Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News
Allen Park – Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is earning his paycheck this season.
A plethora of injuries at key positions on offense forced Linehan to game plan on the fly. He’s prepared three different quarterbacks to start games this season and also been through three starting running backs.
Consider the challenges Linehan has faced: Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford has started only three games with backup Shaun Hill starting nine (before Sunday’s game against the Vikings). Third-stringer Drew Stanton got pressed into duty for three.
Rookie running back Jahvid Best battled turf toe most of the season, Kevin Smith recovered slowly from knee problems and Maurice Morris didn’t emerge as a real contributor until Week 15 (109 yards against the Bucs). But through all the scrambling, ups and downs, and plenty of patchwork, the Lions offense has maintained a steady flow of production. Lions coach Jim Schwartz credits Linehan for finding answers.
“It’s not just playing with those guys, it’s finding a way to keep being productive and I think Scott and our offensive has done a good job at both,” Schwartz said.
“It’s about production and putting points on the board and I think we’ve done a good job at finding a way to do that.”
Despite all the lineup changes, the Lions offense has scored at least 20 points in 10 games this season and 32 or more four times.
Linehan doesn’t appear to get too caught up in the pats on the back he’s received lately.
“It’s your job,” he said. “What happened this year is certainly the exception and not the rule.
“It’s challenging, but that’s why you’re a coach. If you have adversity you’ve got to be able to step in and go with somebody else and trust (them).”
Linehan has found of ways to get the football into the hands of his playmakers.
None has benefited more than Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson, who’s been targeted 134 times this season, seventh-most in the NFL. Eight of Johnson’s 12 touchdowns on the season have come in the red zone.
Best also has benefited from Linehan’s guidance. He’s struggled to run the ball effectively all season, but has 52 receptions and is averaging 8.9 yards per catch with three touchdowns.
Stafford sees Linehan’s body of work as a reason to get excited about the future — when he envisions a healthier team.
“We’ve had a lot of different starts and he’s had to do a lot of work,” Stafford said.
“The best thing is that he’s stuck to his system. He knows it works. We know it works.”
Johnson to play?
Schwartz said Monday that Johnson could play in the season finale against the Vikings even if he wasn’t able to practice on his sore ankle all week. And that’s exactly what could transpire. Johnson did not practice again Friday and will be a game-time decision.
… Cornerback Chris Houston didn’t practice all week and has a shoulder injury that will require offseason surgery. Tye Hill will start in his place.