Lions face barrage of top teams to start season

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia during the first quarter against the New York Giants Aug 17.Photo: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Sports Xchange

Matt Patricia caused some consternation in Detroit Lions land when he warned after the final preseason game that "this isn't a sprint that's going to take place overnight. This is something that's going to take a long time to do."

The Lions hired Patricia in February not to rebuild, but rather with the belief that he could elevate them from being a perennial playoff contender - they've averaged nine wins a season over the last four years - to a team that's finally ready to experience postseason success.

The preseason did not go smoothly, however, as the Lions looked lost defensively for much of the summer and their high-powered offense managed just nine points on three field goals in eight series with quarterback Matthew Stafford on the field.

Preseason results aside, there are concerns over how Patricia's hard-driving ways and physical approach to practice will play in the locker room. As with any new head coach, Patricia runs the risk of wearing on players if the Lions don't win immediately.

That won't be easy, as four of the Lions' first five games are against playoff contenders: the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. The one that's not, next week's opener against the New York Jets, is very much a tone-setter for the season.

The Jets managed just five wins last year and will start a rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold, while the Lions have the benefit of opening at home in prime time on Monday night.

Beyond that, the Lions finally appear to have a running game, something they've lacked for going on two decades.

General manager Bob Quinn spent the offseason trying to bolster a rushing attack that ranked last in the NFL last season. He spent a first-round pick on promising guard Frank Ragnow, a second-rounder on running back Kerryon Johnson, and found a complement for Johnson in free agency, LeGarrette Blount.

All three of those players had strong camps, and Johnson should in time serve as the feature back in what should be an explosive offense.

Defensively, the Lions lack playmakers on all three levels, and their continued inability to both stop the run and get after the quarterback was evident in exhibition games.

Perhaps Patricia, a defensive whiz during his six seasons as defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, can do enough scheme-wise to cover up the Lions' many shortcomings. If not, his hint of a long rebuilding process ahead might come true.

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 7-6. Jets have won last two games at Ford Field. The most memorable meeting between these two teams came in 1997, when Barry Sanders ran for 184 yards on 23 carries to surpass 2,000 yards for the season.