By: Eric Thomas
The Lions open the preseason against the Browns on Saturday night at Ford Field. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but exhibition in the NFL is basically pointless. The only consequential thing that can possibly happen are injuries, and the worst thing in all of sports. A key player getting hurt in pre-season is like getting a mechanical pencil for your birthday, it’s more awful the more you think about it.
It’s pointless, dangerous, but you’re going to watch just like the rest of us. Here are five things to watch for in the Lions and Browns game on Saturday:
1. Stafford’s fundamentals — The Lions have gathered some of the greatest quarterbacking minds to help Matt Stafford play better. In the off-season, I wondered if Stafford should take it personally. Some reports indicated that Caldwell wasn’t even all the way hired before he started working with him. They grabbed a guy named Lombardi to coach the offense, and a man named Jim Bob Cooter because he worked with Peyton Manning. So in the opening possessions, Stafford’s fundamentals should be ovation worthy. Is this something that we, as mere football watchers—who at best maybe were in a punt pass and kick competition as children—can truly evaluate? Of course not, but gosh darn it, we’re going to try. You can guarantee Twitter will be filled with nonsensical things like “like how Stafford is setting his feet there” or “he’s not looking down his receivers,” which is merely us repeating things we’ve heard someone else say.
2. Catch. The. Ball. — What is it about Lions receivers? Catching has been a thorny issue since Herman Moore and Brett Permian hung up their cleats. You’d think people who catch things for a living would have the ability to, well, CATCH, but that hasn’t proven to be the case. This problem goes back quite a ways. Even when the Lions drafted three wide receivers in the first round, they had this suspicious quality where they couldn’t actually catch the ball. It hasn’t mattered who suits up in Honolulu blue, it’s a problem for everyone not named Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate got a contract in the off-season because he has sure hands. Let’s see him use them.
3. Never mind the defense — This isn’t something you should watch for. Vanilla offense and vanilla defense. We won’t know anything about the defense until after the season starts.
4. The kicking game — Fans were spoiled by Jason Hanson and Eddie Murray. The only reliable unit for the Lions had been the kicking game for decades. Last year, you really missed it. David Akers was dreadful, and Kickalicious was a YouTube sensation whose skills didn’t really translate. This year, it’s a camp battle between Boston College draft pick Nate Freese and Italian-born Giorgio Tavecchiom who kicked for Cal-Berkley and tried out for the Packers and 49ers. While it might seem boring to focus on a kicking competition in a preseason game, you know it’s going to matter when the games count.
5. Just stay healthy — This is really the only thing that matters. Pre-season is so useless, but the NFL makes a lot of money on it, so we all must endure. Football tease happens every year, and it’s amazingly frustrating, because it only makes you long for the start of the season, which is a long way off. Even longer considering that the Lions open their season on Monday Night this year.