Lions mailbag: Caldwell prepares for unique late-game scenarios

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions coach Jim Caldwell shakes hands with his players before the game.

Welcome to our weekly Detroit Lions mailbag. No need for a fancy intro, let's get on to your questions.

@Justin_Rogers is the way Caldwell preps for late game scenarios really that unique? Do Lions do it more than other teams or just tougher?

— KuehnObservations (@KuehnObserve) November 14, 2016

Every coach sets aside practice segments for end-game situations, but Jim Caldwell takes it a step further, providing as many unique, real scenarios as possible. Each week, the coaching staff scours the close finishes from every NFL and NCAA game, looking for challenging situations they can re-create on the practice field. By switching it up, it keeps the players sharp with their on-field time management skills.

@Justin_Rogers besides Jags and Division, what are the most winnable games remaining?

— Kurtis Pozsgay (@kpozsgay) November 14, 2016

You're left with three road games. Dallas is the most unrealistic, with the way that team is playing right now. But trips to New York (Giants) and New Orleans are both winnable games.

The Saints have already dropped three at home, but it's a tough matchup for the Lions. They've been dissected by mediocre quarterbacks this season. What do you think Drew Brees is going to do? As for the Giants, they're 4-1 at home, but they don't have a reliable run game and don't score a lot of points. As long as the Lions keep it close, you know they've got a shot with Matthew Stafford.

@Justin_Rogers In what scenario do we not make the playoffs if we end the season second in the NFC North?

— Lions (@Lionszsz) November 14, 2016

Probably most scenarios because you're likely looking at a team that's 9-7, at best, and you have nine teams in the NFC that are .500 or better right now.

@Justin_Rogers Corey Robinson played well against Minnesota for his first start, what did the coaches think about his performance?

— John Popovits (@Thurfir_Hawat) November 14, 2016

Here's the extent of comments made about Corey Robinson's performance last week. "Corey did a nice job, solid job." That came from Jim Caldwell, discussing the offensive line's performance against Minnesota.

I'm sure offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will be asked about Robinson later this week, and I'm hopeful to catch up with the young lineman in the locker room at some point, but it's easy to imagine there're a lot of positive feelings about the performance. He did particularly well as a pass protector, which isn't an easy job against a couple pretty good Vikings edge rushers.

I don't want to jump the gun based on one game, but Robinson could be giving the Lions options next season if Riley Reiff's contract demands get too rich.

@Justin_Rogers with the decline in ratings, could we see a decline in revenue, and thus a decline in the salary cap? Could have huge impacts

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) November 14, 2016

It's a good question and if ratings do have an impact, it will likely be gradual. The league agreed to new, nine-year deals with Fox, CBS and NBC in 2014. So TV revenue, which is one of the biggest components driving the cap, should hold steady. But declining ratings could hint in a declining overall interest in the product. If ticket sales and merchandise sales are also in decline, the cap will eventually plateau or decrease, since it's based on a percentage of overall revenue.

@Justin_Rogers #lionsmailbag What does preparation look like the week of Thanksgiving... the Lions are 1 of the few who always play 2 games

— PatBerWA (@PatBerWA) November 14, 2016

It's obviously condensed. On Monday, the team typically runs a light practice. Tuesday, which is normally an off day, is the full practice. Wednesday is another light practice, closer to a walk-through. With every NFL team playing a Thursday game each season, it's not really that unique anymore.

@Justin_Rogers Any chance the Lions go hurry up sooner in the game?

— Peter Dumon (@pgdumon) November 14, 2016

They haven't gone no-huddle the past two games, which is interesting because Cooter blamed it on a lack of consistent personnel, but they were pretty close to full strength against Houston and Minnesota.

The hurry-up card is always at their disposal, but I have to wonder if the reluctance to use it is tied to the defense's struggles. Given the unit's inability to consistently get off the field, the offense might be better off sticking to a more methodical pace, chewing up some clock and letting the defense rest.

@Justin_Rogers Marvin Jones seems to be our only deep threat now, do we plan to use Corey Fuller in that role as well?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) November 14, 2016

Fuller's role remains unclear, but if you're counting on him to suddenly morph into a reliable deep option, you're likely to be disappointed. He's always had plus speed, but he's struggled to track and catch many of those deep throws.

@Justin_Rogers Stafford seems at his best in 2 minute situations. Why don't they occasionally go no huddle to spark the O at other times?

— Mr T (@UpnorthSpartan) November 14, 2016

I included this question to clear up a misconception that two-minute offense can be applied at any point in the game. The factor not considered here is opposing defenses make a difference. For example, on that long completion to Andre Roberts to set up the tying field goal, Minnesota dropped nine players into coverage. That's just not something you're going to see on a first-and-10 play in the middle of the second quarter.

Hurry-up offense has value. It locks opponents into a personnel grouping, where you can create mismatches and take advantage of schematic tendencies. But Stafford and company thrive in end-game scenarios not because of the tempo, but because he's exceedingly comfortable in picking apart zone coverages with minimal pass-rush pressure.

@Justin_Rogers any chance that Banks takes over in the slot for Diggs after the bye seeing as he's 1 of the lowest rated DB's in the league

— Chozen One (@ch0z3n1) November 14, 2016

The long-term plans for Banks remain unclear. The cornerback, acquired in a deadline deal, was inactive his first game with the franchise. What we do know is the Lions don't intend to convert him to safety. He'll be a cornerback in Teryl Austin's scheme, but don't anticipate a move inside. He just doesn't have the quickness or agility to handle the slot coverage responsibilities.

The most likely way Banks works his way into playing time is an injury situation. Assuming the secondary remains relatively healthy, and he proves to be a good fit with strong practice habits, the Lions could consider sliding Nevin Lawson inside on nickel packages, replacing Quandre Diggs, who has really struggled in coverage this season.

@Justin_Rogers Did you watch the 1991 playoff win on youtube?

— JW (@jmwhitejmwhite) November 14, 2016

I have not, but I'll probably get around to it eventually. In case anyone missed this, the full game was uploaded last week by the NFL.

@Justin_Rogers How realistic is it that the Lions win the division?

— Respected Madman (@KHMakerD) November 14, 2016

I'm not sure I can really put a percentage on it, but it's very realistic. The Packers and Vikings are reeling and don't have particularly easy schedules coming up. If the Lions can win out at home, beating the Jaguars this week and sweeping their three NFC North foes at Ford Field, that might be enough.

@Justin_Rogers how frustrating are those press conferences as a member of the media? Because as a fan, they are brutal and a time waster

— DisgusTed (@TedR14) November 14, 2016

I don't get frustrated. I have the right to ask the questions and he has the right to not answer. I embrace the challenge of carefully crafting questions that won't result in mundane cliches. Do I always succeed? Not even close. But getting frustrated or whining about it doesn't help me do my job.