By Chris Morgan
The Detroit Lions are looking to bounce back this season after a disappointing 4-12 year in 2012. They began the season with a matchup against their divisional rivals the Minnesota Vikings. A win out of the gate would have been big for either team, but, in the end, the Lions were able to overcome a slow start to win fairly comfortably by the score of 34-24. The Lions had bright spots, and low lights, in all aspects of the game and here is how each unit broke down.
The quarterback position is the most heavily scrutinized in all of the NFL, and after signing a big new contract, a lot is expected from Matthew Stafford this season. Since Detroit is a pass heavy team, perhaps it isn’t surprising that Stafford was quite busy against Minnesota. He threw the ball 43 times, completing 28 of his passes for a whopping 357 yards. He also threw two touchdowns, one interception and, although he fumbled once, he was able to recover it.
Stafford’s two touchdowns don’t really tell the whole story. The first touchdown was a 77-yarder by Reggie Bush where Bush did most of the damage with his legs. The second touchdown was a one-yard toss to Joseph Fauria after a Detroit touchdown was overturned. Those weren’t exactly difficult throws for him. On the other hand, he had a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson that was overturned due to, fittingly enough, the Calvin Johnson rule, and his interception was a deflection. It was a solid, if unspectacular game for Stafford. He threw for a lot of yards, and his completion percentage was decent, but the performance doesn’t really inspire.
While Stafford may not deserve full credit for the Bush touchdown, when discussing the offense as a whole that isn’t a necessary caveat. Bush did not perform well in the preseason, but perhaps he was sandbagging us all waiting for the games to count. He was outstanding against the Vikings, Detroit’s best player on either side of the ball. In addition to catching four passes for 101 yards and that aforementioned touchdown, he rushed 21 times for 90 yards. Without his overturned touchdown, Megatron only finished with 39 yards. Joique Bell scored two touchdowns in six carries, and performed in the passing game as per usual. Brandon Pettigrew fumbled, as he is wont to do, and the Vikings recovered, one of two Detroit turnovers. The Lions only gave up one sack with their revamped offensive line, to Jared Allen, which isn’t too shabby.
It is unknown how good Minnesota’s defense will be this season, but it probably won’t be among the league’s best. They are relying on some young, unproven players due to roster moves and guys like Allen and Kevin Williams getting up there in years. Still, the Lions put up 34 points, even with a couple of overturned touchdowns, and they finished with 469 yards. If they can perform like this most weeks, particularly, in the running game, it bodes well.
Special Teams: B-
On the plus side, new kicker David Akers converted both of his field goal attempts and all four of his extra points, which is apt on a day where Jason Hanson was celebrated at halftime. On the minus side, Sam Martin bobbled a snap on an early field goal attempt, which led to Detroit coming away with zero points. Neither team did anything of note in the return game. Sam Martin punted four times, averaging 38 yards per punt with a long of 55. The rookie seems up to the job of being the big leg for Detroit. Hopefully he can handle snaps better in the future.
Things couldn’t have started off much worse for the Lions defense, as on Minnesota’s first offensive play, Adrian Peterson carried the ball 78 yards for a TD. However, after that, Detroit managed to sort of keep Peterson in check. Sure, he scored two more touchdowns, one on the ground, and one through the air, but he finished with 18 carries for 93 yards. Keeping Peterson in check is difficult, so the Lions shouldn’t feel too bad about this.
Plus, they did much better in other aspects of the defensive game. Granted, they were probably helped by the fact Christian Ponder is a bad quarterback, but the Lions brought out the badness in him. Glover Quin, DeAndre Levy, and Stephen Tulloch all picked off Ponder, while Nick Fairley recovered a Ponder fumble. The Lions picked up three sacks, with Fairley getting 1.5 of them, Tulloch getting one, and rookie Ziggy Ansah picking up the other half of a sack. Detroit also had seven tackles for losses. Given the big day Peterson had, you can’t speak too highly of Detroit’s defensive performance, but the four turnovers created can’t be overlooked either, and Peterson is going to make a lot of defenses look bad.
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Chris Morgan has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports “expert.” His work can be found on Examiner.com. .