Lions mailbag: Looking for answers after 1-2 start

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Theo Riddick

It's a Tuesday tradition like no other. Welcome to our Detroit Lions mailbag, where you ask questions on Twitter and I answer those queries here.

@Justin_Rogers who will be the starting running back this Sunday?

— John Farmer (@johnsfarmerjr) September 26, 2016

I fully expect Theo Riddick to remain the starter. The real question is who will handle the bulk of the carries? Against the Packers, the workload was divided evenly, with Riddick and rookie Washington each taking 10 handoffs, but I can envision the split slowly shifting in the rookie's favor. He offers a more durable frame, suited for north-south running between the tackles, without sacrificing big-play potential. Riddick maintains his value as an elite pass-catcher out of the backfield and an improved runner who works best as a change-of-pace option.

@Justin_Rogers Through 3 gms how would you asses the way EE has been used? Seems to be catching all his targets. Expected more deep routes

— Jake Cullinan (@JustJake981) September 26, 2016

We're going to let this one past the censors, because I know what you meant. I have loved the way Eric Ebron has played. First, he's showing some toughness right now, battling through injuries. Second, he's been making big-time catches on some tough throws. The turnover against the Packers was unfortunate. He needs to do a better job securing that ball, but he'll learn from the mistake. Right now, he's on track for approximately 896 receiving yards, and as long as he stays on the field, it's a pace that feels sustainable.

@Justin_Rogers Is Ashlee Palmer an option at linebacker? He seems to be lobbying pretty hard for a job with the Lions

— Vince Vielhaber (@vieltech) September 26, 2016

Sometimes, covering one team, you become trapped in the silo of your immediate surroundings, but Palmer's inability to latch on with another team always struck me as odd. He was an outstanding special teams player, a subpar, but adequate backup linebacker and he kept his nose clean off the field. There's always a place for that kind of veteran in the locker room, in my opinion.

That said, he's been out of football for more than a year, so I wouldn't consider the 30-year-old a viable option right now.

@Justin_Rogers since injury based questions are off the table for Caldwell can we ask questions about scheme?

— Slade Bivins (@SladeBivins) September 26, 2016

You can ask, but based on my years of experience, that's another dead-end topic.

@Justin_Rogers After the inexplicable loss in Chicago, who gets canned?

— J.D. Wireman (@Sleeper_66) September 26, 2016

If you're expecting some bloodletting from the coaching staff, you're going to be disappointed. As frustrating as a loss to the banged-up Bears would be -- dropping the Lions to 1-3 and sending fans on a hunt for 2017 mock drafts -- the pink slips would remain on hold for at least a little while longer.

@Justin_Rogers when will the Lions draft a real left tackle and stop drafting right tackles and pretending they are left tackles?

— Aaron Albright (@ActionJackson84) September 26, 2016

The team really, really likes Taylor Decker, and before Sunday's struggles, the rookie was actually looking pretty good. Does he have the ideal skill set to play the blindside? Maybe not, but long arms, solid technique and strong work ethic will go a long way. He clearly needs to continue to add functional strength, but I believe in his ability to play left tackle effectively at this level.

All that said, Riley Reiff is still scheduled to be a free agent at season's end and no one is ruling the Lions out from drafting in the top 10, so an offensive tackle could always be in play.

@Justin_Rogers has Darius Slay underperformed this year relative to his contract?

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) September 26, 2016

Sure. He doesn't have an interception and has recorded more penalties (two) than pass breakups (one). You expect a little bit more from a cornerback paid as a top-10 guy at his position. Still, he's been pretty solid in coverage, and even when he's been beat, he's often right there. He's also been hurt by an inconsistent pass rush.

Slay is the least of the Lions' worries.

@Justin_Rogers What is wrong with Golden Tate?

— Joshua Travis (@boomshaka9) September 26, 2016


He had a bad game against the Titans, and even though the targets were down against the Packers, he was productive, turning all four of his receptions into first downs. The reason the per game numbers are down is in part due to the emergence of Marvin Jones, in part due to the number of other weapons in the offense causing some natural fluctuation in targets, and in part due to opposing defenses keying in on his bread-and-butter routes, limiting his YAC potential.

