The season opening football game is always a catharsis of sorts. The rigors of preseason camp battles are over, meaning everyone can finally come together for one common goal: winning. The Detroit Lions, unlike last year, open things up at home instead of on the road, getting things off to a roaring start right away. Up first are the St. Louis Rams, who many believe could surprise fast under their new and familiar coach Jeff Fisher.
Will the Lions get off to another good start, or will the Rams come in and burst their bubble right away? Here's five things that will decide that as you get your football Sunday's back underway.
1. The Secondary's Effectiveness Minus Chris Houston And Louis Delmas. Without Houston and Delmas, who both could miss Sunday's game after missing practice most of the week, others are going to have to step up. As I mentioned in Wednesday's column, it will have to be one of eight contributors who have only snippets of statistical information. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press spoke on "The Detroit Sports Show" Thursday night and identified Bill Bentley as a player to watch here, in addition to Jacob Lacey. How will these and others play with their big chance against Sam Bradford? Who will step up, make plays and become well known?
2. Run Defense. There's no reason to mince words. Last season, the Lions' run defense was pathetic. Often times, teams rammed the ball straight down their throats, which made it easier to pass and minimized the effectiveness of a fearsome pass rush. St. Louis rolls into town with Steven Jackson, who will provide a spectacular challenge right off the bat, especially considering how he ran against Detroit two years ago. If the Lions are able to stop Jackson and generate some positive momentum to start the season, it could help their early confidence. Jackson is also the Rams' major offensive weapon, so bottling him up will be very important in the final outcome of Sunday's game.
3. Run Offense. In the final preseason game, Mikel Leshoure ran (and caught) like a man possessed and looked like he could become a solid NFL running back. Due to his offseason dust up with law enforcement, he'll be shelved for this game and next week, meaning Kevin Smith will have to carry the load early. Can Smith get the job done? In limited time last year, Smith ran decently enough to get another look this season and fill in. If he's able to do anything, the Lions' passing game will do even better than expected.
4. Ryan Broyles. Also in this year's final preseason game, Broyles looked like the speedy and sticky handed wide receiver he was at Oklahoma, snagging plenty of passes and appearing to be a slippery difference maker. Will the Lions push him into action this week, or will they continue to ease him into the rotation, as he is still coming off knee surgery? It will be wise to keep your eyes on Broyles either way, considering he was a high draft pick and the Lions like him as another weapon for Matthew Stafford. If he's not back now, he will be soon.
5. Ndamukong Suh. Last year, Suh had a frustrating season by his early standards, facing plenty of double teams and struggling to properly adjust. How will Suh start off a critical 2012 campaign? His play is very important to the success of Detroit's defense, and if Gunther Cunningham has a plan to move him around, it could help ease some of Suh's frustration and get him loose. If Suh is able to play better in a hurry after refocusing in the offseason, things might get even better for the Lions' defense.
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