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Lions simplify, energize offense Detroit unstoppable in 7-game win streak

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In this era of fashionable nicknames, the NFL's hottest offense doesn't have one. There is no Red Gun, K-Gun, Run 'N Shoot, Fun 'N Shoot or West Coast Offense.

"We're not into the geography business," said Tom Moore, the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator. "Our offense is the Detroit Lions' offense built for Detroit Lions' people."

That's it, pure and simple. No multiple formations. No specialty players. No packages. What you see is what you get.

And what you get is three talented receivers -- Herman Moore, Brett Perriman and Johnnie Morton -- the game's best instinctive runner in Barry Sanders (1,500 yards), a hot quarterback in Scott Mitchell, who has passed for 4,338 yards, and a confident offensive line.

Try to stop it. The Lions dare you. No team has in the past seven games, and Lions offensive tackle Lomas Brown doesn't think the Eagles (10-6) will end their winning streak today in an NFC wild-card game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

"There is no question in my mind that we're going to win this game," Brown said. "It's just a matter of how much are we going to win it by and how long is it going to take. I'm serious. The Eagles have a good team and an excellent coach, but we have an offense that nobody can stop."

The Lions (10-6) are averaging 382.1 yards and have outscored their opponents, 436-336, including a 132-34 margin in the final four games. Moore set the league record for receptions with 123 for 1,686 yards, and combined with Perriman for an NFL record of 231 catches and 3,174 receiving yards.

The Lions are the only team in league history to have a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard runner and a 1,500-yard receiver in the same season.

"Weapons, we just have so many of them," said Lions veteran center Kevin Glover, who starred at the University of Maryland. "Before, it was mostly the run. Now, it's mainly the pass. But the passes are freeing up Barry."

The offense is nothing new. The Buffalo Bills used the same formation as their base offense when they went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s. Basically, the Lions want to spread the field and try to get one-on-one coverage with their receivers.

Unlike their former offense, the run-and-shoot, the Lions use a tight end to maximize protection for Mitchell as well as to block for Sanders.

The big question is what took the Lions so long to use the formation. Over the years, their basic strategy remained the same: give Sanders the ball.

But in the first three games this season, teams started crowding the line of scrimmage with eight players. The Lions were 0-3 when some of their team leaders wanted to meet with Moore, the offensive coordinator.

The players persuaded Moore and coach Wayne Fontes to simplify the offense.

"Like most teams, we have different packages for certain situations," said Moore. "Then we scrapped it all and went with the three-wide-receiver set, building the system around the best 11 people we had. One thing fed off another. We had people like Sanders, who understood that he was going to get five less carries, but more people were going to get involved in the offense."

The new prime-time player is Morton, a talented second-year player out of Southern Cal who had been lobbying hard for more action. He got it. Morton has 44 receptions, eight for touchdowns.

And he has complemented Moore and Perriman well. The 6-foot-4 Moore is big and physical, a great leaper with soft hands. Perriman is more of a game-breaker and a fierce competitor. Morton is fearless over the middle, a slot receiver who catches well over both shoulders, unlike slot players who prefer to line up left and look over their right side.

"I have never seen a better threesome in football," said Moore, 57, who has been an assistant in the league 19 years, including a stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977 through 1979.

Mitchell benefited from the change as much as Morton. The Lions decreased the number of plays he had to learn and shortened his drop-back by two to three steps. Mitchell was forced to make quicker reads because the Lions shortened pass patterns.

The Lions still have Sanders, the guy with the enormous thighs, great cutback vision and the ability to twist, turn or stop in an instant.

"Barry created a number of problems for a defense himself," said Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. "You always had to have discipline to stop him, because he could hurt you anywhere on the field with a run.

"Now they are using him more as a receiver out of the backfield," Dungy added. "It's another headache. Do you try to shut him down first, or is it Moore? Do you double Moore, or do you double Perriman? If you double them, then who is covering Sanders in the flat or Morton down the middle? They cause a lot of problems."

Lions' roar

The Detroit Lions' season-ending, seven-game winning streak has been marked by an offense that has put up at least 320 yards and 24 points in each of the seven games:

.. .. .. .. .. .. Yds. ... Yds.

Opponent .. .. .. rush. .. pass. .. Pts.

Tampa Bay . .. ... 102 .. . 254 . .. 27

at Chicago ... ... 143 .. . 279 . .. 24

Minnesota . .. ... 139 .. . 395 . .. 44

Chicago ... .. ... 109 .. . 310 . .. 27

at Houston ... .. . 59 .. . 263 . .. 24

Jacksonville . ... 156 .. . 230 . .. 44

at Tampa Bay . .. . 60 .. . 348 . .. 37

Average .. ... . 109.7 .. 297.0 .. 32.4

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