Matthew Stafford

@Justin_Rogers is matthew Stafford reaching the 'elite' level? If not yet how long does he need to play this way before hes considered elite

— Justin Beauvais (@Buddhas_Twin) September 26, 2016

Why do people care about this? It's an arbitrary term that means nothing. And why are we so fixated on Stafford's stats? It's because it's all Lions fans have to talk about in the absence of team success.

Yeah, he puts up huge numbers, he's relatively efficient, but he's not elite. He misses far too many throws, especially downfield, and still makes his fair share of mental errors (see the two passes to Packers defenders that could have been intercepted). Plus, he lacks postseason success. You can argue that doesn't matter all you want, but it remains part of the formula for how we judge the position.

@Justin_Rogers Is a fly with no wings called a walk?

— Joshua Travis (@boomshaka9) September 26, 2016

No, it's called a dead fly.

I feel like we're getting off track.

@Justin_Rogers why do reporters whine about Caldwell not discussing injuries? What does he have to gain from helping you write an article?

— Adam Gasper (@AGasper1701) September 26, 2016

I've been known to playfully mock the repetitive nature of the responses, but if I have ever come off as "whining" about Caldwell's approach, I apologize. Whatever you have perceived from other reporters, we are not a singular voice. They don't speak for me.

Caldwell has nothing to personally gain from talking about injuries, but by not clarifying even the most minimal details, he puts his players on an island. Do you have any idea the nasty emails and tweets I get questioning DeAndre Levy's passion for football, his manliness or suggesting he retire? It's pathetic in many ways, but when the organization declines to elaborate on his condition, it leads to that kind of wild speculation from the fans, the paying customer.

My job is to ask. Even if I know what the answer is going to be, I have to continue to seek that information.

@Justin_Rogers Why is Caldwell sticking with Roberts on return duties? He has done NOTHING with any of his returns thusfar!

— Monte' White (@TayyWhite1) September 26, 2016

Because it's been three games and the sample size isn't big enough to merit a CAPS LOCK assessment of the return game performance. Roberts has been underwhelming, but one 45-yard kickoff return and he's suddenly among the league leaders. I chose that seemingly random number because he's had one at least that long in three of the four seasons he's handled kickoffs.

Jim Caldwell

@Justin_Rogers has Caldwells love of T.O cost are team to challenge play's.?

— Sean Connors (@SeanOmac41) September 26, 2016

This is a grammar nightmare, but what I think you're asking is if Caldwell's obsession with preserving timeouts is causing him to be too conservative with challenging calls. It sure feels that way. If it's a borderline call, unless it's a potentially game-altering play, Caldwell will typically keep the red flag in his pocket, rather than risk losing a timeout.

@Justin_Rogers so, when would you be alright with lions fans hitting the panic button? What needs to happen to justify that?

— Neil Jones🌐 (@Thisguyneil) September 26, 2016

You can move the meter to orange with a loss in Chicago, but can hold off on sounding the alarms until the team either loses to Philadelphia at home the following week or loses two of three during that home stand.

@Justin_Rogers Did Quinn really think our back 7 was a plus coming into the season?

— mstoef (@mstoef) September 26, 2016

He clearly liked the group, especially the starters. He added some depth at linebacker, trading for Jon Bostic and drafting Antwione Williams. He also brought in three safeties, on the cheap, to battle for the strong safety job. Quinn probably didn't expect the glut of injuries the team has had at linebacker with Bostic and Josh Bynes landing on injured reserve and Levy and Williams missing time.

@Justin_Rogers Was the 2nd half comeback legit, or did the Packers have their foot off the pedal? Or a little of both?

— Brian Sheehy (@BrianSheehy_) September 26, 2016

No, is was legit, particularly Jones' efforts. The Packers did help by leaning on Lacy more than Rodgers the final two quarters. The bruising back was effective, but the strategy definitely slowed the scoring pace.

What was also legit was the Lions' inability to get a defensive stop when they needed it most. That's happened every week and is a huge concern.

@Justin_Rogers Are there any clauses in Levy's contract for playing time?

— Kyle Decker (@sho_nuff_kd) September 26, 2016

None last year or this year, but in 2017 he has a $15,000 per game bonus for each week he's on the active roster.