There were a lot of things that the Lions did better at this week versus the Baltimore Ravens than they did last week against the Cleveland Browns. The passing game for the first-team offense was more on point with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson looking like they are in midseason form. The running game fell off the map completely, which was expected because the Ravens boast a top ten defense and the Browns starting defense is littered with scrub players. And, overall, the defense looked much better than last week.
Outside of the things you were able to see with your eyes, there were also five characteristics about Friday’s game that stuck out that many people may have missed. That is why we go five wide…
- The Lions did not feature fullback James Bryant at all last night. Earlier this month in training camp, Jim Schwartz stated that the Lions are not a team that uses a traditional fullback, which immediately allured to the fact that Bryant was going to be cut sometime down the road. What’s good for Bryant is that he will get to put some of his skills on game film. However, what the Lions did do last night was feature some of their tight ends at the fullback/H-back position. The Lions have been known to do this in the past and the team is able to utilize guys like tight end Will Heller who is tremendous at blocking, but can also catch a fair share of passes (except for the ball Heller dropped last night, of course). It may not be too out of line to say that Bryant will be part of the first cuts the Lions have to make after the third preseason game.
- Everyone knows that the replacement officials are awful and many media talking-heads have been clamoring for the NFL to end its lockout with its actual referees. This is true. In Friday’s game, the refs had several on-the-field conferences to ensure that they were making the correct calls and it severely hindered the speed of the actual game. The NFL cannot have officials slowing the flow of the game because teams lose out on so much momentum that way. Defenses are given a chance to catch a breather, fiery offenses simmer and coaches are forced to spend more time taking care of the officials that sometimes their focus is diverted away from their team. The regular NFL officials and the NFL must end this lockout and come to some sort of an agreement before the regular season begins.
- The Lions did something last night that the team has not done a lot of, if at all, since Jim Schwartz took over the job in 2009. The Lions defense lined up and successfully played in a dime alignment several times last night, specifically on third and long where this sort of defensive formation is most potent against passing offenses. The Lions brought out six defensive backs and lined up with a three-man defensive line, which is almost unreal to believe because the Lions have one of the best four-man fronts in the NFL and by playing dime, the team is taking one of its best players off of the field. The dime is effective because it allows the linebackers to be less vulnerable in pass coverage since teams use five or six defensive backs instead of four. The reason the Lions have not used this alignment that much since 2009 is because, for the first time in three years, the Lions finally have depth at the corner back and safety positions where there is enough talent to successfully align this way without it failing miserably. The team drafted three corner backs in the 2012 NFL Draft and the Lions also brought in free agent Jacob Lacey. Simply put, the Lions have the numbers to line up in the dime and it proved last night to be effective because no passing touch downs were allowed.
- Punter Ben Graham’s days may be numbered as a Lion. Second-year kicker Ryan Donahue has been kicking really well, especially after pinning a punt on the Raven’s two-yard line Friday, and the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett pointed out the fact that Donahue has been the only person to hold for Jason Hanson the past two weeks while the kicker practices field goals during pregame warm-ups. The one thing that is just as important as the long-snapper’s snap is a sound hold from the punter, backup quarterback or whoever holds the ball for the placekicker. This is an interesting nugget of information to think about during the next two weeks of preseason action.
- Franchise-tendered defensive end Cliff Avril saw his first preseason action Friday night and it was quite telling about where he is at as far as regular season preparation goes. Avril made a few plays—however, he did drop a sure-thing interception—but he was also caught out of position a few times. There were two or three plays where Avril missed containment on the left side of the line and the Ravens’ running backs were able to bounce runs to the outside for considerable gains. That is completely unlike Avril to do because the reason he was so successful last season was his ability to play traffic cop at the left defensive end position by forcing all opposing running backs to the middle of the field where Detroit’s most talented defenders play—the defensive tackle and linebacker positions. Avril has to make a few tweaks to his play by studying the film of Friday’s game, otherwise he may not get back to where he left off last season.