The Indianapolis Colts will take on the Detroit Lions at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in the regular season opener, and it’s a rare matchup between the two opponents.
They play just once every four years, with their last meeting coming in 2012 and being won on a walkoff touchdown from Andrew Luck to Donnie Avery. The Colts have won the last four in a row and haven’t lost to the Lions since Peyton Manning arrived in Indy, but will that change this week?
In order to get a better idea of the Lions this year, we asked five questions to Pride of Detroit’s Chris Lemieux, and he was kind enough to answer them. The questions are in bold and then Chris’s answers follow.
1. What impact will the absence of Calvin Johnson have on the offense this year? How will the Lions work around the obviously huge loss?
Losing Calvin Johnson is big. That said, the offense under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has been retooled to take emphasis towards shorter routes, efficient yardage gain and a diversified receiving offense. This was the Lions plan they worked on in the offseason when they went out and got Anquan Boldin to play the slot and signed Marvin Jones. There is no #1 receiver on this team right now. Golden Tate, Jones and Boldin should all get a good number of targets, as will tailback Theo Riddick (led the league in RB receptions last year) and tight end Eric Ebron (if healthy). In theory, this plays to Stafford's strengths to put receivers on routes so that the ball leaves his hand relatively quickly.
What you do lose in Megatron, and probably don't replace with this current corps, is an ever-present deep threat. None of the current receivers the Lions have fit that role at present. I still think you need that in an ideal offense, but it's not like the receiving is crippled in Detroit.
2. Defensively, what's the outlook for Detroit this year?
The defensive line is probably the strongest unit currently constituted for the Detroit Lions. Ezekiel Ansah leads the way as the edge rusher, while you've got Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker in as tackles. Rookie A'Shawn Robinson probably won't start to begin the year, but the Lions often rotate defensive lineman anyway.
In the secondary, I'd say the corners are fine as currently constituted (especially Darius Slay) but there's a couple questions among the safeties. Where the weakness still lies right now is in the linebacker corps. DeAndre Levy is back and healthy but this was the unit that suffered greatly in 2015 in his absence, and depth is still a pressing concern.
3. Which rookies are going to be expected to contribute early on, and what's the opinion of the Lions' 2016 draft class among fans?
Opinion about the 2016 draft class seems to be decent among fans. It was mostly meat and potatoes; offensive lineman and defensive players and the like. Nothing flashy, so nothing that really got people gushing. Don't listen to the draft slappies who were all saying that the Lions should have taken a receiver; the line was in desperate need of fixing and the defense needed to be replenished. It's nothing sexy, but that's fine. It was fine.
Left tackle Taylor Decker has made some good strides adjusting to the NFL in the preseason. He's probably the only draft pick that's projected to start out of the gate, but seven other rookies from this draft class are on the roster. Dwayne Washington is deep on the depth chart at running back, but he impressed the Lions in special teams play during the preseason, which is where I expect he'll be utilized the most.
4. What players in particular have stood out this year during the preseason that Lions fans are looking forward to seeing in the regular season?
A lot of the fun stories from the preseason are sadly over. Wide receiver Jace Billingsley from the exceptionally small Nevada town of Winnemucca has been consigned to the practice squad, as has fan favorite third-string quarterback Jake Rudock (he's not that good but he's out of the University of Michigan, so he has his share of ravenous supporters). That said, newly-signed receiver Marvin Jones looks to be working out really well with Matthew Stafford, and reports from training camp indicated the same with Stafford and Anquan Boldin. I was also impressed with rookie defensive end Anthony Zettel, but he's a little deep on the depth chart right now.
5. Since Jim Caldwell used to coach the Colts, there are several fans who I'm sure would be interested in hearing how he's doing in Detroit. There were some questions about his job status last year, but he's obviously back. What's the perception on Caldwell, and what do you think his job security is heading into 2016?
Life's not looking good for ya boy. I personally don't see the problem: he's only had two seasons and he still holds a winning record as a Lions head coach (which you can imagine is pretty rare!). I think that's all pretty good, but people don't seem to be as patient as I. Among Lions fans, he was never their first choice as head coach to replace Jim Schwartz and I don't think a lot of fans really like him, be it his personality or whatever. Fans wanted Schwartz gone and replaced with a guy who could impose discipline and calm, and now they complain that Jim Caldwell is too passive and doesn't fire people up. That's life as a Lions coach.
More pressing though, he's working with a different front office regime. I get the impression that new general manager Bob Quinn would like a reason to replace him with his own man, as that's the way things usually go with new general managers in this league. That said, Caldwell is rather popular with his players and he has brought in some excellent coordinators in Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter. Your guess is as good as mine to his job security but many beat writers seem to think he needs to make the playoffs to keep his spot.