MIKE O'HARA

O’HARA: Lions move ball without Megatron in Oakland

Posted Aug 15, 2014

What the Lions’ No. 1 offense did by scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions Friday night was a preview of the new design head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi have brought to Detroit.

OAKLAND – So who needs Calvin Johnson to give the Lions a potent offense?

Stop the silliness right here. The Lions need Calvin Johnson, who sat out his second straight preseason game Friday night against Oakland.

They might not have needed him Friday night, or a week ago against Cleveland, or in any of the last two preseason games against Jacksonville or Buffalo.

But come Sept. 8 on Monday night, when they open the NFL’s regular season against the Giants at Ford Field, and for all 15 games the rest of the year they’ll need Megatron for every play of every game he can play.

The most heartening part of Friday night’s 27-26 loss to the Raiders in Game 2 is what the Lions’ No. 1 offense did without Johnson.

They didn’t look at all like the team that couldn’t move the ball in the two games Johnson missed last season – a 22-9 loss at Green Bay in Game 5, and a 14-13 snoozer at Minnesota in the season finale. Without Johnson in those games, the Lions had no real threat on the field. Defenses played without fear.

It’s dangerous to make too much out of what happens in the preseason, but it cannot be discounted totally, either.

What the Lions’ No. 1 offense – minus Johnson, who did not play – did by scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions Friday night was a preview of the new design head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi have brought to Detroit.

The offense is less predictable than under the previous regime and less reliant on one player. Matthew Stafford spread the ball around like an All-Pro point guard playing pickup ball. Get open and you get the ball – short, long and in between.

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Stafford played three possessions, and his stats were sizzling – nine completions in 10 attempts for 88 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating for the game was 142.9.

Caldwell expressed his satisfaction in a halftime interview with WXYZ-Channel 7.

“They’ve been working hard at it, and I think it shows,” Caldwell said. “Matthew threw the ball around well. He did a good job mixing things up, getting us into the right run looks and things of that nature.
 
“But you know, we still have a long way to go.”
 
A long way for sure, but Friday night was a good beginning after last week’s tell-nothing beginning. Stafford and the No. 1 offense played only seven plays in an opening possession that ended in a field goal.
 
The offense had time to get into rhythm against the Raiders, and it showed in how Stafford distributed the ball.
 
The first TD drive was a two-play gimme set up by an interception that put the ball on the Raiders’ 36. On second down, Stafford found Golden Tate wide open down the left sideline and floated a 28-yarder that Tate caught in stride and coasted in the end zone.

But the second possession was different. It was work – 58 yards on 11 plays, and Stafford used all of his receivers and most of the field in a drive that he closed out with a four-yard pass to Kris Durham in the end zone. Durham used his 6-foot-6 height to advantage to make the catch.

Durham was one of five receivers to make at least one catch in the drive that started at the Lions’ 42.

These were some of Stafford’s completions:

First play, a short pass to Tate lined up left for four yards.

After three running plays, a flare to the right to Reggie Bush gained a yard.

Next play, third and eight, Stafford sidestepped the rush and threw a laser down the middle to rookie Eric Ebron, who made a nice adjustment to reach back and make the catch for 23 yards and a first down at the 21.

On those three completions, Stafford went left, right and middle – to a running back, wide receiver and tight end.

On second and 20 at the 20 after a holding penalty against LaAdrian Waddle, Stafford squirmed away from what looked like a sure sack and hit Kevin Ogletree for 16 yards to the four.

He finished off the drive on third and goal with the TD pass to Durham in the end zone for a 13-0 lead.

That didn’t end his night’s work. He had one more possession – three plays for a net of minus two yards, when the offense was backed up on the 14 after a punt.

After that, he turned the offense over to Dan Orlovsky and joined Calvin Johnson on the sideline.

Just wait till they’re on the field together.