Lions preview: Struggles everywhere

The Lions are winless for a reason: their personnel. If it isn't injuries that have hurt the team, it was overrating talent that hasn't panned out. So far, that has resulted in numerous blowouts and a deflating feeling in Detroit. The Vikings will look to pile on today.

There are few teams in the history of the NFL that have reached the level of ineptitude as the 2008 Detroit Lions. In the modern era of the NFL, only one team – the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976 – has gone an entire season without a win. The 2007 Miami Dolphins came close – losing 13 straight before defeating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime to salvage a win. However, even that team had some things to hold their heads up about. Six of their losses that season were by three points. They were in a lot of games and had chances to win many times. The same can't be said for the '08 Lions.

Detroit enters Sunday's game having been outscored 393-203. The Lions have allowed 31 or more points in eight games and haven't scored more than 25 points in any of their 12 games. They have lost games by margins of 13, 14, 18, 18, 23, 27 and 37 points. It is a team in disarray that is without its starting quarterback (Jon Kitna) and a veteran star receiver (Roy Williams), who was traded to the Cowboys at midseason for a first-round draft pick to use to build for the future. If ever a franchise has hit rock bottom, it is the 2008 Lions.

The quarterback position speaks to the problems the Lions have endured this season. Kitna was placed on injured reserve in October, opening the door for backup Dan Orlovsky. However, he too was injured and a desperate Detroit franchise turned to former Viking Daunte Culpepper to provide some veteran leadership after in-house backup Drew Stanton garnered little in the way of confidence from management or the coaching staff. Culpepper was signed off the street and was the starting quarterback at the end of that same week. His numbers through three games have been anything but spectacular – he has completed 46 of 91 passes for 566 yards with three touchdown passes and six interceptions. His passer rating is a brutal 53.6, but, at this point, he remains about the only option for the punchless Lions. Look for the Vikings to attack Culpepper with blitzes, because without the mobility he had prior to his devastating knee injury, he is much more of a stationary target than he used to be. He will still force passes into coverage and try to make a big play happen out of frustration. With an average of one interception per every 15 passes thrown, the Vikings defense will be looking to confuse him and make him throw the bad pass that made him the source of such frustration during his Vikings career.

If there are some reasons for optimism for the Lions heading into the future, one of them is running back Kevin Smith. Selected in the third round of the 2008 draft, Smith was supposed to share time with Tatum Bell. But Bell was released after it was learned he stole the luggage of recently acquired running back Rudi Johnson – bags that contained thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and personal items that were recovered at the home of a friend of Bell's. It pushed Smith into the role as primary ball carrier, and he has been hampered with minor, nagging injuries. Even so, he leads the team with 145 carries, 621 yards, a 4.3-yard rushing average and five rushing touchdowns. On a team devoid of consistency, he has provided a spark to an offense in dire need of help. Johnson has been what he was last year with the Bengals – a colossal flop as a featured back. Since signing with the Lions, Johnson has 73 carries for just 233 yards – a 3.2-yard average. He is a plodder between the tackles, which is the type of running back the Vikings run defense consistently eats for lunch. Veteran Aevion Cason has been all but forgotten in the Detroit offense – through 12 games, he has just two rushes and two receptions. The fullbacks are used almost exclusively as blockers, so look for Smith and Johnson to carry the entire rushing load for Detroit.

The Lions are one of the six teams that has been second-guessed for not taking Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft, but Detroit isn't complaining about their first-round pick last year – wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson has an incredible blend of size, leaping ability and speed and creates huge mismatches. He struggled as a rookie in the complicated Mike Martz offense, but has been the silk hat on a pig in the Lions offense this season. With just 29 yards Sunday, he will go over 1,000 yards for the season and has eight of Detroit's 14 receiving touchdowns. Despite having an offense that everyone knows will try to get him the ball deep, Johnson has managed to keep his production up and has been consistently scoring a touchdown a game for most of the season. With Williams gone to Dallas, the rest of the receiver corps is a hodgepodge of players brought in when Martz was running the show. Former Rams Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey are the top receivers after Johnson, but their impact has been minimal – McDonald has 35 catches for just 322 yards and one TD and Furrey has 18 catches for 181 yards and no scores. The team has something of a threat in tight end Michael Gaines (20 catches, 194 yards, one TD), but he isn't the type of tight end that will burn a team down the deep seam. He's a dump-off type receiver that usually struggles to get yards after the catch against a Tampa-2 defense like the Vikings run.

