|Can the Lions faithful party like it's 1953? Don't bet on it just yet.|
Jokes aside, the Lions preseason began on a positive note tonight as one of the longest offseasons in franchise history finally drew to a close. New coaches, big draw rookies and some sloppy play on both sides lead to a wild and entertaining contest that provided more drama than you'd typically expect out of a 13-12 match featuring six field goals. Of course, in the grand scheme of things this win means precisely bupkis to the Lions because preseason games don't count and in fact what you see on the screen barely qualifies as football. Experienced NFL coaches tend to treat preseason games like a form of live practice that their team is begrudgingly obliged to perform by NFL mandate. Locked in starters will rarely play for more than a series or two before they are pulled to avoid injury, and most of the players who actually decide the contest won't even make their respective teams when the preseason is over. So if the best players don't play, the coaches don't take it seriously and the results don't matter - the question then becomes "Sportsball Chic, why do you even watch preseason football?"
|What are we talking about? Preseason? How silly is that?|
|"I'm all heart muthafucka!"|
Offensively, we got a taste of what new coordinator Joe Lombardi brings to the table and the results were acceptable; albeit with what was likely a rather vanilla game plan. As I alluded to the photo above, Calvin Johnson didn't play at all and Mathew Stafford only stuck around for one series, but for the rest of the night the Lions backups ran plays that you will no doubt see on Sunday this fall. From a play calling standpoint, Lombardi may well end up being a breath of fresh air. While it's hard to get a read on an offense based on one preaseason game, I'd say overall you can probably expect slightly less shotgun formations and more, or at least more consistent running. This isn't to suggest that the Lions are going to stop being a passing team, but you could definitely tell that Lombardi was more dedicated to mix in runs throughout the game than his predecessor Scott Linehan had been. It is fair to suggest that this might have been a product of trying to find evaluation time for as many as eight backs and a lack of production at QB (more on this later). Regardless, the run pass mix in the Lions offense felt more natural and organic than it has in years, with Lombardi calling runs on all three downs and continuing to mix in runs even when someone got stuffed early in a drive. As someone who's always felt that the Lions tend to abandon the run as soon as the going gets even slightly difficult, this was a welcome change.
|2nd times the charm? Miller hopes so.|
Defensively however, things weren't quite as awesome. With all of the upheaval this past season in the Lions secondary, I watched this game with two major questions in mind:
- What type of coverage would the Lions secondary play with corners who specialize in man or zone but nobody who excels at both?
- Would new strong safety James Ihedigbo and incumbent corner Rashean Mathis be fast enough to hold up in coverage or would the Lions have to protect them with other players to avoid big plays in the passing game?
|What's man coverage coach? That sounds like a lot of running|
As noted above, the Lions (mostly) starting front seven was not particularly effective at generating pressure on Cleveland's Qbs tonight. While last year's epic defensive collapse makes this a worrying sign, it's important to note that the Browns scheme had a lot to do with stalling the Lions pass rush and its certainly fair to suggest that the Lions weren't trying all that hard to get to Hoyer early. Detroit didn't blitz much with it's starters, but once the Lions did start sending extra backups after the QB they easily disrupted the timing of a Cleveland offense still littered with first string players. Unsurprisngly the increase in blitzing coincided almost exactly with the shift towards man to man coverage - which probably doesn't spell good news for the Lions corners on the bubble who specialize in zone.
|Wide Nine? Oh hell no son, we care about stopping the run|
Overall, Detroit was surprisngly the more disciplined team, although it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that wasn't hard against a Cleveland squad that took 11 penalties for 60 yards. The Lions had five penalties of their own, but many of them seemed related to a lack of familiarity more than anything else. For once, the other team took the stupid penalties late and lo and behold - the Lions won! Detroit's coaches remained calm throughout the game, methodically rotating through the roster at all the times you'd expect them to, while Cleveland kept high profile players in longer, trying to jump-start their performance. While it's only a preaseason game, the bottom line is that the Lions looked disciplined, well-coached, even smart on a couple of occasions and that alone suggests that Caldwell and his staff have made significant progress with this team.
