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Rams vs. Lions: 10 Things We Learned from Detroit's 27-23 Win

Chris MaddenAnalyst IIJanuary 1, 2015

Rams vs. Lions: 10 Things We Learned from Detroit's 27-23 Win

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    Detroit Lions fans who were hoping their team would dominate the St. Louis Rams from start to finish were disappointed on Sunday. The Rams turned out to be a better team than anyone gave them credit for, and they forced the Lions' vaunted offense into too many mistakes.

    As a result, the Lions were lucky to get the victory.

    That should come as no surprise though. Jeff Fisher, the Rams' new head coach, is a winner, and his impact in St. Louis has been immediate.

    The story of the game was the Rams' ability to get to Matthew Stafford in the first quarter. The Lions moved the ball effectively but stalled in the red zone because of turnovers. The Rams were in Stafford's head and intercepted him three times.

    Stafford's throws were good, and his numbers (aside from the picks) were good. The Rams simply figured him out.

    Ultimately, the Lions proved they were the better team, and they did what they had to do to win. Stafford connected with Kevin Smith on a five-yard touchdown with less than one minute left to seal the deal.

    That is what good teams do: win games even when they don't play their best.

    Fans might not be happy with how the Lions got there, but a win is a win in the NFL.

    * All stats in this article were taken from ESPN.com

10. The Lions Are Who We Thought They Were

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    No, I am not channeling Denny Green. I am simply stating a fact. Anyone who thought the Lions were going to come out and blow the Rams away must have been watching a different team last year.

    On paper, the Lions offense is one of the best in the NFL. It's easy to look at 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns and think that Matthew Stafford is Superman, and the Lions offense is invincible.

    However, sometimes, when a season is over and all you have to look at are the final numbers, certain things are forgotten.

    The Lions were not always dominant last season. In fact, rarely did they dominate a team start to finish. Their offense stalled frequently, and they relied on Stafford and Calvin Johnson's heroics—mixed with a little luck—to get four wins last season.

    The point is this: Lions fans should have recognized the Rams' game because it was played several times last year. The Lions got the win, but they didn't do so in dominant fashion.

    There were no dramatic improvements that stuck out, and there were no big steps backwards. The Lions are basically the same team everyone saw last year, complete with the same injury-riddled secondary.

    It's only the first game, though. That could change.

9. The Jury Is Still out on the Lions' Secondary

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    The Lions' secondary will be under a microscope all year, and Week 1 is no different. They're already plagued by injuries, and obviously, the weak link on defense.

    With that said, they were not terrible. Jonte Green got burned for a touchdown, but overall, they held Sam Bradford and the Rams passing offense in check. They only had 173 yards passing.

    That's good news although the Rams are not the Green Bay Packers either. The Lions should be able to keep them in check.

    Drayton Florence proved his worth with possibly the most important play of the game. He didn't give up on a play that he got beat on and knocked away a sure-fire touchdown from a Rams receiver.

    If that had gone the other way, the Lions would have been in serious trouble and probably would not have won the game.

    Consider the Rams win a win for the Lions' secondary, too.

8. The Lions Are Growing Up

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    It's only one game, but the Lions appear to have grown up. Despite all the offseason troubles and the predictions of regular-season implosion, the Lions handled themselves like pros against the Rams.

    OK, maybe not everyone. Titus Young got a personal foul and was promptly assigned to bench duty for the rest of the game.

    The Lions decisively won the penalty battle (3-7) though.  This might be the first time that has happened in two years.

    Even better, they kept their cool and didn't retaliate—even with players like Cortland Finnegan doing his best to instigate trouble.

    The game even got chippy several times, and several scrums emerged. The Lions put their hands up and walked the other way.

    Young was the only one who didn't get the memo, but is anyone really surprised? He's going to be a long-term project.

    Overall, it was quite a change from last season. The Lions were one of the most penalized teams and consistently made mental mistakes at the worst possible times.

    Not on Sunday. The Rams were the ones making the mistakes. With 16 rookies on their team, that sounds about right.

7. Without Calvin Johnson, the Lions Offense Is Still Good but Not Great

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    For the most part, Calvin Johnson was held in check by the St. Louis Rams. He didn't score, and for most of the game, he wasn't really a factor.

    He did finish with six receptions and 111 yards, but most of that was due to a 51-yard reception. He didn't get in the end zone, and for Johnson, that is disappointing. He's the best receiver in the game, and the Lions should be able to work him into the game better than that.

    Unfortunately, they didn't, and the result was predictable. Without Johnson's impact, the Lions' offense stalled. They moved the ball, but ultimately, had to settle for field goals.

    It also didn't help that Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions in the red zone which limited Johnson's impact as well. 

    The Lions and Johnson's quick-strike ability was simply foiled by solid defense.

6. The Veterans' Jobs Are Safe for Now

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    If the first game of the season is any indication, the Lions' rookies won't have an impact in many games this year. Only two Lions starters were different than last year, and that was because of injuries. 

