Column: Lions Still With (Many) Questions

Column: The Detroit Lions exploded offensively against division rival Minnesota on Sunday. Unfortunately, it came against one of the weaker defenses in the National Football League ... and the injury-riddled Lions still lost, bringing their pathetic record to 0-4.

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Paul Wezner -

As the Detroit Lions played their best game of the season, when the game ended they still ended up with another mark in the Loss column.

The Lions, behind a career-best 345 passing yards from QB Charlie Batch, came back from a 31-6 deficit to come within 5 points of the Minnesota Vikings, eventually falling 31-26. However, with only seconds remaining, WR Germane Crowell decided to go back inside to a sea of Viking defenders rather than go out-of-bounds within striking distance of the end zone. Crowell was tackled after a running for a few yards and could only kneel and watch as the game clock struck :00, while the Offensive Lineman were desperately trying to get up field for one last play -- and the Lions' small glimmer of hope faded away.

There were obvious signs of improvement on the part of the Lions, especially on offense. Batch’s career-high 345 passing yards was definitely a plus, even bigger was that it came with a completion percentage just over 75% along with 3 Touchdowns with 0 Interceptions. Crowell awoke from his early season slumber to break out with 9 receptions for 125 yards and a Touchdown reception. RB James Stewart also broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time this season, recording 108 yards on only 16 carries. TE David Sloan and WR Johnnie Morton also had solid games. The Offensive Line still struggled, giving up 4 sacks, but the group seems to be playing better each week, especially Left Tackle Jeff Backus, who outside of getting beaten on one play, is looking like a budding star up front.

On the other hand, one has to only look who the Lions offense was facing. The Minnesota Vikings had one of the worst defenses in the league last season, and on Sunday, they were without their 3 best players from last year’s defense; DT John Randle (Seattle), OLB Dwayne Rudd (Cleveland), and SS Robert Griffith (injured but still on team). DT Chris Hovan was the only impact player the Vikings had left, and he made a serious impact with 2 ½ sacks. The Vikings' cornerbacks have always been considered poor, and don’t think it’s a coincidence that Batch’s and Crowell’s best games of the year game against this secondary. Crowell has always had the physical tools to be a standout receiver, but against Corners like Eric Kelly and Robert Tate, his pure physical ability will allow him to get open despite lazy route running.

Meanwhile, the Lions' defense continues to struggle mightily, although they did button down the hatches and hold the Vikings to only one second-half Touchdown. If you’re looking for a problem, look no further than the decimated secondary. By the end of the game, the Lions were playing with Todd Lyght at LCB, Robert Bailey at RCB, Jimmy Wyrick at SS, and Lamar Campbell at FS. For those keeping score at home, that means the Lions were playing with their nickel and dime Cornerbacks (3 and 4 on the depth chart behind Bryant Westbrook and Terry Fair) and their 4th and 5th Safeties (Kurt Schulz and Ron Rice were the original starters while Kywin Supernaw was the team’s top backup).

In an effort to slow the Vikings down, coupled with the loss of Pro Bowl MLB Chris Claiborne, the Lions moved to a 5-2 defense for most of the second half. The 5-2 means the Lions front seven consisted of 5 Defense Lineman and only 2 Linebackers. The Lions were able to get away with this because without Robert Smith, the Vikings have yet to use their Running Back extensively in the flats. The 5-man front not only gave the Lions a 5th rusher but it also slowed down what little running attack the Vikings had (excluding the scrambling of QB Daunte Culpepper).

However, this 5-2 style defense is not a long-term solution. Expect the Lions to return to their basic 4-3 defense next week, but with a few changes. Expect to see a lot more of Alonzo Spellman and James Hall, and look for WLB Chris Claiborne to move to the middle in place of the injured Stephen Boyd (Back). If Claiborne is moved to the middle, expect Barrett Green to get his first-career start at the Weakside, while Allen Aldridge will stay at the strong-side.

This Lions’ team played the best game it has all season, but still came up short. Like Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg said, "There are no moral victories". It’s great that the Lions finally showed some life, but as long as losses keep piling up instead of wins, it doesn’t really matter what the Lions are playing like. Injuries are obviously hurting the club, but they’re never an excuse. If the Rams can win without MVP Marshall Faulk, the Lions can make it without Ron Rice.

The simple fact is that this isn’t a very good football team and until changes are made (i.e. getting new players or finding new coaches), the Lions will never blossom into what we desire -- a good football team.

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