The Battle at Corner: As previously mentioned, neither Mathis or Slay played particularly well in limited time tonight but the simple truth is they are definitely making the roster at this point and barring a complete collapse, likely to start. Furthermore, it looks like incumbent Bill Bentley will open the season as the slot nickle corner as he stayed in just long enough to register 2 tackles and left with the rest of the starters. The battle that Lions fans have been focusing on this summer is at the bottom of the roster where the Lions will keep at most three additional corners and may keep only two. Without access to coaches film, it's hard to evaluate the play of individual corners throughout the game and sometimes not being noticed by the camera means that a corner is doing a great job because his man is never open. With that having been noted, here are my thoughts on the Lions hopefuls I saw play tonight:
|Jonte Green? Are you serious?|
- I don't know how terrible Chris Greenwood is at practice but he must be pretty awful because the Lions rarely seem to have anything good to say about him. During training camp the word out of Detroit has been that Greenwood looked lost again and he very much appeared to be on his way out of the Lions organization for the second time. Those stories are pretty hard to reconcile with tonight's contest however because Greenwood was by and large the best corner Detroit had in this game. Although the official stats sheet only credits him with one tackle and one pass breakup, he actually disrupted two Cleveland passes and consistently found ways to influence runs to his side. It wasn't exactly a Primetime performance, but Greenwood certainly looked like a guy with great instincts and quickness. This is an ongoing theme in Greenwood's career and he's often amongst Lions fan favorites when he's on the field - he just rarely gets any playing time because the coaches don't like his game.
- On the other side of the coin, camp favorite Jonte Green didn't have a particularly good game; failing to register a positive statistic, collecting a dumb pass interference penalty and giving up a couple of stoppable passes in the second half. In complete contrast to Greenwood, Green didn't look instinctual at all and always seemed a half second late in man coverage. In retrospect, it's fair to point out that Greenwood was running with the Lions second stringers and Green was playing mostly with third stringers and hopefuls. Perhaps all of the bluster out of Lions camp has been designed to motivate both players and Lions brass sees what the rest of us see after all.
- Cassius Vaughn didn't play as much as I'd hoped for and when he did, things were mostly pretty quiet. Unlike Green however, this was a good thing as Vaughn wasn't getting burnt while failing to compile many stats. With 1 tackle and 1 pass defended, I felt Vaughn's performance was competent which is pretty much all you can hope for out of your 5th or 6th corner frankly.
- Tonight was hopefully something of a learning experience for Nevin Lawson because after a single preseason game he's probably already gained himself a reputation for clutching opposing jerseys. While this only lead to a single defensive holding penalty tonight, the simple truth is that he was clutching and grabbing virtually every time the camera found him. People are going to watch tape of this game and before long refs will be warned that the rookie corner from Detroit is probably holding and that is the kind of rumor that can end a career before it starts. Whether it's simply a bad habit from college or because he's not quite fast enough is largely irrelevant, Lawson will not last in the NFL if he doesn't learn to be more subtle with his hands. I'd love to offer you a review on his play aside from the holding, but since he was holding on every play I saw that is impossible. If the Lions truly are going to forge their roster based on merit alone, Nevin Lawson may have seriously damaged his chances of making the team between tonight and training camp - already.
- While Mo Seisay probably has very little chance of actually making Detroit's final roster, nothing he did tonight is going to hurt his chances. Seisay was one of the game's late stars, breaking up two passes in crunch time as the Browns attempted to drive for what would have been clinching points. Aside from the two pass breakups, you barely saw him - which as mentioned already is probably a good thing.
- If Aaron Hester or Drayton Florence played tonight, I didn't notice them at all
|What? I only missed by *this* much coach|
- Go down to avoid a pass rush with a lane directly in front of him. Literally right in front of Orlovsky is the open space he needs to make the play on a wide open reciever about 12 yards up field, but instead he falls and takes an easy sack.
- Throw the single worst screen pass/lob ball I have ever seen in my life. It was not only too slow for an NFL level pass but somehow the ball actually grew wings and flew well over 10 yards in the air, ensuring the target was completely surrounded by the time it arrived.
- Throw directly into coverage 3 times. In not one instance was the intended receiver open at all, Dan just threw it anyways.
- Somehow manage to throw behind a halfback on a 5 yard dump off. While we all know Orlovsky's arm strength isn't impressive, it's hard to understand what value he has if dump off plays to a runner can't be performed accurately.
