The curse of Barry Sanders?
That’s probably a reach, but there certainly seems to be a cloud over the running back position in Detroit. You can go back to the injury-shortened careers of Steve Owens, Mel Farr and Kevin Jones, or you can just take the events of the last 48 hours.
Start with Jerome Harrison. The trade that would have sent him to Philadelphia for Ronnie Brown was nixed after Eagles doctors discovered a tumor on his brain. That diagnosis may have killed the trade but it also may have saved Harrison’s life.
As ESPN’s Adam Schefter Tweeted Thursday, “Without trade, Jerome Harrison doesn’t get physical. Without physical, doctors don’t find brain tumor.”
Harrison’s agent Mitch Frankel did not respond to email or voice messages and Lions coach Jim Schwartz said only, “It’s a privacy issue and I am not going to comment on it. He’s back on our 53-man roster and we will have him on our injury report.”
Harrison is expected to be placed on injured reserve.
“We’re all trying to figure out what’s going on,” said CB Eric Wright, who played with Harrison in Cleveland. “I know Coach and Jerome know best, but I am looking forward to talking to him and seeing what’s up. I just pray for him and wish him the best.”
According to ESPN, Harrison has already begun treatment and his long-term prognosis “both for life and his football career” appear to be good.
Then there’s starting running back Jahvid Best, who suffered his second concussion of the season last Sunday and isn’t expected to play against the Falcons this week. A report on CBSsports.com indicated that Best’s family wanted the Lions to put him on injured reserve fearing that another concussion could jeopardize his career.
Tony Fleming, Best’s agent, said that wasn’t the case.
“I have spoken to the family and to the team,” Fleming told the Detroit News. “As is the case with concussions, you have to be cautious. We will continue to evaluate it. But as for missing the season, right now that’s not what anybody is thinking.”
Schwartz said the plan was to let Best go through the NFL-mandated procedures for returning from a concussion and that there had been no thought of putting him on injured reserve at this point.
“Anytime you are talking about concussions, you are talking about a situation you can’t tough out,” Schwartz said. “The NFL has been very proactive in what they are doing with concussions. Some guys have missed time and some have gotten back.
“With Jahvid, as soon as he gets cleared, he will be back. It’s not a situation where he can will his way back and it’s not a situation where a coach can put a player back before an independent doctor says he’s able.”
In the meantime, the Lions are preparing to play the Falcons on Sunday with veteran Maurice Morris starting and power back Keiland Williams as the primary backup. Return ace Stefan Logan could also see some action in the backfield.
“We are short as far as depth, but very confident in the guys that are going to perform for us,” said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. “Whenever you call on Maurice he steps up to the plate and performs. He’s healthy now (he missed training camp with a broken hand) and back to the form he showed at the end of last season. You know what you are getting from Maurice. I look forward to him taking the reins.”
–OK, you are the Atlanta Falcons preparing to play the Lions. You watch the film from Sunday where the 49ers stoned the Lions’ ground game playing essentially a six-man box the entire game.
On top of that you know their best back, Jahvid Best, had his second concussion of the season and is questionable and newly acquired running back Ronnie Brown didn’t take his physical until after practice on Wednesday.
Even though the 49ers play out of a 3-4 alignment and you use a 4-3, why wouldn’t you use the 49ers’ game plan as a blueprint for how to attack the Lions’ passing attack?
“Some teams are stubborn with their design and they stick to what they do best,” wide receiver Nate Burleson said. “From what we’ve seen on film, they’ve been pretty consistent. At the same time, they might look at the 49ers film and feel like it’s a formula to beat the Detroit Lions. We will be prepared for both man and zone defense so we won’t be surprised.”
Like the Lions, the Falcons can put significant pressure on a quarterback with just their four down linemen. They have 11 sacks, all by defensive linemen.
“We’ve got faith in our running backs,” Burleson said. “But more importantly, it’s about getting a rhythm in the passing game. That is our strength.”
So, as always, it gets back to quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is coming off arguably the worst game of his pro career. He was chased and harassed and hit throughout the game by the relentless pursuit of the 49ers defense. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he was under pressure on 35.7 percent of his pass attempts. He was sacked five times, once for a safety, and hit 10 times.
Even when he wasn’t under pressure, he still felt the heat. He bailed out of the pocket too early at times and grounded the ball too quickly at times.
“As an offense, we couldn’t get a whole lot going,” said Stafford, whose 86.5 passer rating was his lowest of the season. “They did a great job. They had a great plan and they executed it well. They played better than we did and they got the win for it.”
Stafford, though, dismissed the notion that the game sped up on him.
“I don’t think I got quick,” he said. “Every game there are plays that get left out there. There were chances to make plays all over the field and we just didn’t make them.”
Still, the last time Stafford looked as forlorn and defeated on the sideline as he did late in the loss to the 49ers Sunday, it was opening day last season and he had his arm in a sling.
“Obviously it’s frustrating any time you lose,” he said. “But the guys came back and had a good practice today. We’ve bounced back from it.”
Apparently Stafford bounced back from it long before Wednesday’s practice.
“He had us all over for dinner Monday night; he was fine,” said center Dominic Raiola. “It was just one of those games. Realistically, this is his first full year starting and playing a string of games in a row. His rookie year was tough and then he got hurt in the first game last year and was never able to get going.
“Right now he’s just kind of getting into his groove. You are going to have speed bumps. We all have bad games. We all did on Sunday and we still could have won the game.”
Raiola was actually amused by the topic of bouncing back.
“A loss opens everybody’s eyes, I guess,” he said. “But it’s pretty crazy talking about bouncing back. It was one loss. We are 5-1. But that’s how it is around here now. The urgency is awesome.”
34th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 23-10, though the Falcons have won three of the last five, including a 34-21 win at Atlanta in 2008. The Lions are 14-4 at home in the series. For a while, it seemed like every season either started or ended with a game against the Falcons. From 1985 to 1994 these two opened or closed seasons seven times.
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