There might not be a better test in all the NFL for Matthew Stafford and this Detroit Lions passing attack than playing the New York Giants secondary Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
Not only do the Giants feature an All-Pro safety in Landon Collins, but Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple are all Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks. If that’s not enough, the Giants have one of the more active defensive line groups in the league.
Together, they’ll give Stafford and Co. plenty to handle.
“Yeah, they've got a ton of talent,” Stafford said Thursday. “I mean you look around, they’ve got two extremely good edge rushers, a really good, if not the best, interior run presence guy in the league, an all-pro safety and two maybe three all-pro corners. That’s a pretty good start.”
Lions veteran receiver Golden Tate sees it as an opportunity not only for himself but for this entire Lions passing game to prove themselves against one of the best.
“We are definitely going to have to be on our game,” Tate said. “We’re excited. Who doesn’t want a challenge. It’s going to show what type of men we have in this locker room and I’m excited about it."
Tate expects a more detailed focus in practice this week among the receivers, knowing they’re facing a defense and secondary that’s considered to be one of the best.
“We feel like in order for us to win this game the receivers are going to have to show up at some point throughout that game,” Tate said. “That’s the challenge we’re taking.”
The Lions certainly can’t afford to come out as flat as they did on offense last week against the Cardinals and expect to leave East Rutherford 2-0.
The Giants were without All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) for last week’s loss in Dallas.
With New York set to kick off their home opener on national television Monday night, Lions safety Glover Quin is expecting to see Beckham on the field.
“No question,” Quin said. “It’s a Monday night game. Home opener. You have to expect him to be out there in some capacity.”
Beckham returned to practice Thursday for the first time since injuring his ankle Aug. 21 in the preseason. But Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said in a conference call Thursday that Beckham was limited at practice and "didn't do much."
McAdoo said Beckham's availability for Monday will be a medical decision.
With Beckham, Quin says this is a much different offense than the one that floundered to just three points a week ago in a 19-3 loss to the Cowboys.
“You just have to understand where he’s at,” Quin said. “He’s an explosive guy. He can turn a short pass into a long touchdown. He demands a different type of attention because he is so dynamic. Certain things you might do with coverages, certain things you may do with scheme, certain calls you may make could be affected by if he’s on the field or not.”
The Lions are preparing to face Beckham Monday night, and will adjust if that’s not the case.
NEW PUNTER IN TOWN
The Lions signed veteran punter Jeff Locke to handle their punting duties until Sam Martin returns from NFI. Locke, who went 10 picks ahead of Martin in the 2015 NFL draft to Minnesota, has trained with Martin in the offseason. The two are actually buddies off the field.
Locke said the initial plan is for him to also handle kickoffs and holding on field goal and PAT attempts. Caldwell confirmed that is the initial plan.
Caldwell expects the chemistry to be just fine between Locke, kicker Matt Prater and snapper Don Muhlbach, as does Locke
“We’ll have our first live session today,” Locke said. “It’s just going to take some reps, which luckily we kind of have that long week (playing on Monday night) to get ahead of it.”
So what has it been like taking that famed Muhlbach fastball snap?
“You have to think about closing (your hands) a little sooner with Don,” Locke said. “That thing hums back. I’ve always known it hums back from scouting him in Minnesota so long. I’ll get used to it.”
The Lions had just 56 rushing yards and a 2.9 average per attempt in last year’s 17-6 loss to the Giants in Week 15. However, the Lions didn’t have the services of either Ameer Abdullah or Theo Riddick in that contest.
Detroit is certainly hoping the presence of their two top running backs can make a difference, but it’s by no means a guarantee.
The Giants boast one of the league’s top rushing defenses from a year ago. They held 10 opponents to under 100 rushing yards last season, finishing fourth against the run.
“I think they’re a really well coached defense,” Stafford said of New York’s run defense. “There’s not a lot of guys missing gaps and fitting wrong and all that kind of stuff. They’re good tacklers, and they’ve got some guys inside that do a heck of a job.
“They eat up blocks and let their linebackers run. And then if they’re not eating up blocks, they’re making the plays. So, it’s a big challenge for us this week and something we’re looking forward to.”
The Lions rank 16th (82.0) in the NFL in rushing after the first week of the season.* *