Orlovsky, Marinelli: Throw it to Calvin

In their first game without Roy Williams, the Lions still had trouble getting the ball to Johnson -- who is now their undisputed top playmaker, if he hadn't been already. So how do they fix the problem? If you ask Rod Marinelli and QB Dan Orlovsky, it's pretty simple. Much more inside.

When the Lions traded Roy Williams to the Cowboys last week, part of the thinking was, "Hey, they've still got Calvin Johnson!"

But in their first game without Williams, the Lions still had trouble getting the ball to Johnson -- who is now their undisputed top playmaker, if he hadn't been already.

Johnson finished Sunday's 28-21 loss at Houston with a career-high 154 receiving yards, but that's deceiving. He caught only two passes -- a 58-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the first half, which amounted to nothing, and a 96-yard touchdown in the third quarter. (He also caught a pass for a two-point conversion.)

The Lions threw to Johnson only two other times. One pass, he dropped. The other was broken up.

"There are no stars on an 0-6 team," running back Kevin Smith said. "But I do agree he is a beast and we want to get him the ball. We can't throw him the ball on every play. Now that Roy is gone, it is kind of like he is going to attract more people now."

Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said coverage was an issue. Sometimes the Lions called a play for Johnson, but the coverage dictated the ball went somewhere else.

Protection was an issue at times, too. The Lions would call a play for Johnson, and quarterback Dan Orlovsky wouldn't have a chance to get the ball to him.

But this has been going on for a while. Johnson has caught four passes or fewer in each of the last four games.

And other teams have those same issues and still find ways to get the ball to their top receivers.

The Texans run the same type of offense the Lions do, with a zone running scheme setting up a passing attack led by a highly drafted receiver named Johnson. They got the ball to Andre Johnson, the third overall pick in 2003, 11 times for 141 yards.

"It started with the run game," Marinelli said. "They did a great job early, and a lot of his passes that he caught were in zone coverage where you're moving up to stop the run. They did a nice job.

"We started off early obviously slow, couldn't stop the run very well, and now you're committing more people to the run game, which opens that up. If you can run the ball and keep the dogs off you, it opens up opportunities for your receivers."

So what can the Lions do for their Johnson?

"We've got to get it to him more," Marinelli said. "No question."

How do they do that?

"Throw it to him," Marinelli said.

"Throw it to him," Orlovsky said.

That would be a start.

Player Notes:

  • QB Dan Orlovsky posted a career-high 99.6 passer rating Sunday at Houston, but that is deceiving. He threw for 265 yards and a touchdown, but 154 yards of that and the TD were on two plays to Calvin Johnson. A 58-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the first half amounted to nothing. Orlovsky is expected to get 80 percent of the snaps again this week and another start, however.
  • RB Kevin Smith ran for 21 yards and a 26-yard touchdown on back-to-back plays Sunday. But otherwise, he had only 14 yards on eight carries. He has not started the past two games.
  • RB Rudi Johnson has started the past two games -- and replaced injured quarterback Jon Kitna as an offensive captain -- but he hasn't fared much better. He had only 8 yards on six carries Sunday.
  • TE Michael Gaines came into the season wanting to prove he could be a complete tight end, not just a blocker. But even though Dan Campbell went on injured reserve, Gaines has not established himself as a receiver. He had only two catches for 11 yards Sunday.
  • WR Calvin Johnson has caught four passes or fewer in each of Detroit's last four games, after catching at least six passes in both of the Lions' first two games. The Lions say they have to get the ball to their top playmaker more often.
  • WR Mike Furrey benefited most from the trade of Roy Williams, catching six passes for 89 yards Sunday. He had only eight catches for 52 yards entering the game.
  • WR Shaun McDonald was supposed to be more involved in the offense. But he was mauled on a deep pass -- no call -- and finished with an odd stat line: no catches for minus-7 yards. On the last play of the game, he caught a lateral and then sent a lateral out of bounds.
  • S Dwight Smith has a foot injury that the Lions fear could keep him out awhile. He went for a CT scan Monday, but the Lions did not release the results.
  • CB Travis Fisher hasn't played the past two games because of a knee injury. He dressed but didn't play Oct. 12 at Minnesota. He warmed up but was inactive Sunday at Houston. He said he felt he was moving well Sunday but the coaches decided not to use him. He said he hoped it was only for health reasons.
  • DT Chuck Darby warmed up and was close to playing Sunday, but the Lions kept him out because of a calf strain.

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