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Published: Saturday, 11/25/2000

Moeller makes a difference for Lions

Lions coach Gary Moeller says he's just continuing what Bobby Ross did. But there has been major improvement on offense. Lions coach Gary Moeller says he's just continuing what Bobby Ross did. But there has been major improvement on offense.

PONTIAC, Mich. - Gary Moeller prefers to shrug off suggestions that the Detroit Lions' 3-0 start under his watch is a direct result of the coaching change that saw him take a handoff from Bobby Ross.

“Believe me, these guys are still doing the things that were taught to them in camp under coach Ross,” Moeller said after the Lions' 34-9 win over New England on Thursday.

Well, that's a nice sentiment, a kind word for the man who brought Moeller to the Lions' staff. Three cheers for Bobby Ross. Hip-hip-hooray, etc.

But anyone who has watched this team play offense the past three weeks knows fully well these are not Bobby Ross's Detroit Lions.

“This is Gary Moeller's team now,” said quarterback Charlie Batch. “And I do like what we're doing.”

Take the first play from scrimmage in Thursday's game.

The Lions (8-4) came out with an empty backfield and Batch in the shotgun.

That would have happened under Ross about the same time that, say, pigs flew.

“We'll be doing more of that,” Batch said. “We lined up, New England was in a blitz package, and they were thoroughly confused. They left David wide open.”

And Batch found David Sloan on a slant pattern that the tight end turned into a 59-yard gain.

Although that long gain wasn't the result of a long pass, the effort is being made to accomplish that, too.

“We're being more aggressive,” Batch said. “We're going deep more often, and that keeps defenses off balance. In the past other teams didn't have to respect us deep. Now I'm seeing guys open and I'm able to make some plays.”

Batch wanted the shotgun and Moeller gave it to him. Batch needed better protection and Moeller juggled the offensive line to accomplish that. Batch knows the importance of occasionally showing an empty backfield with four and five-receiver sets and going deep, and so does Moeller.

Being on the same page has resuscitated a quarterback who lacked confidence while making a painfully mundane offense at the very least interesting and, occasionally, explosive.

The Lions have scored 30-plus points in two consecutive games under Moeller. Under Ross they were in the teens five times and over 30 just once in nine games.

Moeller's first game at the helm resulted in a 13-10 win over Atlanta.

“A couple weeks ago, after that ugly win over Atlanta, I said that good things were starting to happen, and y'all looked at me like I was crazy,” Batch said. “You believe me now?”

Lions fans, an oft-fooled bunch, are surely appreciative of the progress, but will likely wait awhile to punch their ballots.

After all, Detroit was 8-4 a year ago too, and finished 8-9. There is also the knowledge that two of the wins under Moeller came at home against patsies Atlanta and New England.

Moeller knows it too.

“I'm thankful we're 3-0 and I'm happy the players are responding, but I know it's all just beginning,” Moeller said. “We'll have a chance to see how we really stack up with three tough road games.”

The Lions play at Minnesota next Thursday night, then visit Green Bay and the New York Jets before returning to the Silverdome for the regular-season home finale against Chicago on Christmas Eve.

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