Lions mailbag: Zenner's chance, Robinson's woes

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Normally, we'd do our Detroit Lions mailbag on a Tuesday. But with Monday Night Football throwing the schedule off a week, here we are.

An injury to running back Dwayne Washington could open the door for more playing time for Zach Zenner (34) this week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Is Zenner going to see any playing time in the near future?

— Joe Raymond (@bennietheblade) September 19, 2017

Zach Zenner could see playing time as early as this week. Dwayne Washington suffered a quad injury against the Giants and wasn't able to return to the game. If that muscle injury doesn't clear up over the course of this week, I'd imagine Zach Zenner gets the call over Tion Green, simply because of his experience in the scheme.

Several writers have mentioned that Lions don't block long-snapper on punt returns. Is that a DET thing, or done across the league?

— Dustin B. Schwartz (@dustinbschwartz) September 19, 2017

It's probably not unusual. Obviously, you have to leave one player unblocked, which would be the punter, but so many teams jam the opposition's top gunner with two blockers, and the long snapper would be the next logical man to leave uncovered. Nothing against Don Muhlbach, but athleticism isn't something teams are worried about from most players at that position.

Lions seem easily fooled by misdirection. Is it scheme or lack of individual discipline? We seem to have a hard time setting the edge

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) September 19, 2017

The Lions like to say they play fast and aggressive on defense, and when you're aggressive, you tend to overplay misdirection on occasion. The risk there is you're out of position on a play. The reward should be more turnovers and tackles in the backfield, which we've seen in spades the first two weeks. On the one touchdown the Lions gave up against the Giants, they bit a little hard on play-action because Tavon Wilson and Tahir Whitehead were looking to make a stop in the backfield. But in a game where you come away with eight tackles for a loss and a turnover, you can live with the error.

Is Greg Robinson really that bad? Was he getting picked on by the Zebras? Is it coachable corrections?

— Jackie Moon (@penlead) September 19, 2017

It was a rough night for Robinson, but I'm not going to bury him after one game, just like we didn't crown him after a steady showing in Week 1. There are going to be inconsistencies. We know that from his tape in St. Louis/Los Angeles, and we understand it from his limited time in this new scheme, which requires him to move and block in a fundamentally different way.

I wouldn't say the officials were picking on him. All the flags were legit, even if you see similar holding calls missed every few plays. He needs to be more technically sound and the Lions will continue to work on it with him.

Lions tackle Greg Robinson was flagged for three penalties against the Giants.

Why did it take the Lions so long to improve the offensive line? 2 FA lineman have made a HUGE difference.

— leroy buddy (@lwbuddy) September 19, 2017

I think this is a clear myth. The Lions have tried for years, but haven't made the right picks or signed the right guys to build a grouping like they had in the early 90s, when Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover held down the fort. The team drafted an offensive lineman in the first or second rounds five times in six years from 1995-2001. You had busts like Juan Roque, Aaron Gibson and Stockar McDougle, and you had steady players like Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, who never developed into consistent Pro Bowlers.

Former GM Martin Mayhew also spent heavily on his line through the draft. He drafted Riley Reiff and Laken Tomlinson in the first round and Larry Warford and Travis Swanson in the third. He also went out and got a quality veteran via trade in Rob Sims. But again, the individual pieces, some of which managed to live up to expectations, never quite gelled into the unit the organization envisioned.

So here we are again, another go at it, and far from a finished product. Bob Quinn spent more on veterans on the open market, and they didn't come cheap. Given the value of experience up front, especially when the practice limitations tied to the current collective bargaining agreement, the strategy seems sound. He's also put many of his own draft resources into bulking up the front. We haven't seen it pay off yet. Heck, we haven't even seen the five on the field together with Taylor Decker nursing an injury. These guys might be really good together, but with Travis Swanson hitting free agency next season, there's the potential for another batch of changes in the offseason.

Was defense better last night because of the Offense rushing success? (ball control). Zero sacks on blitzes(didnt need to)

— BK_SHAKY (@BK_SHAKY) September 19, 2017

The ball control didn't hurt. It kept the defense fresh, which is especially important up front. But the real reason the Lions were better, both Monday night and the season opener, is because the defense is winning many of its individual matchups. And that starts with the pass rush. If you can pressure the quarterback consistently, and do that while stopping the run, you're going to have success in the NFL.

There's no doubt they've played two less-than-stellar offensive lines, but you can only knock down the pins in front of you. We'll see how the group does when it faces stiffer blocking, but so far so good.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is sacked by Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the first quarter Monday night.

Are we going to the SuperBowl?

— Nell-O (@_BigNell_) September 19, 2017

I believe Wojo has already booked his ticket.

Is there going to be any blow back from all the late and head hits on Stafford that went uncalled on Monday?

