Looking to stay healthy and start on the road towards plenty of roster questions, the Detroit Lions took on the New York Jets and managed to get off to the quick start they needed, both on the scoreboard and in the win-loss column.
Friday night, with several big kicks and otherwise, the Lions got things off on the right foot and overwhelmed Mark Sanchez. Plenty of players contributed offensively and defensively, helping Detroit ground the Jets early and hang on for a 26-17 win. What can be taken from this performance? The Hunt Report breaks it down with its first appearance of the new football year.
The Defensive Line Is Still Dominant. On only the fourth play of the game, Ziggy Ansah deposited an interception in the end zone for a defensive touchdown. On numerous other occasions, Detroit's ferocious middle bull rush courtesy of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh had Jets defenders to take penalties. Off the edge, Willie Young and Devin Taylor both registered plenty of pressure with Taylor registering a sack and forced fumble and Young collecting two tackles for loss and two passes defended. In the absence of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Lions looked impressive, which is no small feat considering what was lost.
Many New Offensive Linemen Held Their Own. Things didn't come as easy for the offensive line as the defensive group, but the Lions got decent first performances out of Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Larry Warford and company, and Matthew Stafford wasn't forced to run for his life too many times. Run blocking is still a major work in progress, but so far so good for the Lions' protectors, who didn't see too many things go terribly wrong right off the bat. Later on, LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard played well, perhaps adding some solid depth to the group. There's plenty to work on, but a start's a start.
Matt Willis Might Be Playing His Way On The Roster. After showing up the final week of camp with numerous big plays, Willis kept on his roll Friday night in game action, making an improbable catch along the sideline and then, hauling in a beautiful touchdown grab. He's not the biggest guy at receiver, but Willis has heart, hustles and can play special teams, meaning he's versatile and valuable. Willis probably remains a roster long shot, but if he keeps up the fantastic play and highlight reel catches, he's gong to take somebody's job and force Jim Schwartz and company to keep him.
Conversely, Mikel Leshoure Might Be Getting Replaced. Despite running for 24 yards on seven carries, Leshoure was overshadowed by Joique Bell, who looked much better between the tackles and also in the passing game. Leshoure was still taking snaps in the third quarter, meaning he's got to do more to stay on the good side of the staff. Now, he's got to play up to potential the rest of the preseason or playing time might continue to diminish.
Sam Martin Provides Detroit's Kicking Game A Leg Up. When the ball comes off Martin's foot on a punt, it makes a different sound. In addition to that, Martin was excellent in the kickoff game, booming the ball out of the end zone several times. Martin was able to boom the ball high while pinning the Jets deep on his punts, which is something the Lions didn't see much last year. Special teams is vital, and if Martin kicks as well as he did Friday, the fans will be happy he was drafted in the fifth round, after all.
Three Cheers For Kickalicious. Havard Rugland passed his first test, which revolved mostly around kicking in pads and kicking with a heavy opposing rush. Many wondered if the man called "Kickalicious" could handle the NFL heat, and he could. Two field goals, one from 49 yards and the next from 50, proved that point. The first was boomed and the second, while topped and a bit low, still cleared the uprights. It was an impressive debut for the sudden fan favorite.
Lambs? Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead had rough games.
What About The Five Things? Tonight, we said it would be important to watch the performance of the newfangled offensive line. Things didn't look fantastic, but everyone held their own. Ziggy Ansah's impact was felt immediately, with a touchdown and a solid tackle. Reggie Bush made a beautiful run early, but then sat down for the rest of the night as a precaution, the secondary still looked suspect at times and special teams finally looked like an asset instead of a liability.
Stalking The Next Prey: The Lions head for their annual preseason date with the Cleveland Browns next Thursday night, August 15 at 7:30 p.m.
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