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Lions mailbag: Give me Stafford over Aaron Rodgers

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions QB Matthew Stafford has completed 68.9 percent of his passes through six games. He's thrown for 1,648 yards and 14 touchdowns versus four interceptions.

Welcome to our weekly Detroit Lions mailbag. Let's hop right into the questions.

@Justin_Rogers You speculate B4 season about team record. How about speculate now on return of injured players? Team won't do it so why not?

— Michael Cramer (@cromanium) October 17, 2016

Those are entirely different things, but to be honest, if my bosses didn't make me do it, I would skip the game-by-game predictions before the start of the season. They're worthless. Like anyone had any idea the Lions' starting backfield would be Zach Zenner and Justin Forsett a month and a half into the season.

But with those predictions, they're based on information — rosters, past performances, opponents. With injuries, even if we know the specific issue, we rarely know the severity. Plus, every person recovers differently. I've had plenty of sports injuries. I've pulled my hamstring, had low and high ankle sprains, dealt with plantar fasciitis and shin splits, but my experiences are unique to me.

If I have solid information, I'm comfortable offering typical recovery ranges, but injury information is becoming more and more difficult to come by these days. Guys who used to share more off the record have bought into the company line that injury information is a competitive advantage. So without specific information, I'm not going to toss out wild speculation. It's irresponsible.

@Justin_Rogers what are our chances looking like with riding the playoff contention bubble late into the season?

— Daniel De Felippis (@DGarraston) October 17, 2016

I don't like Detroit's odds against Minnesota on the road, and that Dallas game in December suddenly looks like one of the toughest on the schedule. If those are losses, it leaves little room for error.

We'll have a much better idea whether this team can contend late into the season by the end of the month. If they can upend Washington at home next week and go on the road and beat Houston, postseason talk is realistic.

@Justin_Rogers does a scenario exist where Jim Caldwell keeps his job but Teryl Austin doesn't?

— Evan (@BigSlickMcDick) October 17, 2016

There's loyalty at play with this conversation. Austin was one of Caldwell's first hires in Detroit, following him over from Baltimore. But if the team remains in the playoff hunt into the later stages of the season, but the defense never turns it around, making a switch at defensive coordinator might be the only way Caldwell can save his job.

@Justin_Rogers Is the success of the offense the product of Cooter's "system" or is he scheming to the strengths of his players?

— NavigaTed (@TedR14) October 17, 2016

It's both, but a good coordinator builds a system around the strength of his players, while taking input on what the players like and dislike. Jim Bob Cooter has done his best work with quarterback Matthew Stafford and along the offensive line. The blocking scheme, while still complex, is simpler than it was under the direction of Joe Lombardi. That's led to improved rushing numbers and less quarterback pressure.

Stafford has been phenomenal in a scheme that has minimized risks and put an emphasis on throwing to the open man, even if it's routinely the check-down option. That's smart because most of his weapons are capable of doing damage after the catch.

@Justin_Rogers if the Lions continue to win, do you see them as buyers for help on defense at the trade deadline?

— Josh Rouse (@TheJoshRouse) October 17, 2016

That's more of a baseball concept. It's difficult for an NFL player to be dropped into a new situation mid-season and be a significant contributor. They need to learn the verbiage, the scheme and the tendencies of their teammates. That's the reason you don't see many impact trades in the middle of the season.

@Justin_Rogers Caldwell's injury shtick is obviously annoying. Was it this way in Indy? Has it seemed to get worse under Quinn?

— Justin Conlon (@jucocon) October 18, 2016

It's definitely worse under the new front office regime. Caldwell was never big on specifics, but he'd occasionally label a situation as long-term or week-to-week, providing some low-level insight on recovery.

Now, saying nothing is an organizational approach, coming from the top and reinforced by the coach.

@Justin_Rogers has Stafford exceeded expectations this year? Where is he on the pecking order of current NFL quarterbacks?

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) October 17, 2016

Yeah, I would say Stafford is exceeding expectations. In many ways, he's carrying the team.

