Detroit Lions Preseason Week Two: Five Winners and Losers

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Detroit Lions Preseason Week Two: Five Winners and Losers
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Jahvid Best was who we thought he was Saturday night, and didn't let the Broncos off the hook.

As a Detroit Lions fan, I really like the Denver Broncos.

It's not any affinity I have for Josh McDaniels or Tim Tebow, it's that the Broncos seem to always make the Lions look good.

The last time these teams met, the Lions blew out the Broncos 44-7 to cap off a 6-2 start to the 2007 NFL season.

That was the last time I felt really, really good about the Lions, because since that game, they are 3-37.

Oddly enough, this game against the Broncos might herald another shift in momentum, and one that's been a long time coming.

Sure, it's preseason, but some players that the Lions needed to step up did just that. Of course, some players did just the opposite...

 

Winners

 

Jahvid Best

Consider this my retraction of anything I said about Best last week.

Against the Steelers, I watched Best and saw what I thought to be an average running back, or at least one who still had some issues to work out

Against the Broncos, I saw speed, vision, hands, and comfort. I saw everything I was missing last week.

Maybe Best was a victim of high expectations against Pittsburgh, but those expectations hardly faltered after one preseason game.

In a week's time, Best went from falling short of those high expectations to exceeding them and setting new ones.

It's not just that the Broncos' defensive line played poorly or the Lions' O-line opened up huge holes that even I could earn a first down in. On one play, Best took the handoff and started running towards a gap-less pileup of linemen. As soon as he saw there was nothing there, he reversed direction (and fast), outrunning a number of tackles for a 15-yard gain which was only stopped when Brian Dawkins brought him down with the facemask.

That's the kind of vision the Lions need Best to show. The ability to earn a first down, even though the play is broken.

I'll refrain from mentioning the last Detroit Lion who was able to do that consistently.

 

Matthew Stafford

Stafford looked good in the Pittsburgh game, but didn't make my "winners" list because he didn't look considerably better than last year.

This week, he looked like the best quarterback on the field, at any point.

He looked comfortable with the guys around him. Confident. Like he knew where his guys were and could hit them in stride with his eyes closed. He even had the presence of mind to throw the ball away when there was nobody open in the end zone, easing concerns that he'll always try to force something that's not there.

He looked like a competent GM's top draft pick with a year of experience and some new toys.

And if Stafford is going to be as good as he looked, the Lions are definitely moving in the right direction, and at a breakneck pace.

I was concerned after Stafford took a decent lick at the hands of Robert Ayers, but he popped right back up and ran another play. So even though he was the drum major of last season's injury parade, it apparently has not had any long-term effect on his body or psyche.

Stafford is still one big, tough cat.

 

Pass Rush

I was going to list an individual player here, but who do you name? The Lions notched four sacks in the game, and nobody had more than one.

Now, admittedly, the Broncos' offensive line is absolutely riddled with injuries, so the D-line was really only concerned with beating a second-string line, with a fourth-string running back behind them.

They could pin their ears back and attack on the pass rush.

Still, Kyle Orton was under pressure for the entire game: taking hits, getting passes knocked down, throwing off-balance, throwing too soon, you name it. This was a textbook example of getting pressure on the quarterback to relieve pressure on the secondary, something that everybody knows will be necessary if the Lions' defense is to be respectable this year.

 

First Team Offensive Line

Backus bashers (you know who you are), you might just want to skip this part. I'm going to be lavishing praise on the Lions' offensive line, which hasn't happened in a long time. I will not be held responsible if this section makes you sick.

If you're still reading, then admit something to yourself: Stafford was barely touched in an entire half against the Broncos. Sure, the Broncos aren't the most defensively gifted team right now, especially with quarterback killer Elvis Dumervil out for an extended period of time.

But the line stood up to the guys they played, and they won more battles than they lost, by a wide margin. That's all you can ask of your linemen. They protected Stafford, allowing only one sack (in which Stafford held the ball too long, rolled out, and was chased down from behind). They also opened consistent holes in the running game, which looked much improved.

I know, I know, let's see if they have the same success against the Williams Wall in Minnesota, right? Well, that is the question. But for now, all you can ask them to do is win the battles in front of them, and they've done that.

 

Steve Hauschka

Okay, let's not fool ourselves. Hauschka is not going to displace Jason Hanson, unless his minor knee surgery turns out to not be so "minor."

But boy, can that guy kick.

