There is a lot to be optimistic about after the Detroit Lions flattened the , 34-10. Detroit dominated play in both halves of the game and sent a strong message to other teams in the NFL. Specifically, five players made their presence known.
Avril is entering a contract year and is already playing like it. He was consistently beating his man to the outside and had two sacks and a forced fumble to show for it. He has a tendency to overrun the quarterback on some plays, but he's got a great motor and is never completely out of the play. On both of his sacks, he had run past the quarterback, but his persistence allowed him to get back in the play and take Tom Brady down.
2. Aaron Brown - I have been a critic of Brown in the past, and I'm still not 100% convinced he'll make the team. But he did something on Saturday that he hadn't ever done in his NFL career: played well against a first-string defense. Brown only had 30 yards on eight carries (3.3 a pop), but proved his worth in the passing game, tallying 48 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
I thought his best play was a seven-yard run on a first down in the middle of the second quarter. Detroit was backed up deep in their own zone and gave the ball to Brown up the middle. Brown was hit by a defensive lineman two yards past the line of scrimmage, but he put his head down and pushed forward for another 5-6 yards on the play. A play like that is crucial in getting teams out of their own end zone (unfortunately, the Lions still went three-and-out). Either way, it was nice to see Brown run successfully between the tackles, even if it was for just one play. He also made a great cut on a fourth-down play that looked to be going nowhere, extending the drive.
There is nothing I like more on defense than a sure tackler and that's exactly what you get with Carpenter. His six tackles led the team on Saturday, but none were bigger than his 3rd and 1 stop early in the game. On the play, Carpenter goes unblocked, but how often have we seen a linebacker get into the backfield only to whiff or get blown over by a more powerful back? Carpenter wrapped up the ball-carrier before he hit the line of scrimmage and stopped him well short of the first down. He is a refreshingly-reliable linebacker and will be a great depth guy again this year.
- Much has been made this offseason of the battle between and Hanson for the kicker spot. I don't see it. Don't get me wrong, Rayner was much more than I was expecting when he replaced Hanson last year, but Hanson is healthy now and as reliable as ever. Not only did he make a 46-yard field goal look as routine as an extra point, but he also dropped two kickoffs directly on the goal-line, forcing the Patriots to take it out on a shortened field. Meanwhile, Rayner launched a 49-yard field goal wide left. The only way Hanson loses this position battle is if he's injured.
- He's playing out of his frickin' mind right now. On Saturday he threw 16 passes and literally every single pass was exactly where it needed to be. Okay, maybe not the moon-ball he threw to Calvin while getting hit, but even that was completed and had no chance of getting intercepted. It still amazes me how much he has progressed with his vision and his touch in the past two years. And, yes, he even survived a pretty heavy hit. The sky is the limit with this kid. If Saturday's performance wasn't enough for you to go out and buy a Stafford jersey, you're either cheap or blind.
These five players alone don't deserve all of the credit. I probably could've made a second list with five different players. Nate Burleson, Ndamukong Suh, Tony Scheffler and Shaun Hill all had impressive nights as well. At this point, it's hard to deny the talent and depth of this team.