Culpepper, Stafford continue battle

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Thanks to the magic of digital cable and the NFL Network, I was able to catch a good bit of Detroit's matinee matchup with Indianapolis. The Lions made off with an 18-17 victory, and here are a few thoughts:

  • Both Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford played well, if differently, and neither pulled away from the other in my book. Culpepper's passing totals (67 yards on seven completions) were limited by what seemed to be a pretty conservative approach in the early going. Whether by design or coincidence, Culpepper continued to play it safe and didn't make any mistakes. He didn't connect on any of his three downfield passes -- one to receiver Calvin Johnson, one to tight end Brandon Pettigrew and one to tight end Casey Fitzsimmons -- but did make a nice improvisation pass to receiver Bryant Johnson for a touchdown. Stafford, on the other hand, was more aggressive but made more mistakes. He threw a bad interception on a deep pass for Bryant Johnson and nearly threw another when pressured near the end zone. Overall, Culpepper and Stafford seem pretty close in their competition. Some people believe that favors Stafford, but I don't know.

  • This would have been an appropriate game plan for a regular-season game. The Lions' starting offense played ball-control in the first half, keeping the Colts' explosive offense on the sideline. Overall, the Lions used 22 running plays in the first half and held the ball for more than 21 of a possible 30 minutes. That helped a depleted Lions defense that was playing without linebacker Ernie Sims and starting cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry. The Colts' offense went 80 yards in less than three minutes for its first score, but a Lions blitz ended the Colts' second possession with a punt. I don't know if I trust the Lions' defense over the long haul, but on Saturday this combination seemed to work.

  • There has been some discussion about whether tailback Kevin Smith can adjust to a traditional man-blocking scheme after playing in a zone scheme for most of his career. Saturday, he looked pretty good, finishing with 83 all-purpose yards. In fact, I like the backfield the Lions have put together with Smith, Maurice Morris and rookie Aaron Brown. As always with the Lions, the question will be whether the offensive line can open enough holes. It did Saturday, with help from rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew.