Tim and Mike: How do the Lions replace Nate Burleson?

Posted Sep 25, 2013

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara discuss the impact on the offense of losing receiver Nate Burleson

Win, lose, win has been the pattern for the Lions in the first three games, and they've already sustained a big loss since Sunday's road victory over Washington.

Wide receiver Nate Burleson suffered a broken arm in a car accident early Tuesday morning. He had his best game of the season against Washington and took some of the pressure off Calvin Johnson.

With Chicago coming in Sunday at Ford Field, how big is Burleson's loss, and what can the Lions do to replace him?

Mike: This is one time when the "next man up" doesn't solve the problem. However the depth chart is altered to make up for Burleson's absence, it won't fill the void. He is too good and too experienced in his role for any receiver on the roster to fill it.

The Lions have to go outside the organization to make a deal for a wide receiver, and that's easier said than done. Some receivers who might be on the market have problems of their own. Others who aren't currently on rosters – and Braylon Edwards is one of the first to come to mind – are out of the game for a reason.

This is a huge loss for the Lions – bigger than playing without Reggie Bush at least in the short term. Joique Bell was a capable replacement for Bush. For an experienced, productive receiver, it's an entirely different situation with all the adjustments that have to be made.

Tim: The Lions have always taken the approach of "next guy up" has to step up. This shouldn't be any different.

Ryan Broyles stepped in and performed well for Burleson when he broke his leg last year. It wasn't until Broyles was lost to an ACL a few weeks later that the Lions really started reeling.

Coaches are expecting Broyles to step up the same as last year and Broyles told me Tuesday he's ready for it.

The "pitch count" is likely to be taken off him moving forward and it's his time to produce. They'll also need contributions from Patrick Edwards and Kris Durham and Tony Scheffler and Joesph Fauria. Even Bush can take some snaps from the slot.

I'd expect the team to sign or trade for a receiver this week, too, especially with Edwards still nursing that ankle injury, though it seems he's closer to coming back this week from what I'm hearing.

The Lions don't have time to dwell over curses or bad luck or have a 'woe is me' attitude. The Bears are coming to town Sunday and the next guy in line has to step up.

That's the NFL.

Is Broyles ready to step up and fill the void?

Mike: It's a good question, but here's how the problem compounds itself. Broyles takes Burleson's spot. Fine. Who takes Broyles' spot? It's easy to fill the slot with a body, but that doesn't mean you'll get the same production.

Edwards, Durham and Fauria do not play Burleson's spot. They're in a real bind here.

Everyone has to step up – defense, special teams and the receivers – but the Lions are in a real bind. If you have a way out of it, you're smarter than I am.

Tim: I think Broyles is ready to step up and take on a bigger role. Broyles and Burleson are both better in the slot, in my opinion. I always thought that as soon as he got 100 percent healthy, Broyles was going to start dipping into Burleson's reps in the slot, anyway.

That's certainly not a knock on Burleson, especially after the way he's played early this season, but the Lions were going to get Broyles on the field somehow.

Edwards has been the starter on the outside since the first week of training camp and he fills that role when he returns from an ankle injury. Schwartz said Tuesday that Edwards was trending in the right direction there.

I think this hurts depth more than anything else, which is why I could see the team signing or trading for a player with some versatility who can play both the slot and on the outside.

How does this affect the Lions in the short term, specifically the next two weeks vs. Chicago and Green Bay?

Mike: It looks like we see the impact of not having Burleson differently, but I'm sure we agree that these are two big games coming up. They are division games, against old rivals, and both have had the Lions' number in recent years.

Chicago has taken a hit, too. Defensive tackle Henry Melton is out for the season with a knee injury.

What has been overshadowed by the injury to Burleson is the loss of defensive end Jason Jones with a knee injury. He was hurt in the Washington game. Jones and Burleson are both positive influences on the team. It's a double loss with both players – performance and attitude.

The franchise players – Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh – have to lead the way, just like they did against Washington.

Tim: That's really a great point about Jones, Mike. I can say some of the same things about Willie Young now having to step up that I mentioned above with Broyles.

The next two weeks are big for the Lions and I feel they have to at least split at home vs. Chicago and on the road in Green Bay to keep this things rolling in the right direction.

The Lions still have Stafford. Still have Johnson, Bush (expect him to play Sunday), Glover Quin and all their main weapons.

You certainly don't like to see complimentary pieces like Burleson and Jones go down, but this is why the stars make the money they do. They have to play like star players these next two weeks.