WEEK 11: at DETROIT LIONS
Date: Sunday, Nov. 18. Time: noon. TV: Fox.
2011 record: 10-6. Points scored: 474 (4th). Points against: 387 (23rd).
Noteworthy: The Lions escaped their Matt Millen-induced funk by posting their first winning season since 2000, first playoff berth since 1999 and first 10-win season since 1995. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions rallied from 13-plus-point deficits to win six times last year. Still, they went 0-5 against the league's best teams. The series: The Packers are 7-3 at Ford Field, including 5-1 under McCarthy.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
1. Improve the running game. They should know fairly early on in camp whether running backs Jahvid Best (concussions) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles) will be healthy enough to provide the one-two punch they are hoping for. If not, they will have veteran Kevin Smith and would probably have to make a move to add another veteran back.
2. Settle the secondary. Two spots are secure - Chris Houston at left cornerback and Louis Delmas at one of the safety spots. The other two are wide open. Recently signed free agent Sean Jones will battle incumbent Amari Spievey and veteran Erik Coleman for the other safety spot. That should be one of the best battles of camp. At right corner, Aaron Berry will face a stiff challenge from veteran Alphonso Smith and rookies Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood.
PLAYER TO WATCH
All eyes will be on Jahvid Best. When he's been available, he has provided the offense with a multidimensional threat similar to what Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles provided the Saints the last few years - a big-play threat running and receiving out of the backfield.
But Best has had three concussions the last two seasons, two within three months last season. He took part in all the offseason conditioning work, but hasn't been cleared for contact. He is expected to take another series of concussions tests shortly before training camp. Both Best and the Lions are optimistic that he will be cleared.
Even if he is cleared, though, there is no way to predict what will happen the next time he takes a blow to the head. It will be interesting to see how the Lions walk that line between getting him ready for the season and protecting him against another head shot.
ON THE HOT SEAT
It's time for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to identify himself as a football player. Is he the quarterback-destroying force he was during his rookie season in 2010 or is he the under-producing, hot-headed, personal foul machine he was last season?
The Lions need him to be, and are paying him to be, the former. The success of Gunther Cunningham's defensive system is predicated on getting pressure from the defensive front four. When Suh is blowing up the middle and drawing two and three blockers, the path is cleared for the defensive ends to wreak havoc on quarterbacks and ball carriers.
When that doesn't happen, the secondary is exposed like it was at the end of last season when quarterbacks like Matt Flynn and Drew Brees shredded the Lions for 90 points in two games.
With Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill, the Lions potentially have as powerful a defensive tackle rotation as there is in the league. It's time for Suh to lead that charge.
Want more on the Lions? CLICK HERE for a position-by-position training camp preview.
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