Saturday’s match-up against the New England Patriots will give fans a clearer picture as we begin to chart the course of the Detroit Lions’ 2011 NFL season.
This preseason is especially important to the Lions. Not because they need to play catch-up coming out of the lockout, but because they are team trying to establish an identity.
The Lions know what they want to be, and NFL prognosticators know what they’re capable of, but the team has yet to actually prove it out on the field.
This game could be the beginning of something big for the Detroit Lions' young players, who could make a statement of intent for the upcoming season in beating the Patriots.
If they really are ready to take the next step, there will be some signals apparent in Saturday’s game.
The third preseason game is usually a chance for the starters to get some run, but don’t expect to see much of Jahvid Best against the Patriots. Unsurprisingly, he’s already a bit banged up, having suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Cleveland.
However minor it may have been, head injuries should never be taken lightly, especially for a player who already has a couple of concussions on his record.
With the regular season approaching, the ideal scenario for the Lions is to limit Best’s interactions with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo to a friendly postgame handshake. Jahvid Best has already developed a solid understanding of the Lions offense, and given his checkered injury history, the Lions should hold him back his playmaking ability until the games start to count.
Instead, Jerome Harrison will take center stage against New England. It’s a win-win for the Lions. Best gets time to recover and Harrison gets more reps to acclimate to his new offense.
Expect him to take full advantage of the opportunity, as he always has to this point in his career. 10 carries, 50 yards and a score should be well within his reach.
The Patriots have upgraded their defensive line going into 2011, bringing in a cavalcade of veteran pass rushers.
With Jeff Backus returning to practice this week, the Lions will likely have their full complement of offensive linemen on the field for the first time this year.
Protecting Matthew Stafford is the top priority for Detroit’s offense this season, and with Stafford likely to see significant playing time against New England, the offensive line will have an opportunity to show what it can do.
The Lions offensive line actually performed well in pass protection last year, but with both starting tackles banged up, there’s no guarantee that the unit will match that production right out of the gate.
The continuity among the starters from last year is encouraging, but the Lions lack depth on the line and major injuries to Backus or Cherilus would be catastrophic.
The most important thing for the Lions is ensuring that both tackles emerge from the game healthy, but no matter what, we will learn just how capable this offensive line will be in 2011.
Ndamukong Suh is a very friendly guy. He and Tom Brady had so much fun together last Thanksgiving, I’d expect that Suh will make it a priority to personally give Brady a warm welcome back to Detroit.
Even in the face of the fines and criticism that flowed from his disembowelment of Andy Dalton in the opening week of the preseason, Suh’s aggressiveness hasn’t waned.
Tom Brady may not be in the game for very long, but rest assured, Suh will make sure that Brady knows he's there.
I know it’s only the preseason, but this game is a real opportunity for the Lions to show that they mean business in 2011.
Suh and the rest of the Lions defensive line have become the personification of the new attitude in Detroit. Knocking around New England’s golden boy, especially in a game that doesn’t count, would set an intimidating precedent.
It would serve notice to the rest of NFL, letting them know that their visits to Ford Field will often be followed by a trip to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital.
Even with the pass rush zeroed in on Brady, the Patriots offense will be a handful for the Lions.
Though the defense as a whole is vastly improved from a season ago, New England’s quick passing offense is exactly the type of scheme that could feast on the Lions’ weaknesses while simultaneously neutralizing Detroit’s strengths.
Brady’s omniscient pre-snap reads and lightning-quick release can de-claw the Lions’ fearsome defensive line in many short passing situations.
The Lions corners are athletic, but lack the change-of-direction ability necessary to keep up with an elusive receiver of Wes Welker's capability.
They’ll be able to get an initial jam at the line of scrimmage, but once Welker gets free, it won’t be easy to track him down.
Gunther Cunningham must disguise his coverages to force Brady to evaluate his options from the pocket, rather than choosing his target before the ball is snapped. This will give the defensive line time to penetrate, and give the corners time to recover back to the receivers.
Going in to 2011, the Patriots offer an important test for the Detroit secondary. Aaron Rodgers is just as capable as Tom Brady and has just as many speedy receivers as his disposal. If the Lions can’t find a way to slow down New England’s aerial attack, they’ll have little hope of beating Green Bay during the regular season.
The New England Patriots are a much better football team than the Detroit Lions. They have better players and a better coach.
In this game, that won’t be the determining factor.
While the Patriots would like to win, the Lions need to win. They need to validate all the hope that’s been welling up in Detroit football fans' hearts this offseason.
They need to prove to themselves that the Detroit Lions are worthy of all of the preseason hype that’s been lavished upon them.
Sometimes it’s tough to remember, but this team was 2-10 at one point last season. Their ninth loss came at the hands of these Patriots, 45-24 on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. It wasn’t an embarrassing loss, but it was a decisive one.
The boys in Honolulu Blue are as motivated as they are mean. They will give everything they have in this game and earn a confidence-boosting victory over one of the best teams in the NFL.