The Detroit Lions are looking for their third straight win to push their record to 4-1 to start the season as they host the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field later today. The Panthers are looking for their first victory of the season after an 0-4 start.
Here are five things to watch out for in today's NFC matchup:
1. REPLACING ST. BROWN?
After wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown missed practice all week, he was listed as doubtful to play on Friday's injury report.
St. Brown leads the Lions in targets (35), receptions (26), receiving yards (331) and is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with two. Detroit has other weapons on offense they can turn to if St. Brown misses, and the expectation is for Kalif Raymond to play in the slot.
2. WILLIAMS DEBUT
Second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams is likely to make his 2023 debut today after having his gambling suspension reduced from six games to four. Williams was a full participant in practice this week. He brings a speed and explosiveness element to this offense that only a player with legit 4.2 speed can.
"Whoever we have up on gameday, we have place for," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. "They have a role. Some guys more than others, but every week, everyone – we're intentional about getting everyone involved in doing things that they're capable of doing.
"Whether the play gets called, or whether the coverage dictates the ball going to them, that's a different story. But here's what I'll say about Jamo, if he's active this week, then he will have plays in for him this week. It's like that with all of our skill guys."
3. RUN DEFENSE
Detroit's run defense has been historically good to start the season, ranking No. 1 in the NFL allowing just over 60 yards per game on the ground. The Lions have made being physical and stopping the run a priority on defense, and through the first month of the season it has paid off.
Carolina comes into today's matchup ranked 22nd in rushing at 95.3 yards per game, but they'll be stubborn with it, as they were last week vs. Minnesota when they rushed 31 times despite gaining just 83 yards (2.7 avg.). The last time these two teams met Week 16 last year, the Panthers totaled 320 yards on the ground in an easy win over Detroit that played a factor in the Lions missing the playoffs.
4. NO. 1 PICK
The Panthers' offense is led by rookie quarterback Bryce Young, who was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. Young is 0-3 as a starter to begin his career. He is completing 65 percent of his passes for 503 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 75.0 rating.
The one thing Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week about Young is how his decision making and ability to process the entire field is advanced for a rookie signal caller. Speeding up his clock and making him uncomfortable in the pocket has to be a big priority for the Lions when Young drops back to pass.
View photos of the starters for the Carolina Panthers.
5. BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
Could we see Detroit's top five offensive linemen hit the field together for just the second time all season and for the first time since Week 1? Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai has missed the last two games with a knee injury he suffered Week 2 vs. Seattle. Veteran Graham Glasgow has done a really nice job filling in for Vaitai the last couple weeks, but Vaitai was back at practice this week and the hope is he'll be able to give it a go. He's listed as questionable.
Detroit currently ranks eighth in points per game (26.5), eighth in total offense (386.3), eighth in passing (249.8) and 10th in rushing (136.5). The play upfront along the offensive line has been a big catalyst for that production. We've only seen the top five together once and even then, left tackle Taylor Decker was playing through a high ankle sprain and bone bruise suffered on the 19th play of the game.