Stafford, Johnson Likely to Start Sunday

The Detroit Lions will likely return QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson on Sunday as they prepare for the winless St. Louis Rams. News, notes, quotes from Thursday's practice, injury updates, and much more inside.

If anyone can relate to the Rams, it's the Lions. So don't think they're overconfident at all entering Sunday's game.

"We're a 1-5 football team," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We don't have any issues with that. We've got to go out every Sunday and play our best football, and we need to get back on a winning track.

"This is just another opportunity to do it. You don't take anybody lightly. You don't look at anybody any different. This is the NFL, and you have to come on Sunday ready to play."

The Rams are 0-7. They have lost 17 consecutive games. If they lose this one, things could get really ugly. After the Lions, the next two teams on their schedule are the Saints, who are 6-0, and the Cardinals, who are 4-2 and went to the Super Bowl last season.

The streak could reach 19 games, tying for second-worst in NFL history with three teams. Some think the Rams might be bad enough to become the second team to go 0-16. If they do, they will tie the NFL record of 26 straight losses, set by the 1976-77 Buccaneers.

The thing is, the Lions just snapped their own 19-game losing streak Sept. 27 with a 19-14 victory over the Redskins. They were the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 just last year. They have won only two of their last 30 games, so they're still struggling as much as the Rams are.

"We're the same way," linebacker Julian Peterson said. "We're hungry for a win, too. It's going to be a good battle between both of us. Both of us are hunting for wins."

The advantage the Lions have is that they're coming off their bye week, when they were able to evaluate their errors the first six weeks and heal a significant number of injuries.

The Lions' top young offensive players - quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson - could return from right knee injuries, along with several others.

Stafford and Johnson both participated in Thursday's practice.

Schwartz seemed confident -- although guarded -- about whether the two would return by Sunday.

"You start with a guy like Calvin (Johnson), he obviously changes the game," said Schwartz. "He changes not only our offense, but he changes the way defenses play; so I think that's obviously a big factor.

"I think the strides that Matt had made early in the season, he needs to be able to pick that back up again. The one thing that's going to happen (is) they'll play when they're ready. Not to get out there before they're ready.

"The evaluation is going to be are they physically able to do their jobs? And if they are, then they'll be out there. If they're not, then they won't."

But the Lions need to make sure they take advantage and don't come out flat.

"Most of the time when you're coming off a bye, most teams start off slow the majority of the time," Peterson said. "We can't have that in our case. We have to come out on all cylinders, clicking, and once we get up, we've got to keep on putting our foot down on them."

The Lions know firsthand the desperation the Rams must be feeling. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is taking the same approach coach Jim Schwartz was taking about a month ago, not talking about the streak and trying to keep it from burdening the team.

"I took the approach that it didn't impact us," Schwartz said. "We were at the time, I think, 0-2, and that was bad enough," Schwartz said. "We didn't need to be 0-and-whatever-it-was. I think it's the same thing for these guys.

"They turned a lot of their roster over. That streak means nothing. They're an 0-7 football team, just like we're a 1-5 football team. That's the thing that matters. It matters what we do on Sunday. It doesn't matter what happened last year or the year before."

Notebook:

BY THE NUMBERS: More than 10,000 -- Number of tickets the Lions still had remaining for Sunday's game as of Wednesday afternoon. That's the same number they announced the Wednesday before their Sept. 27 game against Washington, when they drew 40,896, their smallest crowd in almost 20 years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's fact. It's something you have to deal with as a player. But does it affect the way you play on Sunday? I don't think so." -- Coach Jim Schwartz, whose Lions snapped a 19-game losing streak last month, on the Rams' 17-game losing streak.

Strategy Changes:

Look for some new wrinkles from the Lions, who had a bye week to scheme and heal a long list of injuries.

"We're going to look at just about everything on the whole team to see the best way to deploy our personnel, the best way to do our schemes," coach Jim Schwartz said. "There was no area that we went through last week that we didn't look at and say, 'Oh, hey, we're fine there. Everything's going great.' So every area on the team we've had at least a little bit of a tweak or a little bit of a change."

One is at left guard. The Lions had been rotating Manny Ramirez (four starts) and Daniel Loper (two). But Jon Jansen is likely to get the start Sunday against St. Louis. Jansen has been a right tackle his entire college and pro career, but he has practiced at guard before.

The Lions are still looking for the right combination at cornerback. Will James likely will start at one spot. Phillip Buchanon and Demarcus Faggins are rotating at the other spot. Ko Simpson and Marquand Manuel are also competing for one safety spot.

Stafford Likely To Start

QB Matthew Stafford practiced for the third straight day Thursday - a good sign the rookie quarterback will start for the first time since injurying his knee at Chicago several weeks ago.

The last time he tested his injured right knee two weeks ago, it swelled and he couldn't practice the next day.

Unless he suffers a setback, he seems likely to start Sunday against St. Louis.

More Player Notes:

  • QB Daunte Culpepper was not listed on the injury report Wednesday after leaving the Lions' last game with a slight hamstring pull.
  • WR Calvin Johnson did not practice Tuesday and Wednesday after missing one game with an injured right knee, but returned to a light practice on Thursday. He had worked on the side both days and said he was optimistic he would play Sunday.
  • DT Sammie Hill practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He was listed as limited both days but is expected to return from an ankle injury. He has missed three games.
  • DE Dewayne White practiced fully Wednesday and Thursday and should return from a hamstring injury. He has missed three games.
  • DE Jason Hunter did not practice this week because of an ankle injury. He has missed one game and likely will miss at least one more.
  • S Ko Simpson (hamstring) practiced fully on Thursday and will play in Sunday's game against the Rams.
  • LB Zack Follett did not practice Thursday because of an illness.
  • FB Jerome Felton was listed as limited Thursday because of an ankle injury.
  • DT Grady Jackson (knee) missed practice on Thursday.

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