Aug 15, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Terrence Austin (16) is tackled by Cleveland Browns cornerback Trevin Wade (26) and linebacker L.J. Fort (58) in the third quarter of a preseason game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve seen enough of training camp and two preseason games to know one thing:
The Lions’ first string doesn’t look great, and it’s time to panic.
The offensive line looks porous, the running game looks as ineffective as ever, and the secondary doesn’t look any more solid than it has in the last decade.
So what does this mean? Have the Lions failed to address any of their major concerns heading into this season?
It’s certainly possible, but it’s an awful lot more possible that it’s actually not time to panic because this is the preseason and calm down.
The preseason is where teams deliberately put pressure on potential problem areas to see how they do and what needs fixing. It turns out, a lot needs fixing, but it’s good to discover that in the preseason, rather than in week 10.
Now, don’t take this as a full pass for poor performances. What’s really concerning about the Lions’ lackluster preseason performances is that players individually look bad.
Matthew Stafford looks rusty, and seemed lost without Calvin Johnson on the field. Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew dropped passes. On defense, players were missing tackles habitually, which is indefensible under any circumstances outside of “playing flag football with kids.”
It looks bad, for sure. I completely understand why people have their fingers on the panic button.
Really, it’s just like that time everybody in Baltimore freaked out about the Ravens losing to the Lions 27-12 in the second preseason game, in which Joe Flacco only went 7/12 for 79 yards. I mean, that was all the way back in 2012, and the Ravens only won one Super Bowl that year.
Or remember when the New York Giants got embarrassed 17-3 by the lowly New York Jets in the all-important third game of the 2011 preseason? Eli Manning only completed half of his passes, and he threw two interceptions. The Giants only won a single lousy Super Bowl that season, too.
“Well, yeah,” you say, “but those were barely over .500 teams who had a lucky late-season run. They weren’t necessarily the best teams in the league.”
That’s a flawed premise in and of itself (if you win the Super Bowl, nobody much cares about your regular season record), but let’s explore it anyway.
Let’s go back exactly six years to August 17, 2007, when the New England Patriots threw four interceptions and mustered a scant 2.7 yards per carry in an ugly 27-24 preseason loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots took nine penalties in that game, and Tom Brady himself threw two interceptions.
While it’s true that the Patriots lost the Super Bowl that year, they also won 18 straight games to get there, and busted a bunch of offensive records in the process.
The point here is that ugly preseason performance is not an indicator that regular season performance will be anywhere near similar. You won’t hear me suggest that the Lions’ performance through half the preseason has been anything but discouraging, for sure, but it’s no reason to start flushing the season just yet.
Besides, would you rather see a repeat of the Lions’ 2008 season, in which they had a 4-0 preseason? The defense looked awesome in that preseason, allowing an average of only eight points per game. They would go on to give up the second-most points in a single season in NFL history, en route to a 0-16 season.
It may be difficult to turn a blind eye to what looks, very plainly, like poor play on the gridiron. Even the Lions’ players themselves are a little upset about their performances to this point, and the Lions’ recent defensive signings suggest the front office isn’t happy with the results they’re getting on the field, either. So any of your concerns are most likely well-founded.
But remember: it’s the preseason, calm down. This is not the season you’re looking for. The Lions have fallen out of the running for a preseason championship, but that other one is still attainable.