NFL Preview - St. Louis (0-7) at Detroit (1-5)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - What the Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams might lack in Grade-A, championship-caliber football on Sunday at Ford Field could be made up for in the area of competitive fire.
The Lions and Rams, two of the league's most downtrodden teams as the 2009 season hits Week 8, are undoubtedly looking at one another as potential sources of a much-needed victory, and figure to pull out all the stops in order to land that win.
Detroit is back on the field following a one-week hiatus that was preceded by a listless 26-0 loss to the Packers in Week 6, a setback that was the team's third straight and dropped them to 1-5 during the six-game Jim Schwartz era.
The Green Bay contest was the second of the year to be started by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was subbing for injured No. 1 draft pick and rookie Matthew Stafford (knee).
Culpepper was just 6-of-14 for 48 yards and an interception before exiting with a hamstring problem in the third quarter, and yielding to former Michigan State star Drew Stanton (5-of-11, 57 yards, 2 INT).
Stafford has been on the practice field this week and has a chance to play on Sunday, and Culpepper is likely to return to the primary backup role.
Less certain is the status of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was not practicing at mid-week as he continues to recover from a knee injury suffered against the Steelers in Week 5.
The need for a win is all the more pressing for Schwartz's squad given the fact that it is the team's only home game in a span of 42 days. The Lions will embark on a difficult two-game road trip after the St. Louis contest that includes trips to Seattle (Nov. 8) and Minnesota (Nov. 15), before returning home to face Cleveland on Nov. 22nd.
The Rams, meanwhile, will be looking for something that the Lions have managed to give their own first-year head coach: a win.
St. Louis is one of three winless teams as Week 8 commences, joining the Titans and Buccaneers, and has now lost a franchise-record 17 straight games dating back to last season. The Rams, who dropped to 0-7 with a 42-6 home rout at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, are 5-34 in their last 39 games dating back to 2007.
Among the other nasty numbers for the 2009 Rams is an NFL-low figure of 8.6 points per game, which puts the team on pace to score just 137 for the year, or what would be the fewest in a 16-game season in league history. St. Louis is also one of two teams without a rushing touchdown on the year (Kansas City).
On the other side of the ball, the Rams are last in the NFL in touchdowns allowed (27), opponents' third-down conversion percentage (51.6 percent), and are tied for last in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed (11) along with the Raiders.
The Rams lead the all-time regular season series with the Lions, 41-37-1, including a 41-34 win when the teams met at the Edward Jones Dome in 2006. Detroit won the previous meeting, a 30-20 affair in the Motor City in 2003. St. Louis' most recent road win in the series was a 35-0 triumph in 2001 at the Pontiac Silverdome.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Lions scoring a 31-21 home win in a 1952 NFL Conference Playoff.
The Lions' Schwartz and Rams' Spagnuolo will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
The bright spot for the Rams' scuffling offense has undoubtedly been running back Steven Jackson (635 rushing yards, 21 receptions) who has yet to find the end zone this season but has been generally effective given the weak state of the St. Louis o-line and the inability of the passing game to provide much of a complement. Jackson carried 23 times for a season-high 134 yards last week against the Colts, his third 100-yard outing of the year. The former first- rounder is averaging a solid 4.4 yards per rush. The passing game, which is 27th in the league (165.7 yards per game) and has surrendered the 11th-most sacks in the NFL (16), has not been much of a credit to the winning cause. Quarterback Marc Bulger (780 passing yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) posted a dismal 37.3 passer rating in last week's loss to the Colts, completing just 14-of-26 passes for 140 yards and a pair of interceptions in the defeat. A nondescript receiving corps, paced by former second-rounder Donnie Avery (21 receptions, 2 TD) along with youngsters Keenan Burton (20 receptions) and Danny Amendola (14 receptions), has not shown much consistency. Tight end Randy McMichael (18 receptions) has been an occasional over-the-middle target.
