Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders: Lions Preseason Week 2 Preview
Quick, can you name another year the Lions stormed their way through an undefeated preseason?
So the wins and losses of the preseason mean as much as all of those Beanie Babies your family invested in a couple decades ago.
Winning a preseason game is the equivalent of getting a free jersey for being one of the first 2,000 patrons at an NBA game. It's cool for two minutes before you realize that you'll never wear it because of the huge corporate logo smeared on the front and back.
That doesn't mean there isn't any reason to enjoy the preseason. Or even study it. Just understand that the two biggest wins a team can achieve are health and progress.
If the Lions can execute their plays properly, move the ball a bit and not get hurt, that's a victory.
Now that I've set you straight on the parameters of the 10 p.m. ET kickoff in Oakland, let's dig into the small bits where the wins and losses of the preseason reside.
Detroit Lions Preseason Week 1 Recap
The first game of the preseason was all about Kellen Moore. At least, if you listened to local talk radio or browsed any article mentioning the Lions, it was about whether Moore should overtake Dan Orlovsky for the backup job.
Last week's 11-for-13 performance capped by a beautiful game-winning touchdown will turn into this week's pressure cooker. Head coach Jim Caldwell seems resolute that Orlovsky will be the second guy in against Oakland, but whenever Moore enters the game, everyone will notice.
The Lions' 13-12 win over the Cleveland Browns obviously has no significance in terms of the standings. However, Moore's late scoring strike to Corey Fuller could be remembered as a turning point for the former Boise State Bronco.
Rookie kicker Nate Freese notched the other six points. He connected on a 32-yarder and one from 37 yards out with an eye toward putting Giorgio Tavecchio in the team's rear view.
Of specific note moving forward was the defense's zero-sack performance. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin isn't going to break out the heavy schematics this early in the preseason, but surely he hopes his defensive line and vanilla blitzes can produce more sacks than that. Remember, the Lions struggled their way to a 33-sack season just a year ago.
News and Notes
"Lay Off Me, I'm Starving!"
Nick Fairley is busy burning up all of the good will he earned over the past few months.
Fairley looked rather lethargic against the Browns, and the coaching staff noticed. Jim Caldwell insists that the young defensive tackle's demotion to the second team is nothing, per the Detroit News' Josh Katzenstein.
However, the rumors are flying. MLive.com's Kyle Meinke has sources within the team whispering that it's about his weight. That would be nothing new as Fairley has struggled to stay in shape throughout his career.
There's nothing concrete to suggest he won't start against the Raiders, but the writing seems to be on the wall.
And if you didn't get the Chris Farley reference, educate yourself.
New Coaches, New Approaches
The new coaching staff was hired with an eye toward Matthew Stafford's career arc. Many felt that he wasn't getting the type of coaching he needed from former head coach Jim Schwartz and former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Well, we can't be sure that the trio of Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter are doing things correctly, but they're certainly doing it differently.
“I’m being coached differently,” Stafford said. “Our drops are different. Our reads are different. Our plays are totally different. It was kind of nice to scrap everything and start from the new way they wanted me to do it.
—per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com
He only threw four passes against the Browns, and none traveled more than 15 yards in the air. However, he had yet to throw an interception in any practice or live-game scenario until recently, so something must be working.
Stafford Isn't the Only Dog Learning New Tricks
When Joseph Fauria came out of college, the knock against him as a tight end was his blocking. He's working hard to shed that image.
“(I’m) a tremendous amount more comfortable, just because I’m not going from standing up the whole year in college to now just putting my hand down the whole time,” Fauria said. “Now I’m mixing it up a little bit, have a year under my belt and I know what to do as a pro.”
—per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com
The tape bears out this new reality. Against Cleveland, he blocked quite well with the exception of one "ole" block where he did his best matador impression. If he can continue his evolution, that adds another quiver of versatility to a Lions attack that is bursting at the seams.
Yes, the seam pun was intended.
|T.J. Jones||Wide Receiver||PUP-Out|
|Ziggy Ansah||Defensive End||Out|
|Ryan Broyles||Wide Receiver||Probable|
|Theo Riddick||Running Back||Questionable|
|Montell Owens||Running Back||Probable|
*All injury reports from rotowire.com.
No team skates through the preseason completely unscathed. So knock on the nearest piece of wood, but the Lions have made it thus far in relatively good shape.
The only lingering injury of any real concern is T.J. Jones' shoulder. He has yet to be activated from the PUP list, and it's becoming unlikely he'll be back before the end of training camp.
Ziggy Ansah was finally released from the ranks of the physically unable to perform, but he won't be seeing any action this week. Head coach Jim Caldwell is being cautious. This is the right approach. Ansah factors into the 2014 season too heavily to risk aggravating his injury in the second preseason game.
