ALLEN PARK, Mich. - With just one game left on the team's preseason slate, the Lions are preparing for the final test before the regular season.
Matthew Stafford has led the Lions offense to spectacular starts in the team's first three preseason contests, completing 77% of his passes for 356 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers.
Stafford’s head coach Jim Schwartz has remained confident in his quarterback, repeating over and over his belief in his starter’s leadership.
“I don’t know if there’s been a big progression from year two to year three,” Schwartz said.
“He was already pretty good in year two and I think we’re seeing a continuation of that. Another year older, a couple pounds heavier, like all of us.”
The passing game has been strong, with Calvin Johnson scoring in the team’s first game and Nate Burleson finding the end zone against Cincinnati, Cleveland, and New England.
Stafford said he will play Thursday against Buffalo, but the team will likely pull its starters early in the half.
He was asked if he thought his offense could move the ball against any team in the league.
“You’d probably ask every quarterback in the NFL and they’d say yes,” Stafford stated.
“You gotta have confidence out there. We’ve been successful in the first three games, but that’s not regular season football, that’s preseason football. We have a pretty good base of things we’re running well and we’ll obviously add onto that during the season.”
As for the defensive side of things, Ndamukong Suh led an attack on Tom Brady last weekend that left the Patriots quarterback tipping his cap to the Lions defense, calling the line “tough.”
But health will be the main concern for the strengthened defense, as Kyle Vanden Bosch will miss his second straight game. Rookie Nick Fairley hasn’t dressed for one of the team’s preseason games and looks like he may miss part of the regular season.
Key position battles will play out in Buffalo, starting at running back. Mike Bell and Jerome Felton were cut this week. Jahvid Best is a lock to make the team, and the injured Maurice Morris (hand) is almost surely going to make the roster. That leaves Jerome Harrison, Aaron Brown and Ian Johnson fighting for the last spots on the 53-man team.
Brown was incredibly positive after Saturday’s game against New England, citing his understanding of the playbook as a key progression in his attempt to see the field more.
Maurice Stovall, Derrick Williams, and Rashied Davis will battle for the team’s last wide receiver spots. Stovall has shown his worth, collecting 81 receiving yards in the last two games.
The battle for punter between Nick Harris and Ryan Donohue has emerged as a late fight to tune into as camp winds down. Donohue got a solid look in the Patriots game, and Schwartz spoke highly of the rookie this week.
The game against Buffalo won’t be the best look at the starters, but it will surely give the Lions brass a good hard look at the guys fighting for roster spots.
Then it counts.
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