Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Calvin still the right call

There's been a lot of talk lately about whether the Lions blew it by drafting Calvin Johnson No. 2 overall. Johnson struggled with drops and general flighty play in his first real taste as a featured receiver last week. Meanwhile, Joe Thomas is a big reason for the Browns' resurgence and Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing despite missing 2 1/2 games with a knee injury.

Both Thomas and Peterson will be Pro Bowl players in short order, but I can't fault the Lions for picking Johnson, even knowing what I know now. Johnson was the consensus best talent in the draft and he's done little to dismiss that notion this year. Sure, he struggled at times last week, but he deserves a pass after basically being an afterthought the first 10 games of the season.

Peterson is a stud, as the Lions will see for a second time Sunday. But injuries were his big question entering the draft and a torn knee ligament later they're still a concern. Thomas would have been a great addition, especially considering the Lions' shortcomings at right tackle, but with Johnson on the board he was Plan B.

The Lions made the right choice for the future by drafting a receiver for the fourth time in five years. Johnson will be the centerpiece of the offense next season, and his presence means the Lions don't have to break the bank to sign Roy Williams as a free agent next winter.


Monday morning quarterback

As bad as the Lions have played during their current three-game losing streak, they still enter December in control of their own playoff destiny.

At 6-5, the Lions would be the last team in if the postseason started today. Arizona blew its chance to take over the wild-card driver's seat with an overtime loss to San Francisco Sunday, and the Eagles nearly vaulted to pole position with an upset of the Patriots.

I don't think the Lions have enough juice left to make playoffs. They squandered prime opportunities against the Cardinals and Giants — had Dewayne White been healthy they might have won either one — the Redskins have the most manageable schedule left of the contenders, and there's a host of new teams (the Bears, Vikings and Saints) now in the pack one-game back.

But fact is, the Lions can get there, and it's not too complicated how.

A lot hinges on Sunday's game at Minnesota, the latest must-win on the schedule. The Vikings should have Adrian Peterson back, but the Lions locked him up their first meeting (20 carries, 66 yards) and would have won by three touchdowns if Jon Kitna didn't get hurt. After that, they have little to no chance of beating Dallas, will be hard-pressed to win in San Diego, and should beat Kansas City at Ford Field. Splitting the next four games would make the Lions 8-7 heading into the season finale at Lambeau Field, where they haven't won since 1991. Could they really win a do-or-die game there this year? Yes — as long as the Packers have their playoff fate sealed (as either the NFC's 1 or 2 seed) and are resting the bulk of the starters. (The Redskins, it should be noted, can benefit from a similar season-ending trip to Dallas, but like the Lions would be hard-pressed to finish better than 3-2.)

So the Lions would back into the playoffs under the above scenario. After nearly a decade of being a doormat, would you complain?


Dissecting MSU-UCLA

I know it's a long leap from a neutral-court game in late November to the fires of March Madness, but Michigan State might look back on Tuesday's 68-63 loss to UCLA as the game that kept it out of the Final Four.

If you stayed up to watch, you know the Spartans had the game won despite massive foul trouble from Raymar Morgan and all of their bigs, an under-the-weather performance from Drew Neitzel, and rebounding woes unlike anything MSU has seen. UCLA is an excellent team and Kevin Love is a beast of a player, but with Darren Collison out with a knee injury the nation's No. 2 team was there for the beating.

So why will this matter come March? Because MSU is playing for a No. 1 seed and all the benefits that come with it, including a potential regional trip to Ford Field where the Spartans would stand a great chance of winning with the backing of a virtual home crowd.

There's a lot of season left and of course anything can happen, but bottom line is the Big Ten champ (Indiana or MSU, most likely) is competing for a top seed with the likes of North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis and Kansas. The Spartans still have games left against some good teams. North Carolina State, Texas, BYU. But nothing that would resonate like a win over UCLA. Those other teams, specifically ones that could be ticketed for the Midwest region — North Carolina or whoever wins the ACC will spend the second weekend in Charlotte (MSU found out how tough it is to beat the Tar Heels in Carolina in last year's tournament), and UCLA would stay out West in Phoenix — have their biggest splash games remaining. Memphis plays Georgetown (another potential 1 seed), Gonzaga and Tennessee. Kansas plays Arizona and at USC, and has some leeway for a stumble with guard Sherron Collins injured.

MSU is a fine team that's bound for a good season. Neitzel remains a potential All-American, Morgan looks more determined than ever, and the team will eventually own the glass. But home court is huge in the balanced game of college basketball, and the Spartans just squandered the inside track on having it come March.


Season maker?

I'm not backing off my prediction last week that the Lions will make the playoffs. In fact, I think they'll beat the Giants Sunday in what looms as the biggest game of the year.

