August 16, 2013 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Lions have a lot to fix but aren't panicking

Allen Park There was disappointment, frustration and some bewilderment in the Lions locker room Thursday following their dreadful 24-6 exhibition loss in Cleveland.

There was not, however, any sense of panic or resignation.

"It's just a matter of fixing it now," center Dominic Raiola said. "I don't know about (it being) a wakeup call. We're still in Week 2 of the preseason. It's not good that it happened, but we still have time to fix it.

"That's all I said afterward just fix it. Take whatever you can from it and fix it."

Offense underwhelming

There's plenty to fix, obviously, in all phases. But perhaps the best place to start is with the offense. In two games, the Lions have managed one offensive touchdown thrown by backup quarterback Shaun Hill against a backup Jets defense and six field goals.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has engineered eight drives and managed a total of seven first downs. The run game has been a non-starter, and Stafford has been relegated to dump-off and check-down passes.

He has completed just six passes to wide receivers, three to Calvin Johnson against the Jets and three to Patrick Edwards on Thursday. Take away a 28-yarder to Johnson and an 18-yard catch and run by Reggie Bush, and Stafford is averaging 7.2 yards on his 12 other completions.

"We had some (vertical) shots schemed in there, but the opportunity didn't really come out to be able to get them out there," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Regardless of whether you throw it deep or you throw it underneath, you've got to be able to get some chunks somewhere. And when I say chunks I mean plus-20 yards."

Stafford, who didn't complete any pass beyond 10 yards and didn't take any deep shots, said the hangups are coming earlier in the possessions.

"We didn't stay on the field long enough to have a chance to," he said, when asked about the lack of a vertical passing game. "We kept hurting ourselves on third down and hurting ourselves on first and second down, as well. Not a bunch of positive plays on first and second down."

You want to throw in a disclaimer here. Calvin Johnson didn't play, and when he doesn't play he takes about two-thirds (exaggerating, but only slightly) of the offensive playbook with him.

The Lions play the Browns in Week 6, so they weren't going to expose much of their arsenal anyway, but without Johnson, well, it was a pretty bland attack.

Saying that, though, Johnson's absence didn't have anything to do with the following:

Poor blocking up front, especially in the run game, which amassed a lusty 13 yards in 11 carries in the first half.
Dropped passes by Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.
Poor route running and the inability to get any separation by all the receivers.
Drive-killing penalties.

"The good thing is you keep things pretty vanilla and basic and granola in the preseason," Burleson said. "When you know that you havent opened things up, it gives you a peace of mind. That's OK with us. It's not OK that we didn't execute, it's just that we know we didn't open up the playbook.

"We are good with where we are at, we just got to do better."

His point is well-taken in this regard, too. Tight end Tony Scheffler, who is clearly a big part of the passing game, took only three snaps. That even further limited the playbook.

Schwartz, though, was clearly upset with the receiver group. He was hoping somebody Edwards and Matt Willis got the most first-team reps would step up and seize that third receiver spot. It didn't happen.

Edwards is doing exactly what he did before he got hurt last year. He flashes in practice and disappears in the game. He hasn't been able to get open or make a play when he has had opportunities.

Chaz Schilens doesn't appear to be the deep threat the Lions were hoping he could be and Kris Durham, Mike Thomas and Corey Fuller have been relegated to third-team reps.

So, it wouldn't be at all surprising if general manager Martin Mayhew isn't scouring the league looking for another receiver or two as we speak.

Trying to right the line

As for the woeful run game, it's time the coaching staff settles on the starting offensive line so it can have a couple of weeks to build some continuity and trust.

Riley Reiff is going to start at left tackle, but he has struggled through two games. Raiola at center and Rob Sims at left guard are known quantities. The Lions feel confident, despite Reiff's slow start, in those three players.

The right side, though, is sketchy. They tried to run right early in the game, behind guard Jake Scott and tackle Jason Fox, with no success.

My guess is rookie Larry Warford will win the right guard spot and Corey Hilliard the right tackle spot. Veteran guard Leroy Harris, who has missed a lot of time coming off knee surgery, played well in the second half Thursday. He might be the last guy left who can beat Warford out.

Hilliard took reps at right and left tackle Thursday and he has gotten the most time with the first unit.

"That's something we've got to get going," Raiola said of the run game. "I don't have an answer for you right now. Of course we want to get that going, especially with an explosive guy like Reggie Bush.

"It's disappointing. I don't think anybody's satisfied in here, which is a good thing. Take it for what it is and come back to work."

Again, there were no major alarms being sounded Thursday night. The players and coaching staff have a firm, unshakeable belief in the potency of this offense. But make no mistake, this is going to be a long week of practice.

"We should be concerned," Bush said. "We're better than this. We have to hold ourselves accountable because we need to put points on the board. That's our job and we didn't do that."

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/cmccosky

Lions running back Reggie Bush is stopped in the backfield for a 3-yard loss Thursday night against Cleveland. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News