If they want to make the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs, the Columbus Lions are needing to win their final three regular season games, starting Sunday at 4 p.m. against the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks at the Columbus Civic Center.
Even with a healthy roster, it's a daunting task for the Lions (3-6), who have lost their last four games. However, Columbus is banged up, so much so that Lions coach Jason Gibson gave his linemen an extra day off this week to try and keep them healthy for today's game.
"We've got to do two things if we want to have a chance to win the game," said Gibson. "We have to stay healthy and complete some passes. The numbers don't show it, but our defense is good. It's just that our offense has been pathetic."
The numbers bear out Gibson's statement, as the Lions' defense has forced the most turnovers of any defense in the league with 24 (six fumbles, 18 interceptions), but Columbus has turned the ball a league-high 27 times (six fumbles, 21 interceptions) as well. The 27 giveaways is six more than any other team in the PIFL.
One of the injured Lions is quarterback Lee Chapple, who suffered a concussion in last week's 48-42 overtime loss at Richmond. Chapple is officially listed as "doubtful" for Sunday's game and if he can't go, former starter Marcus Jones will get the call.
Jones -- who started the year as the backup quarterback, won the job temporarily and was replaced by the now-departed Brian Harris -- is 63-for-123 passing for 866 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and has added 119 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 37 carries.
Gibson said despite the probable change under center, the offensive gameplan won't be getting an overhaul.
"I think one of the problems we've had is that we tried to have too many wrinkles," said Gibson. "We've been trying to make things a little simpler. We know what we have to do."
Lehigh Valley (6-4) is on a four-game winning streak and is coming off a 67-42 win over the Knoxville Nighthawks in Bethlehem, Pa., last week. The Steelhawks' current hot streak started with a 60-51 win over Columbus May 5 in Bethlehem in the teams' only other meeting this season.
Gibson knows his team is facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs, but it's a battle he think the Lions can win.
"We just have to stop turning the ball over," said Gibson. "We're at home for two of our last three games. We have to win our home games and take care of business on the road."
Notes: If you can't make it to the game, you can listen to it through a link on the Lions' website, www.columbuslions.net. Click on the "Listen Live" link on the right-hand side of the page. Coverage starts at 3:55 p.m. The Lions' four-game losing streak is the longest in franchise history, while the Steelhawks' four-game winning streak is the longest in their franchise history as well. Lions defensive back LeRoy Vann is the only player in PIFL history to score a touchdown in four different ways (receiving, missed field goal return, interception return and kickoff return) in a single season. Columbus has started four different quarterbacks (tied for the most in the PIFL) and used four different kickers this season. After today's game, the Lions are back in action Saturday, when they host the Albany Panthers. Kickoff at the Columbus Civic Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.