Broyles and Owens both participated last week, and there's no reason to suggest either will be taking it easy against the Raiders. Both players are fighting for spots on the depth chart and the roster.
Riddick's possible absence will probably cause the most concern. He left the Browns game after getting popped, and there's no word yet on the extent of his injury. If he cannot go, George Winn will happily gobble up the opportunity, much as he did last week in an impressive performance.
X-Factor and Matchups to Watch
Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack vs. Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle
Two pass-rushers at opposite ends of their careers will serve as the next hurdle in the race to become the Lions' starting right tackle.
Last week, Hilliard suffered his way through the first quarter. He was beaten multiple times, including once for a sack, and was badly outplayed by Waddle.
Hilliard must stem the bleeding if he doesn't want to start the all-important third preseason game on the bench. Waddle, conversely, will look to lock down a job that currently has his name written all over it.
Kellen Moore vs. Dan Orlovsky
As mentioned earlier, Moore was the Waddle to Orlovsky's Hilliard against the Browns. While Moore was busy completing 85 percent of his passes, Orlovsky was trying to find the open man.
That's what separated these two last week—decision-making time. Moore processed his reads much faster and got the ball out of his hands quickly.
It should be noted that Orlovsky didn't get the clean pocket that Moore enjoyed on seemingly every throw. More often than not, the nine-year veteran (nine years for Orlovsky!) was under some form of duress, either from the defense or his receivers' hands.
Head coach Jim Caldwell might have faith in his hand-picked backup, but the public does not. More than anything else, Orlovsky needs to win the PR battle here to quiet the masses.
Nick Fairley vs. Himself
The deeper the slide goes, the deeper the analysis.
Or something like that.
The truth is it's difficult to project actual matchups in the preseason because no one knows how long somebody will be on the field or who will be lined up opposite that man. However, we do know that Fairley clearly needs to stop getting in his own way.
Aside from the weight issues discussed a couple slides ago, there is the lackluster performance against the Browns, which could be the culprit for his demotion. He often looked uninterested, and it's going to start costing him a lot of money sooner rather than later.
He must show up mentally prepared to give a damn. If he doesn't, he might not have a starting job to fight for come September.
Lions' X-Factor of the Week: Eric Ebron
There won't be a single X-factor to a preseason game. Most players don't log enough snaps to have a lasting impact, and the final score doesn't matter.
So, with that being said, I pick Eric Ebron.
The Lions might be okay with Ebron's initial performance considering the encyclopedia of knowledge they've force-fed him over the past couple months. The fans got to see all of the different duties that will be expected of the rookie, just none of the fun.
But Detroit needs to see the tiniest step of improvement going forward. He needs to flash the athleticism that made him the 10th overall pick to create separation or to break a tackle, because that would be progress.
And that's all that matters in the preseason.
Game predictions will be a part of this series moving forward into the regular season, but attempting to project the second week of the preseason is downright impossible. So let's go with a few player-specific predictions that will actually have an impact further down the road.
Matthew Stafford Will Continue to Rise
Stafford threw his first interception of the preseason, per Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News, just a few days ago. Think about that. For a guy who struggled mightily over the second half of the 2013 season with turnovers, that's a remarkable turnaround.
If Stafford can add ball security to his already impressive resume stat-wise, the ceiling for the 2014 Lions will be taken off completely.
Everything is coming together for him. He's entering the prime of his career with coaches who were specifically assembled to coach him up, and he has an unprecedented number of weapons at his disposal.
There Will Be More of Kyle Van Noy
If you went and studied the film of the first game, it might be difficult to find Van Noy unless you were looking for him. Aside from the "forced incompletion" and the whiff on Johnny Manziel, he didn't do much to make his presence known aside from his 1.1 coverage gradE, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
And that's okay.
Much like Eric Ebron, he's learning a massive amount of information, even for a rookie, since he'll be lining up all over the field and entrusted with all three of the basic defensive duties: pass rushing, stuffing the run and coverage. Now that he has an extra week under his belt and his comfort level has risen, he can start freeing his body from his mind to make the type of plays he was picked to do.
Nick Fairley Will Assert Himself
There's really nothing rock-solid behind this prediction. In fact, it's probably reckless considering the week Fairley has had.
But every time Fairley is knocked down, he usually responds.
If you recall the Chicago game in 2013 where he stuffed running back Matt Forte on the decisive play, he was the one who put Detroit in a hole by garnering a roughing-the-passer call earlier in the drive.
And he showed up to camp looking much slimmer this year after the Lions declined his fifth-year option. However, that could have had more to do with this sleep apnea surgery than discipline.
Regardless, Fairley has taken a lot of flak this week. Here's betting he steps up with a big game to reassert himself.
The real question, unfortunately, is how long will he carry on the resurgence?
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.