August 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Lions at Raiders: 10 things to watch

Quarterback Dan Orlovsky is still the favorite to be Matthew Stafford's backup this season, but he struggled last week, going 12-of-23 for 89 yards. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

The Lions ramped up the intensity in practice as they prepare for a regular season that’s a little more than three weeks away.

On Friday, though, they’ll play another exhibition game in Oakland that will give the coaches a better idea of how much the players need to work on before the real games begin.

In their 13-12 win over the Cleveland Browns in the exhibition opener Saturday, the Lions looked sloppy for much of the game. The offense gained just 296 yards and didn’t score a touchdown until there were 65 seconds left in regulation, a winning 21-yard pass from third-string quarterback Kellen Moore to second-year receiver Corey Fuller.

The defense, meanwhile, allowed just 282 yards but didn’t record a sack, a surprise considering the depth of talent up front.

“There’s work to be done,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “There’s not a guy on our team that is in a situation where he could not use any work during the preseason.”

That doesn’t mean everyone will play, though. Second-year defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned from the physically unable to perform list this week, will sit as he continues to inch closer to 100 percent recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s status is up in the air, too. Johnson didn’t play in the exhibition opener last week, and even though he’s been practicing hard, there isn’t much reason to risk his health after he underwent knee and finger surgeries during the offseason.

Here are 10 things to watch Friday night:

1. Does Nick Fairley start? Fairley was punished this week for unspecified reasons, but his inability to keep his weight down certainly played a role. After practicing with the second-team defense all week, it will be telling to see which unit Fairley runs with during the exhibition game. No matter when he plays, Fairley needs to play better than he did against the Browns.

2. More time, more production from first-team offense: Quarterback Matthew Stafford and many offensive starters played just one series last week, which they turned into a field goal after starting at their 49. The starters should play more this week, though it’s unclear how much, and scoring a touchdown would provide more optimism that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s scheme is working.

3. Forcing turnovers: If new Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub has proven anything during his career, it’s that he often throws the ball to the other team. The Lions’ defense forced two turnovers in the second half last week, but the starters will need to take advantage of the opportunities that should be available early in the game Friday.

4. Kicker battle continues: Seventh-round pick Nate Freese’s two field goals in the first exhibition game, from 32 and 37 yards, helped keep him ahead of Giorgio Tavecchio, who made a 33-yard extra point. But this is a competition that seems to fluctuate daily, so both kickers will need to play well Friday night.

5. Dan Orlovsky vs. Kellen Moore: Orlovsky is still the favorite to be Stafford’s backup this season, but he struggled last week, going 12-of-23 for 89 yards. Moore, meanwhile, showed improvement, completing 11 of 13 passes for 121 yards, including the winning touchdown strike. It’s hard to judge these battles because Orlovsky and Moore play against different competition, but Moore will have another chance to close the gap.

6. Will James Franklin play? The undrafted rookie didn’t play at all against the Browns, and if Stafford plays more, he probably will ride the bench all game this Friday, too. But at some point, the Lions have to see what Franklin is capable of in game situations.

7. Ryan Broyles’ playmaking: Last week Broyles caught all three of his targets for 27 yards, and two of his receptions converted first downs. Although injuries have hurt during his first two years, Broyles has always shown an ability to get open, and more production in exhibitions would help him earn a bigger role in 2014.

8. Kyle Van Noy’s finishing ability: The second-round linebacker played 20 snaps on defense, and although he showed some potential, his only statistical contribution was a pass breakup. He just missed a sack and the pass deflection was nearly a forced fumble, but Van Noy needs to show more to be the opening day starter ahead of Ashlee Palmer.

9. Big plays from Eric Ebron: The first-round tight end played 26 snaps and lined up all over the field, but his only contribution was an impressive 2-yard catch. Ebron had four targets, including one that should’ve been caught, but as he plays more, it’s fair to expect to see his big-play potential.

10. Running back duties: Theo Riddick’s abdominal injury held him out of the second half last week, but he should see more work Friday. How much, though, depends on what the coaches want to see from Mikel Leshoure and George Winn. Riddick’s special teams skills make him a roster lock, but the Lions could make another attempt to boost Leshoure’s trade stock — he had eight carries last week — or see if Winn can match his impressive performance from last week.

jkatzenstein@detrotinews.com
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