Bulger and the Rams passing game will have a good chance to get well this week against a Lions defense that is 30th in the NFL against the pass (258.5 yards per game) and is still trying to find the right mix of players in the secondary. Phillip Buchanon (10 tackles), Demarcus Faggins (3 tackles), and William James (17 tackles, 1 INT) have been playing the most snaps at cornerback, with safeties Louis Delmas (37 tackles, 1 INT) and Marquand Manuel (32 tackles) working behind them most frequently. The group allowed 358 yards through the air against the Packers last time out, as the Detroit defense was on the field for more than 40 of the game's 60 minutes. The Lions did manage five sacks of Aaron Rodgers in that contest, including a combined four for outside linebacker Julian Peterson (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and newly-signed defensive tackle Turk McBride (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks). The Lions have been slightly better against the run than the pass, ranking 20th in the NFL in that category (112.3 yards per game), with linebackers Larry Foote (46 tackles, 1 sack) and DeAndre Levy (29 tackles, 1 INT) ranking among the team's most consistent tacklers in that area. Levy had an interception and a fumble recovery against Green Bay last time out. Massive defensive tackle Grady Jackson (12 tackles), who had five tackles against the Packers, helps set the tone up front.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The fact that Stafford and Johnson both returned to practice on Thursday morning was a good sign for the Lions offense, which can ill-afford to have fewer bullets in the chamber in its quest to pull out a second win. Stafford (894 passing yards, 3 TD, 6 INT) looked to be coming into his own when he was injured against the Bears in Week 4, having completed 24-of-36 passes for 296 yards, a touchdown, and an interception prior to the injury. Johnson (22 receptions, 1 TD) will likely serve as his main target if healthy, with Dennis Northcutt (17 receptions, 1 TD) and Bryant Johnson (16 receptions, 1 TD) among those serving in complementary roles. The former Johnson caught eight balls for 133 yards and a touchdown in his most recent full game, against the Bears. Rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew (12 receptions) will be another option for whoever plays quarterback. Running back Kevin Smith (348 rushing yards, 3 TD, 20 receptions) has had some trouble gaining traction in his first year in Scott Linehan's offense, though with 15 carries for 61 yards against the Packers last time out, he was over 4.0 yards per tote for just the second time this season.
Stafford or Culpepper will be working against a St. Louis defense that held Peyton Manning to his first sub-300-yard game of the year last week, though that isn't saying much given the five touchdowns the Rams defense allowed. The ability of ends Leonard Little (14 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT), Chris Long (23 tackles), and ex-Lion James Hall (19 tackles, 3 sacks) to pressure the quarterback will be paramount, especially after promising cornerback Bradley Fletcher was lost for the season due to a knee injury suffered last week. Jonathan Wade (13 tackles) and Ron Bartell (34 tackles) will likely match up with the Lions wideouts, with safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and James Butler (13 tackles, 1 INT) providing support. The run-stopping effort could get a jolt if linebacker David Vobora (15 tackles) is able to return after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL steroid policy, but his status for Sunday is uncertain. James Laurinaitis (49 tackles, 2 INT) has been the team's best tackler from his middle spot, with tackles LaJuan Ramsey (9 tackles) and Clifton Ryan (17 tackles, 1 sack) trying to set the run-stopping tone in the trenches. The Rams are 27th in the league against the run (135.8 yards per game) as Week 8 commences.
You would not ordinarily find a great number of natural fantasy options on these teams, but given the weakness of each defense, there might be some players worth taking a flier on. For the Rams, Jackson has put up decent numbers despite not reaching the end zone this season, and Bulger - a fantasy starter once upon a time - should be able to have some success against a Lions team that is not great in pass defense. For the Lions, Smith figures to be a decent fantasy contributor, and if healthy, Johnson is always a steady play. Keep an eye on the injury report leading up to game time.
There is reason to expect the Rams to be competitive in Detroit, since St. Louis is just two weeks removed from a near-miss at the Jaguars and because the Lions are unlikely to blow anyone out at this stage. Look for the Rams to have their most efficient day of the year offensively, and to make more plays than usual on the defensive side of the ball. That said, Detroit is further ahead than St. Louis in its rebuilding effort, as evidenced by its win over the Redskins in Week 3 and competitive outings against the likes of the Steelers and Bears. Scott Linehan's offense will get moving after making some bye-week adjustments, and Gunther Cunningham's defense will cause a couple of key St. Louis mistakes that help turn the game in the home team's favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 27, Rams 22
10/29 12:44:03 ET