Lions vs Dolphins Preview
Lions (2-14) at Dolphins (11-5)
Pro Player Stadium, Miami, FL
1:00 EST Forecast 88 degrees 77% humidity
Scattered thunderstorms expected
(ALLEN PARK, MI)--The Detroit Lions would like nothing better than to get off to a fast start and put in their rear view mirror last season's 2-14 debacle. It won't be easy. Detroit is facing one of last year's AFC Playoff contenders in Miami. Back is most of the cast of one of the league's toughest defenses (5th in NFL 1st against the pass) and an offensive attack that has added one of the NFL's premier backs, Ricky Williams.
Detroit has been banged up throughout the preseason, but a few players have stood out among the crowd. Rookie corner Chris Cash, stolen in the 6th round, has really come on and could eventually grab a starting position. Fellow rookie wide receiver Eddie Drummond opened eyes with some acrobatic catches. Both could contribute to an improved record. The brightest star among all the newcomers has been quarterback Joey Harrington, but coach Marty Mornhinweg is committed to bringing Harrington along slowly. Harrington has shown flashes of being the real deal and fans will likely see him contribute before the season is too old.
Detroit's best chance in this one is to establish a running attack against Miami's tough front four to take the pressure of young quarterback Mike McMahon. The problem is that James Stewart, Detroit's starting running back is only about 80%. If Stewart can exploit the middle of the Miami defense that will put Detroit in favorable 3rd down positions of 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-4 rather than needing 7 or 8 yards on third down.
Detroit's receiver's face a formidable task going against corners like Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison and Jamar Fletcher. The Lions will line up Bill Schroeder, Az-Zahir Hakim and Scotty Anderson. The "X" factor in this corps is when Detroit goes with four wides and Eddie Drummond gets in the game. Drummond has speed to burn and good hands. He showed flashes of brillance in the preseason, can he do it now when the lights are on? The "X" factor in the Lions receiving corps is Mikhael Ricks. If Ricks can exploit the middle of the Dolphins secondary consistently, Detroit is in business.
Then, there is Mike McMahon. Getting just his fourth career start, McMahon will face a veteran cast who will throw every defensive trick in the book--stunts, zone blitzes, baiting and switching schemes just before the snap--to confuse and confound him. Consider this; Miami is 37-10 against QBs younger than 30, but only 7-17 against QBs older than 30. Is this the week to start Ty Detmer? Uh, no.
Defensively, the Lions will face a different Miami attack than last season. Miami acquired New Orleans Saints star Ricky Williams in the offseason and Williams feels reborn in Miami. However, he'll have to earn his money running inside against the best tackle duo in football Shaun Rogers and a completely healthy Luther Elliss. If Miami can't run the football, that plays into Detroit's hands. Detroit would much rather put the game into the hands of Jay Fiedler throwing to Oronde Gadson, Chris Chambers and Dedric Ward than to have Williams pounding in the fourth quarter.
The "X" factor for Miami is the play of backup running back Travis Minor. Minor is extremely dangerous catching the football out of the backfield and Detroit had better be prepared for the shifty little speedster.
PREDICTION: This game is likely to be determined by special teams and turnovers. Two superior defenses vs two sub-par offenses. Can Desmond Howard, who sat out the last preseason game so that he would be 100% against Miami, light up the Dolphins return coverage? Can John Jett change field position for the team when they are backed up in their own zone? Will we see the pro-bowl calibre Jason Hanson or that imposter that showed up last season?
My heart wants to pick Detroit in an upset, but my mind knows better. Here's hoping I'm
Dolphins 17 - Lions 10.