It's not make-or-break in the strictest sense. The Giants and Redskins, the two teams the Lions are in the most direct competition with for an NFC wild card spot, have remaining schedules almost as difficult as Detroit's. Washington already owns the tie-breaker with the Lions, but the Redskins (5-3) travel to Dallas this weekend and will be favored in only two more games this year (home tilts with Buffalo and Chicago, plus maybe Week 17 against the Cowboys if Dallas rests its starters). The Giants (6-2) similarly have winnable home dates with Minnesota and Washington left, but may need a win over New England in their season finale to get in. They can only hope the Pats aren't chasing perfection.

Taking all that into account, the Lions (6-2) don't need a magical finish. Nine wins should do the trick, 8-8 might, too. But to be safe the Lions need a victory Sunday, both for tie-breaking purposes with the Giants and because Kansas City is the closest thing to a sure-thing left on their schedule. Games home against Green Bay and at Minnesota are winnable, but beyond that things get rough. At San Diego? Home against Dallas? At Green Bay? Only if the Packers have a first-round bye clinched.

So why do I think the Lions will win Sunday against a team whose greatest strength (the pass rush) eats at the Lions biggest weakness (the offensive line)? First, because I see Kevin Jones having a bounce-back game. I know the Giants have a top-10 defense, but Jones and Detroit's offensive line are still bristling over last week's eight-carry, minus-18-yard rushing performance. Second, I don't trust Eli Manning (59.4 percent completion rate and 11 INTs), even against a shaky Lions secondary that could be without its best cornerback in Fernando Bryant. Third, Ford Field. The Lions are a completely different team playing at home this year. They'll feed off the energy of the crowd and hang on for a six-point win.


Lions-Cards: A look back

Rod Marinelli was mostly right Monday when he said "football is about execution. It's not so much what play is being called." Still, a day later, it's tough to understand the thinking behind some of the Lions' playcalling.

First, their decision to not try and run the ball against a defense shredded by Earnest Graham a week earlier is puzzling. The Lions have been most successful this year when they establish some semblance of a ground game. Kevin Jones was coming off three straight solid performances, and even if his foot was hurting — I don't believe it was any worse than normal entering the game; if so why wasn't Tatum Bell active? — four carries is not enough.

Marinelli said Monday the Lions had an advantage with their receivers. "That's what we do," he said. But they did that group and quarterback Jon Kitna a disservice by not giving it more room to operate. Kitna is a fine passer and even better leader, but 25 games into his Lions career it's safe to say he (like most quarterbacks) is turnover prone when he's asked to one-dimensionally win games.

Just as baffling as the Lions' aversion to running the football was offensive coordinator Mike Martz's call for an end-around to Shaun McDonald with the Lions driving through the air early in the third quarter. Detroit was down just 10 points at the time and Kitna was in the midst of a string of 10 straight completions, but the play ended with McDonald fumbling after a 15-yard loss. The play never stood a chance, and Arizona scored on the next series to put the game away.

"Hindsight I wish that play never happened, but it was the right call for the time and it just didn't work out for us," Kitna said Sunday.

Marinelli is right. At the end of the day, execution matters most. If McDonald gets a block, if Kitna doesn't commit four turnovers, the Lions (6-3) don't lose 31-21. But just as offense, defense and special teams work hand-in-hand, play-calling is bunk buddies with execution. The Lions came up short in both areas Sunday.


Odds are ...

It's not surprising considering how good New England and Indianapolis are, but Las Vegas still isn't a believer in the Lions. Detroit opened the season 60/1 to win the Super Bowl, and is 30/1 now according to At 1/3, the Patriots are the overwhelming favorites follwed by the Cowboys (5/2) and Colts (4/1).

The Cowboys, of course, are the NFC favorites (3/2), followed by the Packers (3/1), Giants (4/1) and Lions (6/1). Detroit was 45/1 to win the conference before the season.

Two other numbers of note. The over/under for second-half Lions victories is 3 1/2, while Vegas is betting you don't think the 9-0 Patriots will go undefeated. The over/under for remaining New England wins is 6 1/2.


How the Lions make the playoffs

By now you've heard the stat: 76 percent of teams to start 6-2 in the Super Bowl era have gone on to make the playoffs. That means odds are with the Lions, even if the schedule's not. Detroit plays the toughest second-half slate of anyone in the NFL and faces three of the four teams its competing for a playoff spot with in the Giants, Packers and Cowboys. (The Redskins are the other — the NFC wild cards are coming out of the North or East divisions — and the Lions already loss that game).

With eight games left, here's how the Lions making the playoffs:

- Sunday at Arizona - The Cardinals have an impressive defense led by Darnell Dockett (eight sacks), but the Lions are the better team. Win.

