Second glance: Lions offense gets up to speed; Ansah has slow start

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford

Following the Lions' exhibition win over the New York Jets Thursday, a few people — Matthew Stafford, Laken Tomlinson and Jim Caldwell among them — mentioned the word tempo.

Between the buzzword and a second look at the game, it's clear the Lions were trying to work on playing with an increased tempo on offense.

The Lions dominated from start to finish against the Jets and finished with 73 plays. Just six teams — Colts, Eagles, Packers, Ravens, Texans and Bills — had more snaps in last week's games, and the Bengals tied with 73. The Lions averaged 69.4 snaps per game last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and exceeded 73 just five times.

Stafford played just five of those snaps Thursday, but on each play, there was a sense of urgency from him and the other starters to get in and out of the huddle quickly.

Though the more detailed coaches' film isn't yet available on NFL Game Pass, the clock on the broadcast version indicated the Lions would've snapped the ball with at least 10 seconds left on the clock before each play of their five-play, 71-yard scoring drive to open the game. The Jets even called a timeout after the second offensive play of the game.

"I thought the tempo was good," Stafford said.

That popular word was also the first thing Caldwell mentioned when asked what he wanted to see from his starters.

"We're looking really for tempo, execution, precision, being sharp and not many penalties," the coach said.

The quick tempo continued with the Lions' second- and third-string offenses, too. In the second quarter, Kellen Moore led a no-huddle play immediately after a 9-yard run by Theo Riddick.

Stafford thrived at times last season in the hurry-up offense, but the Lions rarely employed the no-huddle before the end of the half or regulation. However, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said last week the improved comfort level in the offense should result in better tempo, too.

And even though the Lions played with some urgency on offense, don't expect them to suddenly be as fast as Chip Kelly's Eagles, who ran 74 plays in just 23 minutes, 46 seconds of game time. The Lions' 73 plays came with having the ball for 36:43.

Greg Salas

Salas makes plays

Wide receiver Greg Salas was one of the offensive stars for the Lions with five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown Thursday, but it's important to recognize he was playing against backups.

Many of Salas's 29 snaps came against Marcus Williams, who is in his second season after going undrafted in 2014, and Dexter McDougle, a third-round pick last year who missed his rookie season with a knee injury. Either player is at best the Jets' fifth cornerback right now.

Of course, Salas can only compete against the players in front of him, and he thrived on some of his nine targets.

On his first target, Salas created separation against Williams on a short curl, though the throw was off-target. On his second, another incompletion, Williams had excellent coverage on Salas to prevent a go.

Salas' first catch for 11 yards was on a nice pivot route in which he gained about a half step of separation when he curled inside. That play helped him get open against Williams on the next play as he faked outside with his feet, then went inside — using a sly push with his right hand — for a 10-yard slant.

Salas' final target of the first half was an interception by Williams, who took advantage of a poor throw by Moore on an end zone fade.

In the second half, Salas caught a 20-yard touchdown from Dan Orlovsky with both players excellent on a timing route to Salas' back shoulder, and the receiver ran in after McDougle reacted slowly.

Orlovsky's lone incompletion to Salas was on a crossing pattern McDougle batted away. Salas made a 16-yard catch after finding a good hole in the zone, and his biggest play was a 35-yard catch on a go against Dashaun Phillips, who went undrafted in 2014 and hasn't played in a regular-season game.

The good news for Salas is he made most of the plays when he had the opportunity. Three of his five catches converted third downs, too. However, he'll have to continue to perform at this level if he faces similar competition, or find a way to show he can beat starting-caliber cornerbacks — in limited opportunities — to climb the depth chart.

Ezekiel Ansah

Slow start for Ansah

One of the players who didn't impress Thursday was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Although he played just seven snaps, Ansah — who played on the left and right sides — failed to make any noteworthy plays despite being blocked by one player on each snap.

On three of the seven plays, Ansah created zero pressure against left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Tight end Jeff Cumberland also blocked Ansah fairly easily on a quick pass play.

Ansah's best play of the seven came when he sealed the edge against right tackle Breno Giacomini to make Darius Slay's tackle of running back Chris Ivory easier.

But Ansah also missed a tackle on Ivory on a subsequent play after freeing himself from a block by left guard James Carpenter, who pulled to the right. He also had a free run at the quarterback on one play, but was a step behind DeAndre Levy and Darryl Tapp even before Ivory blocked him from the play.

Ansah has had some highlights in Lions training camp, but has struggled overall in one-on-one matchups against left tackle Riley Reiff. With all the turnover on the defensive line, he'll have to start flashing more of his enormous potential as the season draws closer.