Final thoughts on Bengals-Lions – Building on the Pittsburgh game with more work projected for starters; focus still on the offensive line; numbers for rookie tackle Taylor Decker and the run game; accolades for the defensive line and its depth:
Workload: Matthew Stafford and his top wide receivers – Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin – are likely to play longer than they did last week at Pittsburgh. They were benched after the opening possession – an extended drive of 14 snaps (12 plays, 2 penalties) – that ended in a sack and lost fumble.
Game 3 of the preseason is the one that most closely approximates the regular season in terms of playing time and preparation in what has been called a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Game 2 tonight won't match that in snap count or any sort of game-planning, but head coach Jim Caldwell indicated more playing time for the No. 1 units, and a tougher test to build on last week's game.
"It's not a blanket, across-the-board, but you will see an increase as we go this next game," Caldwell said during the practice week. "There will be a little bit of an increase in some cases. It just depends on who that individual is, but I think you will see an increase in most cases."
Within reason, the offensive line cannot get enough work. As much as any unit, it needs to compete against other teams as opposed to facing the same faces in practice every day.
The Steelers blitzed early and often last week. They were successful with the corner blitz. However, it can open opportunities for big plays, and the Lions exploited the Steelers once for their first touchdown in the kind of play coaches look for to see how their team is reacting to game conditions.
On the touchdown play, veteran receiver Andre Roberts and quarterback Dan Orlovsky recognized the blitz. Roberts broke off his route and was wide open to take Orlovsky's pass and run 28 yards down the left sideline and reaching the end zone with a dive. On that play, It was a win for the offense.
The Steelers did not play their offensive stars, and that helped the Lions dominate the offensive stats. That is not likely to be the case against the Bengals, and it will make for a tougher test for Detroit's defense.
Cincinnati is a solid, all-around team and should help Caldwell and his staff evaluate the Lions at where they stand at the halfway point of the preseason.
The Lions are facing a good opponent that has made the playoffs five straight years and should give their defense a much tougher test than what they got from Pittsburgh's backups.
"Our tackling wasn't perfect, but I think we did some things that were OK," Caldwell said of the Pittsburgh game. "This game will give us another challenge. They've got some guys that can really move and make you miss.
"A really good football team as well, so it'll be a real good challenge for us just in that particular area."
Decker's learning curve: Decker is in the spotlight because he was a first-round pick, and because he is the starting left tackle – the critical position on the offensive line.
Each game – each snap, actually – is part of his learning process.
The Lions' first possession against Pittsburgh unraveled on the last two snaps, and Decker was victimized on both.
On third and two at the Steelers' 17, Stafford's scramble for a first down at the 10 was called back on a holding penalty against Decker. On the next play, Decker was beaten by James Harrison for a sack that forced a fumble. The Steelers recovered, ending the possession.
Obviously, it was not a great two-play sequence for Decker. However, it should not be overlooked that the penalty and sack were on the 13th and 14th snaps of his first preseason game as a pro.
On the sack, Decker had a short set on Harrison, who got around him to get to Stafford and force the fumble.
It was a case of an experienced veteran preparing for his 14th season – with five Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro awards and a Defensive Player of the Year award – going against a rookie in his 14th snap of his first preseason game.
It should be a learning experience for Decker. How he reacts going forward is as important as what happened a week ago.
Run game numbers: If a four-yard gain is considered the basic standard for whether an individual running play has won or lost, there were more losses in the first half last week.
The Lions ran 14 times in the first half. One was a scramble by Stafford that gained five yards. Of the other 13 runs, all by running backs, one gained four yards. Three others gained 12, 8 and seven yards. Of the other nine, three went for no gain, two for one yard, two for two yards and two for three yards.
It's hard to make any judgments until Ameer Abdullah plays, but the run game is still a work in progress.
Up front with front 4: Former NFL offensive lineman and current NFL.com analyst Brian Baldinger tweeted out this analysis of the Lions' defensive line: "I think the lions front 4 have a chance to be one of the best in the NFL."
Based on how the defensive line has performed in training camp, two days of practice against the Steelers and last week's game, Baldinger's analysis is on the mark.
Ziggy Ansah and Haloti Ngata did not play against Pittsburgh, but in their absence the front four showed it might have depth similar to the 2014 unit that was the foundation for the Lions ranking second in the league in yards allowed and No. 1 against the run.
Reserve help is vital to the rotation. Two young veterans who are among those that warrant watching for their potential to provide depth are tackle Khyri Thornton and end Quanterus Smith.
A battle for jobs throughout the preseason can only help the entire unit.