Detroit Lions Not as Bad as Their Record?

The Detroit Lions will put an emphasis on improving defensive efforts. It's a good time to start, as the Lions face one of the most feared offenses in the league. But around Detroit, people say the Lions aren't as bad as they appear...


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/20/09
SURFACE: Artificial turf
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan)

PREDICTION: Cardinals 37-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The first thing Lions coach Jim Schwartz wants to see is improved effort from his defense. Poor focus and poor tackling were major issues in last Sunday's 48-3 loss to Baltimore, and Detroit faces a far more explosive offense this week. Pass protection is a concern for the Cardinals, who need to get RBs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells involved to make sure QB Kurt Warner doesn't absorb another beating. Lions QB Daunte Culpepper is likely to start in place of Matthew Stafford (non-throwing shoulder). With RB Kevin Smith also injured, Maurice Morris will be asked to lead the ground game as Detroit searches for ways to keep its defense off the field.

FAST FACTS: Hightower has four first-quarter fumbles this season. ... The Lions have added 10 defensive backs to the roster since the season began.



--LT Mike Gandy has missed practice this week with a pelvic muscle injury. It appears doubtful he will play on Sunday in Detroit. Jeremy Bridges will take his place.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald has been limited in practice this week because of a knee sprain and bone contusion suffered Monday night. Fitzgerald insists he will play but coach Ken Whisenhunt has said that won't be decided until later in the week, possibly the day of the game.

--QB Kurt Warner is a bit banged up but will play. Warner is dealing with a hip pointer and missed a game because of a concussion. He returned two weeks ago, however, and seems to be operating well.

--WR Anquan Boldin is healthy and fully recovered from an ankle injury that limited him early this season.

--S Matt Ware was placed on injured reserve after suffering a sprained knee against the 49ers. Ware plays an important role on special teams and in the dime package. Rookie Rashad Johnson will replace him in both areas.


--TE Dan Gronkowski, a seventh-round pick this year, was released after his first NFL game to make room on the roster for LS Nathan Hodel.

--LS Nathan Hodel was signed in case LS Don Muhlbach is unable to play Sunday against Arizona because of a concussion. Hodel snapped for the Cardinals from 2001-08.

--LS Don Muhlbach has not practiced this week. The Lions are still hopeful he will be able to play, but there is a reason they felt the need to sign Hodel.

--WR Calvin Johnson did not practice Thursday because of a knee injury after being listed as limited Wednesday. But the Lions still expect him to play.

--S Louis Delmas has not practiced this week because of ankle problems. Coach Jim Schwartz said he likely will be a game-time decision.

--RB Maurice Morris will get the carries that usually go to starter Kevin Smith, who is on injured reserve with a torn ACL, according to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.



Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald remains confident he'll play Sunday in Detroit, despite suffering a sprained ligament and a bone contusion in his right knee Monday night in San Francisco.

Fitzgerald has been limited in practice this week but said he has felt better each day. Coaches are being conservative with Fitzgerald this week in order to avoid any possible additional pain and swelling in the joint.

"We're football players," said Fitzgerald. "It's our instinct to go out there and play, no matter what the issues are. Everybody on this roster is dealing with some type of pain. When you sign a contract, it's not just when you're healthy or when you're feeling good. It's every day. You've got to go out there and work hard and produce."

The Cardinals shouldn't be in a rush to keep Fitzgerald on the field, however. With a two-game lead in the division, they could clinch their second consecutive NFC West title with a victory over the Lions and loss by the 49ers to the Eagles.

Or the Cardinals could win their next two, against Detroit and St. Louis.

They should be able to do that without Fitzgerald. The rest of the receiving corps is as healthy and it's been all year. The offensive line is in decent shape, as is quarterback Kurt Warner and running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells.


The Lions are so bad, the hot idea in Detroit -- at least in some parts of the media -- is that they should trade wide receiver Calvin Johnson for draft picks so they

can rebuild their roster.

Needless to say, the Lions don't think much of that.

"Yeah," coach Jim Schwartz said, "we're in the process of trying to acquire good players, not let good players leave. I think that if we've learned anything from history, it's to value talent and not to discard it."

Schwartz said Johnson was "virtually untouchable" and the Lions would demand in a trade "more than anybody would reasonably give up."

"He's one of the best players at his position in the National Football League," Schwartz said. "He's done nothing to disappoint us. There would be no reason to make a move like that."

There is no doubt Johnson has great value. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft has a unique combination of size, speed and strength, not to mention a top-notch work ethic.

"I heard one guy tell me -- a really good personnel guy say -- he would take one guy like Calvin Johnson over 10 draft picks because you're trying to find one of those every couple years," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.

That comment could feed the perception that the Lions could pull off a Herschel Walker deal. But that's not what Linehan meant.

Asked if trading Johnson would be insane, Linehan said: "To me, completely insane. Calvin Johnson is going to be and is one of the best receivers in football. He has struggled through some things this year from a health standpoint, but man, once you got one of those, you don't want to lose one. That's one man's opinion. I would be pretty depressed if that ever happened."

Johnson, who declined to comment, had 1,331 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year for a team that went 0-16. Supporters say that shows how amazing he is. Cynics say that shows that no matter how amazing he is, he can't make a difference by himself because wide receiver is a complementary position.

But the Lions' plan is to complement Johnson. In the first round this year, they drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has a big arm to get him the ball, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who ideally will make it difficult for defenses to double team Johnson.

Stafford seemed surprised anyone would suggest trading Johnson.

"He's a mismatch for anybody," Stafford said. "There's not a corner in the league that's his size, his speed and his hands. There's just not."

Johnson has 767 receiving yards and four touchdowns this year. The Lions think he will be used to his full potential once he has a better supporting cast.

"I love the guy," Linehan said, "and he's going to just continue to blossom, get better when we kind of get all the pieces back in order."

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