TIM AND MIKE: How do the Lions stack up in the injury-plagued NFC North?

Posted Oct 23, 2013

Tim and Mike discuss how the Lions set up in the injury-plagued NFC North and what it will take for a bounce-back performance vs. Dallas on Sunday

The injury bug has gone viral in the NFC North, and it is bound to make an impact on the NFC North. Whether the injuries are long-term or short-term, the  North race will be decided by which team is best able to deal with them in the last 10 weeks of the season.

That includes the Lions, who’ve already dealt with having to play two games without running back Reggie Bush (at Washington) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (at Green Bay), and were hit with more injuries on the offensive line in their loss to Cincinnati.

Where do the Lions stand compared to the rest of the North teams, and what kind of shape are they in going up against the Cowboys in their last game before the bye?

Mike: In terms of high-profile players, the Lions are down on the list compared to the Packers and Bears, but that doesn’t mean that their injuries aren’t serious. Both starting tackles – Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard – went out in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. Reiff returned because of need when Hilliard went down, but his hamstring injury obviously limited him.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

The Lions could not run the ball effectively against the Bengals. Bush had 20 carries for 50 yards, with a long gain of seven yards. Big plays from Bush are a big part of the Lions’ attack. Not having that threat affects everything they do.

What also hurts the Lions is that Jason Fox, has been hurt all season. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, that will help, but he hasn’t proven that he can do that.

To sum it up, the Lions are healthier than the Packers and Bears, but they must deal with their own issues to make a serious run for the division title.

Tim: The Lions are 50/50 on the year without their star power. The team won in Washington without Bush and lost at Green Bay without Calvin Johnson. Both players have moved past their knee troubles and that’s good news moving forward.

The Jay Cutler injury, to me, is a killer for the Bears. They were 7-3 in 2011 when Cutler went down and finished that year 8-8. We shouldn’t forget that helped the Lions get into the playoffs that year.

The Packers have suffered some major injuries, but they still have an MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Most teams can get through injuries as long as they have their signal caller intact. To me, losing the quarterback for any extended amount of time is usually a death sentence in this league.

I’ve thought from the beginning that a playoff spot this year would probably come down to the Lions and Bears. Losing Cutler for the next month (at the very least) is a big blow for them with games against the Packers, Lions and Ravens the next three weeks.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Fox was getting healthier, which is good news, and the fact that Reiff was able to finish the game is a good sign he could play Sunday vs. Dallas. We’ll just have to monitor that situation all week.

Mike: Right about Cutler and about Rodgers. Whoever the Packers put out to play receiver or on the offensive line, Rodgers finds a way to deal with it. An underrated part of Rodgers’ game is his mobility. He has an innate feel in the pocket that lets him operate in traffic.

The Bears are most vulnerable. They’ll have to play a month with Josh McCown, who spent the 2006 season with the Lions as a backup to Jon Kitna and got more playing time at receiver than quarterback.

The Lions have to heal some psyches, too. Chris Houston’s confidence has to be rebuilt after being burned and benched against the Bengals, and rookie punter Sam Martin has to bounce back from a crucial shanked punt that set up Cincy’s winning field goal.

Tim: I’m with you about Houston.

I wrote Tuesday that it’s not just a matter of a bruised psyche for the veteran, but Houston needs to get on board with the changes the Lions are making to the way they play defense on the back end.

Houston has struggled at the line of scrimmage with physical receivers. The Lions are asking their corners to play a lot more man coverage at the line of scrimmage than they have in the past. That's to disrupt the timing between quarterback and receiver, because opponents are getting the ball out quick to counter the Lions defensive line.

The Lions aren’t playing near as much zone as they used to and Houston is struggling with that.

Teams are picking on Houston, and he needs to start taking it personally, in my opinion.

Martin is a rookie and I think those things will happen. That’s certainly no excuse, a shank in that situation can’t happen, but to me, Houston is the one I’m more concerned about.

Chris HoustonCB Chris Houston (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Am I wrong?

Mike: You’re right about Houston, and we’ll find out about Martin. I’m betting that you’ll be right – that Martin’s confidence won’t take a hit because of a bad punt.

His mistake was reacting to a situation he expected to happen and didn’t. He rushed the punt because he thought the Bengals were going to rush the punt, so he rushed himself.

Martin has tons of ability. He can be one of the next elite punters in the NFL. He has that much ability.

What happened to him was an example of what happens to young players all the time. Before last week’s game, Martin was being interviewed about how he and rookie tight end Joseph Fauria take turns cooking for each other. It was all fun and upbeat. On Sunday, Martin was getting roasted for a bad punt.

Tim: Martin will be fine. It’s good for a rookie whose had some success early to have a wakeup call every now and again. Same goes for Fauria.

Schwartz was right when he said, "Let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet," when answering a question about Fauria last week.

As for this weekend’s game vs. Dallas, I think it’s a huge game for the Lions.

It's against an NFC opponent and could have tiebreaker implications down the road. Not to mention it makes the Lions feel a whole lot better about their first half at 5-3 as opposed to 4-4.

The two keys Sunday for the Lions are turnovers and rushing yards.

The Lions have averaged 63 yards rushing in their three losses. That number jumps to 114 in their four wins.

The defense has forced only one combined turnover in their three losses. They had eight combined turnovers vs. Chicago and Minnesota and four combined vs. Washington and Cleveland.

It goes without saying the Lions need to be better on defense, and it wouldn’t hurt for Tony Romo to get a little careless with the ball, which he has a tendency to do from time-to-time.

Did I miss something?

Mike: Nope. Not this time. I think we’ve just finished another breakfast.

The Lions are in position to make a playoff run. They can’t ask for more than that – an opportunity.

Who’s doing dishes?