Well it’s finally here! The Lions kickoff the 2012 regular season today when they take on the St. Louis Rams at 1PM ET from Ford Field.
After a 10-6 2011 season which saw the Lions make their first trip to the playoffs in over a decade, Detroit enters this season as a team that simply cannot be taken lightly anymore. An offense centered on quaterback Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson are in line for another big year as arguably the leagues best QB/WR tandem. On the defensive side of the ball, the front four of the d-line is once again strong and should give opposing quarterback fits working in the pocket.
Detroit though does have plenty of question marks, more notably in the defensive secondary. Safety Louis Delmas and corner Chris Houston are both doubtful for today’s game as they are still dealing with lingering injuries while the depth at these positions remains very thin.
For the offense the big question mark resides in the running game.
Despite the league transitioning more to the pass, the Lions are still without two of their top running backs heading into week one. Mikel Leshoure will be suspended for the first two weeks after being arrested twice in the offseason on drug charges. Jahvid Best will be lost for at least the first six weeks of the season dealing with concussion problems, while Kevin Smith has his own issues with staying healthy.
Bottom line, the season is really a flip of the coin for the Lions. There’s enough of the wild card aspect that tilt things one way or the other while veterans like Stafford, Johnson and Suh should keep things stable enough to warrant at least a .500 record.
Nonetheless lets take a look at the keys to the game for the Lions this week:
Detroit Lions Player to Watch: (TE) Brandon Pettigrew and (TE) Tony Scheffler
These are two guys that Lions fans are really going to have to watch all season. Today though Pettigrew and Scheffler’s job is to earn the respect of the St. Louis linebackers. This will be to take off some of the pressure on Stafford while opening up other areas of the offense such as the running game and passing game.
St. Louis Player to Watch: (QB) Sam Bradford
After somewhat of a disappointing year in 2011, Bradford looks to rebound and regain the form he had his rookie season with the Rams. It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles the Ford Field crowd and whether or not he can take advantage of that thin Lions secondary.
What Detroit needs to do to win:
Rattle Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford has all the makings of a franchise QB however the lack of a true go-to receiver and his relative inexperience leaves him open to be rattled. It’s going to be important for the Lions pass rushers to penetrate that St. Louis offensive line and get to Bradford forcing him to make mistakes and turnovers.
Contain Steven Jackson
Last season the Lions run defense simply wasn’t good. Even though Steven Jackson has a lot of tread on the tires he’s still very capable accumulating nice numbers on a game to game basis. Given Bradford’s limited options wide expect a lot of screen plays to Jackson in the backfield. It’s going to be important for the Lions defensive line and linebackers to limit Jackson on the ground and with those screen passes and continue to keep Bradford off key.
Get Stafford to Johnson going
If the Lions are going to have any success in this game it has to start with the Stafford to Calvin connection. Not many teams out there will be able to contain this duo and I really don’t think the Rams secondary can shut it down. What will also be important is getting some of the other receivers involved as well such as Titus Young which hopefully will take some of the double and triple teams off of Calvin Johnson.
Don’t get beat by penalties
How much have the Lions matured in the offseason? If the Lions end up beating themselves by picking up too many stupid penalties, this could end up being their downfall much like it was in many games last season.
Take advantage of home field advantage
The Ford Field crowd should be loud… very loud. If the Lions crowd can get that St. Louis offense going the other way with false starts it would greatly benefit the Lions defense in making Bradford work with unworkable 3rd and longs.
The Lions hold the advantage in many different categories and are certainly the better team on paper. The Rams also don’t have enough talent on their side to fully take advantage of Detroit’s biggest weaknesses.
Lions 31, Rams 17