Bright lights, big stage, big opponent – the elements add up for the Detroit Lions' preseason game Friday night to be something out of the ordinary.
Ford Field provides the bright lights with its renovations. Big stage is a relative term, but Game 3 is considered the biggest on the preseason schedule.
And the New England Patriots are the big opponent, as they would be in any game – preseason, regular season, playoffs or one of those table-top games that kids play.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at where the Lions stand going into Friday night's game. I have my takeaways on where the Lions stand on offense, defense and special teams with a 2-0 record halfway through the preseason schedule.
There are three questions from two Lions All Pros of the 1990s – Chris Spielman and Herman Moore – on what they've seen from rookies Jarrad Davis and Kenny Golladay. There's also look at a sack by Cornelius Washington, a bounce-back by rookie tight end Michael Roberts in Saturday night's win over the Jets and my take on what it means to play the Patriots in Game 3.
We start with the takeaways:
1. Takeaways - defense: Regardless of who's been on the field – starters, heavy rotation backups or players fighting for roster spots – they've held the Colts and Jets to 13 points and one touchdown combined.
Among the stats: Eight sacks, three Colts quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of 65.4 and two Jets had a 59.6 rating.
The defense hasn't faced a starting-caliber quarterback yet, but in the last couple of years backups have torched the pass defense.
Any projections for the defense have to be made with the presumption that Ziggy Ansah, the top pass rusher, will be healthy for the start of the regular season, but also with the reality that Kerry Hyder Jr.'s production has to be replaced.
Bottom line: There is still a lot to be proven, but the standout developments of the first two games are protecting the end zone and the stellar play of the secondary.
- Takeaways – offense: The scheme should be molded and tweaked to fit the mutual vision of coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Matthew Stafford. Rookie Kenny Golladay adds a big, athletic receiver that the offense lacked last year.
Marvin Jones Jr. looked like he was in sync with Stafford against the Jets. That bodes well for a consistent season, as opposed to last season's hot start and lukewarm – at best – finish.
Up front, Greg Robinson has to continue what he has shown in the first two games – that he can be a solid starter at left tackle while Taylor Decker recovers from an injured right shoulder.
Bottom line: No worries about the passing game, with opportunities to come for whoever plays tight end, but a 3.2-yard average per carry shows the running game has work to do. If Ameer Abdullah is doing that work, expect that average to rise – dramatically.
3. Takeaways – special teams: The biggest issue is settling on a punt returner, and the hamstring injury sustained by TJ Jones Saturday night clouds that issue.
Kasey Redfern is a capable replacement if Sam Martin hasn't recovered from an injury in time to start the season. Martin is an elite punter, but Redfern has shown he's more than capable.
Bottom line: The only way to keep kicker Matt Prater from putting points on the board from any distance is to ban him from the stadium. He's been that good. Special teams should continue to be a strength.
4. Herman Moore: Three questions on Kenny Golladay:
**What does Golladay add to the passing game?
View the best stylized images from the Detroit Lions' preseason Week 2 win against the New York Jets by team photographer Gavin Smith.
"They brought in a missing element. You don't replace a guy like Calvin Johnson, but you replace the elements. It's almost like they spread the talent around. With Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., they didn't have a big body. With Golladay, he doesn't necessarily have to be open. He's one of those guys who can beat double coverage with guys draped over him. He can be a physically dominant player."
What has he shown in two games?
"He has assured himself that he can play at this level. That's what I saw in the first game, with his mental preparation and his confidence. Most guys are happy to be there. When he spiked the ball (after his second TD catch in Game 1), I saw a guy who said, 'I can play here.'"
Does it mean anything that he had one catch, on his only target, in Game 2?
"That's not as much a part of being a rookie as it is the game plan of the coaches. I saw them making sure Marvin Jones got some catches. You have to get them ready. He'll get a better test against the Patriots. They'll all get a better test."
5. Chris Spielman: Three questions about rookie MLB Jarrad Davis.
What did he see in Game 2 vs. Game 1?
"I saw improvement. He was better than I was in my first game. I think he was thinking a little bit in that game – a tad hesitant.
"Getting that tackle on the first play of the game (against the Jets) was huge. He saw a hole, ran through it and got a tackle. That's exciting to see. He's going to get better, the more reps he gets. He just made a play (reacting without thinking). He just let it go."
How hard is it for a rookie to step in and make all the calls?
"I don't think that's as hard as people make it out to be. He's got a pretty good mentor right beside him (Tahir Whitehead). He (Davis) is smart enough and capable enough to do that."
Any limitations, or cause for concern?
"No. He'll get a better test this week. Everyone will get a better test against the Patriots."
6. Michael Roberts – catching on: The rookie tight end from Toledo had two catches for 29 yards. One was a 22-yard gain late in the first half on a second and 12 that helped set up a field goal with nine seconds left in the half.
It was a good bounce-back performance from Game 1, when Roberts had two catches and two drops.
7. Sack time: There was nothing fancy about the play when Cornelius Washington sacked Jets QB Christian Hackenberg on the second play, and that was a good thing.
Nobody picked him up as he broke in from left end, and Washington buried Hackenberg with a hit to the chest that forced a fumble that the Jets were fortunate to recover. Washington didn't go for the head, or a knock-out shot to make the highlight reels.
He had a big play set up and took advantage. Nothing fancy – except the result.
8. Game 3 – how big? The Patriots were patsies when the Lions beat them 40-9 in Game 3 of the 2013 preseason. The Lions had a hot start to the regular season, going 6-3 and on the way to winning the NFC North and beginning the playoffs at home.
Instead, they faded to 1-6 the rest of the way to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs. The Patriots had their usual good year – a 12-4 record, and a trip to the AFC Conference championship where they lost to the Broncos.
It's good to play well in Game 3. Performance counts, if not the result. And it should be a fun night for the fans.
But the real thing starts Sept. 10 at Ford Field against the Arizona Cardinals.