Inconsistent Lions Facing Defining Stretch

After breaking a long playoff drought, Detroit's offense hasn't been as explosive and injuries have plagued the secondary. Still, during a conference call on Wednesday, coach Jim Schwartz pointed to the next three games and the 2010 Packers as reasons for hope.

With a 4-5 record, the Detroit Lions are one of the NFL's bigger disappointments.

There's time to turn the season around, however, starting with a three-game home stand that begins on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

"A couple years ago, Green Bay was (8-6) with two games to play," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said during a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday morning. "I think this league has been proven that you've just got to battle it out week to week and get hot at the right time, and that's one of the things we need to do this week. There's no better time for us than this week."

The Lions looked like a rising power entering this season. Behind the dynamic duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on offense and an intimidating defense that dished out pain to opposing quarterbacks and reveled in its at-times questionable style of play, the Lions reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999.

Looking a little deeper, though, perhaps the Lions' up-and-down start to this season shouldn't have been a surprise. Of last year's 10 wins, five came during an undefeated start and three more came during a late-season winning streak. Half of the wins came against last-place teams. Against teams with winning records, the Lions went 0-5. The only win against a playoff team came against the 8-8 Broncos.

It's more of the same this year. Detroit ranks second in the NFL in offense but 13th in points and 10th in defense but 23rd in points allowed. They're 1-4 against teams with winning records.

Now is the time for the Lions, and they figure to be a desperate bunch when they line up against a Packers team in the curious position of being rejuvenated by the bye but beat up with a litany of injuries. Six of their first nine games were on the road, including four of the last five. Now comes a defining stretch, with home games against Green Bay (6-3), Houston (8-1) and Indianapolis (6-3), followed by a return date at Green Bay.

"Every year's different," Schwartz said, repeating a theme frequently espoused by his counterpart, Mike McCarthy, when the Packers were struggling to start this season. "Last year, we got off to a good start and we sort of battled .500 the rest of the season and made the playoffs. This year, we didn't start fast but there's still opportunity for us. The deal in this league is being able to concentrate on the next week that comes up, and with the Packers coming here to town, it's obviously an important start for a home stand for us."

Offensively, Stafford hasn't been as effective as last season, when he finished fifth in NFL history with 5,038 passing yards and seventh with 41 touchdowns. While he's on pace to top 4,800 yards, he's thrown just 11 touchdown passes, his yards per attempt is down a full yard to 6.7, and his passer rating is down almost 12 points to 85.4.

Johnson is the game's dominant force at receiver but the Lions miss veteran Nate Burleson, who's on injured reserve with a broken leg after catching 73 passes last season. Second-year player Titus Young (32 catches) and rookie Ryan Broyles (13) have combined for 45 catches but haven't made defenses consistently pay for a single-minded focus on Johnson. Johnson has 60 catches for a league-leading 974 yards, but his two touchdowns are one less than Packers tight end Tom Crabtree, incredibly.

"You know, the biggest thing with us is just being able to move the ball and score on offense, regardless of who's doing it," Schwartz said. "Whether it's the wide receiver on the other side, whether it's the slot, whether it's our tight ends, whether it's our running backs, whether it's our run game, whatever it is. We're not trying to be balanced, we're trying to move the ball and trying to score. We haven't done enough of that this year. We can certainly do better in that regard. But we do have some fine players around him. You go back a couple weeks when we got a big home win against Seattle, we got contributions from Ryan Broyles with a touchdown early in that game and a couple big plays, got contributions and a big play from Tony Scheffler at tight end, (tight end Brandon) Pettigrew had a really good game, Titus Young had two touchdowns, including a long one. That's when we're at our best, for sure."

Defensively, the Lions' Achilles heel last year was its pass defense, and it's been no different this year, with opposing quarterbacks completing 66.1 percent with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. Injuries are the big story, and the Lions are so desperate that they claimed former Packers bust Pat Lee off waivers from Oakland this week. Top cornerback Chris Houston has missed two games and was knocked out of last week's game with a sprained ankle and promising rookie corner Bill Bentley is on injured reserve. At safety, oft-injured Louis Delmas has played in just three games because of a knee injury that leaves him in doubt for this week, and fellow starting safety Amari Spievey has missed the last three games with a concussion.

In all, 10 players have started games in the secondary. Houston has the most starts with seven and safety Erik Coleman (six) and cornerback Jacob Lacey (five) are the only other defensive backs with even five starts.

"The secondary has done a good job of limiting big plays," Schwartz said. "You have to do that against Green Bay, also. Green Bay makes a lot of big plays down the field. That's certainly a big key to us."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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