Finally, the preseason finale is here. Amongst other clever nicknames, this final contest could also technically be called mop up duty. Mindful of injury, the starters will likely see limited minutes. Rookies, second stringers and everyone else will get the chance to make a unique impression on fans and coaches alike. Position battles will ultimately be settled and the first week of the season will be upon everyone quickly.
What issues are there to monitor as the preseason winds down? Here's five thoughts for this week's game against the Buffalo Bills:
1. Matthew Stafford. Hurt last week in Oakland, Stafford claims he'll be ready for the season opener. He also claims he could play against Buffalo if asked by the team. The chances of that second scenario coming to fruition are slim, but perhaps he will see a series or two. In that scenario, how would his left non-throwing hand look taking snaps? Would there be any lingering issues here? The safest move would be to leave Stafford on the bench, which is where he'll likely watch most of Thursday's game.
2. Other Injured Players. Stafford wasn't the only important Lions' starter to be bitten by the injury bug last weekend. Bill Bentley and Chris Houston were also hurt on defense, meaning Detroit's already thin secondary might have found a few more holes. Hopefully, Bentley and Houston are each shut down, providing two players the Lions need in 2012 with some additional rest and allowing the coaches to get a look at some others on the bubble. There's no need to risk either for very long on Thursday night, or anyone else who's dinged up.
3. Mikel Leshoure And The Running Game. In limited action on Saturday, Leshoure ran for one yard on five carries with a long run of four yards. Careful to risk injury, the Lions will likely keep those numbers similar against Buffalo, but will Leshoure run better and put up better numbers to inspire some confidence? This is Leshoure's last opportunity to get into game speed before the season, being he'll miss the first two games with suspension. Otherwise, what will happen at running back? Kevin Smth was injured, forcing Keiland Williams to take most of the carries. With Jahvid Best on the PUP list to start the year, who's going to be the starter?
4. Kevin Barnes. A newcomer at corner from Washington, how will Barnes do in the action he may see? Will he be a quick study and pick up the playbook? As alluded to earlier, his addition is interesting and important for a defense in need of impact players in the backfield. There's no doubt Barnes is talented being he was a former third round pick, so how will he apply that talent in Detroit, and can he do so early. Dress rehearsal number one comes against the Bills.
5. Offensive and defensive crispness. Against the Raiders, the Lions seemed to lack intensity and desire. Though these games are nearing the end of the preseason slate, bad habits often times die hard early in the year. The Lions used momentum from last year's win against New England to blaze out to a quick start. Against Buffalo, the mindset needs to be the same. There needs to be excitement and commitment to an "attack first" mentality throughout every unit. Just because starters won't play extensively doesn't mean the team shouldn't establish a groove.
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