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Lions beat writer previews game

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With Jon Kitna on IR, Mario Williams will have a less mobile quarterback to go after in the Lions' Dan Orlovsky.

Detroit Lions beat writer Nicholas Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press joined Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com for an exclusive interview to preview the Texans-Lions Week 7 matchup at Reliant Stadium.

This is Costonika's fourth year covering the Lions and the NFL full-time for the Detroit Free Press.

Nick Scurfield: With Roy Williams traded to Dallas and Jon Kitna placed on IR, how much more run-oriented do you expect the Lions' offense to become?

Nicholas Cotsonika: The Lions entered the season planning to run the ball more, using the same type of zone scheme the Texans do. The Williams trade only reinforces that this is the direction they're going.

But the original plan was to use the running game to open up the field for Williams and Calvin Johnson. Now, Williams is gone. The Lions still will want to take shots downfield to take advantage of a talent like Johnson. But now teams can keep a safety back to double-cover Johnson and still have eight men in the box against the run. That's going to make everything more difficult. It's going to be interesting to see how the Lions react.

Maybe the Lions can learn something from how the Texans use their running game and Andre Johnson.

Nick Scurfield: Some observers have opined that the recent moves equate to the Lions throwing in the towel for this season. What's your take?

Nicholas Cotsonika: Well, the Lions certainly aren't a better team today without Williams and Jon Kitna. The Williams move was a great one for the future, giving them first-, third- and sixth-round picks in exchange for a guy whose contract was up and a seventh-round pick. Putting Kitna on injured reserve allows the Lions to take a long look at Dan Orlovsky and perhapsDrew Stanton down the line.

But the Lions insist they are still playing for now, and they are doing things like benching this year's first-round pick, right tackle Gosder Cherilus, in favor of veteran George Foster. Lions coach Rod Marinelli wants to keep the pressure on, both because he believes it is the right thing to do and because he believes it is the best way to prepare the team for the future.

Nick Scurfield: As both a quarterback and a leader in the Detroit locker room, how does Dan Orlovsky compare with Kitna?

Nicholas Cotsonika: Like Kitna, Orlovsky throws a good deep ball and exudes confidence. Orlovsky says he considers this his team. He says he has been preparing to be a starter and thinking like a starter, and it shows in his demeanor. This is a guy who was thrust into the backup role for his first NFL game as a rookie in 2005 because Jeff Garcia was hurt, and even though he was a fifth-round pick out of UConn, he said he was ready to play.

But unlike Kitna, Orlovsky is very inexperienced and not very mobile. Orlovsky had only five second-half appearances in his NFL career before making his first NFL start Sunday at Minnesota, and he showed his inexperience by making an embarrassing error -- running out of the back of the end zone unwittingly for a safety. Kitna, even at 36, moved well. He could scramble and make good use of rollouts and bootlegs. Orlovsky will be a more stationary target for Mario Williams.

{QUOTE}Nick Scurfield: What has been the Achilles' heel of the Lions' 32nd-ranked defense this season? Is improvement in sight?

Nicholas Cotsonika: Big plays. The Lions have been giving up what they call "explosion plays" at an alarming rate this year. As well as they played Sunday, limiting the Vikings' offense to only 10 points, the Lions lost the game in large part because they allowed an 86-yard touchdown pass. They have to eliminate the explosions.

The Lions play the Tampa 2 defense. Ideally, they would like to sit back with two safeties deep and get to the quarterback with a four-man rush. That hasn't worked. So they were much more aggressive Sunday, attacking the Vikings with blitzes, and it paid off. It was by far their best game of the season.

Nick Scurfield: Where do the Texans present the biggest problems for the Lions?

Nicholas Cotsonika: The Lions have stopped the run relatively well the past two games, and they face the same type of running scheme in practice. So defensively, we'll say Andre Johnson. They can't let him burn them with big plays.

On offense, they must watch out for Mario Williams, of course. Left tackle Jeff Backus did a good job Sunday against Jared Allen, the NFL's sack leader last year. He gets another tough assignment.

As the Lions like to say, though, it's about them. They have to play better. At this point, they've been so bad that they can't worry about their opponent as much as they must worry about themselves.

Nick Scurfield: What would be the keys to a Lions victory if they are to win this week?

Nicholas Cotsonika: It would help if they would play with a lead for a change. They faced only a 2-0 deficit Sunday at Minnesota, and it made all the difference in the world. They didn't have to get out of their game plan, and eventually they took a lead and held it for a while. In their first four games, the Lions fell into deficits of 21-0, 21-0, 21-3 and 31-0. Obviously, that's not a recipe for success.

The Lions want to be a ball-control team. So if they can take a lead, run the ball, control the clock and keep that 32nd-ranked defense off the field, they will give themselves a good chance to win.

Nick Scurfield: What's your prediction for the score?

Nicholas Cotsonika: Ouch. Tough one. I know I'm going to come off as a homer at home and an insulting outsider in Houston, but I'm going to take the Lions, 17-14.

I'm sure Texans fans are saying, "Oh, it's only the Lions." They have good reason to. But from a Detroit perspective, if you don't believe the Lions are going to finish 0-16, simply because no one does in the NFL, you have to find a win somewhere. This is it.

*Check out Costonika's Lions coverage on the *Detroit Free Press *website by clicking here.
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