Saturday night’s game with the Cleveland Browns gave Lions’ fans the best look at what to expect in the regular season. Lions starters left us with a lot to like following the first two preseason games but with the first teams playing just a few series questions remained as to how their successes (and failures) would translate over a full game.
The Browns opened with a drive featuring a mix of runs and short passes. The Lions bent but stiffened to hold the Browns to a field goal. Consider this was a win for the Lions despite allowing the Browns on the board first. DeAndre Levy tweaked his groin on the first play from scrimmage and did not return. There is no word yet on the severity of the injury, one the Lions can’t afford to lead to missed time. Vinny Ciurciu saw extensive playing time as a result of Levy’s absence.
The Lions didn’t take long to answer, just three plays to be exact. Jahvid Best’s 51 yards on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage showed exactly why the Lions traded up in last April’s draft to land him. A ten-yard pass to Best and a seven-yard fade to Bryant Johnson later and the Lions had a 7-3 lead.
The Lions next offensive possession also resulted in a touchdown. The only problem is that it was the Browns that scored it. Kevin Smith’s fumble was recovered by Eric Wright and returned 44 yards for the score. Not what Kevin Smith needed to show after Jahvid Best’s one carry and one reception was deemed enough for the coaching staff to see.
The most disappointing play for the Lions offense may have been a Gosder Cherilus penalty that negated a 49-yard pass to Nate Burleson. Matthew Stafford was flushed from the pocket and made eye contact with Burleson to facilitate the completion but it was all for naught because of the holding call.
With under four minutes to play in the first half and faced with a 17-7 deficit, the Lions defense came up with a big play of their own. Safety Randy Phillips forced a fumble by Jerome Harrison that was picked up by Chris Houston and returned the ball 14 yards to the end zone.
The Lions opened up the second half with another impressive touchdown drive, this time a ten play drive that covered 60 yards in almost four and a half minutes. A couple Cleveland penalties gave the Lions the extra chances they needed to punch it into the end zone on Kevin Smith’s two yard run.
The Browns ensuing drive resulted in a field goal to extend their lead to 27-21 but the drive included a big play from one of the newest safeties. Rookie Amari Spievey was recently moved from cornerback to safety and looked comfortable in his new position in his first game. Spievey was able to cause some trouble in the backfield and bring Seneca Wallace down for a ten yard sack. Spievey was a sure tackler all night but showed some of the same trouble in coverage that forced his move to safety. Louis Delmas and Randy Phillips got the starts at safety but Spievey was one of the first off the bench and played alongside Phillips and later with Ko Simpson.
The Lions used another turnover to jump start their next scoring drive. Ashlee Palmer forced a fumble and Landon Johnson picked it up on the first play of the fourth quarter to end a Cleveland drive inside Lions’ territory. Strong running from a combination of Jerome Felton and Aaron Brown got the Lions in the end zone when Brown took it in from four yards out and put the Lions up 28-27.
Staked to their first lead since the first quarter, the defense came up big again. Seventh round draft pick Willie Young sacked Colt McCoy and forced a fumble, just as he did a week ago in Denver. The Lions made he most of the short field and found the end zone once again, this time on Aaron Brown’s second touchdown run of the day to get to the final score of 35-27.
Some parting thoughts:
- The Lions should expect to see a lot of teams attack them with short timing passes. Getting rid of the ball quickly is an easy way to neutralize the Lions’ advantage at the line of scrimmage. I fear for what Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Brett Favre might do to this secondary. Winning the turnover battle was the key for winning this game but it isn’t something I am confident in this defense doing on a consistent basis.
- It was good to see Louis Delmas finally out on the field. His time out there was limited by design but he looked a lot like what we saw last year. Delmas was obviously ready to hit somebody, although he should have waited until the game actually started. Delmas was a bit overzealous in his pre-game introduction and knocked down a few members of the Lions kids club.
- The Lions got good pressure on the various Browns quarterbacks when they took longer looks down field and Ndamukong Suh was once again able to bat down a pass. The big fella continues to see double teams but finds ways to make his presence known.
- Aaron Brown looked the best I have ever see him as a part of the offense. He got five carries and managed 34 yards for an average of 6.8 yards per carry. Brown was quick and decisive and his versatility should help the Lions this year. The Lions running game was fairly effective all night as they averaged 5.9 yards per carry as a whole. Best’s 51-yard scamper on the opening play certainly helped that total but Brown and Jerome Felton each did their part as well. Kevin Smith went for just 2.5 yards per carry on his eight attempts. Throw in his fumble and Smith certainly didn’t make a case for a workload that looks anything like what Jahvid Best’s figures to be.
- While it is nice to get a win in the third preseason game it should also be noted that the starters left the game down 27-21. Most fans judge preseason games based on what happens while the starters play; in that case you could say the Lions lost. Not a cause for concern but certainly a reason to temper outrageous expectations.