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O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What stood out most for Lions?

Posted Aug 12, 2016

Mike O’Hara answers all of the burning questions following the Detroit Lions' 30-17 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PITTSBURGH – Burning questions –  highs, lows and playmakers and misplays on offense, defense and special teams – in the Detroit Lions’ 30-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening preseason game at Heinz Field Friday night.

Question: With so many top players on both sides either not playing or being used briefly, how much can be taken out of the game?

Answer: Obviously, not having four of their top offensive players – Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams -- made the Steelers’ offense considerably less effective. And the Lions didn’t use three of their top defensive players – Ziggy Ansah, Haloti Ngata and Darius Slay.

Those absences made a difference for both teams. But no matter who played and didn’t, and for how long or how briefly, it is still important to evaluate the players based on their performance to determine some starting jobs and roster spots.

Q: Offense: OK, Doctor Football Philosopher, what in general stood out most for the Lions on offense?

A. It was tempo and pace of play. I expected to see a more upbeat tempo, but it was better than expected. The offense seldom was in the huddle, and it got in and out of plays without any apparent confusion or missed communication.

Matthew Stafford has said all along that the evolution and development of the offense with a full offseason of planning under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter would put a lot on the quarterback’s plate. That means a lot of opportunity – and pressure to perform – is on the quarterback.

And it wasn’t something that was done only when Stafford was in the game Friday night. Dan Orlovsky and rookie Jake Rudock ran the offense the same way.

There were mistakes – some dropped passes, and an awful interception by Orlovsky that was returned for a touchdown – but Cooter is developing a model and style of play for the Lions, and everybody has to fit into it.

Q. Defense: The first-half stats were outstanding – four first downs and 81 yards allowed. What did that mean?

A. Part of it means that Roethlisberger and his pals were watching from the sideline. Landry Jones went all the way at quarterback in the first half.

However, the defense still had to execute and make plays, and it did that except for the one touchdown Pittsburgh scored in the first half. Crezdon Butler was beaten for the score on a catch by Darrius Heyward-Bey in the corner of the end zone. Just before that, Butler was flagged for pass interference.

It was a tough two-play sequence for Butler. He has to bounce back.

Q. Special teams: What was the highlight?

A. Easiest answer of the night – rookie running back Dwayne Washington’s 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Q. Offensive worries: What were the biggest?

A. The hits on Stafford in the one series he played stood out as a negative. He was in for the first 14 snaps – 12 plays, two penalties against the offense for false starts – and he was hit twice and sacked one time.

Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker was victimized on the last two plays. First was a holding penalty that wiped out a first-down scramble by Stafford on a run from the Steelers’ 17. On third and 12 Decker was beaten by James Harrison, who blind-sided Stafford and knocked the ball loose. The Steelers recovered, ending the threat.

Q. Offensive highlights: What did Stafford, the receivers and Zach Zenner do to impress?

A. Stafford clearly was in command. His connection with Cooter is stronger than ever. It showed on a pass to Anquan Boldin on a third and six. Boldin lined up in the slot and turned a short reception into a 30 yard gain.

Andre Roberts had a catch and run for a TD on a pass from Orlovsky. Jeremy Kerley had a couple catches on third down that he turned into first downs. And Zenner ran hard through small cracks to gain yardage. His production was better than the stats showed – seven runs for 24 yards, three catches for 32 yards.

Q. Defensive highlights: What did the front seven do that stood out?

A. Devin Taylor got a sack early. He dropped Jones before he could move. Kyle Van Noy is on the spot to produce in his third season, and his speed showed up at times.

And Khyri Thornton continues to make a statement that he’ll add depth at tackle. He body slammed a running back on a play at the line of scrimmage. He’s a powerful man who can strengthen the interior defense.

Q. Bademosi, Diggs: What did they do that stood out?

A. Diggs won the nickel job last year as a rookie, and he showed why on a second-quarter play. He made a sure open-field tackle on tight end Jesse James, who’s 6-7, 261, to force a punt on third down.

Bademosi was signed because of his strength on special teams, but he has a chance to compete for playing time in the secondary. He forced a fumble late in the first half that set up a field goal. Plays like that don’t hurt his chances to get more time on defense.

Q. Final score: Did the outcome matter?

A. Winning is always better than losing, but the ultimate benefit of the Lions’ first road trip came from two days of practice, plus Friday night’s preseason game. Everything they do – win or lose – is important as they prepare to start the regular season.