My apologies to the Cleveland Browns, but even by Great Lakes Classic standards last week was a snoozer: little anticipation, little of the stars doing their thing, little to get excited about. What little of Stafford & Co. we got to see was uninspiring. The promising rushing improvements came mostly with backups, mostly against backups, and the two units most in question (offensive line, back seven) failed to answer any questions.
This second game presents the first real test: the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense, a hostile crowd, an offense actually capable of scoring points, more reps for the starters and less Kellen Moore/Seneca Wallace.
Also, as John Kreger of CBSSports.com Tweeted, the Lions are gameplanning more for the Ravens; Baltimore is Schwartz's home and he'll want to put up a "good show."
A “good show” will consist of:
- Matthew Stafford looking sharp, and being on the same page with his receivers.
- More consistent pass protection from Jeff Backus; continued solid run blocking from the interior line.
- Titus Young making an impact.
- Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams and Joique Bell running with a high success rate; don't need home runs as much as solid gains on 1st-and-long and 3rd-and-short.
- At least one touchdown by the starting offense against the starting Ravens defense.
- The interior pass rush making an impact.
- Continued success by the exterior pass rush.
- A MUCH improved showing by the linebackers in coverage.
- Bill Bentley and Jacob Lacey keeping Anquan Boldin out of the end zone and Torrey Smith from hauling in a 30-plus-yard reception.
- A MUCH improved showing by the safties, in coverage and in tackling.
Okay, maybe asking for all that is too much. So I'll just ask for this:
Please, Lions, take this one seriously. Play like you want to play. Play like you want to play well. Play like you want to win.
Jim Schwartz told Dave Birkett of the Freep the same thing:
"Hopefully we play a lot better," he said Wednesday. "We need to play a lot better. We need to play with a little more sense of urgency."
It's not that I want the Lions to pull out the schematic stops, or run the starters all the way to halftime. To the contrary: I want to keep the best stuff under wraps and the starters injury-free. But I want the guys that are fighting for starting—or roster—spots to fight. I want the guys who think they’ve got a role locked up to show us why. I want the Lions to make the most of every rep they get.
That's what the Patriots' “Next Man Up” philosophy has always been about: no matter what letters are arranged on the back of any Patriot’s jersey, that player is supposed to do his job just like the man before him did. Let us not forget who our own Baltimorian, the Grandmaster himself, studied under: Patriot head coach Bill Belichick.
Last week, the Lions mostly looked to be sleepwalking, waiting for their proven awesomeness to win out over an opponent who wanted desperately to prove that they can play. The reality is, these 2012 Lions haven’t proven anything. If they want to wear getting whooped in last year’s Wild Card game like a badge of honor, they’re in deep trouble.
Tonight, I want to see two playoff teams smack each other in the mouth for four quarters, regardless of whether it's the first-stringers or the fourth-stringers on the field.