O'Hara's Friday Focus: How do the Lions end their losing streak?

Posted Dec 14, 2012

It doesn't matter who plays quarterback. The Lions' defense has to come through in the clutch.

The Lions should be long past the stage of playing "measuring-sti

ck" games that judge where they stand in comparison to the top teams in the league. Measuring sticks were for seasons when they were 0-16 and 2-14 and any close battle with a top team represented progress.

In any game, the standard for the Detroit Lions to meet should be the Detroit Lions – whether their performance matches their ability.

Sunday's road game against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium is an exception to the "no measuring-stick" rule.

The Cardinals represent a measuring stick – pro football at its worst. They have a 4-9 record, same as the Lions, but without any redeeming comparison of close losses that make the Lions more hopeful for the long term.

It would be the lowest point in a season of low points for the Lions to head home with a loss. It would mean they did not measure up to the lowly Cardinals, who go into the game with a nine-game losing streak that bottomed out – they hope – with last week's 58-0 wipeout loss at Seattle.

As Coach Jim Schwartz said at his weekly Monday press conference, "Nobody feels sorry for anybody in the NFL."

Neither team has any sympathy for the other. Misery does not want company. Center Dominic Raiola has no interest in analyzing how the Cardinals' problems might impact the Lions.

"We have our own problems here," he said. "I don't want to talk about their problems. We have our own problems, how we're losing games. We have our own fires to put out."

The Lions are solid favorites to beat the Cardinals. After close losses to the Colts, Texans and Packers twice in the last four games, it's time for the Lions to put out the fire that has torched their season.

This week's Friday Focus analyses how the Lions end their losing streak, with an emphasis on the defense, Calvin Johnson continuing to close in on Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season, key personnel issues and stats.

My pick for Sunday: Lions 26, Cardinals 10.

Tighten up: It doesn't matter who plays quarterback. The Lions' defense has to come through in the clutch.

They've had big breakdowns in the fourth quarter of every game in the five straight losses. Adrian Peterson broke a long run to score the clinching touchdown for the Vikings. The Packers, Texans and Colts all went ahead or tied the game with long drives in the fourth quarter.

Last week at Lambeau, the Packers ran seven straight times in a 59-yard drive to break a 17-17 tie in a 27-20 win.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch responded with one word when asked what was the key challenge for the defense.

"Finish," he said. "Finishing the game is what we want to accomplish. Obviously, we played good football for the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, we find a way not to close it out the way we want to.

"Against any team, not just this team particularly, we have to find a way to close it out and play consistent football in all three phases."
Megatron matchup: Every week some cornerback proclaims his intention to make a name for himself by stopping Calvin Johnson.

This week it was Patrick Peterson's turn to throw down the gauntlet. He called himself the best cornerback in the league.

"I don't know," Johnson said when apprised of Peterson's comment. "I'm not in the business of judging whether he is or isn't."

In his second season, Peterson already qualifies as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks. He has size (6-1, 219 pounds), quickness and good ball skills. He leads the Cardinals with six interceptions.

"I said before he's one of the best young corners and he's not ," Coach Jim Schwartz said, shifting to a higher compliment. "He's one of the best corners in the NFL."

Calvin-meter: Jerry Rice holds the record for receiving yards in a season with of 1,848 in 1995 with the 49ers.

Johnson is closing in like Usain Bolt racing for the tape in the 100-meter Olympics final.

Johnson has 1,546 yards, 303 short of breaking the record. He needs to average 101 per game in the last three games.

Johnson has been well above that average in the last six games, with 908 yards and an average of 151.3 per game.
Personnel/injuries: Lindley will make his third start, and the results haven't been good in the first two.

He has five interceptions without a TD pass. He had four picks in a loss to the Rams and had a net of only 56 yards on 10-of-31 passing in a 7-6 loss to the Jets two weeks ago.

John Skelton started last week's loss at Seattle and had four picks. Lindley finished up the game and had another clunker, going 8-17 for 59 yards.

The Lions are without defensive tackle Corey Williams, who went on injured reserve earlier in the week with a persistent knee injury. Safety Louis Delmas practiced and could play. He has been active for only five games this season because of knee problems.

Kris Durham will make his second straight start at wide receiver. He had four catches at Green Bay.

Stats: The Cardinals rank last in the league in seven offensive categories, including points scored, and are 31st in two others.

It's another story on defense. Until last week's collapse, they've been pretty good. They have 34 sacks and rank second in the league in sacks per play and are No. 1 in percentage of opponent passes intercepted.

The Cardinals have 19 interceptions against 17 TD passes allowed and have held opponents to a combined passer rating of 71.9. Only Chicago, at 67.9, has allowed a lower rating.

Turnover margin favors the Cardinals. The Lions are minus 6 and had a fumble returned for a TD in the last game. The Cardinals are even, but they have 28 giveaways, six more than the Lions.