Lions mailbag: Detroit can win but not dominate

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford hands off to running back Zach Zenner in the first quarter Sunday.

Welcome back to another Detroit Lions mailbag. No reason to waste any time with an intro, let's get on to the questions.

@Justin_Rogers What would it take for Stafford to be in the legit MVP discussion? 2011 numbers? Making the playoffs?

— Andre BOOrown (@andreh) October 24, 2016

First and foremost, the Lions will have to qualify for the postseason. An MVP hasn't come from a non-playoff team in more than 40 years and that's not likely to change. With that box checked, Matthew Stafford will remain in the conversation if he can maintain his current stat line — specifically, completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio. Also, as great as all these comeback wins have been, a meaningful moment down the stretch, when it would be fresh in voters' minds, would help.

Finally, he's going to need Tom Brady to chill. The two-time MVP has posted some absurd numbers since coming back from suspension. If he keeps it up, no one is catching him. Sorry.

@Justin_Rogers Will DeAndre Levy play another down as a Lion?

— Joe Martinez (@JoeM3120) October 24, 2016

Levy isn't likely to be lacing them up the next two weeks, but there's a reasonable chance he's back after the bye, when the team hosts Jacksonville on Nov. 20.

@Justin_Rogers Matt Stafford is doing a lot of things better without CJ. Is there anything he's doing worse?

— Nate Washuta (@NateWashuta) October 24, 2016

Honestly, I can't think of a single negative thing to say here. Stafford has been better at spreading the ball around, his mistakes have stayed down, his completion percentage is up and he's been a real weapon with his feet.

@Justin_Rogers which player has been the biggest disappointment so far? Excluding those who have been injured

— Sports Account (@sportsacount_10) October 24, 2016

It's kind of difficult to not put Laken Tomlinson at the top of the list. We should have seen a noticeable jump in the former first-round pick's performance, but he was inconsistent all through training camp and the start of the season. Now, he's benched. Defensively, even with 3 1/2 sacks in seven games, Devin Taylor disappears for long stretches. In his fourth season, and his first as a starter, he appeared primed to make a leap, but it hasn't happened.

@Justin_Rogers Does Zettel see more snaps moving forward? Seems to have a high motor

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) October 24, 2016

It's already happening. He's been getting more snaps each week he's been active, including 27 in the win over Washington. That's a healthy workload and he flashed in the victory, particularly as a pass rusher.

@Justin_Rogers #LionsMailBag Has this team created an identity?

— AZDetroitLion (@azcwillams) October 24, 2016

It's mixed. Offensively, they're balanced. Not in the traditional sense, but the ground game is good enough to allow Stafford to spread it around effectively. Defensively, they can't stop anyone. They're soft against the run and the pass, allowing opponents to routinely put together long scoring drives. Combined, it's good enough to be in most games until the end, but never good enough to pull away.

The team's defining characteristic is it rarely buckles in crunch time. There are few as calm and collected as Stafford in clutch situations and that permeates through the entire offense.

@Justin_Rogers #LionsMailbag Not that Caldwell gives info, but what is the tactical advantage of having Devin Taylor playing prevent D?

— Richard Davisson (@RickDaddyJames) October 24, 2016

First, Taylor has good speed and long limbs, which makes him effective covering deep throws with extended hang time. He's also pretty quick, with above-average ability to change of direction, in case he gets into a situation where the opponent is running laterals.

Given there was fewer than 20 seconds remaining and Washington had a long way to go, I found no fault in the strategy.

@Justin_Rogers Will Lions continue to alternate guard pairings, or is Tomlinson outside looking in?

— mstoef (@mstoef) October 24, 2016

No, it's Graham Glasgow's job.

@Justin_Rogers Any news/sightings of Ameer?

— Kyle Decker (@sho_nuff_kd) October 24, 2016

I haven't seen him, but he's posted some stuff on social media that shows he's around the facility. Caldwell has declined to comment on the possibility of the running back returning from injured reserve, but he isn't even eligible to come back until Week 11, at the earliest.

@Justin_Rogers Would it be difficult for the Lions to sign both Warford & Reiff after 2016, or is that just too expensive and unrealistic?

— Big Biting Pig (@BigBitingPig) October 24, 2016

If they want to make it happen, they can. If you have to pick one, you probably do what you can to lock up Reiff.

