Johnson knows it's time for Lions' offense to 'step up'

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas -- Even though they scored more than 24 points in just three games, the Lions finished 11-5 thanks to the NFL's No. 2 overall defense.

As they prepare for today's wild-card round game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Lions' offensive players hope to repay the favor.

"It's time for us to step our game up," wide receiver Calvin Johnson said.

The Lions' offense has had its highlights this season, scoring 35 points in an opening week win over the New York Giants, and 34 each in Week 13 and 14 wins over the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions also matched a franchise-low 20 turnovers this year, matching the 2004 total, which was the fewest since at least 1941.

But on the whole, the offense has struggled as the Lions ranked 22nd with just 20.1 points per game and 19th with just 340.8 yards per game. Plus, the Lions failed to score a touchdown in two of their road games against playoff teams -- the Cardinals and Patriots.

And on Sunday, the Lions face a Cowboys team averaging 41.3 points per game, so finding an offensive rhythm in hostile territory would serve Detroit well.

"We try and play complimentary football as much as we can," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Obviously, going against a team like Dallas that does a great job on the offensive side of the ball putting up points, you know as an offense you've got to find ways to get the ball in the end zone. You can't kick field goals against a team like this. You've got to try and score touchdowns."

For much of the year, the Lions have preached that idea of complimentary football. It's not all on Stafford. It's not all the on the offense. There are 11 players on defense and special teams, too.

But when asked if the Lions this week if the offense needs to pull its end, most players couldn't argue.

"Why not?" center Dominic Raiola.

The opportunity should be there for the Lions to break out of its offensive funk, averaging just 18.7 points the last three games. With Johnson and Golden Tate, the Lions should be able to score on anybody, and Dallas doesn't have a stellar secondary.

The Cowboys defense has played well recently, but ranked 19th overall this season. The calling card of the Dallas defense is turnovers as it ranked 31st in takeaways, but if Stafford and the Lions protect the ball, perhaps the offense will find its groove in time to win the franchise's first playoff game since 1991.

"We want to play a complete game," Tate said. "We want to go out there and dominate in all three phases of a game. Once we do that, I think we're a dangerous team.

"With that being said, I think we forget about all the struggles and all the great plays and all the great games we've had. We look at it as we're 0-0. Win or go home, as simple as that."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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