Three things to watch for in the Detroit Lions 2013 NFL season opener

For fans of the Detroit Lions, Operation Let’s-Pray-2011-Wasn’t-The-Outlier begins at 1p.m. on Sunday afternoon, when the Minnesota Vikings come marching into Ford Field to kick off the regular season. And if your attention span isn't already in absolute shambles by now, then these are three subplots you should focus on during the game:

1. Riley Reiff vs. Jared Allen match-up

Jared Allen has been an absolute wrecking ball in Minnesota, and he’s been particularly destructive against the Lions in his career. Of his 117 total career sacks, 16 have come against Detroit. The only team he’s terrorized more than the Lions is Green Bay. He’s sacked a Cheesehead 17 times.

[caption id="attachment_577" align="aligncenter" width="158" caption="(Photo: Kevind810)"]Reiff, autographs[/caption]

So this will be some kind of first-day-of-school exam for 2012 1st round pick Riley Reiff. The Iowa product started only one game last season and it was against the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving, where he actually held his own against superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. To prepare for his new starting role, Reiff has put on 12-15 pounds of muscle and has reportedly looked good in training camp.

This match-up will be pivotal because if Reiff can keep Allen at bay for most of the game and protect Matthew Stafford’s blindside, it will make life a whole lot easier on the Lions quarterback and should open up the passing game quite a bit.


2. Ziggy Ansah’s performance

Goodbye Cliff Avril, hello Ziggy Ansah. Although they play on different sides of the defensive line, the biggest off-season adjustment to the Lions' starting front four is the exit of Avril and the entrance of Ansah. If you remember, in the 2011-2012 season, the Lions’ lone postseason appearance of the millennium, Avril notched 11 sacks and was a key member of their playoff team. If the Lions are to replicate the success they achieved in 2011, they need an edge rusher who can compliment defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Ansah was picked 5th overall by the Lions to not only replace Avril, but to be BETTER than Avril.

[caption id="attachment_572" align="aligncenter" width="240" caption="(Photo:"]Ziggy Ansah [/caption]

Currently, Ansah is dealing with a concussion. But he did practice in full on Wednesday, which means he should get in there and get his hands dirty against a fellow former top-five draft pick, Matt Kalil.

The consensus about Ansah in Detroit is that there isn't a consensus — some think he will be a star, some think he will be a bust. It’s hard to gauge how effective Ansah will be in the NFL being that he was a late bloomer in terms of actually playing the sport and didn’t have too much success in college until he turned heads with his dominant Senior Bowl performance. It’ll be interesting to see how Ziggy fares in his NFL debut.


3. Who will emerge as Matt Stafford’s number two target?

We all know that Calvin Johnson is going to be a target monster this season and he will probably continue to erase Jerry Rice’s name from NFL record books while replacing it with his own. But when Calvin is quadruple covered or things break down, who will Stafford turn to? If the preseason is any indicator, that man will be Reggie Bush. Although the former Heisman trophy winner (which the NCAA Indian-gave him) caught only 78 balls combined during his two year stint with Miami, he is a more than capable pass catcher out of the backfield and could eclipse that 78 catch mark in 2013 alone.

More than likely, Minnesota’s three-headed pass rushing monster of Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen will test the Lions’ inexperienced offensive line early and often, which could create a lot of dump-off opportunities for Bush in the flats.

[caption id="attachment_573" align="aligncenter" width="201" caption="(Photo: Moe Epsilon, Flickr)"]Reggie Bush [/caption]

Other candidates to finish second in targets on Sunday are Ryan Broyles, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and the dark-horse, Patrick Edwards. Detroit will reportedly bring Broyles along slowly to start the season as he recovers from his second career ACL tear, so the door is wide open for any one of the other aforementioned receivers to step up and make some plays against the Vikings. It will all depend on who’s able to exploit their particular match-up, and how able Stafford is to find the open man.

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