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5 things to watch: Lions vs. Bengals

The second preseason game is here, and head coach Jim Caldwell is looking for improvement across the board from what the players put on tape a week ago in Pittsburgh. He'd particularly like to see improvements when it comes to tackling and fundamentals.

"Our tackling wasn't perfect (in Pittsburgh), but I think we did some things that were okay," he said. "This game will give us another challenge, they've got some guys that can really move and make you miss. 

"But the fundamentals are still key. I think just like anything else, your base colors are blue, green, and what's the other one? Red? Every other color comes off that, and I think fundamentals are exactly the same way. 

"They're the basis of what you do, and from that you can develop all kinds of schemes and things to do."

The home opener at Ford Field also gives Lions fans a first live look at the 2016 team.

Here are five things to look out for Thursday night vs. the Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Participation

The Lions sat out Haloti Ngata, Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay last week in Pittsburgh. Will we see one, two or all three of those players this week?

Expect to see some of the starters play a little longer this week. That's typically the case – two or three series – the second preseason game.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy returned to the practice field for the first time during training camp on Tuesday, but he isn't expected to play Thursday night. He said he would like to get some live reps in the preseason at some point, but it's not clear if that's going to happen. The good news is that he said he'd be ready to roll by Week 1 of the regular season.

Don't expect to see tight end Eric Ebron. He's still mending a right leg injury. Tackle Michael Ola and linebacker Jon Bostic aren't likely to play either.

Running back Ameer Abdullah continued to wear a red "no contact" jersey during practice this week, which probably doesn't bode well for his availability.

2. Offensive line play

The starting offensive line consisting of Taylor Decker, Laken Tomlinson, Travis Swanson, Larry Warford and Riley Reiff played just one series together last week. It was a mixed bag.

They put together a long drive that marched from one red zone to the other, but quarterback Matthew Stafford was hit three times on the drive, twice by free rushers, and the third resulted in a strip sack and fumble.

The unit should play together a little longer vs. Cincinnati. We'll see if they can keep a little cleaner pocket this time around.

3. Round 2 for the rookies

Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker played 23 snaps vs. Pittsburgh and had two bad plays. A holding penalty on a 3rd and 2 from the Pittsburgh 17-yard line and a sack on the very next play to James Harrison.

Decker will be the first to say that one sack is too many, but on a positive note, he was graded among the top five tackles Week 1 of the preseason in run blocking by Pro Football Focus.

A'Shawn Robinson, Antwione Williams, Jake Rudock and Dwayne Washington all did some good things in Pittsburgh.

Training camp and and preseason games are about getting better practice-to-practice and game-to-game. That's the expectation for Decker and Co. this week.

4. Backup quarterbacks

Will the Lions keep two or three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster? Can Rudock overtake Dan Orlovsky for the backup job?

We take a step closer to learning the answer to those questions.

Orlovsky took over last week after Stafford played just one series and played the remainder of the first half. He led Detroit on three scoring drives while completing 16-of-25 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a terrible interception that was returned for a touchdown. He finished with a 79.4 passer rating.

Rudock played the whole second half and led the team on two scoring drives. He completed eight of his 11 passes for 72 yards and touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 120.3.

**5. Explosive plays


Caldwell threw out an interesting statistic in his postgame interview last week. He said around 60 percent of the touchdown drives in this league have at least one explosive play of 20-plus yards in them.

Stafford hooked up with Anquan Boldin for a 30-yard gain in their one possession together. The drive eventually ended with a fumble with the Lions in scoring position deep in Pittsburgh territory.

The offense had three more explosive plays on the night of 28, 27 and 20 yards. The 28 and 27 yarders were touchdown passes to Andre Roberts and Jace Billingsley, respectively, and the 20-yard completion to Zach Zenner set up a Matt Prater field goal.

Who will the Lions get their big plays from Thursday night?

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