TIM AND MIKE: Lions shift gears to Oakland game

Posted Aug 12, 2014

Tim Twentyman and Mike O’Hara discuss some concerns and decisions facing the Lions as they move to Game 2 of the preseason including Calvin Johnson’s playing time, defensive scheme and more.

The Lions are shifting gears and preparing for their first road preseason game at Oakland Friday night after beating the Browns at Ford Field on Saturday night.

Their performance against the Browns was typical for a first preseason game. It was a mix of good and bad, with plenty of room for improvement in all areas and a lot of personnel decisions to make.

With that in mind, what are the major concerns and decisions facing the Lions as they move to Game 2 of the preseason?

Mike: I’ll start with offense. Expect the starters to play considerably longer than the seven plays they were in for against the Browns. That was typical for a first preseason game, and Calvin Johnson was held out.

None of that was surprising, but it should change in the next two games – first at Oakland, then against Jacksonville at Ford Field in Game 3. If Jim Caldwell follows the schedule that most coaches use in the preseason, he’ll pack all the playing time for the starters into the next two games, then rest them for the regular season in Game 4.

The big thing against Oakland is to see Johnson get quality playing time with the other starters. The same is true for the defense. They need playing time, and they should be much more aggressive than they were against the Browns, when they played their basic defense.

Tim: If it were me, I wouldn’t play Johnson in Oakland. Everything Caldwell is doing in training camp, in terms of limiting Johnson’s reps and giving him days off, is to keep the No. 1 weapon in football healthy for 16 regular-season games. The Lions need Megatron in September, not August.

I know players like to get a little time on the field in the preseason because they’re competitors and want to build some rhythm, and Johnson is learning a new scheme on offense, but this is his sixth season with Matthew Stafford and they’ve built some pretty good chemistry and timing over the years. Everyone knows what Johnson can do.

It’s not the greatest field out there in Oakland, either.

Coaches will eventually want to see how the offense looks with all its pieces together, but they can see it for a quarter or a half during the third preseason game at Ford Field vs. Jacksonville.

The defense was vanilla vs. Cleveland. Will we see them ramp it up in Oakland?

Mike: That’s what I’d expect, and there’s no doubt that the Raiders want to show more than they did in their 10-6 loss to the Vikings in their first game.

They didn’t score a touchdown until there was 1:25 left in the game, and that was on a quarterback scramble

The defense handled the Browns pretty well, holding the Browns to four field goals and no touchdowns and keeping them out of the end zone once when they had first and goal inside the 10.

The major issues to settle remain in the secondary, where they’ve been for the last few years. The Lions have to find out if their cornerbacks can hold up in man-to-man coverage when they blitz. This is a good week to test that.

Tim: I agree 100 percent and I’ll guess that we see those corners up on Raiders receivers a little more.

This has to be a game those players in the secondary are looking forward to. This isn’t exactly a juggernaut of an offense the Lions will be facing in Oakland Friday night.

The Raiders’ unofficial depth chart has Matt Schaub at quarterback and Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, James Jones and Greg Little as their top four receivers. That doesn’t necessarily strike fear into a defense.

Let’s see these corners play up and play tough and the front seven get after a pocket passer in Schaub.

Mike: Good point, and I’ll refer back to the Cleveland game for one play that was disappointing.

On the first play of the second quarter, Josh Gordon caught a 22-yard pass in front of Darius Slay. Now, Gordon is going to catch passes on every corner in the league. He’s that good.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay (Photo: Detroit Lions)

But Slay played off and let Gordon get position in front of him. I thought Slay should have been chin strap to chin strap to make Gordon work harder for the reception. It would have been OK with me if Slay had gotten a penalty.

Like I said, Gordon is going to catch a lot of passes, and it’s not fair to kill Slay or any cornerback for giving up a catch to one of the best receivers in the league. I just think it would have been a good time to be more aggressive on coverage.

On the other hand, Slay did make the tackle to keep Gordon from adding yards after the catch.

Tim: Slay told me in the spring that he can’t wait until training camp and the season starts because the corners are going to play a lot of man and challenge receivers more at the line of scrimmage. He told me they were going to be right up in their face.

The first preseason game is an opportunity for players to get their feet wet a little bit and there isn’t a lot of scheming. The Lions played a lot of base defense and were vanilla with their scheme, most likely to put guys in different situations.

One of the most frustrating things about watching the Lions on defense last year was how far off the corners played on receivers. The expectation is that they’ll be up more this season and we’ve seen that in camp.

Did Kellen Moore’s performance Saturday night earn him more reps to compete with Dan Orlovsky for the backup quarterback spot?

Mike: I wouldn’t say it’s a question of more reps. Both will get enough playing time in the last three games to determine their fate, and it should be based on performance.

I wouldn’t say that the job is predetermined in Orlovsky’s favor, but he played for Coach Jim Caldwell with the Colts, and he has starting experience in the NFL. That works in Orlovsky’s favor, but that doesn’t mean Moore doesn’t have a chance to Matthew Stafford’s backup.

Tim: We always have to be careful of looking too closely at one preseason performance, especially the first one.

There are three more games to go and a lot can happen over the next three weeks.

Orlovsky’s experience gives him the edge, but I would like to see Moore get a chance to play with the No. 2 offense a little more and see if he can have the same kind of success moving that offense the same way he showed he can move it with the No. 3’s vs. Cleveland.