For a game review, I thought I would go over the my “10 things I’m watching, dammit!” But before I review anything, Calvin Johnson deserves special mention.
The Lions’ wideout is a beast. A man amongst boys. A stud. A star in the making. Is silly good. Makes the Lions entire offense better. Utterly unstoppable. A threat to make a big play every snap.
I hope to see Calvin Johnson celebrate like this at least 10 times in 2008
I think that’s enough of the superlatives for the time being. All you can say is, without question, Johnson was the best player on the field last night. Seeing how good Megatron was has me wondering just how big of a 2007 season CJ would have had if he hadn’t badly bruised his back early on. If his running wild in 2 exhibitions so far is any indication, it severely affected his play. We only got to see his immense talent in flashes.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Johnson play this season, as when he’s injury free, we may be witness to the most talented player we’ve seen come through Detroit since Barry Sanders.
With the raves for CJ out of the way, on with the review…
Improvement in the running game: Better, but not near what it needs to be. As the Lions only ran the ball 9 times in the 1st half, you’d think Mike Martz was still calling the plays. Though when Jon Kitna can literally throw at will to an always open Calvin Johnson, it’s somewhat understandable. But for the Lions’ passing game to remain a weapon, they need to at least show the threat of gaining yards on the ground.
As for the backs themselves, Kevin Smith only carried the ball 4 times, but you could see why Marinelli had him playing with the 1st team. He brings a spark that Tatum Bell doesn’t. Bell was wholly unimpressive for the second consecutive game. Brian Calhoun did little improve his status as a bubble player. Artose Pinner looked the best of all the backs, but he also got most of the carries, and was facing 3rd and 4th string defenses. His performance should be take with a very large grain of salt.
Run blocking: Again, better, but not where it needs to be as of yet. It may be due to their learning the new zone blocking scheme,but there were too many plays where the backs had to make their first move in the backfield thanks to the line’s inability to open a hole/block the Bengals/execute the play. I’m not expecting the Lions’ linemen to be dominant, but they can’t be allowing free shots at the running backs either.
It wasn’t all bad for the o-line. Penalties were kept to a surprising minimum and the QB’s had plenty of time to throw, allowing just one sack (to the totally immobile Orlovsky…More on him later).
Gosder Cherilus vs. Mr. “Can’t Remember The Snap Count”: Cherilus played most of the game, switching between left and right tackle. What was most noticeable about his play was he wasn’t noticeable. There were no penalties, no egregious mistakes, unlike Cherilus’ first pro game, where he gave Foster, The Human Yellow Flag, a run for his penalty money.
If Cherilus continues to improve at this rate, the Lions will have a much better interior line in 2008. Kitna’s body heartily approves.
The less said about Yellow Flag Fever, the better. It’s becoming obvious Cherilus is on the verge of taking Foster’s position. It’s not a moment too soon.
Pass rush: The Lions had 5 sacks against the Bengals. The 1st team continually pressured Carson Palmer, allowing the d-backfield (who, as a group, also had a nice game. Just ask Chad Johnson…) to not have to cover for an inordinate amount of time. The rookie d-linemen continued to acquit themselves well, as Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen both rung up a sack.
Worth noting is some of the pressure came from the Lions blitzing, which is a tactic you don’t want to entirely depend upon when rushing the QB during the regular season. It’s something to watch as the season goes on…
All in all though, I can’t complain about the Lions’ defense. Allowing only10 PPG is nothing to sneeze at, even in the exhibition season. It’s encouraging, to say the very least.
Dan Orlovsky vs. Drew Stanton: If Orlovsky won round 1 of the backup competition, you have give round 2 to Sparty’s finest, Stanton. He looked much more confident and at ease in his second pro appearance. His deep ball to Brandon Middleton, resulting in a 50 yard TD catch, may have been the nicest thrown ball of the night.
Stanton’s mobility also stood out. He took what looked like a sure 3rd and long sack for the Bengals, and turned it into a Lions’ 1st down by somehow ducking away from pressure, finding the corner, and diving to the 1st down marker. It was a play neither Kitna or Orlovsky could have made.
Just as impressive was Stanton’s play fake on a naked bootleg, fooling everyone (the Bengals’ D, the cameramen) for an easy, once he juked one defender, TD run. It was a play Orlovsky couldn’t make, even in his dreams, and would have been tough for Kitna to duplicate.
As for Dan O, who got the majority of time under center, about all you could say is he was “OK.” Not spectacular, but workmanlike. Though he converted some tough 3rd and longs, a 50% completion rate isn’t going to cut it. And if there is a more uncomfortable looking QB when on the move, I haven’t seen him. (Yes, that’s a bit hyperbolic) Orlovsky just doesn’t have near enough mobility to run the roll outs and bootlegs the Lions’ offense plan on using extensively this season.
Jordon Dizon vs. Buster Davis: Not much to report in the MLB battle, as Dizon got the vast majority of playing time. Actually, Dizon got more PT than even the incumbent at MLB, Paris Lenon. Detroit’s coaches are taking a long, hard look at Dizon, who may now have the inside track on a starting position on defense. It’s just a matter of where he plays, on the strong side, or in the middle.
Rod Marinelli’s game management: Nothing of note, as the Lions were in control of the game from start to finish. The only thing standing out were the lack of rushing attempts in the 1st half. If that was by design, just how it worked out thanks to the flow of the game, or Calvin Johnson being unstoppable, I can’t say.
Special teams: The good: Nick Harris was great, as we’ve come to expect. He pinned 2 punts inside the Cincy 5 (Though one was brought out due to an illegal touch). Dave Rayner was 2-3 of field goals, not that it makes much difference when he’s only going to be in a Detroit uni for 1-2 more weeks. Dewayne White brought back memories of Big Baby when he blocked an early Bengals field goal attempt. For the first time in ages we actually saw some spark on the Lions’ return teams, with Aveion Cason and Kenneth Moore having punt returns over 20 yards.
The bad: Lions kick coverage was, as has been the norm under special teams coach Stan Kwan, not very good. The Bengals broke 1 punt return for 33 yards, and a pair of kickoffs for 30 and 31 yards, respectively. I still get a bad feeling inside whenever the Lions are on kick coverage. I’m deathly afraid their awful coverage is going to cost the Lions a game…or 2…or 3. My motto is still “FIRE KWAN!”
I think the Kwan hate is going to be a season-long meme at SLR.
Running QB’s: As I said, Stanton excels when on the move, he’s in his element. Kitna didn’t run any bootlegs, but he didn’t need to with Johnson running wild though the Bengals’ secondary. As for Orlovsky, the less said, the better. It just isn’t his game. If Dan O is taking snaps during the regular season, Jim Colletto needs to adjust his play calling accordingly.
Health: The only injury of note was a concussion to WR Ron Bellamy, who’s not likely to make the team. Overall, the Lions have come out of the first 2 exhibitions in relatively good shape, with the loss of backup CB Stanley Wilson being the only black mark.
SLR’s Game Balls:
1. Brian Kelly: Anyone who knocks Chad Johnson out of the game with a clean hit is A-OK in my book. Hell, I’m just happy to see a Lions corner make plays, period.
2. Drew Stanton: It was only one game, and against never-gonna-be’s, but Sparty’s finest showed signs he can actually play in the NFL. It was a baby step, but a very confident baby step.
3. Calvin Johnson: Hey, he only caught 3 passes! Only 1 TD! How can I put him any higher?
4. Nick Harris: Because I LOVE coffin corner punts. When teams are trying to pin the opposition deep, I prefer to see punts towards the sidelines, rather than balls kicked in the center of the field, hoping and praying to have one of your edge guys down the ball.