After dropping their first preseason game to the new Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions make the trip to Charm City to take on the old Cleveland Browns, also known as the Baltimore Ravens. Armed with plenty of things to work on and improve upon, the Lions will be eager to get back into game situations and take their shots at the Ravens, who won their first game last week.
It's national television during the preseason. It's yet another homecoming for Jim Schwartz. As far as excitement angles go, that's about all I've got for you this week. Despite that, here's five things to watch as the Lions try to snag a bounce back win and iron out some mistakes.
1. Will Matthew Stafford Be More Relaxed? Stafford didn't look like himself against Cleveland early in last week's game, and was befallen by some rushed passes and silly mistakes. He also threw a critical early interception which wiped out an excellent drive the Lions offense was maintaining. This week, will we see a return to the calm and confident Stafford while he's in the game? It will be a good test, being this contest is on the road. Last season, Stafford excelled in bouncing back after mistakes, which made the difference for the Lions' offense. I'm betting he'll be hungry to show that his early jitters were just a product of first game rust and nothing more. Either way, he'll badly want to improve upon a tough 4-7, 1 sack, 1 interception line.
2. Can The Running Game Continue To Sustain Itself From Within? Without Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best full strength and much out of Kevin Smith, the running game didn't look to miss a beat. Keiland Williams scored a touchdown and ran well, while Joique Bell ran with purpose and made excellent cuts most of the second half as Detroit's featured back. Will this theme continue, and will the Lions be able to count on Williams and Bell to carry the load? Leshoure returned to practice this week, but it sounded doubtful that he'd see meaningful time against the Ravens. That means expect more Williams and Bell, who want to prove they can be the guys to stick on the roster. If they continue to assert themselves, the Lions might not feel the need to scour the market for a veteran band aid like Ryan Grant much longer.
3. Bill Bentley And The Secondary. Bentley made what many casual observers would call an excellent debut, intercepting a pass and nearly picking off one more. He was solid in coverage and looked good all night long. Despite this, Schwartz seemed unimpressed, claiming there was more that Bentley could have done and lamenting he should have played better. What will he do for an encore? In addition, what other defensive backs will assert themselves? Will it be Jonte Green or Jacob Lacey? Perhaps with another solid effort on the road where others make a name for themselves, people can stop thinking of the Lions' backfield as "Chris Houston and a bunch of other dudes."
4. Will The Defensive Line's Dominance Continue? The Lions got contributions from plenty on the defensive line last Friday, including little known Everette Brown and youngster Willie Young. Now, they'll get Cliff Avril back in the fold which should help even more. No matter who's in the game, it looks as if the Lions will be able to generate plenty of pressure on the quarterback this season. Run defense also looked a tiny bit better, and facing Ray Rice Friday will test that notion, at least temporarily. If Brown and Young can continue to play well, the Lions may have found themselves even more solid spare parts to throw at teams in waves. As Jon Gruden said last season, "they just bring these guys in from the bullpen to pressure the quarterback!"
5. Jason Hanson. Maybe it's just the product of my over imaginative mind, but it certainly appeared as if Hanson wasn't good at all last week. He missed a field goal which was close by his lofty standards indoors, something that rarely happens. Rookie Derek Dimke, meanwhile, nailed a 40 yard try. Advantage Dimke? Probably not. This week, Hanson will get some work in outside, and hopefully gets a few chances to shake off the miss. For the last 20 years, Lions fans haven't had to worry about the kicking game one bit. That should continue in 2012, but it's worth it to see if Hanson can remain Mr. Reliable, even with yet another season under his belt.
Line: Baltimore by 3.
Pick: Lions 23, Old Cleveland Browns 14
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