While quarterback Matthew Stafford was relegated to performing horribly in the Detroit Lions' September 9 home opener, the rest of the team fared much better. Going into Sunday's match-up with the Rams, there were three major positions that, if the Lions stood any chance of coming out victorious, needed to step up, put on their "big boy" pants and carry the team. Until Stafford regained composure in the fourth quarter, they did.
First, the Lions' defensive line needed to return to dominance, at all costs. Last season, the Lions defense had immense difficulties plugging up the lanes, getting to the quarterback and preventing big breaks. That had to be a priority this week - and it was.
Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams were vicious in their relentless pursuit of St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford. The trio notched a sack each and a forced fumble by Williams, solidifying the defensive line as a dominating force in their opponents' backfield.
Secondly, the Lions needed to get the ball to Calvin Johnson - early and often. Though the Rams have upgraded considerably at the cornerback position, with veteran Cortland Finnegan and rookie standout Janoris Jenkins, they were still vulnerable to the passing attack. You wouldn't have known it by the multiple interceptions thrown by Stafford. However, even in his time of turmoil, he was still able to find his go-to receiver for six receptions and 111 yards. Not stellar by any account, but adequate enough to keep the chains moving down the field.
The final piece the Lions needed to put together in order to view the big, winning picture, was the question of whether they could establish a running game with Kevin Smith. Smith, who is coming off an ankle injury and is starting in place of the still-unavailable Javid Best, led the way with 13 rushes for 62 yards and a score. He was also Matthew Stafford's target for the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
While Smith was far from All-Pro caliber, he did provide the spark Detroit needed on the ground to keep pressure away from the passing game. If he, along with Keiland Williams, Joique Bell and Mikel LeShoure can continue to improve behind a fairly-secure offensive line, they could end up a vastly superior group, as compared to last season's ground numbers.
Thankfully, the Lions were able to do what they had done so well last season - pull out a victory in the waning moments. If they are to be taken seriously as a threat to the NFC, however, they will need to shed the "comeback cats" moniker and be able to dominate from the opening kickoff.
The author, D. Benjamin Satkowiak, is a successful entrepreneur and published, freelance author, who has tailored works on various sports, health and fitness topics. He currently serves as a Yahoo! Contributor Network "Featured Contributor" and writes on the Detroit Tigers , Detroit Lions, Great Lakes Loons and Notre Dame football.
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- Matthew Stafford