Behind Enemy Lines: Evaluating the Lions

PatriotsInsider.com's Jon Scott and roarreport.com publisher Nate Caminata discuss the Lions prior to Saturday night's tilt between New England and Detroit.

Jon Scott, PatriotsInsider.com: What has been the biggest change to the 2011 team from last year and what kind of impact has that had?
 
Nate Caminata, roarreport.com: Detroit's biggest transition might actually be more based more on premise than anything else. Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford returns after missing the bulk of 2010, and if his health remains intact, the Lions will finally field a team they have envisioned since drafting him in 2009. His presence alone will affect not only coordinator Scott Linehan's playbook (largely developed around Stafford's arm), but also the production of receivers Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, in addition to whatever residual affect that has on the running game. 
 
JS: What challenges have their been thus far in training camp/preseason?
 
NC: Injuries have decimated Detroit's rookie group. First-round pick Nick Fairley suffered a small fracture in his foot and surgery has postponed his unveiling until the season-opener, possibly longer. Second-round pick Mikel Leshoure, who the team was counting on in the running game, was lost about a week later after shredding his Achilles. He'll miss his entire rookie campaign to an injury that is historically unfriendly to the career of a running back. Fellow second-round pick Titus Young has finally joined the team after missing the bulk of training camp with a nagging hamstring injury. Each player was projected to have major minutes in 2011, which will clearly force the team to find production elsewhere.
 
Detroit Weaknesses ...
 
NC: Detroit's secondary in 2010 was a deterrent to a powerful defensive line. The team signed Eric Wright to pair with last year's starter, Chris Houston, and the safety tandem of Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas appears to be improved. Although reason for doubt will prevail until proven otherwise, the team's talented defensive front should help mask any lingering secondary issues. Another team weakness might be the interior, where veteran center Dominic Raiola remains undersized between an even more precarious guard duo. With a running back core weakened due to Leshoure's injury, the team's ability behind Stafford is thrown into question. Thus far into the preseason, the line has performed admirably but the running game has struggled. Expect the team to use Saturday's contest against the Patriots to continue to iron out those flaws.
 
Detroit's Strengths ...
 
NC: Stafford and his receiving core have been lights-out thus far in the preseason. Stafford and Johnson are both fluid and intrepid with their chemistry, giving the Lions one of the more feared passing attacks in the NFC if not the entire league; anyone who suggests otherwise simply isn't watching. The team moves the ball like clockwork through the air, and Stafford is doing better at ridding of the ball if he doesn't have a play -- correcting a flaw that might have been related to his second shoulder injury suffered last year. On the defensive side of the football, last year's defensive rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh returns, and once paired with Nick Fairley, the results of Detroit's defensive fortitude should be devastating.
 
Detroit's 2011 Outlook ...
 
NC: Believe the hype. The additions of linebackers Stephen Tulloch (Tennessee) and Justin Durant (Jacksonville) hand the team a dynamic linebacking core behind the Ndamukong Suh-led defensive line, which also returns bookends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. In addition to an offense that features plenty of firepower, there's no reason why the Lions shouldn't win more games than they lose in 2011.
Prediction: 9-7
 
Why this game matters ...
 
NC: The Patriots remain the league's gold-standard, and exhibition or not, a nationally-televised audience gives Detroit both the opportunity and platform to strut their stuff. Most of the team's starters will play the entire first half, allowing the coaching staff their first major look at the starters against a very valid opponent.

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