It was just a preseason game, right? The Lions first game of the 2010 campaign was played in one of the NFL’s toughest cities and stadiums – Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field — for a visiting team and against a team that has won more Super Bowls (six) than any other franchise in the NFL.
It is hard to judge a team’s real improvement during preseason games, because the substitution pattern requires numerous lineup changes throughout the contest as coaches evaluate personnel.
So what do Lions fans and I make of Detroit’s 23-7 loss to the Steelers in their exhibition opener? A loss is a loss, and in the last ten years or so Lions fans have seen way too many losses – exhibition and regular season games.
I’d like to see a “W” registered after any contest with an opponent. I do not care if they were playing tiddlywinks against the vaunted Steelers, after too many years of futility the Lions’ fans just want to see a “W” after any Detroit contest.
The Steelers came into the contest vulnerable versus the Lions. They had almost as many questions as the Lions. Two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was serving a suspension, and Pittsburgh was coming off a very disappointing 2009 season that saw them miss the NFL Playoffs after they had won the Super Bowl following the 2008 campaign.
Now when I say disappointing 2009 season, it is all relative, mind you, because that Steelers did produce a 9-7 campaign that saw them beat four eventual playoff-bound teams – the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, and the San Diego Chargers.
Now think if our Lions had produced a similar record. I think all in the state of Michigan would have celebrated extensively.
The Lions’ first contest of the 2010 season was halted in the second quarter because of a storm that saw lightening and thunder overwhelm the game with 1:31 left in the first half, and it delayed the game for and hour and 13 minutes.
When I reflect on the Lions’ initial contest, there were some positive signs as several players the Lions are counting on to move the team out of the NFL basement made encouraging first impressions Saturday.
In particular million dollar quarterback Matthew Stafford showed command of the offense as evident in his three series of work, which saw him complete 8 of 11 passes for 61 yards, with one touchdown (2 yards to Calvin Johnson) and one interception on a pass that bounced off the hands of rookie running back Jahvid Best.
Many feel and so do I that the Lions’ strength this season will be its defensive front four. In fact, they indeed showed signs and were impressive, led by Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and rookie first round draft pick Ndamukong Suh.
“We got good pressure and we only blitzed one time,” coach Jim Schwartz told reporters after the game. “The plan is for the defensive line to carry our defense. We devoted a lot of resources to improving that area. But we still have a long ways to go.”
Still, some old signs that have haunted the Lions for too many years reared their ugly heads.
“I thought we did some good things early in the game,” Schwartz said, “but we had some penalties that took some of that away which was disappointing to see. You can’t finish the game like we did in the third and fourth quarters and feel good about it.
“You want to see players reinforce the good things they are doing in practice. Unfortunately, for some of our guys, they reinforced some of the negatives and they need to pick it up because they are running out of time.”
The Lions were penalized 11 times for 88 yards and had three turnovers, including the one interception. Also, starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy missed the Steelers contest with an injury. Unfortunately, his replacement, Jordon Dizon, suffered an injury in the Pittsburgh game and by all accounts it appears to be a season-ending knee injury.