Detroit Lions (0-5) at Houston Texans (1-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX (Chris Rose, JC Pearson, Nischelle Turner)
SERIES: 2nd meeting. Lions lead series, 1-0. Lions won only meeting between teams, 28-16, on Sept. 19, 2004. Eddie Drummond returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Texans are only team Lions have an undefeated record against.
PREDICTION: Texans 24-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: Lions QB Dan Orlovsky assumes the starting job with Jon Kitna out for the season, and the roles of WRs Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey increase with WR Roy Williams traded to Dallas. What's clear is the Lions won't be spreading the field with four receivers and asking Orlovsky to win shootouts. They want RBs Rudi Johnson and Kevin Smith to shoulder the load, which is an especially good idea considering the line's pass-blocking issues. ... With Houston's surging passing game, expect Detroit to again dial up more aggressive blitz packages to increase the pressure they can put on QB Matt Schaub. Schaub will make a few ill advised throws per game, although the Lions have just one interception on the season. They're also ranked 30th against the pass, so given time Schaub should have little trouble moving the ball.
KEY INJURIES: Lions: WR Calvin Johnson (concussion) should play. ... RG Stephen Peterman (broken hand) should return after missing two games. Texans: RB Chris Taylor (quad) is likely out; CB Dunta Robinson (knee) could see his first action of the season.
FAST FACTS: Smith (195 yards) is one of five rookies leading their teams in rushing. ... The Texans rank third in the NFL with 11 plays of 30 yards or longer.
- RT George Foster will replace Gosder Cherilus in the starting lineup Sunday at Houston. Foster has been benched five times since joining the Lions last season, but Cherilus struggled Sunday at Minnesota.
- CB Travis Fisher, who dressed but did not play at Minnesota because of a knee injury, said it was still just a bruise. He has been practicing through it this week and expects to play at Houston.
- S Kalvin Pearson didn't get much attention for his performance at Minnesota -- a sack, two tackles for loss, a batted pass and a forced fumble. He got more time as the nickel back because CB Travis Fisher was out.
- RB Kevin Smith should be fine for the Houston game despite his shoulder injury, according to offensive coordinator Jim Colletto.
- DT Chuck Darby is expected to play at Houston despite a calf strain, but if he can't go, one of the Lions' young tackles could get a chance to play -- Andre Fluellen or Landon Cohen.
- CB Dunta Robinson (knee/hamstring) is on his way to be moved off PUP and activated for Sunday's game. He had an even better practice Thursday and hit some players. The coaches are optimistic, but they are waiting to see how his knee reacts Friday morning to Thursday's workout.
- TE Mark Bruener (hamstring) practiced and could be activated this week. The Texans may activate him and use him primarily as a blocking tight end.
- RB Chris Taylor (quad) didn't practice again. He will likely be inactive this week.
- S Dominique Barber (hamstring) didn't practice again. He isn't expected to play.
- RB Steve Slaton could get a lot of carries this week since the Lions have one of the worst run defenses. He won't get all of the carries, but he could get 20-25. Ahman Green will also get some carries.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Jon Kitna drama continues.
Kitna said the Lions used his back injury as a reason to get rid of him as their starting quarterback.
"They decided they wanted to go in a different direction," Kitna told WJR-AM (760). "And I guess the thing for me is, that's fine. Let's just say that."
The Lions, of course, disagree. Asked if they used Kitna's injury as an excuse to play young quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton, coach Rod Marinelli said: "No."
Kitna, 36, has a history of back problems and aggravated his back Oct. 5 against Chicago. He said an MRI exam the following Wednesday revealed a bulging disk in his lower back that was causing a pinched nerve.
According to Kitna, the Lions decided he would not play Sunday at Minnesota that night or the next morning.
"I was informed of it on Thursday morning that basically I had no chance of playing in the game," Kitna said.
Kitna said his back was "a little more touchy in the first couple of days" than it had been when he had back spasms in the past. But by that Friday, he felt he would be healthy enough to play.
"Was there reasonable cause to put me on IR?" Kitna said. "Yeah, because they said there's a bulging disk. But the reality is, most guys have bulging disks. ...
"I really feel like I could have played last Sunday at probably above 90 percent health-wise. I played the last two years most of the time probably 75 to 80 percent health-wise with different type of things."
Kitna was unhappy when the Lions fired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator after last season and has been critical of the Lions' offensive philosophy since. He said he would not rehab at Lions headquarters.
"I just think with how things are and the tension that had existed all year in the building in terms of my position and things like that, I think it was just best for both parties that we do it outside the building," Kitna said.
General manager Martin Mayhew has said there is no chance the Lions will release Kitna this season. Kitna has one year left on his contract and could have trade value in the offseason.
"I'm going to take this time to just try to get my body as healthy as I can get it," Kitna said. "Then in the offseason, they have a decision to make whether they're going to keep me or not.
"I'm not going to go and beg somebody to release me or do anything like that, because that's just not who I am. I let a man be a man, and if they want to make that decision, then so be it. They know I want to play football."
As a franchise, the Texans have never been known on offense for making big plays. Their offense has typically been grounded, squeaking out yards any way they could get them.
Slowly, that is starting to change with the addition of quarterback Matt Schaub and so many viable receiving options. This season, the Texans already have 11 plays of 30 yards or more -- ranking them third in the league.
The Texans racked up four of those big plays in their first victory over the Dolphins last week, including a 61-yard pass play to Andre Johnson.
"You have to make big plays in this business, because it's so hard to score and the people are so good," coach Gary Kubiak said. "We call a lot of big-play shots. And if we don't have them, we have to check the ball down. But when your team knows they can get on and off the field with a couple of big plays, it's a plus."
The big plays are giving the Texans a better opportunity to score. Eight of their 11 big plays have come in the past three weeks. Over that span of time, the Texans are averaging 27.8 points per game.
Despite their strengths through the air, the Texans aren't going to change their typical run-first mentality. It's partly because of the success of their running game, that the team is having so many big-play opportunities open up for them.
"We have the ability and the receivers and the guys up front to have an explosive offensive attack," Schaub said. "But at the same time, we're not going to be teams that just chunk it deep four plays in a row and hope one of them is complete. We want to be a ball-control offense and when those opportunities are there, we're going to take them."
The big plays have been dispersed almost evenly among the Texans' top four targets. Steve Slaton has three of the plays, including two of which came off running plays. Owen Daniels has three, while Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson each have two. Andre' Davis has one.
It's those plays of at least 30 yards that players say are most demoralizing for defenses. Texans defensive players said they would rather deal with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive than a three-play, 80-yard scoring drive that included a 50-yard touchdown.
The only slight downfall with their offense being the one creating the big-yardage plays is that the defense is getting a little less rest on Sundays. But you won't hear any complaints from the players.
"When you're hitting those big plays like that, the defense is down on the bench and then they are right back up," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "But as many points as we can score, we're fine with that. Once upon a time with this offense, we couldn't score at all. So to be in the top three (in plays of 30 or more yards), that's a great accomplishment."