The NFL provides their closest regular season peek during Week 3 of the preseason. As the Detroit Lions gave their starters extended minutes, there were quite a few notes to take away from their 40-9 victory over the New England Patriots.
1. Offense out of sync?
The team made a last-second decision to scratch wide receiver Calvin Johnson from Thursday's lineup. After dominating these past couple seasons and nursing a bruised knee, the NFL's best receiver has nothing to prove during preseason.
With Megatron out of the lineup, the Lions need their complementary receivers to stand out. So far, that hasn't happened.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford fell in love with checking down to running back Reggie Bush. Bush was targeted seven times and hauled in five of those passes for 103 yards. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew also made his opportunities count catching three of his four targeted throws for 29 yards.
Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler, Patrick Edwards were targeted by Stafford a combined 12 times. However, they each caught only one pass, failing to create separation and get themselves open against New England's defensive backs.
Pettigrew and Bush will be available as safety valves for Stafford, but this offense has to find some sort of flow from their secondary options.
2. Still little discipline
Over the past few seasons, there have been plenty of issues slowing down the Lions' overall development. From injuries to a lack of talent at a particular position, Detroit has had enough trouble on their plate.
However, nothing has been more troublesome for this team than the lack of discipline.
The Lions racked up eleven penalties for 102 yards. The defensive line accounted for four foolish penalties in the first half, including an awful taunting penalty by defensive end Willie Young. Detroit ended up benching Young the rest of the game for drawing the flag.
Detroit applied heavy heat on quarterback Tom Brady and kept running back Stevan Ridley grounded on nine carries for six yards. The Lions also got a star performance from defensive lineman Jason Jones who recorded three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery.
Even with all this success and production, the Lions can't afford to go back to their penalty-plagued ways. You'd rather see a team get all their mistakes out of the way during preseason, but mistakes such as these can't occur at the rate they did Thursday. The Lions averaged 6.4 penalties last season, ranking them in the bottom half of the league.
With new players being called upon to supply leadership, look for Detroit to cut those down on penalties.
3. Unsung heroes
While some major areas need fine-tuning before the regular season, there were some bright moments on Thursday. Players continue to fight for roster spots and show their value to the team.
Second-year quarterback Kellen Moore had one of his best performances completing nine of 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Detroit is still deciding on whether to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, and Moore made a nice case Thursday for joining Stafford and backup Shaun Hill.
Moore, filling in for Hill who was nursing a hurt foot, took advantage of his time on the field.
The Lions' special teams also shined bright during the preseason victory. Rookie punter Sam Martin boomed four punts and averaged 53.5 yards per attempt. The fifth-rounder managed to trap two inside the 20-yard line, including one that died at the 1-yard line. Both kickoff and punt units covered their lanes well and didn't allow the Patriot returners to break anything.
Another unsung hero was running back Joique Bell and the offensive line that blocked for him. Bell doesn't have the flash of Reggie Bush or the power of Mikel Leshoure, but his patience and effort is what will keep him on Detroit's roster.
Bell carried the ball five times for 52 yards, and he bounced off tacklers and earned plenty of hard-fought yardage. Bell also made his presence felt in the passing attack, catching two balls for 49 yards, including a 38-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.
Much credit goes to the offensive line—particularly guard Jake Scott and center Leroy Harris—for opening up some running lanes for Bell and Leshoure in the second half.