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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

Lions offense should yield more wins

When the Detroit Lions hired Steve Mariucci, I was convinced it was an excellent move. By the time the Lions stumbled to a 5-11 record in Mariucci s first season, I decided I needed more convincing.

Now it appears Mariucci is building an exciting offense that should produce more wins in 2004.

If Detroit can challenge for a playoff berth in the equal-opportunity NFL, I think most Lions fans would jump back on Mariucci s bandwagon.

The key, unfortunately, is patience. It s going to take time for Mariucci s key young players on offense to develop chemistry.

The Lions feature third-year quarterback Joey Harrington, second-year wide receiver Charles Rogers, rookie wide receiver Roy Williams and rookie running back Kevin Jones. Jones and Williams are two of the fastest players in the league at their respective positions.

So what, if anything, should we take from the Lions preseason opener, a 27-21 win over Pittsburgh?

We learned that the Lions offense has an entirely different look from a year ago.

Harrington is moving through his progressions faster, throwing downfield with more confidence and spreading the ball around.

As long as Harrington stays healthy and upright, the Lions should be an improved football team.

It s a lot easier for the Lions to believe in Harrington if he believes in himself.

Last year Harrington was consumed with self-doubt. He played poorly, and the offense responded accordingly. The Lions ranked last in total offense last year.

Against Pittsburgh s porous pass defense, Harrington was 5-of-6 for 68 yards and led a touchdown drive in his lone series of the game.

More good news: Harrington appears to be bonding with Rogers.

Rogers is showing he has recovered from a broken collarbone that sidelined him for most of his rookie campaign.

Detroit s passing game suffered without Rogers, a legitimate deep-ball threat.

Harrington didn t trust his other receivers. They ran poor routes and dropped his passes.

Harrington wasn t without blame. Too often, he threw the ball away instead of hanging in the pocket and attempting to make a play.

Rogers has added some weight and seems to have a better understanding of Detroit s West Coast offense. He s catching everything thrown his way.

In his first live action, Rogers found open seams in Pittsburgh s defense. He caught passes for 11, 15 and 30 yards.

Rogers capitalized on Pittsburgh s obsession with Williams, who lines up on the opposite side of the field.

Williams reputation preceded him. Touted as a gamebreaker, Williams faced double coverage in his first NFL game. Rogers took full advantage.

As for Jones, the Lions believe the rookie s ability to turn the corner will open up the ground game.

Led by their young and potentially dynamic offense, the Lions should surpass last year s win total and finally break their three-year road losing streak. If they don t, Mariucci isn t the coach I believe he is.



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