|This man has never run out of the endzone for a safety|
|"They look like big, strong hands...don't they?"|
Trench Warfare: Evaluating individual line play in real time with the aid of only a television broadcast is in my mind one of the most difficult tasks known to mankind. Not only are the plays moving too fast, but the cameraman is actively working to help casual fans avoid looking at chubby, sweaty linemen at all. With that in mind, I thought Detroit's line play as a whole was excellent with the possible exception of our (mostly) starters on defense failing to generate an effective pass rush. Offensively, Detroit QBs were only sacked once the entire game and as previously mentioned even that play is suspect. Protection had broken down a little bit, but in my opinion the QB ate the ball in a moment of panic when there was a play still to be made. Frankly, even Detroit's deep backups had their way with the Brown's front seven and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the guys the Lions end up cutting at the end of this process land on other NFL rosters or practice squads. The backup defensive line was even more impressive, consistently beating blocks in the running game and helping to generate pressure on Brown's quarterbacks. George Johnson impressed but the Lions most active defender at any position tonight was defensive tackle Jimmy Saddler-McQueen. Although he only registered 1 tackle, the 300 pound wrecking ball was a constant force of disruption against both the pass and rush. If the Lions can't find room for him, Saddler-McQueen certainly used tonight to create some impressive game film to show other teams. Overall, Detroit won the battle of the lines going away and that's something they probably need to do on defense just to protect their potentially horrible secondary.
|One of these things is not like the others|
|"Oh man, I hope my mom was taping tonight's game"|
- Ryan Broyles - caught all 3 passes thrown at him, looked extremely sharp. His routes were very crisp and he certainly didn't go in and out of cuts like a guy who's had multiple knee surgeries. It's been a long year for Broyles but tonight he outplayed Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards by a significant margin
- Jerome Couplin - laid the lumber out of the strong safety spot for the Lions in the latter half of the game. While he only registered two tackles officially, Couplin was in on several stops in the second half and played safety like a throwback linebacker. This guy is not afraid to throw his body weight around and he seemed reasonably fast to my untrained eye.
- George Winn - as previously mentioned he carved Cleveland up on the ground and in the air tonight. Winn looked too strong and fast to be a fringe roster guy but he's already been cut by 5 NFL teams and the Lions might not even need a 4th halfback if Owens makes the team.
- Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Kristopher Redding and George Johnson - playing on a line that gave the Browns 2nd and 3rd stringers fits all night, these three guys seemed to cause the most havoc as the game wore on. It isn't really reflected in the stats of course, but there's no stat for blowing up your opposite man and forced the offense to go in a less desirable direction either.
- Andrew Peacock - started off poorly with a drop and some sloppy routes but came on strong as the game ground forward. Peacock is listed at 5'10" and 190lbs but after watching him tonight I don't believe that for a second. The guy is tiny looking in that number one jersey and early on I found myself wondering why the Lions were letting the third string punter play WR. Once he settled down however Peacock displayed impressive agility and enough quickness to simply beat pressing Browns corners off the line of scrimmage. With 4 catches for 43 yards on 6 targets, Peacock finished as the Lions leading receiver tonight - even if he probably won't make Sportscenter like our next guy.
- Corey Fuller - when you catch the game winning touchdown in the corner of the endzone during the final minute of a comeback victory, you deserve at least a small mention. Unfortunately that was the only pass Fuller caught all game and prior to catching it, I don't actually remember seeing him accomplish anything special on the field. With roster spots getting tight, it's hard to say if that catch is enough to keep the 2013 6th rounder on the squad.
|How does a guy this big vanish on game night?|
The Browns: Oh yeah, there was another team playing tonight! For the most part the Cleveland Browns were pretty terrible. Hoyer looked very much like a backup QB promoted into a starting spot; he wasn't awful by any stretch but most of his completions were pretty short and he struggled to sustain drives or challenge the Lions defense. Manziel seemed like a credible pro quarterback for most of the time he played and even managed to look better taking snaps under center than he did from the pistol. His command of the huddle could use some work however as Cleveland took at least one delay of game penalty while constantly snapping the ball with a mere second left on the play clock. Brian Hoyer got more playing time, but it was also impossible not to notice how many roll out plays, traps and draws the Browns were running. The offense was clearly designed to take advantage of a QB with some mobility (like Johnny Football) and not an average athlete like Hoyer. The Browns may say it's Hoyer's job to lose, but the plays they were calling last night make it clear they're hoping Manziel can take the controls away from him sometime this season. Aside from the Browns quarterbacks; halfback Terrance West, tight end MarQueis Gray and receiver Charles Johnson stood out the most amongst the guys fighting for a roster spot - although each of them made at least one glaring mistake as the game wound down. Finally Josh Gordon played an awful long time for a starter who's probably going to be suspended for the season and Miles Austin started at the other wide receiver slot but looked terrible.
And now, if you'll excuse me; I think I have just enough time to get a Lions 2014-15 Superbowl tattoo before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.
- Sportsball Chic