The Lions are being forced to adjust at quarterback and now wide receiver because of injuries. They are taking an interesting approach. Former Viking Nate Burleson is the receiver who is expected to miss time, which hurt the Lions game plan last weekend.
The Lions decided to keep four receivers on the 53-man roster, releasing veteran Dennis Northcutt
in favor return specialist Stefan Logan.
That didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but now with the prospect of WR Nate Burleson
being out for a couple of weeks, the Lions are suddenly in a pickle.
Against the Eagles last week, fourth receiver Derrick Williams
was used as the third quarterback, effectively removing him from the mix at wide receiver. When Burleson rolled his right ankle on the first play, the Lions were forced to use TE Tony Scheffler
as the slot receiver.
"We're built so that if that happens we go to two tight ends and use Scheffler like that," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We'd like to dictate those terms and be able to use that to create matchups. But in this game, the matchups were dictated to us."
Schwartz won't deactivate Logan even though he can't be used as a receiver. The Lions tried all preseason to find a trust-worthy return man and nobody emerged — thus the signing of Logan.
So this week, Derrick Williams will be active and be the third receiver behind Bryant Johnson
and Calvin Johnson
. RB Aaron Brown
could probably fill in as a slot receiver if needed.
Burleson said on Monday that his ankle felt better than he expected it to and wouldn't rule himself out for Sunday at Minnesota. Logan, though, told reporters that Burleson had a high ankle sprain and could miss at least two weeks.
The Lions had to do a quick revision on their offensive game plan Sunday. They spent the week working on three-receiver packages. The idea was to go to Nate Burleson early and often in hopes of eventually making the Eagles to relax their bracket coverage on Johnson. But Burleson rolled his right ankle on the first play from scrimmage. Plan scrapped. The Lions went to their two-tight end package and used Tony Scheffler as the slot receiver and managed to roll up 444 yards (361 from backs and tight ends) and 32 points.
QB Matthew Stafford (right shoulder injury) watched the game Sunday with a headset on up in the coach's box. "Just to give him a little perspective," Schwartz said. "It was interesting, his whole career he never spent time up there. We wanted to let him see the game and get him away from the emotion of the game. We wanted him to be a little less of a cheerleader, so to speak, and more seeing how a game is managed from up there."
Stafford is expected to miss at least one more game. The Lions are being especially guarded about his status, refusing to discuss anything about the injury until they release the league-mandated injury report Wednesday afternoon.
Rookie RB Jahvid Best became the first rookie in NFL history with at least 75 yards rushing (78) and 150 yards receiving (154) in a single game on Sunday, but he only had two yards rushing in the second half. He was stopped for losses or no-gains five times. "It had a lot to do with us being behind by 18 points," Schwartz said. "It's hard to run then. But they made a few adjustments. They took the run away and we started using him in the passing game. He still got his hands on the ball."
RB Jahvid Best had a monster game (232 total yards) but had just 78 yards rushing and only two in the second half. The Lions still aren't doing enough in the ground game to force defenses to put an extra defender in the box. Expect the Vikings to use a seven-man front until the Lions prove they can beat it.
FB Jerome Felton did not touch the football on Sunday. When the Lions had a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, they put the ball in Best's hands behind the jumbo package. That tells you all you need to know about what the Lions think of Felton's power running ability.
TE Brandon Pettigrew, seven catches, 108 yards, has made a remarkable comeback from major knee surgery. Interesting that he and RB Kevin Smith had their surgeries at about the same time and Smith has yet to crack the active roster.
WR Calvin Johnson continues to draw bracket coverage. The Eagles jammed him at the line of scrimmage and kept a safety on him over the top. He's had eight catches in two games.
WR Bryant Johnson was thrown to just four times. That number seems low in retrospect, given that Burleson was out and Scheffler was the third receiver.
MLB DeAndre Levy (groin) is expected to return to full participation this week and, barring any setback be ready to play on Sunday.
CB Jonathan Wade, who had a sure interception clang off his hands Sunday, knows the secondary has to start producing. "In the air is the way people are attacking us," he said. "When a fire starts you have to put it out fast or it will burn the forest down."
OT Jeff Backus started his 146th straight game for the Lions Sunday, longest streak among active offensive linemen.