Perhaps all the Detroit Lions needed to do in order to find a groove was hit the road. Much like 2011, they delivered a solid, comeback win away from home to defeat the Baltimore Ravens 27-12. Despite some early struggles, the defensive stars played the Ravens to a virtual tie, allowing the offense to take over with a few touchdowns. Then, the third and fourth stringers salted away a successful hunt by sustaining the starters' momentum.
What did we learn from the Lions' first preseason victory? There's plenty of positives and negatives to go around:
Discipline Issues Are Baaack. The biggest issue in Friday's win was the overabundance of penalties. Like last year, the Lions' defense simply couldn't hold back from their overly aggressive style. Nick Fairley was a primary offender with two penalties, and as a result, you'll see him featured later. Once again, there were too many personal fouls and late hit calls to stomach. Also, there were a few mental breakdowns like neutral zone infractions. All of this worked to push the Ravens offense down the field.The defense must scale things back and play responsibly, or they'll put themselves in position to get burned like they did at times last year.
The Secondary Was Solid. As a group, Detroit's secondary measured up against the Ravens offense, especially early in the game. Jacob Lacey was good in coverage, and Chris Houston was stout as well. The Lions secondary snuffed out two potential touchdown drives with sticky coverage near the end zone. Also credit John Wendling for playing a good game at safety with one sack and one pass defended. Aside from the no-huddle offense moving the ball with quick passing, the Lions weren't victimized deep much during the game. Give full marks to the backfield for making this possible.
Calvin Johnson Is Still Megatron. Not that anyone ever doubted this fact, but Johnson turned in more fun, regular season type tricks Friday night. He hauled in a deep pass reminiscent of the one that defeated the Vikings last fall, and later contributed an amazing touchdown on the side of the end zone to get the Lions on the board. Another quietly dominating, ho-hum 111 yard receiving, one touchdown night. If Johnson looked a bit off key last game, that seemed like a distant memory by Friday night's end.
Replacement Referees Are Horrible. Two games in, it's understandable that there's a learning curve, but someone should really be informing these replacement referees on how to keep games moving. The action seemed to drag on forever Friday night with oodles of flags, and disagreements over simple issues like where to spot the ball after penalties. Perhaps the most embarrassing sequence occurred early in the first quarter when the referees seemed to initially give the Lions an obvious first down, then retract it, then corrected their mistake prior to the ball being snapped. Both sidelines were livid. Though fans complain about their usual NFL referees, they'd likely all take them back now. Where's Ed Hochuli and his arms when you need them?
Stephfon Green Needs More Carries. Though he gained the majority of his yardage on a 76 yard touchdown burst in garbage time, the rookie out of Penn State needs to see carries earlier in the game. Tonight, the rotation of Joique Bell, Keiland Williams didn't do much to impress at all. It's time to mix it up and give Green some meaningful carries early in games. He looked speedy enough to do damage, clearly hitting creases with authority. With a running game that's not exactly clicking, it's worth it to look everywhere for potential contributors, including on the bottom of the depth chart.
Lions? Matthew Stafford and Johnson each had great nights, and Titus Young had a nice touchdown grab as well. Give Doug Hogue credit for registering eight tackles, and Tahir Whitehead was solid. Wendling was around the ball all night at safety, and might be inserting himself into the discussion for more playing time in Louis Delmas's absence.
Lambs? The biggest lamb tonight was Fairley. A silly personal foul penalty for roughing the passer gifted the Ravens 15 yards. Then, he lined up in the neutral zone incurring another five yard penalty. That's too many mental mistakes for a player who needs to get serious about improving his game.
What About The Five Things? Entering the second preseason game, we said it was wise to watch the calmness of Matthew Stafford after his first shaky start. Stafford looked much better and delivered a controlled, two touchdown performance. The running game, facing Baltimore's stout defense, took a step backwards but featured some nice running by Green. The secondary played well, and saw a few other players step up other than Chris Houston and Bill Bentley. The defensive line did a solid job as well, keeping Ray Rice in check. Finally, Jason Hanson nailed a 50 yard field goal, promptly proving that he's still got a leg up in the kicking department.
Stalking The Next Prey: The Lions stay on the road and head out west to tangle with the Oakland Raiders next Saturday night. The contest gets underway at 7 p.m.
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