NEWS

Stafford, Johnson Better After Time Off

Posted Dec 2, 2009

For the Detroit Lions offense, the last two games have been an up-and-down rollercoaster.

Against Cleveland, quarterback Matthew Stafford helped the team come back and win with a five-touchdown performance.

Against Green Bay, the team struggled after losing tight end Brandon Pettigrew with a season-ending knee injury and with Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson not at 100-percent with injuries of their own.

Though Pettigrew has been placed on Injured/Reserve, Johnson and Stafford have returned to the practice field this week after three days of rest.

“It was big just to be able to get off my feet for several days – not being able to that (before),” said Johnson. “Time is really the best cure for things like this.”

Losing Pettigrew for the remainder of the season is difficult, both from a team and individual standpoint.

Pettigrew provided a big target over the middle and in the flat and was just starting to get things going when he left Thursday’s game in the first quarter.

“I’m always disappointed for individuals when they get injured,” said Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. “It’s a fact of life in this game, getting banged up, and Brandon is no different. He was making a lot of progress at the position.

“Brandon is having to deal with a pretty significant knee injury early in his career and he just has to bounce back from it. He’s young, he’ll bounce back.”

His presence will definitely be missed this week against what has proved to be one of the best defenses in the league in 2009. Cincinnati has allowed the fewest points of any team this year and is third in the league in rushing yards allowed.

They are also solid in the red zone, allowing just 11 touchdowns on 26 trips by the opponent.

“One of the reasons they’re good down there is they don’t let people in there much and then they keep people from scoring the seven,” said Linehan. “The key is taking advantage of the opportunities we have and the goal is to get touchdowns, not field goals.

“The one thing that’s lost in this is, yes, they’ve got a great defense, but they play off of a really nice system offensively. If they need to score points they can because they’ve got that kind of firepower.”

Because the Bengals have such a high-powered offense, protecting the football will be particularly vital this week. Any possession surrendered has the potential to be turned into seven points, so running the ball, controlling the clock and succeeding on third down will all be significant.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

“They stop the run really well,” said Stafford. “That’s a challenge for us, to try to run the ball against these guys. Their corners catch the ball really well too – they’ve combined for nine picks. We’ve got to keep the ball out of their hands, keep it on the ground (and keep) moving the chains trying to get some long, sustained drives.”

Cincinnati’s starting cornerbacks – Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph – are on their third and fourth NFL seasons, respectively. Joseph is tied for fifth in the league with five interceptions while Hall is tied for eighth with four.

“It’s going to be a battle,” said Johnson. “They play a lot of man coverage. They play zone as well, but it’s going to be a good battle out there on the outside. We’ve just got to be able to go out there and execute, run good routes and get ourselves open. The quarterback’s got to deliver us the ball on time and where it needs to be.”

The hope is that both Johnson and Stafford will also be feeling better than they did in lats week's game against the Packers.

Johnson had hurt his knee the previous game and hadn’t practiced all week and was a game-time decision prior to the Thanksgiving Day Classic. After a weekend of rest and 10 days between games, however, Johnson may be closer to top form and – more importantly – top speed.

“Calvin’s has a very special quality as a receiver and anytime you take that away – (his) ability to run or whether (he’s) 100-percent or not – it’s going to affect any player in this league,” said Linehan.

“He’s learned to deal with those kinds of things and hasn’t really had a couple games where he’s been 100-percent. But I think the weekend off and his ability to rest up should help him.”

Then, as Johnson said, the hope is that the timing between Detroit’s receivers and Stafford will be better to move down the field and open things up for the running game.

“(Chemistry with Stafford has) been getting better and better week-by-week just because, as the season goes on, we’re getting on the same page more and more,” said Johnson.

“We wish everything could be down pat right now where we all know where each other is going to be, but all of us are in our first year in this offense. There are just going to be some growing pains, but you just fight through it and live to see another year.”