4 Detroit Lions They're in for a batch of trouble if their quarterback doesn't improve

September 02, 2001

Night after night last season Lions quarterback Charlie Batch lay
in bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting for sleep that wouldn't
come. His right leg throbbed with pain from the excruciating
deep-tissue massages he underwent six nights a week in his
continuing recovery from the knee injury he had suffered in the
off-season. Though he would start 15 of Detroit's 16 games,
destructive thoughts would creep like bedbugs through Batch's
mind: It's not worth it. It's not getting any better. I am
defeated.

Bruised ribs suffered in Week 11 against the Giants added to his
misery, and then came the capper. With Detroit needing a win at
home in its regular-season finale against the 4-11 Bears to
qualify for the playoffs, Batch was knocked out of the game late
in the first half after reinjuring his ribs, and Chicago shocked
the Lions 23-20. The loss cost interim coach Gary Moeller his job
and haunted Batch for months.

"It was a long year," he says in typically understated fashion.
"I came back too quickly [from the knee injury] and tried to do
too much. I had to choose between playing and rehabbing, and I
felt I had to play. It's been a long time, but I finally feel
healthy again."

He'd better, for after three NFL seasons in which his stats have
fluctuated more wildly than the NASDAQ, the margin call on Batch
is nigh. Last year he threw more interceptions (15) than
touchdown passes (13) while completing just 53.6% of his
attempts. Among the 16 NFL quarterbacks who attempted at least
400 passes, Batch's rating (63.7) was next to last. True, he was
essentially playing on one leg, and his offensive line allowed 53
sacks, fifth worst in the league, but no matter. New team CEO
Matt Millen and new coach Marty Mornhinweg, after failing to
trade for Seahawks passer Matt Hasselbeck before the April draft,
have made it clear to Batch that he must be more consistent if he
wants to be the Lions' long-term quarterback.

Making Batch's job more difficult will be the intricate,
timing-based version of the West Coast offense favored by
Mornhinweg, a Bill Walsh disciple who was the 49ers' offensive
coordinator for the last four seasons and under whose care
quarterback Jeff Garcia went from journeyman to Pro Bowler. While
supportive of his new charge, Mornhinweg is frank about Batch's
need to improve. "Charlie's not quick, and he's not a great
athlete like a Mark Brunell or a Steve Young, so he's got to make
up for that with decision-making and accurate throws," says
Mornhinweg. "At times he's missed some easy ones, and we can't
have that. But he's a hard worker, and, when it comes to
accuracy, I've found that improvement can come fairly rapidly."

Last year's offense, which ranked 27th in the league, languished
in former coach Bobby Ross's limited (some might say prehistoric)
offensive schemes. Batch's options were mostly restricted to one
side of the field and rarely involved more than two receivers.
Batch will now have four or five reads on a given play, and he
will be expected to use the entire field. Because the offense is
designed to gain yards after a catch, Batch will have to hit his
receivers in stride--and more often. Mornhinweg wants the career
55.3% passer to be close to 65%. "In this offense you can't just
complete a pass," says Mornhinweg. "You've got to hit a guy, say,
on his left shoulder pad just as he makes a cut."

The new scheme has the Lions' impressive trio of wideouts,
starters Germane Crowell and Johnnie Morton and veteran Herman
Moore, licking their chops. "Last year I would see the game plans
each Wednesday and just shake my head, they were so basic," says
Morton, Detroit's leading receiver a year ago with 61 catches for
778 yards. "Now it's like getting a new toy at Christmas--it's
that exciting." Tailback James Stewart gained 1,184 yards last
season but was often pulled on third down. He must become a more
reliable receiver--as well as a safety valve--for Batch in the
flat.

Offensive fireworks will also depend on the performance of a
retooled line, which has four new starters: top draft picks Jeff
Backus, a tackle from Michigan, and Dominic Raiola, a center from
Nebraska; right guard Brenden Stai, a free-agent pickup from
Jacksonville; and Stockar McDougle, who was a backup in 2000.

After a late July practice in Saginaw, Mich., Batch went through
a mock series of reads to show how he's adjusted his footwork in
favor of shorter, crisper drops. "I've had to relearn everything,
even the basics," he said. "Everything I've known for three years
is gone." Then he paused as the full impact of that statement
sunk in. "It's like a breath of fresh air."