    Bill Bentley started for the injured Chris Houston, and Jonte Greene came in for Bentley when he got injured, but neither impacted the game.

    Actually, Greene did impact the game—for St. Louis. Despite pretty good coverage, he allowed Brandon Gibson to get behind him and catch a 23-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown which put St. Louis ahead 20-13.

    It was an "uh-oh" moment for Lions fans, and the play nearly won game for the Rams.

    Greene's welcome-to-the-NFL moment was the only one of the night for the Lions' rookies. Ryan Broyles, Riley Reiff and the rest of them saw little-to-no action,

    That could all change in the weeks ahead with one or two unfortunate injuries. For now, the Lions are clearly confident in the abilities of their veteran players.

5. Offensive Line Got off to a Great Start

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    The Lions' offensive line has been as maligned a group as any in the NFL. Despite the obscene number of times Matthew Stafford passed the ball last year, the offensive line gave up very few sacks.

    They continued that trend this year. Stafford had all the time in the world to pass the ball, and that's against a pretty good St. Louis pass rush.

    Jeff Backus did give up a sack when he failed to pick up a rush that Will Heller bounced off, but that was the only mistake in pass protection.

    The big story was their run blocking, the subject of much worry all offseason. They proved that they could handle the task. Kevin Smith had a great day and routinely had huge holes to run through.

    The line also did an adequate job on the goal line, allowing Joique Bell to score a one-yard touchdown.

    For the game, the Lions totalled 83-yards rushing—five more yards than St. Louis—and averaged 4.6 yards a carry.

    That's very efficient and exactly the kind of performance the Lions need to complement their potent passing attack.

4. Kevin Smith Is Still an Asset, with or Without Mikel Leshoure

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    Mikel Leshoure was suspended for the first two games of the season due to his offseason legal troubles. Kevin Smith inherited the job for the first two games.

    Based on Week 1, the Lions may think twice about turning over the reigns to Leshoure so quickly. Smith looked good, even though he dropped two very catchable balls, and it showed in his stat line: 63 yards, a 4.8 yard per carry average and one touchdown.

    He demonstrated with adequate blocking that he can still be a very effective runner in this league. He's the type of back who isn't great at anything but is solid at everything. That actually makes him a perfect fit in Detroit.

    When Leshoure returns, he will see his share of carries but so will Smith. Barring injury, Smith will continue to be a large part of the offense, and that improves Detroit's chances considerably.

3. Kyle Vanden Bosch's Goal Might Be a Reality

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    Kyle Vanden Bosch recently clarified his goals for him and his defensive-line teammates this year. He spoke with MLive.com's Justin Rogers on Saturday and said:

    If we're not the most dominant defensive line in the league, I feel like we're not doing our job. I feel like we have the people, I feel like we have the weapons, so if we're not doing it, we're underachieving.

    They certainly didn't underachieve against the Rams. They put some pretty hard licks on Sam Bradford. That's for sure.

    They totalled three sacks—one each for Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley—and hit Bradford seven more times.

    The defensive front four were in the backfield during run plays, too. They held Steven Jackson to only 53 yards on 21 carries for a 2.5 average and zero touchdowns.

    That's called controlling the line of scrimmage.

    They have a long way to go to be considered the best in the NFL, but if Week 1 is any indication, they are well on their way.

     

2. Brandon Pettigrew Is a Game-Changer

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    If Matthew Stafford was a Peanuts character, he would be Linus. Why you ask? Because he's always looking for his security blanket. That blanket is, of course, Brandon Pettigrew.

    Pettigrew caught five passes against the Rams but was targeted 10 times—more than any other Lions player.

    Granted, that's not a great pass/catch ratio. Pettigrew dropped two balls, including one that would've been a touchdown.

    However, he was key in the Lions' 80-yard drive resulting in a Kevin Smith touchdown to tie the game at 20.

    During that drive, Pettigrew caught three passes for 62 yards, helping Detroit move the ball nearly the length of the field in just over two minutes.

    Pettigrew might be a step below the elite tight ends right now, but as he showed against the Rams, he can still be dominant.

    He just has to work on holding on to the ball in the red zone.

1. Matthew Stafford Is Human

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    Despite what Lions fans may have thought, Matthew Stafford is not a robot constructed for the sole purpose of throwing touchdowns. His brain is not a super computer incapable of making bad decisions.

    Stafford is human, and he proved it against the Rams.

    You could say he had a bad game. You could say he showed poor judgment, and you could also say he took the Rams for granted. No one can argue with any of those assessments. He did all three.

    That doesn't mean that Stafford should suddenly become Rex Grossman in the eyes of Lions fans though. He is still an elite quarterback, and he'll prove it in the weeks to come.

    He had a bad day, and he'll learn from it. Don't forget, this is basically his second season. Last year was his first full season played. So, he has a lot of learning yet to do.

    Fans should look on the bright side. Despite his subpar performance (he still threw for 355 yards), the Lions still won. Now that is a good sign.

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