- Nov. 18 vs. NY Giants - I don't really buy the Giants at 6-2, but I'm worried about the pounding Jon Kitna will take from New York's rush front. Loss.

- Nov. 22 vs. Green Bay - Thanksgiving. Brett Favre. What more could the Lions ask for? Win.

- Dec. 2 at Minnesota - Adrian Peterson might be the best running back in the NFL, but the Vikings still can't stop the pass. Win.

- Dec. 9 vs. Dallas - The Cowboys are the class of the NFC — and they remember last year's game in Dallas. Loss.

- Dec. 16 at San Diego - A warm December day won't bode well for Shaun Rogers and the gang vs. LaDainian Tomlinson. Loss

- Dec. 23 Kansas City - Merry Christmas and welcome to playoffs with win No. 10. Win.

- Dec. 30 at Green Bay - If the Packers have a first-round bye locked up, the Lions could sneak out a win. Of course, if Detroit wins on Thanksgiving, this could be for the division. Loss.


Shaun Rogers speaks

Shaun Rogers has a distant relationship with the media. He doesn't usually do interviews, declined to talk with reporters after scoring on a 66-yard interception return in Sunday's 44-7 win over Denver, but did sit down Tuesday morning for about four minutes with ESPN's "First Take."

Among the highlights of Rogers' fourth interview of the year:

- He said he snuck a peak at the Ford Field replay board during his return long enough to see Broncos running back Selvin Young swooping in for the potential touchdown-saving tackle. "I whipped my hand around and there he was," Rogers said. "I just tried to put it out there, put the big arm out there, keep him at bay long enough to get in the end zone."

- The big defensive tackle, listed generously at 340 pounds, said he didn't recall much of the end zone celebration, when he was mobbed by teammates after leaping across the goal line. "Man, I really wasn't hearing nothing. I was trying to get some oxygen and sit down. It seemed like the longest walk of the day" back to the bench.

- When he got to the bench, Rogers mimed like he was eating out of fellow tackle Shaun Cody's hands. What was he eating? "Something to give me some energy. Whatever. Power pellets. I needed some energy back after that."

- Host Jay Crawford asked Rogers about his potential as a short-yardage back like William "The Refrigerator" Perry. "Well, you know, I lobbied for that a couple times but (Rod Marinelli) feels I have a bigger role trying to stop the run than making runs," Rogers said.

- On where the Lions rank among the NFL's top teams: "I don't say we rank anywhere among the NFC elite. I just think we're a team trying to make a turnaround and taking it week by week, play by play, snap by snap, and I think we're doing a good job of that. We haven't had our best game to date, I don't think. And we're just still trying to build on the progress and the foundation Rod has set and just trying to move forward."

- On quarterback Jon Kitna's 10-wins-or-bust prediction: "Well, you know that's my guy and I was going to have to stand by him. Kind of begrudgingly I was like, 'Why are you going to put a lot of pressure on myself?' But that statement has been a part of the foundation for us this whole season, 10 games and we're going to do everything to live up to that expectation."

- And finally, on how many games the Lions, 6-2 entering Sunday's trip to Arizona, can win: "We can win as many as we allow ourselves to win. As long as we don't go out there, make a lot of mental errors, give up big plays, and our offense continues to run the rock and make the big passes they make, we can win them all. We have limitless expectations and we're just going to go out there and play our hearts out and try to do the best we can do."


Kalimba likely out for Denver

Defensive end Kalimba Edwards likely will miss his second straight game Sunday with a sprained MCL.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said after practice Friday "there's a good chance (Edwards) won't be in there" when the Lions (5-2) host the Broncos (3-4) at Ford Field. Officially, Edwards is listed as questionable while receiver Calvin Johnson (back) and right tackle George Foster (ankle) are probable.

"I would say right now probably not in my mind," Lions coach Rod Marinelli said of Edwards, adding, "He's close. I want to make sure he's healed. I don't want to get him banged up again and then it's another week off."

Edwards said Thursday stability not pain was an issue in his knee. He also missed two games earlier this year with a sprained ankle.

Foster said an old ankle injury flared up this week but he expects to play Sunday. Still, Jonathan Scott could start at right tackle. Johnson said he's had no trouble with the sore back he re-bruised last week against Chicago.


Calvin should be fine

The lower back bruise that limited Calvin Johnson last week in Chicago does not appear to be an issue heading into Sunday's home game against the Broncos. After a limited workout Wednesday, Johnson took part in Thursday's entire practice.

"I was doing everything I would normally do today in practice," Johnson said on his way off the field.

The rookie is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game, but Johnson has totaled an amazing 16 first downs in 18 offensive touches this year. He has 15 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns, and three carries for 50 yards and one score. With half a season to go, don't count Johnson out of the Rookie of the Year race just yet.