Thanks to a challenge that got a fumble call overturned and a late fourth quarter field goal, the Detroit Lions beat the New York Giants 13-10 to begin the preseason on a positive note. Although the starters only played around two drives before calling it a game, we were able to get an idea of what the Lions need to work on as the preseason continues. In the same respect, with the backups playing most of the game, we also got on an idea of which players will be sticking around past the preseason and which ones will be looking for work come August 30 (the last day to cut the roster down to 53 players).
When the starters were in for the Lions, the team's best strategy was to throw the ball. Actually, to be more specific, throwing the ball to Calvin Johnson seemed to work best. The Lions did attempt to run the ball quite a bit during the game's opening drive, showing that they were serious about a change in philosophy. However, the Lions were only able to move the ball when Jon Kitna dropped back to pass. Every time Tatum Bell was given the ball he barely was able to pick up any yardage as the offensive line simply gave way to the defense.
Even with such struggles on the ground, Kitna was able to throw the ball with ease. He completed all of his four attempted passes during the game's opening drive, and the first three went to Calvin Johnson. The best throw came on a 3rd and 3 when Kitna was forced to leave the pocket due to pressure from the Giants. Kitna scrambled around and was able to find Johnson downfield for a gain of 38 yards, helping get momentum shifted in the Lions' favor.
With the ball now in Giants' territory, the Lions went back to Bell, hoping the run game could get rolling. Unfortunately, it didn't, and it took another Kitna to Johnson connection to set the Lions up for a 3rd and short. Bell was able to pick up a first down with only a 2-yard gain, but those 2 yards certainly didn't come easy. Just two plays later, Kitna hooked up with Roy Williams for a change to put the Lions on the board. Kitna got the pass off right before a hit was coming and Roy took care of everything else. Williams caught the ball and simply ran by the defense and into the endzone for the touchdown, giving Detroit an early 7-0 lead.
Riding the momentum created by the Lions' offense, the defense stepped up to the plate and forced the Giants to punt after only giving up a single first down. When the offense came back out on to the field, Kitna wasted little time in finding Calvin Johnson for another big gain. After Bell went nowhere yet again on first down, Kitna lobbed a pass down the sidelines and Johnson was there waiting to make the catch. He hauled the ball in for a gain of 25 yards, but that's about as far as the Lions' drive went this time around. After the Giants picked up a defensive holding call, the Lions failed to pick up another first down and eventually punted the ball away.
The Giants' starters returned to the field to finish out the first quarter and hoped to put some points on the board before exiting the game. They were unable to do so, but did set up the backups with a good opportunity to get at least a field goal. In fact, the Giants' backups moved the ball into field goal range before their drive stalled. Lawrence Tynes, who is a starter, came out to kick a 44-yard field goal, but missed wide left, meaning the Lions still led 7-0.
Dan Orlovsky and his fellow second-stringers entered the game for the Lions and Jim Colletto really tried to pound the ball down the Giants' throats. That was a strategy I was more than okay with as it gave us a chance to get a look at rookie running back Kevin Smith.
Smith didn't have a whole lot of success running the ball, but I did like his running style more than Tatum Bell's. Unlike Bell, who went down fairly easily, Smith kept his feet moving and showed some power when he ran into a pile. The offensive line didn't do either player any favors, so it was really up to the running back himself to make a play out of nothing. With Bell, that rarely happened. With Smith, however, he was powering his way over defenders to pick up an extra yard or two on a consistent basis.
Since the Lions' running game continued to go nowhere, they were forced to punt. New York decided to air it out on the following drive and that decision instantly paid off. On the first play of the drive, Anthony Wright connected with Sinorice Moss for a 46-yard gain, putting the Giants on the Lions' 30-yard line just like that. Wright found tight end Kevin Boss two plays later to pick up another first down, but then threw three consecutive incompletions. That meant that Lawrence Tynes had a chance to redeem himself, and he did so by successfully kicking a 33-yard field goal.
The Lions followed New York's strategy on the proceeding drive as they let Dan Orlovsky actually throw the ball. What I liked about Orlovsky most is that he looked comfortable in the pocket and spread the love around by hitting different targets. That eventually resulted in getting the Lions into field goal range after Kevin Smith was stuffed on 3rd and 1. Jason Hanson came out and kicked a 50-yard field goal with ease, putting the Lions up 10-3.
