Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants: Lions Week 1 Game Preview
Ford Field will be rocking when the new-look Lions hit the field. Former head coach Jim Schwartz and his uneven, overaggressive behavior is gone. That alone should elevate the attitude of this team, as a story passed on by MLive's Kyle Meinke to Jordan Raanan of nj.com illustrates perfectly:
Schwartz once stopped practice last year to really chew into a rookie who had forgotten to button his chin strap. I mean, he really publicly called him out. And yet, starting defensive tackle Nick Fairley played the whole season overweight (one could say, significantly overweight), refused to stretch with the team and provided questionable effort in practice.
Schwartz never said a thing to Fairley. But he had no problem chewing out that rookie for something so silly.
The calm Jim Caldwell's respectful yet accountable coaching style was a breath of fresh air in Allen Park this summer, and now it's time to see what kind of return on investment the new staff will bring.
Detroit has the talent for at least a playoff appearance, if not a win or two. The Caldwell era gets started on Monday night and the Lions need a promising performance to keep optimism alive for a fanbase that has been burned more than the franchise's corners.
Lions Preseason Recap
The preseason is mercifully over as the Lions finished with a 3-1 record that has zero meaning going forward. Luckily, the tapes of those four games gave us some great takeaways that could have plenty of importance.
First, I'm legally obligated to mention Kellen Moore. The former Boise State Bronco posted solid performances for the most part, displaying quick decision-making, decent pocket awareness and even an increase in arm strength.
Overall, his performance was as bright as backup Dan Orlovsky's was dim. Orlovsky posted an alright performance in the second game, but his lack of authority and Moore's decentness forced Detroit to carry three quarterbacks.
Defensive end George Johnson also forced his way onto the roster, and will likely see plenty of time in the defensive line rotation. Also, linebacker Tahir Whitehead broke out during the "dress rehearsal" third game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with 11 tackles and three sacks, according to ESPN.com.
That brings us to the only unpleasant occurrence of the preseason. Whitehead was given that opportunity because rookie Kyle Van Noy underwent surgery on his abdomen and was ultimately placed on the Reserve/Injured-Designated for Return list, meaning he can't play until at least Week 8.
On a positive rookie note, Nate Freese was able to best Giorgio Tavecchio for the honor of taking up Jason Hanson's mantle.
News and Notes
Nick Fairley Is a Slimmed-Down Starter...Again
At OTAs, Fairley looked like he was becoming a bona fide professional athlete as his gut no longer protruded farther than his talent. General manager Martin Mayhew's gamble of declining his fifth-year option seemed to have worked the motivational magic it was intended to provide.
Then, inexplicably, Fairley ate himself out of the starting lineup during training camp. Head coach Jim Caldwell wasted no time reinforcing Mayhew's original point by demoting the fourth-year defensive tackle to the second team.
His performance waned for a bit, but Fairley secured a personal chef, cut the weight and is back in the starting lineup. As he told The Detroit Free Press, the result is tangible: "I feel a whole lot better just by not putting that bad stuff in my body,” Fairley said. “You feel the energy, you feel it out there at practice.”
The Lions are obviously a much more dangerous team when Fairley is fit and productive. This is good news indeed.
A Champ in Detroit?
Nobody outside of Detroit trusts the Lions cornerbacks. It appears there are also a few within the city as well as the organization that feel the same way.
Heard Champ Bailey's workout with the Lions went well. At this point team has no immediate plans to sign him but could do so down the line— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 4, 2014
If the workout went as well as La Canfora explains, it's curious that the Lions didn't make the move immediately. Perhaps Detroit wants to see how the current crop will perform in live action, but it's more likely because veterans signed after Week 1 don't receive guaranteed contracts.
Calling Out Calvin
There's foolhardy and then there's just plain stupid. Trash-talking Calvin Johnson qualifies among the latter.
But that didn't stop Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond from spouting off to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger:
Everyone knows he's a talented guy, you know, but being a big receiver, he has some weaknesses for sure. Being able to get in and out of his cuts and breaks and stuff. Of course, he's good with yards after the catch and jump balls, but there is no perfect receiver. Everyone has some weaknesses and it's about understanding what those weaknesses are, watching film and exposing them.
*All injury statuses are from DetroitLions.com
The Lions have enjoyed solid health over the past few months, but the bumps and bruises of the preseason are creating some concern about the defense.
Ihedigbo is the big name on the list. He was brought to Detroit to solidify the strong safety position and provide leadership in a defense that helped him achieve his highest-graded season.
The starting safety didn't play in the last two preseason games, but returned to practice on Friday, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. The doubtful indication means he has about a 25 percent chance of playing, according to NFL.com.
Since Don Carey is officially out for Monday, Detroit faces the unsteady prospect of playing either Isa Abdul-Quddus out of position or undrafted free agent Jerome Couplin if Ihedigbo can't go.
Neither option is very appealing. The loss of Ihedigbo will put a lot of pressure on the front seven to keep the Giants from exploiting a large hole in the secondary.
Caraun Reid was able to lightly practice, giving hope that he'll be good to go. Even if he is sidelined for the opener, Detroit has enough depth up front to bear the burden.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Detroit's Defensive Tackles vs. C J.D. Walton and G Weston Richburg
New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has had trouble installing his scheme, and now he has to figure out Detroit's front seven.
Stopping Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is never easy. Trying to do so with a rookie (Richburg) out of position and a center (Walton) who graded out as the 74th-worst at the position this preseason is almost impossible.
OT Riley Reiff vs. DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul busted on the scene with 16.5 sacks in 2011 and helped lead the Giants to a Super Bowl title. Since then, it's been drastically downhill with injuries limiting him to just 8.5 quarterback takedowns in two years.
Now, he's healthy and looking to regain his elite status. Reiff was barely average in his first stint as the full-time starter, notching a negative-1.3 PFF grade. He'll have his hands full Monday night.
Detroit's Cornerbacks vs. New York's Wide Receivers
The secondary has been under siege in Detroit for what feels like 23 years. If that's an exaggeration, it's not off by much.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will dial up plenty of blitzes to try and force Eli Manning's hand, but that could also lead to a lot of quick throws. The onus will be on Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis—especially in press coverage—to stick to Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle and make sure all those short tosses are kept under wraps.
Lions' X-Factor of the Week: LB DeAndre Levy
The Lions will be sending linebackers on creative blitzes all night, but their duties will also extend to coverage. Levy—who had six picks last year—must be licking his chops.
As my colleague Jeff Risdon described in a thorough piece, Levy can put himself in perfect position to jump those drop-off passes designed to avoid pressure. Between his coverage in the flats and his ability to sniff out screens, he'll be a severe thorn in the Giants' side.
Detroit is perfectly set up to get off on the right foot with a national audience watching the faithful fill Ford Field with noise. For once, the Lions won't stumble.
Matthew Stafford has been a dedicated student of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense. He also has every possible tool that a quarterback could covet, considering the additions of wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron.
Even if New York creates some pressure, dump-offs to Joique Bell or Reggie Bush will move the chains enough to open things up down the field. In short, the only thing that can stop this offense is itself.
As mentioned earlier, the Giants offense has yet to hit its stride and will face a defense full of players capable of fulfilling Teryl Austin's vision. Any given Sunday is a fitting description for the NFL, but this one will be taken by Detroit.
Prediction: Lions 38, Giants 20
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.
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