--J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Beset last year by injuries and a bad line, Batch faces a new test: running a more varied offense.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG BOYD

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Lions

I see the Lions in the middle of a crowded pack in the
Central.... They'll live and die with Charlie Batch. Given the
alternative--Jim Harbaugh, who I think is done--they could really
be in trouble.... Their offensive line should be better, but
Stockar McDougle and Aaron Gibson have to improve. Brendan Stai
is just average, and there's not a lot of depth for a line that
has to keep Batch upright.... James Stewart has good hands and
should be good in Marty Mornhinweg's offense. The guy I really
like, if he can stay healthy, is [running back] Reuben Droughns.
He's got good speed and instincts. His upside is huge.... Their
wideouts should all be fine. Germane Crowell is playing for a
contract, Johnnie Morton is still dangerous, and Herman Moore
will be a good third receiver.... The defense will keep this team
afloat, starting with Robert Porcher. He won't be as good as he
was; after all, he's 32 and banged up, but he can still be a
presence.... Stephen Boyd is underrated and a great anchor for
their linebackers. He's tough and instinctive, and the only
drawback in his game has been injuries.... The biggest question
is in the secondary. Can Terry Fair and Bryant Westbrook recover
from their injuries? An Achilles can hurt a corner, even one as
talented as Westbrook.... They'll battle the Vikings for third
place. Finishing over .500 would be an accomplishment.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 9 at Green Bay
16 DALLAS
23 at Cleveland
30 Open date
Oct. 8 ST. LOUIS (Mon.)
14 at Minnesota
21 TENNESSEE
28 CINCINNATI
Nov. 4 at San Francisco
11 TAMPA BAY
18 at Arizona
22 GREEN BAY (Thurs.)
Dec. 2 at Chicago
9 at Tampa Bay
16 MINNESOTA
23 at Pittsburgh
30 CHICAGO

2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 25
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .480
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics

COACH: Marty Mornhinweg; first season with Detroit (0-0 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 9-7 (fourth in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 20/25/27; defense 18/15/14

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Charlie Batch 103 412 att. 221 comp. 53.6% 2,489 yds.
13 TDs 15 int. 67.3 rtg.

RB James Stewart 26 339 att. 1,184 yds. 3.5 avg. 32 rec.
287 yds. 9.0 avg. 11 TDs

RB Sedrick Irvin 299 9 att. 49 yds. 5.4 avg. 8 rec.
90 yds. 11.3 avg. 0 TDs

FB Cory Schlesinger 319 1 att. 3 yds. 3.0 avg. 12 rec.
73 yds. 6.1 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Johnnie Morton 83 61 rec. 788 yds. 3 TDs
WR Germane Crowell 124 34 rec. 430 yds. 3 TDs
WR Herman Moore 153 40 rec. 434 yds. 3 TDs
TE David Sloan 169 32 rec. 379 yds. 2 TDs
K Jason Hanson 193 29/29 XPs 24/30 FGs 101 pts.
PR Desmond Howard 242 31 ret. 14.7 avg. 1 TD
KR Desmond Howard 242 57 ret. 24.6 avg. 0 TDs

LT Jeff Backus(R)[N] 6'5" 308 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
LG Stockar McDougle 6'6" 350 lbs. 8 games 8 starts
C Eric Beverly[N] 6'3" 294 lbs. 16 games 7 starts
RG Brenden Stai[N] 6'4" 312 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Aaron Gibson 6'4" 380 lbs. 10 games 10 starts

DEFENSE

LE Robert Porcher 36 tackles 8 sacks
LT James Jones 43 tackles 3 sacks
RT Luther Elliss 39 tackles 3 sacks
RE Tracy Scroggins 44 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Allen Aldridge 65 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Stephen Boyd 139 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Chris Claiborne 101 tackles 1/2 sack

CB Bryant Westbrook 49 tackles 6 int.
SS Ron Rice 71 tackles 1 int.
FS Kurt Schulz 56 tackles 7 int.
CB Terry Fair 58 tackles 2 int.
P John Jett 93 punts 43.5 avg.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)

"The guy I really like is Droughns. He's got good speed and
instincts."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)