer especially when Willie Young and Ziggy Ansah lines up across Levi Brown. The Cardinals defense is very good, but they’ll be without their best player, Daryl Washington due to suspension. If the Lions offense can put up points early on, it’ll put pressure on Palmer to come back via the pass so the Lions DL can pin their ears back to go after him. This is an important game for Stafford because he played miserable last year against them. He needs to continue his strong play against the Vikings.