Sunday, October 01, 2006
By Tom Kowalski
The Detroit Lions defensive line knows exactly what it is going to see when it lines up today against the St. Louis Rams -- a solid wall of humanity.

In football lingo, it's called "max protect." It's when an offense realizes its line is overmatched by the defensive line and keeps in running backs or tight ends -- or both -- to help block.

After the Lions got five sacks against the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers both went to max protection against Detroit, and it worked. The Lions were held without a sack in both games. That means the Rams will do precisely the same thing.

To overcome that strategy, Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said his team must do a better job in coverage, not try to use more blitzes.

"We're always looking at things to offset it. When you (face) max protect, you don't want to blitz. You have blockers picking it up, that's when you want coverage. The more (players) they keep in, the more you want out," Marinelli said.

Opposing offenses know they have to deal with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers first and foremost. If he's allowed to be disruptive, as he was against the Seahawks, the Lions defense begins to swarm.

"Up front, they're really, really good. Shaun Rogers is a big player, great playmaker, and I know his capabilities," said Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked 10 times in three games this season. "It's going to be a tough matchup, but I'd say as far as I can see the front four is the strength right now."

While the Lions have been hurt in the passing game, they're allowing only 2.8 yards per rush and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown.

"Well, nobody's been able to run the ball against them," said Rams head coach Scott Linehan. "We certainly want to have us a running game that's effective and I haven't seen anyone do it yet. The defensive line is pretty stout. I think that's an issue because that's where you start offensively -- in finding ways to run it."

St. Louis running back Stephen Jackson is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but has yet to score a touchdown. In fact, wide receiver Torry Holt is the only offensive player to score. He has two receiving touchdowns and kicker Jeff Wilkins has the Rams' other 35 points. The Rams have yet to score more than 18 points in a game this season.

"We have a new offense. We've kicked a lot of field goals, but we've been moving the ball so it's not like we're not getting a lot of first downs and not being able to move the ball, so we're happy with that aspect," Bulger said. "We know it's going to take patience any time you have the same system in for eight or nine years and try to change it. We're 2-1, so whether we're doing well or the defense is, that's all we care about -- winning games.''

Lions running back Kevin Jones had his best outing of the season last week, rushing for 70 yards in the first half. That helped the Lions score more points in two quarters (14) than they did in the first two games combined (13).

"When you have a group that's starting to gel up front and a back that can get it done and get yards after contact, it's great," Linehan said. "He's a great yards-after-contact back. That's a tough one -- I'm not sure we have that answer yet."

Both the Lions and Rams are having issues with their offensive line.

Eight different linemen have taken a snap for the Rams while the Lions have also used eight different players -- and all of them started at one point already this season.

The Lions have had a different starting right tackle in each of the first three games (Barry Stokes, Rex Tucker and rookie Jonathan Scott).

The Rams defense has the fourth-best red zone percentage in the NFC in keeping opponents out of the end zone (33 percent). In nine possessions, opponents have scored just three touchdowns and two field goals. . . . St. Louis has allowed just 51 first downs, the fourth-lowest total in the conference. . . . The Rams are second in the NFL (and No. 1 in the NFC) in takeaway-giveaway differential with a plus-7. The Rams have forced four fumbles and intercepted six passes. The Lions have yet to intercept a pass this season. . . . Since 1995, the Rams have a 39-1 record when they have a 100-yard rusher.