The first preseason game is over but it leaves us with a number of things that are hopefully the same and a few that need correction.
If you’re looking for specific items to watch for on Friday night rather than just sitting back and enjoying more Lions football coming through your television screen then I suggest these five:
1. Mid-season form from Matthew Stafford
Is there a player more important to the Lions success than Matthew Stafford? I don’t think there is which is why it was nice to see Stafford come out looking sharp against the Bengals and put the ball in the end zone rather than leading drives for field goals. Was that first game excitement or a sign of things to come? I think it is the latter but it is something to watch for against the Browns.
2. The Running Game
Running the ball was a problem for the Lions a year ago and it didn’t look any better last Friday night when they averaged just 2.1 yards per carry against the Bengals. Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison both struggled and will need to have a better showing now that they will have had the benefit of a full week of practice. I’m not expecting a dominating rushing performance, that won’t be the team’s identity anyway, but we need to start seeing some competency in the running game if the Lions are going to reach the offensive heights many believe are within their capabilities.
3. Individual performances in the secondary
The Lions didn’t make a big splash in free agency at the cornerback position but I still believe they have some nice pieces. There may not be a lot to differentiate the depth chart from a pure talent standpoint so I anticipate a tough battle for playing time. The competition should raise the level of performance of the unit. The question is, who will it be that steps up?
4. The flow of the game
One aspect of the Lions game with the Bengals that most impressed me was their ability to control the game from beginning to end. Simply put, they outplayed the Bengals no matter who was shuffling on and off the field. The Lions got scoring drives out of four different quarterbacks and held the Bengals offense out of the end zone all night. We would normally expect in-game momentum to shift a couple times during the game but another dominating performance this week will speak well for this team’s depth.
5. Kickoff Strategy
How will the Lions mix their kickoffs? While most people bemoan the anticipated increase in touchbacks thanks to rules put into place for this season, I see an opportunity to play a risk-reward game by allowing opposing teams the chance to return a kick from a yard or two deep in the end zone in hopes of pinning the opposing offense inside, not at, the 20-yard line. Check out my article from earlier in the week for more on this topic.