By Ashley Dunkak
Wide receiver Nate Burleson tweeted a message to fans after the Detroit Lions fell 24-6 to the Cleveland Browns in the second preseason game of the season, telling them the key was to stay basic in play calling and stay healthy.
The reminder encountered some resistance.
“We hear that same old story every year…what makes this year any different?” tweeted @whybefacetious.
Burleson tweeted in reply, “Just wait til we open up our playbook …”
If the Lions do delve deeper into their offensive arsenal in the preseason, this week would probably be the week to do it. Detroit hosts the New England Patriots, who are led by three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. Led by their star quarterback, the Patriots went 12-4 in the regular season in 2012 before ultimately losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the conference finals.
“They were first in the NFL in points scored last year and I think [they] were first in the NFL in points allowed last year – that’s a pretty good formula,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “All those other stats, you can take those away. You do those things, you’re going to have an outstanding year, and they did. They were a game away from the Super Bowl again. They’ve been a consistent team, a consistent contender, for a long time. We’re going to have to play our very best.”
Burleson said the game will reveal more about the Lions than any other preseason game will.
“It’s the biggest indication of how your starters are going to play,” Burleson said Monday. “Most teams play their starters long in that third game, so you’re going ones against ones. It’s the highest level of competition there is as far as preseason goes. We need to create some momentum. We need to get going, especially offensively.”
The Lions recorded just 217 yards of offense in their 24-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. To be fair, the Lions did not have the services of star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but not even scoring one touchdown did not sit well.
“Anytime you step on the field, you want to put points up, there’s no question about it,” quarterback Matthew Stafford acknowledged, “but this is a time of the year where we’re still trying to gel, we’re still trying to get better. We’ll continue that throughout the season. Always try to get better.
“Hopefully you’re not your best week one,” Stafford added. “You’re getting to your best, you’re peaking toward the end of the year, and playing well throughout, but there’s always room for improvement.”
As usual, it is hard to judge the team’s progress based on preseason games, when starters play a limited amount of time and teams use basic schemes almost exclusively.
“We dumb it down a little bit,” Burleson said. “There’s a lot of things we don’t need to show. There’s a lot of things we want to save for the regular season. But at the same time, we still have to execute.”
Executing well Thursday might necessitate using a little more of the playbook, particularly if the Lions have to try to keep up with the Patriots’ up-tempo attack.
“We have that in our arsenal,” Burleson said. “Who knows if we’ll bring it out Thursday, but there’s more than a handful of things that we haven’t shown. You can’t show all your cards this early in the game, so we’ll see what we do on Thursday, but if they play fast, we’re obviously going to have to play faster.”
Burleson said the Lions need to be better Thursday regardless of whether Johnson will be playing.
“If he is or isn’t, we’ve still got to go out there and put up some points,” Burleson said. “We are the complement players, but when LeBron doesn’t play, the Heat still plays well, so we’ve got to go out there and make plays.”
With Thursday’s game being deemed the most important of the preseason, how the offense performs against the Patriots Thursday could set the tone and high or low expectations for the rest of the season. Burleson is confident the impression from the game will be a positive one.
“That was a glaring question not only by the media but by family and friends, texting, asking what’s going on with the offense,” Burleson said. “There’s a lot of excuses I could give, but that’s not really my thing. Let’s just say this Thursday we’ll answer those questions.”