If the market dictates something in the range Mitchell Schwartz got from the Chiefs this offseason — five years, $33 million — Bob Quinn shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. With Warford, it's trickier. He's arguably the team's most consistent lineman, but he's had some durability issues and you have some younger options on the roster, whether it's Tomlinson shifting to the right side, where he played in college, or fifth-round pick Joe Dahl. Top guards are getting deals paying $7-8 million annually and Quinn can probably find better ways to utilize those funds.

@Justin_Rogers if Matt was injured in preseason and Dan-o had started all games, would we be 0-7 in your opinion?

— Jeff Nafe (@nafej) October 24, 2016

Tough to say, because everything changes and it's unlikely the same injuries occur. If the backfield tandem of Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick stay healthy in this alternative timeline, Orlovsky can probably do enough to come away with a win or two.

@Justin_Rogers is there any scheme or adjustment that Austin can do to shore up the middle of the defense?

— NavigaTed (@TedR14) October 24, 2016

At this point, he's in a jam given his personnel. That's not letting Teryl Austin off the hook, but his players aren't playing well enough, no matter how he shuffles the lineup. He's tried more defensive back-heavy packages, he's playing younger players, he's increasing the blitzing, but nothing is working.

If anything, the Lions should stop worrying so much about giving up big plays and make a stronger effort to take away the short passing game. They concede check-downs and dump offs as part of the scheme, not wanting to get beat over the top. I understand the philosophy, but they're not good enough on third down or at forcing turnovers to justify continued reliance on the conservative approach.

@Justin_Rogers am I wrong to think Kerry Hyder deserves more snaps over Devin Taylor?

— Jeff Cavanaugh (@InfamousCavy) October 24, 2016

Taylor has more potential, but Hyder is producing more consistently. Right now, they're playing a similar number of snaps. In fact, since Week 1, Hyder has averaged more.

Let me put it this way, I think Hyder deserves every snap he's getting, even with some of his defensive lapses (he screwed up on that Kirk Cousins' touchdown run). If anyone is going to eat into Taylor's time, it would be Armonty Bryant, who has done some really nice things in his short time with the Lions.

@Justin_Rogers the Lions have a winning record and their QB is getting MVP banter. Can we just freeze time forever?

— Bigly (@mipo777) October 24, 2016

Demand more. You can't accept this as your pinnacle.

@Justin_Rogers Assuming Slay is out, do we see Barnes, Carter or Bademosi on the outside with Lawson?

— 〽️BrIck ⚒🐙🦁 (@brianickes) October 24, 2016

Bademosi will be probably be the guy with Barnes serving as a backup. Although, in an injury situation, the Lions could slide Quandre Diggs outside and use safety Rafael Bush in the slot. I haven't kept tabs on Alex Carter's development on the practice squad, and won't completely rule him out from being activated prior to the contest, but he wouldn't move into a starting role.

@Justin_Rogers how much of an impact will Stafford's new contract have on our cap space? Presumably, it should be large.

— JJ (@ODramaKeemLaden) October 24, 2016

Minimal. His cap hit is already $22.5 million this season and $22 million next. His next deal will probably average approximately $25 million.

@Justin_Rogers when Boldin tossed the ball in the stands why didn't he get called for excessive celebration?

— BL (@brlane) October 24, 2016

No penalty, but he'll be getting a paycheck deduction this week. It will cost him $6,076, to be exact.

@Justin_Rogers if you could chose any other NFL team to write about and work for their local news outlet, which team would it be? Why?

— Harry (@503LionsFan) October 25, 2016

It really wouldn't have anything to do with the team. It would be more about the city. There are several places I would love to live, but none more than Seattle.

@Justin_Rogers Any chance of a flexed game on the schedule?

— Thomas Wojtowicz (@WojtowiczThomas) October 25, 2016

It strikes me as unlikely. Hosting Minnesota in a month would have been a great option, but that's the Thanksgiving contest. The Dec. 18 game against the New York Giants has some juice, but I can't see NBC bumping Pittsburgh/Cincinnati from the primetime slot. That leaves Week 17 against Green Bay. You can't rule it out, especially if there are playoff implications.

@Justin_Rogers Ebron was reportedly moving well on the sideline. Does it speak to the coach's confidence in the depth that he still sat?

— Daniel De Felippis (@DGarraston) October 25, 2016

No, nothing like that. He wasn't medically cleared to return. He still hasn't practiced, but I expect that to change this week. Time will tell if that's enough to get him back against the Texans.