The pecking order is merely opinion, but he's still behind the trio of veteran champions —Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. No one is playing better than Matt Ryan right now and I'd still take Russell Wilson over Stafford. And what do we make of rookie Dak Prescott, who is doing incredible things in Dallas? If this is a long-term conversation, give me Prescott.

I've long felt Stafford is a tier-two quarterback, but with the way he's played the last year, I'd move him toward the top of that group, along with Ryan and Philip Rivers, another consistently underrated passer. Here's something I can't wrap my head around — I'd take Stafford over Aaron Rodgers now and not think twice.

@Justin_Rogers Here is a novelty ? given the 91' celebration yesterday. Any grumblings about a Barry Sanders statue being made?

— Joe Raymond (@bennietheblade) October 17, 2016

Grumblings or rumblings? Either way, I've heard nothing on that front. The Ford Field crowd always gives the former superstar a warm welcome, but I imagine the way he left the game still bothers ownership.

Lions great Barry Sanders leaves the field after being an honorary captain during the coin toss before Detroit and the L.A. Rams play at Ford Field on Sunday.

@Justin_Rogers Do you think Jim Caldwell realizes just how bad his defense has been? Judging by his pressers I'm not sure

— maeby (@seenable) October 17, 2016

Part of Caldwell's makeup is he doesn't publicly criticize his players or his coaches. He'll offer platitudes, such as "nobody is perfect" or "I'm concerned about every part of the team," but won't put a specific player or unit on blast. There's no way he's oblivious to the struggles, he's just not going to share his concerns or frustrations with the public.

@Justin_Rogers A pash rush would be nice. Is DL play to blame, the scheme, or something else?

— Anthony Hughey (@hughey24) October 17, 2016

It's not one thing. We overrated the talent, the team has badly missed Ziggy Ansah, the secondary is surrendering the short-passing game and allowing opposing quarterbacks to get rid of it quickly, and, the blitzing has largely been ineffective. That's all adds up to general ineffectiveness.

@Justin_Rogers Tomlinson at left guard, how did he grade out and do you think was an audition for next year if Warford does not re-sign?

— Darrell (@dsroelandt) October 17, 2016

I do go back and watch each game, often multiple times, but I don't do individual grades for players. From what I did see, Tomlinson had his struggles with Aaron Donald, which most mortal men do, but it wasn't bad enough to slow Detroit's offense.

As for an audition, it's fair to look at it that way, although that's not why they put him at right guard against the Rams. The Lions will have to make a decision on Larry Warford this offseason, and while I would do what I could to sign him to an extension, he could command something outside of the team's spending range, necessitating a move for Tomlinson.

@Justin_Rogers What would change about Caldwell's press conference behavior? Which coaches do you think do well at press conferences?

— Dave Reimink (@DaveReimink) October 17, 2016

He's free to do and say whatever he wants on the podium. If it was my job to offer him advice, I'd remind him that he's not talking to reporters, but to the entire fan base. While I understand his frustration with the line of questioning at times, condescending responses open him up to unnecessary criticism from fans already frustrated with losing.

@Justin_Rogers Was the Lions’ decision to make Lawson a starting CB overly optimistic or a sign of front office being cheap with cap space?

— Josh Koehn (@Josh_Koehn) October 17, 2016

No, they believed in Lawson and still do. You can't have a Pro Bowl-caliber player at every position, and some of Lawson's weaknesses are accentuated by the lack of a pass rush. He might not even make my five biggest problems with the defense.

@Justin_Rogers which player on IR would help more, Bostic or Abdullah?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) October 17, 2016

Ameer Abdullah would help more because he's the best running back on the roster. That said, Bostic is more likely to be medically cleared and be activated off IR this season.

@Justin_Rogers can you shed any more light on the warford injury and when he'll return?

— Matt pikos (@MPeak81) October 17, 2016

As noted earlier, I limit my speculation to facts. I've been informed Warford is dealing with a muscle strain, and the early belief is it's not serious. There was some thought he could play against the Rams, but after testing it out on Saturday, it wasn't good enough. As mentioned, we all heal differently, and you never know when you can have a setback, but at this point, I wouldn't expect him to miss more than one more game.