Week three is commonly hailed as “the dress rehearsal for week one. Seriously, get ready to hear that said 15 or 16 times during the first half of the game. But as with most cliches, it is said so often because it is true. Look for the Lions starters to get a ton of action, players who have performed well against team’s lesser line ups near the end of games – cough Dwayne Washington and Jace Billingsley cough – will get reps with some starters on the field, before next week’s back loaded game where the starters don’t even look at the field but we find out who the last few guys are to make the 53 man roster.
The opponent? Honestly it could not work out better for the Lions, as their opponent this week is primed to let them look good in the closest thing we’re going to get to a real game before September. The Ravens are missing a lot of key components, particularly ones in spots that could have really given the Lions problems, rather than letting them get in a pleasant little dry run. This week is also a dry run for me, with this column looking a little more like it will during the season.
Taylor Decker vs. Matt Judon
Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumerville, and Za’darius Smith are all likely out according to the Ravens site on Thursday; that leaves Taylor Decker in a position to look better than he has. This is a key week for the Lions rookie, because if he looks bad against this level of competition, it would be a very tough sell that he should stay on the left side going into the regular season while Riley Reiff has been destroying his opposition on the right side. Decker needs to ball out this week or the team needs to look at shaking up the line.
The Lions Receivers vs the Ravens Secondary
The Ravens secondary is actually fairly well equipped to go handle the Lions receivers, or at least give them a test. Tate, Jones, and Boldin vs. Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, and Jerraud Powers is a decent match up in which I think the Lions should be able to get a pretty good idea of what they have. They’re not pro bowlers but the Ravens cornerbacks, backed up by free agent acquisition Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb at the safety spots, will be a good test for the Lions passing game. Add Ebron and Riddick to the mix and I think this could be a very interesting night for the Lions offense.
Ziggy Ansah vs. Ronnie Stanley
The Ravens rookie left tackle does not get the same opportunity to ease himself in that is being afforded Taylor Decker. A lot of Lions fans, and a good portion of the media surrounding the team were suggesting that the Lions needed to trade up at all costs to get Ronnie Stanley in the first round prior to the draft. This week we get to see him against one of the tougher tests he will see all season – Ziggy Ansah on third down and long. Ziggy should be able to turn this kid into knots all night and anything but dominance would put a grain of doubt in me that the preseason Ansah hype train was justified. People have been complaining that Ansah has not been viewed as a defensive player of the year candidate by the national media, this could be a statement game by Ansah if he wanted it to be.
Ameer Abdullah vs. CJ Mosley
The running game is obviously more complex than one back vs one linebacker, but there is a good run stuffing linebacker on one team and an electrically charged running back who has been itching to get on the field all preseason on the other. If we see Abdullah with the ones, the Ravens defense is a good one to get an idea of where he is. They have plenty of beef up front and should be a good test for the Lions running game with its best chance for success on the field.
Joe Flacco vs. Matthew Stafford
These two will never be on the field together, likely only even talking to each other before and after the game, if at all. But the world of football is built entirely on the QB vs. QB match up, so here is what you’re getting this week. Flacco is the rocket armed small college kid who guided his team to a Superbowl and then watched it fall apart around him. Then he got injured last season. This is Flacco’s first game action since an ACL tear and he’s facing a Lions pass rush that has looked pretty good so far. With his number one receiver Steve Smith missing, Flacco will likely have some issues finding quick targets. Stafford is facing a good secondary, but what should be a fairly limp pass rush giving him time to distribute the ball to his targets relatively unscathed. All signs point toward Stafford having the much better stat line at the end of the day.
Preseason Battle Updates:
Ridley lost the power back battle and was released by the Lions Thursday. Statistically he had not been outperformed in games, but none of us see the practices. Jeff Risdon even said on the podcast this week that the in-game performances of Ridley put him in the conversation to get time with the first team, and I agree completely, but we are not the ones making decisions. Quinn and the coaches are going in a different direction with the younger special teams contributors being the ones making the team. The wide receiver situation is as clear as mud, with nobody really setting themselves apart last week in either the return game or the offense. Alex Carter has done nothing to deserve a roster spot in games. It’s possible that he’s lighting the world on fire in practices and he hasn’t been getting victimized in games either, but he looks big, slow, and confused which is not a good sign for a guy that was drafted as a size/speed combo defensive back with a high enough IQ to get into Stanford. Orlovsky and Rudock are both bad quarterbacks. Orlovsky needs to avoid turnovers to justify a roster position at this point but the team is done if Stafford goes down in either case, so don’t look for him to be cut in favor of the kid. Schwartz and Dahl have both been huge disappointments two weeks in. In fact, I would say that undrafted free agent Chase Farris, Ohio State’s right tackle last season, has outplayed them both. He has undeniably outplayed Dahl. If Schwartz can’t stay healthy, I would not be the least bit surprised to see Quinn march out two rookies as the back up guards, or to see Farris go in before Dahl in the event of an injury.
Lions vs. Ravens
I would be surprised if the Lions didn’t come out ahead while the starters are in the game. The Ravens are simply missing too many key components and their quarterback has been talking a lot about how his knee feels different than it used to, or at least that’s my perception as I have read a few different quotes from him on the subject. With a full compliment of starters I think this would be an excellent match up with both teams being the consensus third wheels of the two best divisions in football but the Ravens do not have a full compliment of starters and the Lions do. While the preseason doesn’t mean anything in relation to regular season success it would give me pause if the Lions did not do well this week.