Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Nate Caminata of RoarReport.com, go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Sunday's Week 9 matchup between the Bears and Lions at Soldier Field. Let's begin this three-part series with five questions from John to Nate.

John Crist: Jon Kitna wasn't happy the move was made under center to Dan Orlovsky, claiming that the organization used his back injury as an excuse to get him out of there and turn the page with a younger player. What exactly went down in the Motor City anyway? Does Kitna have any future with the club at all? Is it a matter of time before we see Drew Stanton?

Nate Caminata: There are two trains of thought regarding the Kitna situation: Either the Lions were generally concerned with the back injury, placing Kitna – the ultimate competitor – on IR and upsetting him. Most football players don't want to admit when their number is up, and many times damage their bodies because they went against the advice of a physician. Or, the Lions genuinely needed an excuse to finally make a change under center. Because Kitna's career in general – not just with Detroit – is coming to a close, the truth is likely somewhere in between.

It is entirely possible to see Stanton against Chicago, especially if the score gets out of hand. If the Bears are holding a healthy lead in the second half, it wouldn't be surprising to see at least a series or two of Stanton. It's logical to think that the Lions want to take a glimpse at Stanton before making a decision on whether or not to sign Daunte Culpepper, who visited Tuesday morning.

JC: They say you must run the football and stop the run to win in the NFL, but the Lions are currently 31st in both rushing offense and rushing defense. Neither Kevin Smith nor Rudi Johnson has found much room to roam, and the loss of Shaun Rogers has exposed the D-line. Which side of the ball stands a better chance of turning it around in the ground game?


RB Kevin Smith
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

NC: Games are won in the trenches. You can't overstate that, yet everyone seems to think that skill positions hold some kind of trump value – they don't. Detroit has been rotating in offensive linemen at right tackle and at each guard position, with absolutely no impact on the success of the running game.

The defensive line has performed better in recent weeks, but they're being left on the field too often (see: time of possession) because of the offensive line's inability to allow a consistently successful running attack.

JC: Detroit was supposed to have a dangerous passing attack with Kitna throwing the ball to Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson out wide, plus Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald work the middle of the field well. But Williams has been dealt to the Cowboys, which means double coverage for Johnson most every snap. How has Megatron handled the trade?

NC: It actually hasn't impacted Johnson on the field as much. While teams are dropping a safety to disallow the deep pattern to Johnson, they still must be cognizant of McDonald, who led the Lions in receptions last year, and Furrey, who caught 96 passes two years ago.

Johnson has appeared, at least visually, to be the undisputed offensive stud of Detroit's lineup and made a handful of spectacular plays that we didn't see with Williams on the field. As Johnson matures, the trade of Williams might actually benefit him in the long run.

JC: Not only is this defense a woeful 31st against the run, but the Kitties are similarly bad against the pass – also 31st. There has been some chatter around Chicago that the glory days of the Cover-2 scheme are all but gone because teams have learned how to attack it. Do you believe Detroit should scrap the system and start fresh with a new approach?


LB Ernie Sims
Kevin Terrell/Getty Images

NC: I don't think you scratch an entire defensive system midseason, unless you want to humiliate yourself week in and week out ... wait, never mind. Rod Marinelli is far too stubborn to believe that the Tampa 2, which has slight variations from the Cover 2 to make up for those inadequacies, has been "figured out," but he simply doesn't have the talent that they enjoyed in Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and Chicago – where the system flourished.

Because it's unlikely he, or much of the coaching staff, will be around at the conclusion of the season, the team will most likely have an entirely new approach defensively in 2009.

JC: No team in this league has ever gone winless over the course of a 16-game schedule, but the Lions just might be bad enough to do it. Even with five remaining home games, they should be heavy underdogs most every week the rest of the way. Even a dreadful Dolphins team accidentally walked into a W last year, but is Detroit on the cusp of 0-for-2008?

NC: No, and for any analyst to profess otherwise is quite honestly silly and more for shallow, somewhat-comedic watercooler chatter. This Lions team is much more talented than the 2001 Marty Mornhinweg-led bunch that became late-night fodder and finally won after an 0-12 start.

In the last three weeks the Lions have lost their games by a combined 17 points, including a two-point loss in Minnesota that had multiple controversial calls in the second half. There's enough parity in the NFL to ensure that a winless season won't happen.

Be on the lookout for Part II of this three-part series, where John answers five questions from Nate, on Thursday.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report. Nate Caminata is the Publisher of RoarReport.com.


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