Can Smith's Return Stop The Bleeding?

Without Matthew Stafford's right arm, Jahvid Best's big toe, and Nate Burleson's hands, the Detroit Lions will turn to the next best thing on Sunday: Kevin Smith's surgically repaired left knee.

Without Matthew Stafford's right arm, Jahvid Best's big toe, and Nate Burleson's hands, the Detroit Lions will turn to the next best thing on Sunday: Kevin Smith's surgically repaired left knee.

The Lions will welcome back the third-year starter, who hasn't played since December of last year, when he tore his ACL in a contest with the Baltimore Ravens. Two weeks ago, Smith admitted that his knee wasn't 100-percent, stating on his web site that it was "still stiff" in the morning.

A mutual decision between the team's coaching and training staff, however, have determined that his hiatus has been long enough, and will be relied upon at Lambeau Field against the 2-1 Packers.

Smith has been able to rest easy given the instant success of Best. But the rookie first-round pick hasn't practiced this week, and could be a scratch, or, at the least, limited at Lambeau.

Smith averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season prior to his injury, struggling in what was a non-dimensional Detroit offense. In his rookie campaign, he ripped off 4.1 yards each time he ran the football -- including 92 yards and a touchdown in the team's season finale at Green Bay.

The Lions are hoping for some of that same success in his return.

"Kevin's been really working hard to get himself (back)," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said earlier this week. "The plan was all along to train himself as back to 100% as possible. I don't know when that day is. He looks a lot better, a lot quicker and faster.

"I'm sure he's going to be in the mix, and we're counting on that as a big possibility."

Since another running back, Aaron Brown, is out with a broken pinky, the alternatives include veteran Maurice Morris, who was ineffective against Minnesota and Philadelphia in minimal work, and fullback and short-yardage specialist Jerome Felton. The team has even flirted with 5-foot-6, return man Stefan Logan at running back.

If that wreaks of a desperate situation, that's because it is one.

Inside Out

But Detroit's offensive concerns don't end in the offensive backfield.

The Lions could also be without the services of No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson, who has nursed an ankle all week. Burleson's absence has allowed defenses to neutralize Calvin Johnson, the team's top receiving threat, a ploy that stunted Detroit's offensive growth last season. It also forces all of the action to the middle of the field, where Detroit's tight ends -- in theory -- could exploit situation.

Something they haven't done.

Slowed by dropped passes, poor route running, and Hill's inability to thread the needle like his counterpart, Stafford, the team's offense has just appeared lackluster.

It's also because opponents have taken advantage of the team's injury situation.

"A lot of people take the philosophy of packing zones tight and force quarterbacks to work the outside of the field," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Our opponents have taken a different tact. They have taken the outside of the field away and it has opened up the middle of the field.

"We drafted Pettigrew in the first round, not just for him as a blocker, but for what he can do in the passing game. We traded for Scheffler because he fitted exactly how we wanted to use a second tight end, and be able to create some matchups and things like that. I think we're doing a good job there, but a lot of it, again, is based on what the defense is doing and how we're getting some of those matchups in our favor."

Scheffler and Pettigrew combined for 13 catches against Minnesota, but their efforts didn't yield enough sustained drives, nor did the production result in any consistent rhythm. Pettigrew also had two key drops, while Hill tossed two interceptions into the red zone.

Because Schwartz refuses to force throws to Johnson, he would prefer that the Lions manipulate a defense because of the attention they're paying to the outside of the field -- but it's up to the Lions to execute.

"We didn't take advantage enough of the other matchups to be able to score and put points on the board," he said. "Anybody that does that, it's a lot more run game to get him singled up or the other guys on the field need to be able to make the plays, so they say, ‘Hey maybe we shouldn't double Calvin so much, maybe we should put the attention to somebody else.'"

Notebook:

  • Jahvid Best was named the league's Offensive Rookie of the Month (September) after accruing 307 yards from scrimmage.

  • The Lions dropped S Randy Phillips in exchange for Dante Wesley, whom they cut during training camp.

  • Maurice Morris gained over 100 yards for the Lions in his last start (126 yard vs. Arizona, Dec. 20, 2009).

  • MLB DeAndre Levy (groin, calf) could not finish last week, didn't practice Wednesday and is doubtful for Sunday. Landon Johnson (neck) also missed last week, but he is expected to start in Levy's spot.

  • OLB Zack Follett (concussion) has been cleared to play. He was at practice Wednesday.

  • OL Stephen Peterman (foot) was limited in practice Wednesday but he is expected to play. He incurred the wrath of Vikings tackle Pat Williams last week. Williams said of Peterman, "I've seen how he plays and he makes you want to fight." Peterman wouldn't comment.

  • DT Sammie Hill (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. He has played with the injury the last two games.

  • CB Chris Houston (knee) was also limited in practice Wednesday, though he is expected to play.

  • S Louis Delmas (groin) continues his weekly regimen of missing Wednesday but practicing Thursday and Friday.

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