There is nothing that reveals the perceived weaknesses of an NFL team like playing a real game against real competition. Sometimes those perceptions are proven wrong and sometimes the play on the field confirms that the problems do exist. The Lions are just like any other NFL team, as their strengths and weaknesses showed in the opening week.
The Lions played a sloppy game against the Rams to open the season. It is difficult to look at the suspect areas of the Lions team because the Rams honestly did not test the Lions weaknesses. The Rams did not go after the secondary, and the Lions running attack went against a team that was banged up at defensive tackle.
This game is not a strong indicator of things to come, but we will look at it and determine whether the Lions answered any of the questions they needed to answer in the first week. Let’s look at what the lingering questions are after the first week of the regular season.
There is nothing that gets people going like talking about the Lions secondary and the perceived holes that exist there. Most consider their secondary an enormous weakness and a problem so powerful that it could prevent the Lions from contending for anything in 2012.
The Rams lost a few key offensive linemen during this game, and the Lions defensive line started pushing the line into quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams threw the ball to the boundary and underneath the defense the entire game, with the exception being the pass that quarterback Sam Bradford threw to receiver Brandon Gibson for a touchdown.
The reality is that the play of the defensive line will dictate the play of the secondary all year. If the defensive line gets pressure on the quarterback, the secondary will play well. If there is no pressure, the secondary will look awful, and they will get torched like they did at the end of the season in 2011.
The Lions secondary was a fairly solid unit in 2011, until injuries hit their starters and they had no NFL talent on the roster to replace them. The only true knock that can be made on the secondary is that the Lions had no depth on their roster with any legitimate NFL talent.
The Lions got killed when they had to go to their depth late in the season, and they took steps to remedy the problem in the 2012 NFL draft, and in free agency. The roster has a much higher level of talent on it than they did last year.
In Week 1, the Lions were without starting safety Louis Delmas and starting cornerback Chris Houston. It is unfair to look at this game and see it for anything more than what it truly was. This was a game played by backups who were not challenged because the Rams had too many problems of their own on offense.
If there were questions coming into Week 1, they still remain because the Rams refused to challenge the secondary and the Lions were playing backups. The secondary is less of a problem than most make it out to be, but it would be naive to think it isn’t going to hurt them going forward.
The Lions running game is not the strength of their offense, and it is an area that the Lions needed to bolster going into the 2012 season. The running game limited the Lions last year because they were not able to control the ball like they wanted to.
In Week 1, the Lions went against a Rams team that was missing several critical pieces on the interior of their defense. They played without first-round pick and starting defensive tackle Michael Brockers. They were also without backups Darell Scott and Matt Conrath.
The Lions were able to run the ball extremely effectively against the Rams, but how much of that was the Lions and how much was the lack of quality play from the Rams? The reasonable answer is that it was a little bit of both.
The Lions have so much talent at the receiver position that the Rams were rushing three and dropping everybody else into coverage. This gave the Lions more room to run than they would normally get, and they took advantage of it.
Lions’ backup running back Kevin Smith ran the ball 13 times and finished with 62 yards. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but he was highly effective every time he touched the ball. The offensive line created some push and Smith was the beneficiary.
The questions about the Lions running game linger, as there is some doubt as to the strength of what they went against as well as the scheme the Rams played against their offense.
The Lions will be able to run the ball better than they did last year because of the upgrade at talent at the position and the strength of their passing game. They certainly looked better against the Rams.
The play of the Lions offensive line is another area where there are unknowns. Their first priority is to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford, but they also need to do a better job of creating lanes for the running backs to run clean.
The Lions return the same unit from 2011, and they struggled mightily in the running game. They did not generate any push, and they had a difficult time in trying to move the defense off of the ball at the point of attack.
In Week 1, they got a banged up Rams defensive line and the Lions offensive line dominated them. The Lions offensive line did a fantastic job of moving the pile, especially down at the goal line. It was a remarkably strong effort for the offensive line in Week 1.
The line also looked terrific in pass protection as they kept Stafford’s feet clean and gave him plenty of time to throw. The Rams registered one sack against the Lions, and it came on a play that Stafford should have been able to avoid with his feet.
Even with the great performance in the opener, the questions linger because the Lions did not face a team that looked to get to the quarterback. The Rams rushed three on many occasions in this game, and they were content dropping eight players into coverage.
The Lions offensive line was extremely effective against the Rams, but it was not the kind of test they will face Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Until they perform well against a team trying to get to the quarterback, the questions will linger.
For now, the Lions will take the win and the very solid performance out of their offensive line.