The Lions have invested a lot in their offensive line, but really have little to show for it. The tackles are both first-rounders – eight-year left tackle Jeff Backus and rookie right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Both are solid in run support, but the Lions have allowed 45 sacks this year – most in the NFL. The Lions have consistently been burned by speed rushers, so Jared Allen and Ray Edwards can expect to have at least a couple of shots each at bringing down Culpepper in the backfield. In the interior line, the Lions have a couple of wily veterans in guard Edwin Mulitalo and center Dominic Raiola, in their 10th and eighth years respectively. While neither is dominant nor overpowering, they have very solid technique and savvy to hold their point of attack. The right side is very young with Cherilus at tackle and second-year man Manny Ramirez at guard. When the Vikings try to overload one side with blitzes, look for a linebacker or safety to shoot a gap between the young right side.

With as many problems as the Lions have on offense, their defense is just as culpable for the demise of the team. The numbers through 12 games are staggering – 2,123 rushing yards allowed, a 5.1-yard rushing average, 18 touchdowns allowed with just two interceptions, an opposing passer rating of 110.2 and an opposing completion percentage of 66.3 percent. When you have that many problems, it starts up front. There's no questioning that trading dominant defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was a mistake. That, combined with the loss to injury of Jared DeVries, has brought this unit to its knees. DE Dewayne White leads the team with 5.5 sacks, but, to date right end Ikaika Alama-Francis has just a half-sack. Bryant McKinnie should be able to easily dominate Alama-Francis and White is out with an injury. On the inside, nose tackle Chuck Darby has been huge step down from Rogers and has been battling injuries much of the season. DT Cory Redding has been a huge disappointment since his breakout year in 2006. He can be dominated by strong interior linemen, which the Vikings have. Depth is thin with former high draft pick Shaun Cody at tackle and undersized rookie Cliff Avril as a third-down pass rusher at end. This is a group that has been manhandled in recent weeks by big, powerful O-lines and the Vikings should be no exception. Adrian Peterson could have a monster day if the recent lack of run-stopping success continues.

The expectation coming into this season was that second-round rookie Jordan Dizon would step in immediately and be the middle linebacker of the future, teaming with third-year man Ernie Sims to create a potent young tandem that could be the Lions what Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been to the Bears. That hasn't happened. Dizon has not developed as quickly as hoped and outside linebacker Paris Lenon has been moved inside. The strongside starter is Ryan Nece. Released by the Buccaneers at the end of the preseason, head coach Rod Marinelli signed him the next day and, due to the lack of top-end talent at the position, he moved into the starting lineup quickly. Depth is thin with Dizon backing up in the middle and five-year backup Alex Lewis providing depth on the outside. This is a group that can be taken advantage of and they will be responsible for stopping Adrian Peterson on the ground, Chester Taylor on third-down passes and Visanthe Shiancoe down the deep middle. They may not be able to master one of those challenges, much less all three.

Much like the line with its top star when Rogers was traded, the Lions have struggled in the secondary since they traded away star cornerback Dre Bly. Marinelli brought in another former Buc in CB Brian Kelly, an 11-year vet who has good cover skills but has clearly lost a step and can get burned deep. Sixth-year man Leigh Bodden came over in the Rogers trade and, while he has talent and a nose for the ball, he takes too many chances trying to jump routes and has been burned by playfakes and double-moves. So desperate were the Lions for safety help that not only did they sign Vikings castoff Dwight Smith, he's a starter alongside third-year man Daniel Bullocks. Smith's trash talk in unparalleled, but his skills have diminished and he is liable to being late in coverage and allowing teams to make big plays deep in the secondary. Depth is thin with seven-year man Travis Fisher as the nickel back and former Raider Zach Schweigert as the third safety. This group has been abused all season and the Vikings should have several chances to make big plays.

There is a reason the Lions are 0-12 this season. They have weaknesses that are glaring on both sides of the ball. Still, don't expect the Vikings to take them lightly. The Vikes needed a field goal with nine seconds left to win the first meeting this year and Detroit beat them the last time they played at Ford Field. The team the Lions faced earlier this year was a Vikings team that was struggling to find its way. With wins over the Packers and Bears in the last four weeks, the Vikings will be looking to keep their hold on first place in the division and likely aren't going to let up if they get lead, which could result in another Lions blowout loss.

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