— Ray Stakenas (@AlmightyRay) September 19, 2017

I'll reach out to the NFL and see if any of the plays will be fined, but I wouldn't be surprised if none of them are. On the hit to the eye, the contact was incidental and on the slide, the defender made an effort to pull up, but it can be difficult to do in one and a half steps.

Which play was bigger/better, Agnew PR TD week 2 or Golladay layout TD catch week 1?

— Jacob Powers (@myjakeisname) September 19, 2017

The degree of difficulty on Golladay's catch makes it the most impressive, but I think a good punt return is more exciting. Agnew made things more difficult on himself with the way he fielded the ball, but he looked so smooth once he secured it, weaving through would-be tacklers effortlessly, and spinning clean though the one hit he took.

It's crazy how both plays essentially sealed victories. Not bad for a couple rookies.

With Jeremiah Ledbetter grading strongly in both of the first two weeks, will his workload begin to rise as the season progresses?

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) September 19, 2017

Maybe slightly, but the Lions like the three tackles they have in front of him, so they don't have to overwork Ledbetter while he's still developing, particularly as a run defender. Part of his early success is that he's been limited, both mentally and physically. It looks like the Lions have a real gem on their hands, but one they can afford to let slowly grow into a bigger role (unless there's another injury, of course).

What are the chances that a different, less penalty-ridden, LT will show up prior to Decker returning? We should have at least 1 option.

— CoachKirk (@mkirk2) September 19, 2017

There's always Brian Mihalik. What's that? You're not familiar with Mihalik? Well, yeah, that's the point. There's no saviors walking through the door at this point. Robinson is the guy and is almost certainly going to be the guy until Decker returns.

Ausmus 'Negative media' & Caldwell 'Dungeon of Doom' but are they right? Detroit really have negative media or just a smaller bubble?

— John Popovits (@The_Johnny_Pop) September 19, 2017

I've never worked in another city, but I do spend some time reading transcripts of press sessions from other markets and the questions aren't much different anywhere, from Denver to New York. What's potentially different, at least with the Lions, is there's always a healthy dose of skepticism. On Tuesday, Caldwell highlighted that vibe once again saying, "I’m just saying I don’t think anybody’s ever been glowingly sort of in appreciation of us in which we don’t expect."


I do my best to always evaluate this team only on its current merits. Of course, I study statistical trends for players, coaches, etc..., but I don't hold the 1984 Lions against the 2017 Lions. But my personal approach doesn't overshadow six decades of failure, which is a dark cloud that hangs over the organization. That's not Caldwell's fault, it's not the current players' fault and it's not the media's fault, it just is what it is. You don't get the benefit of the doubt without a track record to support it. I don't work in a faith-based industry, I work in a fact-based industry.

To Caldwell, I'd like to point out, I did pick you to win your first two games.

Do you really think the running game was good last night? Couple of big gashes skew the numbers a tad.

— Mike Down (@mekahldownish) September 19, 2017

No, I wouldn't call it good. Average would be a more appropriate description. The big plays were nice, and something the Lions have lacked, but there were still too many runs that resulted in no gain or loss of yardage. Not every run is going to work, there are going to be duds, but you can't lose yardage that often. There was a sequence against the Giants where runs were stopped behind the line on first and second down.

What I have really liked was the way the Lions closed out games running the ball. That's the mark of a successful team.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah had 17 carries for 86 yards on Monday night.

It was huge to have the lead and get all them running attempts in the second half. Did AA show you he can be the 2 down back the Lions need?

— Hazmatt (@DetLionsucker) September 19, 2017

Two-down? I believe Ameer Abdullah is a three-down back. He can run between the tackles, can contribute in the pass game and is a much-improved pass protector. There's not a situation where I wouldn't trust Abdullah as much or more than any back on the roster, including short-yardage.

Since Stafford only passed for 122 yards is it time for Rudock to get a shot?

— Ricky (@RickyH174) September 19, 2017

You've got me before, Ricky. Not again.

Will OBJ get fined for hit on Davis?

— gsmitty (@gsmitty_1) September 19, 2017

Possibly. The result was ugly, given Jarrad Davis suffered an injury, but you'll see a lot worse every week than Odell Beckham's block. Most wide receivers aren't good at blocking and run around, panicked when they're asked to do it. Beckham made a desperation play, and managed to catch a good portion of Davis' shoulder with his effort. It was undeniably a missed penalty, but when I watch the video, I don't see malicious intent.

How will Austin scheme around Jarrad Davis' absence?

— Juliet Hagle (@JuliestHagle) September 19, 2017

The run defense will suffer a bit, if Davis can't go. The Lions don't have another option who plays downhill with equal force. I would imagine it would mean more playing time for Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who got an extended look in the second half against the Giants. Reeves-Maybin is smart, has plus-instincts and moves well in space. The biggest downside is his functional weight, which he's working on, but, as mentioned, limits his effectiveness against the run.

As for wearing the headset, those duties would likely transfer to Tahir Whitehead, who handled the calls last season.