September 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

Mike O'Hara: Burning questions

Lions' breakdowns on defense hurting most

Kyle Vanden Bosch of the Lions sacks Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the third quarter. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)


Given the state of the Lions' defense, every mistake or missed opportunity by the offense is magnified.

The defense yields yards and points in dribs, drabs and huge chunks -- whatever the opponent needs.

Even in shootouts like Sunday's 35-32 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Ford Field, the offense is under scrutiny for what it doesn't do.

The offense generally held up its end by producing 444 yards and four touchdowns. Good numbers -- but not good enough to win.

The numbers included a 335-yard passing performance by backup quarterback Shaun Hill, who made his first start as a Lion because of a shoulder injury sustained by Matthew Stafford.

The biggest question facing the Lions after starting the season with two consecutive losses is correcting -- if possible -- glaring defensive breakdowns.

But there are other burning questions -- how Hill performed in key situations Sunday, the decision to use a Jumbo formation in short yardage with rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh in as a blocker in the fourth quarter, how injuries impacted the offensive schemes, and the potential return of Stafford.

Q. How did Hill play?

A. Like a backup. He's strictly a pocket passer, so nobody could have expected him to add a dynamic dimension to the offense.

He doesn't have Stafford's arm strength or his ability to create plays. That showed on the last possession of the game, when the Lions recovered an onside kick at their 43 with the score at its final margin -- 35-32.

Hill threw three incomplete passes and was sacked once. A golden opportunity for a great comeback fizzled.

Q. Bottom line -- would the Lions have won with Stafford, and when will he return?

A. No quarterback can win games if the defense doesn't make stops. And the best estimate is that Stafford will miss two more games -- at Minnesota and Green Bay.

But that's two weeks later than they need him. Which is right now.

Coach Jim Schwartz put it this way: "The bottom line is, he'll be back when he's healthy and ready to go."

Q. The Lions had second-and-10 at the Eagles' 33 on their first possession. Hill's pass was meant for Tony Scheffler in the end zone, but Nate Allen intercepted. How damaging was that?

A. Every point they give away on offense is crucial because their pass defense is so porous. And that interception hurt. However, it's hard to put all the blame on Scheffler and Hill on that play. They had to improvise.

Scheffler is a tight end, but he was playing wide receiver because Nate Burleson sustained an ankle injury on the first play and missed the rest of the game.

"It was tough," Hill said. "Tony kind of had to step up and play a position he hadn't played an awful lot."

And Schwartz said that because of Burleson's injury, they were forced to run plays that they'd practiced in training camp but were not in the game plan. That hurt the timing.

Q. The so-called Jumbo formation failed on two consecutive plays by the Lions early in the fourth quarter, with Philly holding a 28-17 lead.

Jahvid Best was stopped twice for no gain at the Eagles' 29. Was it right to use it?

A. Once, OK. Twice -- never.

Q. What went wrong?

A. Everything. Suh was put in as a blocker in a power formation. Best was stuffed both times.

"There was no room in there," Best said.

Q. A field goal would have cut the deficit to 28-20. Would kicking on fourth down have been a better strategy?

Schwartz said he considered that. He also said the Eagles substituted on fourth down, putting in bigger players.

"No matter who they put out there, we need to find a way to make a yard or a half-yard when it comes to two downs right there," Schwartz said.

Q. What would have been the best play?

A. A quick pitch to Best to run wide. The coaches must have forgotten how he ran away from the Eagles on a 75-yard TD catch and run in the first half.

Jim Schwartz called for the Jumbo package on two straight plays in the ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)