The Detroit Lions, who went into the season hoping to emerge from a two-year funk that produced only five wins in 32 games, are facing the prospect of another disastrous season and there seems to be little -- if anything -- coach Steve Mariucci can do to turn them around.
The combination of injuries -- primarily the loss of two starting cornerbacks, running back James Stewart and the loss of rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers for several weeks with a broken collarbone -- and the overall dearth of talent, has the Lions stalled at a 1-6 record going into their game Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Mariucci's approach has been old-school all the way -- continue to work hard, correct
the mistakes and play better football.
The results have not been forthcoming, however, and if there is no improvement soon the Lions and Mariucci might be reduced to playing more young players simply to get an evaluation of their skills for the 2004 season.
Even then, Mariucci doesn't have a lot of prospects that fall into that category, but there are some he might consider giving more playing time:
-- Defensive lineman Cory Redding made an impressive debut at defensive tackle in the preseason but suffered a knee injury and has been active for only one of the Lions seven regular season games. He was drafted as a defensive tackle and seems best fitted physically (6-feet-4, 285 with good quickness) to play outside. With the Lions sub par production at defensive end, Redding might be in line for playing time there as the season progresses.
--Linebacker James Davis was only a fifth-round draft pick but already has created a niche for himself in the Lions defense. In limited playing time he is averaging only a play or two a game, but is very active and athletic. There is an outside chance at 6-feet-1, 221 he might get a test at strong safety.
--Safety Terrence Holt is another fifth-round draft pick who made the team, not with great speed but with good instincts and the ability to be in the right place at the right time. Has been active for only two regular season games, playing on special teams.
--Tight end Casey Fitzsimmons played eight-man football in high school, played his college ball at Carroll College in Montana and made the Lions as an undrafted rookie. Has outstanding instincts, catches the ball well and doesn't mind getting dirty on special teams. He already has four NFL starts and has five catches for 55 yards. A definite keeper whose responsibilities could grow.
--Wide receiver David Kircus was a popular sixth-round pick out of Division II Grand Valley State but has been limited to the practice squad. Mariucci says he can't activate Kircus because the Lions are already overloaded at wide receiver and currently have two receivers (Rogers and Eddie Drummond) out with injuries, but if the veterans continue dropping balls left and right, it only makes sense to give the speedy, athletic Kircus a look.
--Offensive lineman Victor Rogers spent his rookie season on injured reserve and hasn't been active yet this season. Tackles Jeff Backus and Stockar McDougle are the best of the Lions offensive linemen but the Lions say they like him and might consider giving him a look at guard, where 40-year-old Ray Brown is probably playing his final season.
--Offensive lineman Josh Lovelady is another offensive lineman the Lions believe has
talent. He is in his third season with the team (mostly on the practice squad the first
two seasons) but has limited playing time that hasn't really given an indication of
whether he can play or not in the NFL. If they're going to keep him, it would make sense
to see if he's good enough to play.
The Lions top two draft picks from last spring -- Rogers and outside linebacker Boss Bailey -- have been starters all season and are progressing nicely.
Unless the Lions can win their next two games -- against Oakland and Chicago, both at Ford Field -- they'll have little to play for other than to see whether any of the other young players are good enough to join Rogers and Bailey in the lineup in 2004 or 2005.
SERIES HISTORY: This will be only the ninth meeting between the Lions and Raiders, going back to a 28-14 victory by the Lions at Tiger Stadium in 1970. Since then, the Raiders have won six of seven games, giving them a 6-2 lead in the series. This will be only the third time the Lions have hosted the game. They are 1-1 on their home field.
GAME PLAN: The Lions cannot afford another slow start like the one that cost them a 24-0 lead before they came to life in the late stages of their 24-16 loss to the Chicago Bears. Their best bet might be to attack the Raiders' ineffective run defense (ranked at the bottom of the NFL) but the problem there is that the Lions themselves have a running game averaging only 85 yards per game and RBs averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Lions CB Dre' Bly vs. Raiders QB Marques Tuiasosopo -- Bly has been the Lions' big-play defender with four interceptions, including one he returned 48 yards for a touchdown, and a fumble return touchdown. Tuiasosopo is expected to start in place of injured Rich Gannon.
Lions QB Joey Harrington vs. Raiders CB Charles Woodson -- Harrington has struggled with 12 interceptions in the past six games, including five multiple interception games. Woodson already has three interceptions this season.