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Batch more comfortable now

By Compiled from Times wires by ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

The good news when the Detroit quarterback injured his knee in the off-season was that he would be ready early in the regular season.

The bad news: his readiness was hampered by the rust that accumulates from missing the preseason. Charlie Batch, who missed the season opener and played his first game in Week 2, is just getting to the point where he feels comfortable.

His passer rating is 73.3, up slightly from the 68.5 he had after the Bucs beat the Lions 31-10 on Sept. 17.

"It's better," Lions coach Bobby Ross said of Batch's quarterback rating. "You'd like for it to jump a little faster, but it has been better. His rating ... has gone up slowly. It started off very poorly and very slowly, but it has risen steadily. He's gotten better, and it's been a steady process.

"Obviously, he's got to continue to improve because anybody in this league, you're going to win with your quarterback playing well. If he's not playing at a certain level then you're going to struggle. We've got to get Charlie to that certain level."

Batch says the rest he got during Detroit's bye week will improve his injury significantly. In Monday's full practice, Batch supported that statement by having what Ross called the team's best practice of the season.

"I was trying to push it a little bit more than it should have been pushed," Batch said. "This gave me the opportunity just to let it rest and get those muscles settled down a little bit. Before, it was push and push and rehab."

THIRD TIME: Third down has been critical on both sides of the ball for the Lions. Offensively, the team is 30th in third-down conversions (21-for-79, 26.6 percent). The Bucs contributed significantly to that statistic, allowing only two first downs on 12 attempts.

"It starts on first down," Batch said. "You want to gain the yards on first down. Ultimately, you want to avoid that third and extra long.

"When you're not able to move it on first down, that's when you get in those situations. It's the key down. I think that's the biggest improvement we need to make."

GET SHAUN: Bucs quarterback Shaun King enjoyed a sack-free day in the first game against the Lions. Detroit's vaunted front four is hell-bent on getting King tonight, especially when you consider King has been sacked eight times in the Bucs' three losses, three times in the three victories.

"It all starts up front," defensive end Tracy Scroggins said. "We have to do whatever we can to get in his face and make him make some decisions quick. We can't give him all day to sit back there and throw."

SGT. SCHULZ: Detroit's offense is 29th, its defense is 22nd, yet the team is 4-2.

Ross said the statistic to look at is turnover ratio. In the four wins, the Lions were on the plus side in the turnover column. In the two losses, they were in the negative: minus-3 versus the Bucs and minus-1 in a 31-17 loss Oct. 1 to Minnesota.

One of the reasons they have been on the positive side in the four wins and lead the NFC with a plus-7 margin is safety Kurt Schulz, who signed as a free agent from Buffalo in the off-season. Schulz leads the NFL in interceptions with six, and Bucs coach Tony Dungy has noticed.

"He's finding the ball very well, and he's brought some experienced play to them," Dungy said. "That's one of the things we were able to do in the first game is stay away from the turnovers. That's a big part of it, and you do have to be aware of where he is."

CRYING FOR CROWELL: Just when the Lions were starting to make a concerted effort to get the ball to receiver Herman Moore, third-year receiver Germane Crowell went out with a broken foot. Now the team has no choice.

Moore was once among the NFL's elite, but in recent years, his production had dropped off primarily because of age and injury. Separate knee injuries limited him to just six games and 16 receptions in 1999.

This season, Moore has only 12 receptions for 134 yards, but Ross says he can fill the void created by Crowell's injury.

"Herman hasn't gotten as many plays as personally I'd like for him to have, to be very honest with you," Ross said. "I think we had to upgrade that regardless of whether Germane was healthy or not. Now Herman just automatically steps into that role, and we're fortunate to have someone of his ability."

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