I'm not talking about going 4-for-4 on field goals, because all of his field goals were chip shots.

I'm talking about the fact that even though the Lions kicked off seven times in the game, only one was a returnable kick because Hauschka kept booming them out the back of the end zone.

After a while, I expected one of them to just land flat, exploded by the impact of his foot.

Anybody else the Lions brought in as a kicker would have been a placeholder; a guy to roll out the red carpet when Hanson rejoins the team.

Hauschka? I am seriously weighing the possibility of the Lions keeping him on for kickoffs. Having a guy who basically eliminates kick returns without anybody having to make a tackle could be valuable enough to release a seventh linebacker and carry two kickers into the season.

It probably won't happen, but the fact that I'm thinking about it at all makes Hauschka a winner.

 

Losers

 

Eric King

Sadly, King was one of my biggest winners last week. This week, I saw things that bothered me.

Namely, a total lack of ball skills.

I thought King put his ball skills on display when he made a diving deflection off a Dennis Dixon pass in Pittsburgh. In Denver, all he did was run with his man.

And that's okay to an extent, because he was able to stay with his man throughout the play. But that's not enough. He was running with his man, and the quarterback was throwing passes that zipped right by his shoulder and into the receiver's hands.

That's not okay.

If King showed even an average ability to makes plays on the ball, he would have come out of Denver with an interception and a couple of deflections. His positioning was consistently good.

But if he doesn't pick up some ball skills, the only passes he's going to defend are the ones that bounce off the back of his helmet.

Tim Toone

I was very surprised to see Tim Toone take the game's opening kickoff. To me, the gesture meant that Jim Schwartz liked what he saw out of Toone in Pittsburgh, and gave him the stage, as if to say, "Show me something against the ones, kid."

As much as I wanted Toone to succeed, he got tripped up at the 20-yard line. On a later kick, he returned from three yards deep in the end zone, getting tripped up at the 18-yard line.

He returned a punt for 18 yards, but evened out his average by returning another for a two-yard loss.

He wasn't able to pull in a pass, and took one end-around for six yards.

In other words, a thoroughly pedestrian performance. Not what Schwartz intended when he put Toone in for the opening kickoff.

 

Red Zone Offense

As impressive as the offense was on Saturday night, it looked like the same old, same old as soon as the team crossed the 20-yard-line.

Incomplete passes, dropped passes, stuffed runs at the line of scrimmage, nothing worked. I don't really know who to blame, because it isn't just one facet. Nothing seems to work. Is it play-calling or execution? Maybe both?

I don't know, but it doesn't work. Stafford threw away a pass that was about a foot from going into the seats, which sort of summed up the whole game.

The sad thing is that the Lions engineered consistent drives to get there, only to stall in the red zone. The offense looks good, they just need to finish drives, or the team is going to lose a lot of games they could have won.

 

Tony Scheffler

Scheffler had a decent game all-around, but one play in particular puts him on this list.

In keeping with the tradition of red zone struggles, Scheffler had a perfect pass bounce right off his hands in the end zone.

If the Lions' offense, particularly the highly-touted tight end corps, can't pull in passes like that, the Lions' red zone struggles are going to be a recurring theme.

For the success of the red zone offense, Stafford needs his tight ends to be a secure place for him to dump the ball on short routes. And drops like that are going to hurt his chemistry with Scheffler and his other tight ends.

Now, I know it was one play. And you're right that it doesn't mean that much. It's a small sample size, and it could have happened to anyone. In the long term, it's no big deal.

In the short term, don't think that's not one of the plays that will determine whether more reps go to Scheffler or Brandon Pettigrew.

 

Corey Williams

Disclaimer: This is an overreaction.

Williams is widely considered one of the Lions' best moves of the offseason. Two games into the preseason, he has been the lowest performer on the first-team defensive line.

Now, on a line with the highly-touted Ndamukong Suh, pass-rush specialist Kyle Vanden Bosch, and a resurgent Cliff Avril, being the weak link still makes him stronger than most other links elsewhere.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I know Williams notched half a sack against the Broncos. I also know that was his only tackle, and Vanden Bosch instigated it.

The problem is that Williams has been quiet. When Ndamukong Suh is commanding near-constant double teams, Williams only needs to beat the guy in front of him. He has shown an inability to do that, despite going up against decidedly mediocre offensive lines so far.

With Sammie Hill showing great progression in his second year, Williams may need to start producing soon, or risk getting bumped down a spot on the depth chart.

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