October 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Josh Katzenstein

Monday breakdown: Lack of offensive creativity doomed Lions against Packers

The Lions never had a chance Sunday.

They were playing in a state where they hadn't won since 1991 and against a Packers team that was 6-1 after bye weeks under coach Mike McCarthy. As soon as the Lions announced that wide receiver Calvin Johnson was inactive, the game was over.

While the Lions are surely concerned about their offense gaining just 286 yards in the 22-9 loss in Green Bay, the bigger worry is about Johnson's knee and when he'll be able to return because he's as irreplaceable as anybody in the NFL.

Sure, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan could've been more creative Sunday, and all of their other offensive weapons could've made more plays. But the Lions’ offense, as currently constructed, will only give them a chance to win when Johnson is on the field.

Hopefully for the Lions and for people who like watching the NFL's best receiver, Johnson's day off helps his left knee improve to 100 percent. If it holds him out of any other games, the offense will look strikingly similar to the way it did Sunday.

But if Johnson is healthy this week and for the rest of the season, the Lions offense will revert to its gaudy numbers from the first four games and keep the team fighting for a playoff spot.

Johnson is to the Lions what Peyton Manning is to the Broncos, what Adrian Peterson is to the Vikings, what Drew Brees is to the Saints. Maybe Johnson hasn't matched their success in wins during his career, but he affects the game just as much.

The Lions’ defense, as it did Sunday, is capable of keeping them in games, but this is a team that wins with offense because of Johnson.

Without Johnson, everybody on offense faces a tougher task. Reggie Bush saw more defenders in the box, Kris Durham had to play against the Packers' top cornerback and Matthew Stafford didn't have a receiver to whom he could throw up a prayer and know that it'd be at worst an incompletion.

Through four weeks, Bush -- and to a lesser extent Stafford -- entered the national MVP argument, but no matter how impressive their stats, the offense still lives and dies with Johnson.

When defensive coordinators prepare for the Lions, their first 10 thoughts (at least) are about how to stop Johnson because if you can limit him, you can limit the entire unit. With Johnson out, nothing about the Lions’ offense scares opposing defenses, not even Bush.

And that's where the Lions complementary playmakers come in. It's not good enough that the rest of the offensive weapons make teams pay for over-committing to Johnson. They need to make plays regardless of the situation, and that was an issue even before Nate Burleson broke his forearm two weeks ago.

Patrick Edwards needs to catch the third-quarter pass in the end zone after beating Packers safety Morgan Burnett -- or at least jump into Burnett and draw pass interference. Tony Scheffler needs to catch the pass on third-and-3 in the fourth quarter. The Lions’ offensive front needs to account for Clay Matthews before he runs untouched to sack Stafford and push them out of field-goal range.

These are the plays that will make the Lions’ offense unstoppable when Johnson is in the game, and they're the ones that could've given them a chance Sunday.

Without Johnson, the Lions should've tried to be more creative on offense, but in all likelihood, the outcome would've been the same.

The Lions opened the game with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush in the backfield. Bell gained nine yards on the first play, but the Lions rarely used the formation the rest of the game.

Bush could've played more at receiver, new receiver Kevin Ogletree could've played more than six snaps and the Lions could've tried a trick play. Instead, they hoped Durham, Edwards and Scheffler could find openings, and the Packers defense shut them down.

If you've already pushed the panic button on the Lions’ season, then you're being incredible hasty because Sunday's game was over before it started. But if Johnson's injury continues to be a problem, the Lions will need perfection on offense, and that didn't appear to be a possibility Sunday.

Around the NFC North

* The Bears have officially fallen back to earth. After a surprising 3-0 start, Chicago has lost back-to-back games to Lions and Saints. Although the Bears made it close Sunday, 26-18, New Orleans was in total control from start to finish. Their defense isn't that great, especially without tackle Henry Melton, and the offense can't afford any mistakes.

Luckily for the Bears, they host the Giants Thursday night, so they should stay at the top of the division.

* The Vikings were off Sunday, but that didn't stop them from making headlines. Minnesota signed former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year deal, proving -- if nothing else -- that their faith in quarterback Christian Ponder is dwindling. Sure, Freeman could be better than Ponder and Matt Cassel, but the Vikings still have the worst quarterback in the division. They host Carolina this Sunday.

* Without Johnson out, it's hard to evaluate how good the Packers’ defense was Sunday, but the five sacks on Stafford speak volumes. The victory put the Packers within a half-game of the division lead. If they beat the Ravens Sunday, it'll be safe to assume their early struggles will be behind them.

Around the NFL

* Please, don't be one of the people who blame Tony Romo for the Cowboys' loss Sunday. When a quarterback throws for 506 yards and five touchdowns, he should be able to throw three interceptions and still win. Romo threw one in the fourth quarter and because the Cowboys’ defense is so terrible, they still lost the Broncos, 51-48.

* Houston's Matt Schaub has long been considered a middling NFL quarterback, but it appears he's fallen below average. Schaub has thrown a pick-six in four straight games, a new NFL record, and his three interceptions in a 34-3 loss in San Francisco suddenly means there's a quarterback controversy in Houston.

* The Colts may not have as complete a team as the Seahawks, but there was no way Andrew Luck was losing to Russell Wilson. If for some reason you still don't believe Luck is already an MVP-caliber quarterback, watch the highlights from Sunday's 34-28 win.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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Reggie Bush is stopped in his tracks by Packers cornerback Davon House in the fourth quarter Sunday. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News