NFL

Lions' offense runs out of gas at times

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP)

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By LARRY LAGEAP Sports Writer

The Detroit Lions rank among the NFL's highest-scoring offenses, racking up at least 45 points in three games and leading the league with an average of 17.8 points after halftime.

Numbers can lie.

Detroit's high-octane offense has run out of gas lately, leading to five losses in the last seven games, in large part because its one-dimensional offense has been held to fewer than 20 points in each of those setbacks.

The Lions have started slowly in many games this year, averaging single digits in first-half scoring. That has dug holes their potentially potent offense has gotten them out of in record-breaking fashion with quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Detroit is the only team in NFL history to rallying from 17-plus point deficits to win three games in a season.

The first such comeback was in Week 3 at Minnesota, where the Vikings started the second half with a 20-0 lead and lost 26-23 in overtime.

''We can get as hot as anybody,'' Stafford said.

And, as cold.

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who helped his team shut out Detroit in the first half earlier this year, said the key is to hit Stafford enough to knock him out of a rhythm.

''I think that was kind of the weakness,'' Allen said. ''If you can just kind of chink that armor just a little bit, we've seen that he gets a little rattled.''

Detroit (7-5) hopes it can figure out how to click on offense early and often Sunday at home against the Vikings (2-10) in a game it desperately needs to win for wild-card positioning. Figuring out a way to get the ball to Johnson would help.

Teams have been putting a cornerback on Johnson and at least a safety nearby all season long, and lately they've been able to limit his ability to take over games. Johnson has scored only once during a 1-3 slide, holding him to double digits in yards receiving each game, after he had 11 touchdowns and averaged more than 100 yards receiving during the team's 6-2 start.

Allen said if he was a defensive coordinator, he would gear ''all'' of the game plan to stop Johnson with two defensive backs assigned to him.

''If a guy's national nickname is Megatron, unless you've got Optimus Prime on your team - let's double him up,'' Allen said.

Detroit has added players to help Stafford take advantage of single coverage by drafting tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receiver Titus Young, acquiring tight end Tony Scheffler and signing receiver Nate Burleson.

The problem for the Lions, though, is teams haven't had to respect their ability to run.

Martin Mayhew knows that and has attempted to address the glaring void in the backfield, but injuries have messed up his plans. Mayhew has made a lot of moves as general manager to turn the franchise around - just three years after the NFL's first 0-16 season - and made major investments in running backs the past two Aprils.

Detroit drafted speedy Jahvid Best in the first round last year and powerful Mikel Leshoure in the second round this year. But Best has joined Leshoure on injured reserve, leaving the Lions with the same lackluster options they had in 2009 during Stafford's rookie year: Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown.

Soon after being signed off his couch, Smith gave the team a shot to move the ball on the ground with 140 yards rushing in the win over Carolina last month, only to be stunted by a sore right ankle.

Detroit is No. 8 in offense in the league, relying on the fifth-ranked passing attack that can't do enough to prop up a running game that ranks 23rd.

That has played a part in creating down-and-distance situations tough to overcome, especially during the Lions' 2-5 slump. Their third-down percentage is 36.7 in wins, according to STATS LLC, and 21.5 in losses.

''We've been inconsistent on third downs and we've also had a couple penalties derail drives,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. ''Any time you get a drive stopped, it's usually because of either a mistake or a play on third down.

''When we've moved the ball when we've scored, we've been good in those areas.''

NOTES: Lions S Louis Delmas, CB Chris Houston, DT Nick Fairley, DE Lawrence Jackson and Smith didn't practice Wednesday because of injuries. Schwartz said Fairley's surgically repaired left foot looked good on X-rays. ... Detroit released S Vincent Fuller from the reserve-injured list and released RB James Davis from the practice squad reserve-injured list.

Tagged: Lions, Vikings, Jared Allen, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, Matthew Stafford, Nick Fairley

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