With only 55 seconds remaining before halftime, the Giants went into hurry up mode to try and cut the lead down. They once again were having success throwing the ball and it looked as though they would at least have a chance to throw a hail mary before the clock ran out. However, Anthony Cannon had other ideas as he forced a fumble and LaMarcus Hicks recovered with only 3 seconds left in the second quarter. The Lions took a knee and went into the locker room up 10-3.
To open the second half, the Lions defense rose to the occasion on two short yardage situations. First, Detroit held strong on a 3rd and 2 as Ruben Droughns only picked up a yard, and then on 4th and 1 it was more of the same. Jordon Dizon made a tremendous play to tackle Droughns for a 2-yard loss, giving the ball back to Detroit. I'll admit, I was waiting and waiting for Dizon's name to be called, but he certainly delivered when the time came.
On the following drive, Dan Orlovsky once again was having success passing. With the run game continuing to do nothing, that was the only way to even move the ball. Orlovsky did get a little bit of luck to aid his success as he had a pass that was thrown downfield tipped. After the deflection, Brandon Middleton came back to bobble the ball before finally making the catch that was good for a gain of 25. That put the Lions in position to increase their lead to 10 points when Eddie Johnson came out to kick a 37-yard field goal, but he clanked it off the right upright.
After both teams ran off the rest of the third quarter by going three and out over and over again, the Giants' offense finally woke up. David Carr orchestrated a successful drive that actually put the Giants into the endzone twice, although only one of those trips past the goal line was done legally. New York thought they had scored their first TD of the preseason on a 9-yard run by Danny Ware, but a holding penalty nullified the score. Really, the penalty just delayed the inevitable, though, as the Giants scored just two plays later on a David Carr pass from 13 yards out to tie the game at 10.
Following the touchdown, both teams again went three and out before Drew Stanton finally started to have some success as the Lions' quarterback. He had been in the game since around the middle of the third quarter, but only on this next drive was he able to get the Lions moving down the field.
Stanton began the drive with a 7-yard scamper after finding that no receivers were open. Artose Pinner then came into the game and had back-to-back 4-yard runs before Stanton again took off for 7 yards of his own. On the next play, Stanton threw a dump off pass to Pinner that was good for 12 yards thanks to some nice moves by the Lions' running back.
Those moves would actually get Pinner into some trouble on the proceeding play as he tried to avoid a defender and in turn had the ball knocked out of his hands as he was falling to the ground. The Giants recovered the fumble and were poised to take over with great field position, but Rod Marinelli smartly threw the red challenge flag onto the field. As it turned out, Pinner was actually down literally a millisecond before the ball was knocked loose, meaning the call was overturned and the Lions got to keep the ball.
Keeping with the scrambling tendency we had already seen from Stanton on this drive, he took off yet again following the challenge by running 15 yards down the left side of the field. That was the biggest play of the drive yardage-wise as it put the Lions in field goal range, which was much appreciated by kicker Eddie Johnson.
Soon after the Stanton scamper, Johnson trotted back out looking for some redemption of his own after hitting the upright earlier in the game. Just as we saw with Tynes, Johnson got his redemption as he booted a 41-yarder right down the middle of the goalpost, giving the Lions a 13-10 lead with just under 3 minutes remaining.
Needing to at least get in field goal range with a limited amount of time remaining, the Giants had to throw the ball. Although they had success airing it out earlier in this game, the Lions defensive line prevented that from happening on this drive.
On first down, pressure created by a great blitz caused David Carr to throw the ball away and in turn receive an intentional grounding penalty. On the very next play, rookie Andre Fluellen wrapped up Carr for a sack and a loss of 7 yards. That set up a 3rd and long where the Giants did gain back 12 yards, but a false start made 4th and long even longer. Carr's desperation pass on 4th down went out of bounds, allowing Drew Stanton to simply take a knee three times to run out the clock and give the Lions a 13-10 victory.
Detroit's second preseason game comes a week from Sunday when they travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on WWJTV and other local affiliates.