With the Detroit Lions suffering losses to the secondary in the preseason, it has been a tough road already–and it’s only week 1. Specifically, rookie cornerback Bill Bentley and Chris Houston, another cornerback, were just two of the casualties against the Oakland Raiders. Bentley, who suffered a shoulder injury, has been back at practice all this week, and will be starting week 1 against the St. Louis Rams. Houston however, has been unable to practice, being listed as doubtful this week after suffering an ankle injury.
So who does that leave? Louis Delmas, the unquestioned leader of Detroit’s secondary, has been unable to practice so far and has ceased to appear in any preseason games. After his recent knee surgery, the Lions were hoping to get him back before the start of the regular season. Like Houston, Delmas is listed as doubtful, but with the lack of activity throughout the preseason, Delmas may as well be ruled as “out.”
John Wendling, the sixth year safety veteran, will likely get the nod in place of Delmas. Kevin Barnes, who the Lions acquired several weeks ago from the Washington Redskins, could get the nod at cornerback. If Barnes doesn’t start at corner, it could also be the recently signed Drayton Florence.
The issue is Florence and Barnes have had nearly no time to soak up the Lions defense. Bentley will be getting his first regular season NFL start, something that Rams quarterback Sam Bradford will likely try and pick on early and often. But Bradford has his pickings when it comes to where to sling the ball, with the Lions secondary likely scattered. The hope for the Lions may be to rely on the experience by some of their veteran defensive backs. Florence, who’s in his tenth NFL season, should be able to rely on instincts throughout the game, as well as Wendling.
While the Lions offense is clearly the catalyst for winning games, the defense has been improving quickly as well. Without Stafford or Johnson, the number one and two picks in their respective draft classes, the Lions may have never made the turn from mediocre to playoff contender. The defense is just a few key players away from rounding out the Lions team.
If you look at the front four, one will see where they don’t need to improve. A very young defensive line, lead by veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and anchored by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, look to lead an effective pass rush this season, and more specifically against Sam Bradford. With the addition of Nick Fairley, who was an evident gift to the Lions at number thirteen in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, will look to avenge his “disappointing” rookie debut, one that included a foot injury sidelining him for a bulk of the season. Fairley did play, he just wasn’t effective as the Lions were hoping, ending the 2011 season with 15 tackles and only 1 sack.
Then there’s Cliff Avril, who’s looking to cash in big on his next contract. This year the Lions have placed the franchise tag, worth over $10 million, on Avril. Frustrated by the move, Avril was seeking a contract after his stellar 2011 season in which he accrued 36 tackles, 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. Throw in a “pick-six” and three fumbles recoveries and you’ll quickly understand the rationale behind Avril looking for a longer term contract. He earned it. But with or without his new contract, Avril will be looking to duplicate–and hopefully beat–his previous breakout season’s statistics.
The Detroit Lions, as well as their fans, will hope that these four brutes can get it done up front. With increased pressure and a collapsing pocket, the Rams won’t have much time dedicated to “easy pickings,” not against this defensive front. It also helps that the Rams don’t exactly have a Megatron out there snagging balls in triple coverage, making it easier for the current defensive backs.
However, they do have running back Steven Jackson, the Rams all-pro offensive weapon. The Lions need to stop the running game, in order to be effective defending the pass. Likewise, the Rams will look to establish the run game early, in order to draw the attention from the defense. If Jackson and the Rams effectively move the ball on the ground, the Lions will be susceptible to play-action passes, something that could open up big plays down the field if a safety or corner is highly out of position, due to biting on the run fake. All will be on display come 1 o’clock this Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: Lions 35 Rams 24