Allen Park -- The Detroit Lions are 3-1 and the bandwagon is slowly starting to fill up. With the extra attention, I received a few more questions for the mailbag this week. It only seemed right to answer a few more of them, as well.
Will the lions carry an interior lineman as backup this week?— Eric Hays (@bigehays) October 2, 2017
It depends on whether the team feels Tim Lelito is up to speed. As we well know, it can take some time to get acclimated to a new playbook, the verbiage that comes with that, and new techniques, from footwork to hand placement. The Lions also run a lot of plays with pulling guards, which only complicates matters. Lelito is a veteran, who has played in two systems, so that should accelerate the process, but I can't definitely say he'll be ready to go by this Sunday.
Is the defense for real? Or have they just played bad offenses?— Anthony Hughey (@hughey24) October 2, 2017
Don’t you dare say a combination I need answers!
It's a combi... oh, wait, I hadn't finished reading your question. But how is it fair to strip me of the potentially most accurate response?
Two things. One, you can only knock down the pins put in front of you. The Lions are doing that. If we strip away the opponents and look at the pieces in the defense, there's a lot going for them. Anthony Zettel and Miles Killebrew are blossoming, Darius Slay and Glover Quin are playing at a high level, and Tahir Whitehead and Quandre Diggs have rebounded, in a huge way. And the turnovers, those have been huge. Sure, there's been some luck involved, but the Lions have been in position to capitalize on opponents' mistakes.
There are still some concerns, particularly with the way Atlanta and Minnesota ran the ball, at least up until Dalvin Cook got hurt. Maybe that improves when Jarrad Davis gets backs on the field. The play from the second cornerback spot has also been subpar. And Ziggy Ansah's performance has been inconsistent.
I'm not ready to call this one of the NFL's best units, but their early-season performance hasn't been a fluke.
What are Lions' two biggest weaknesses through four games?— Atom Nibyl (@AtomicSyzygy) October 2, 2017
Left tackle and right cornerback.
Greg Robinson, after a competent showing in the season opener, has struggled three straight weeks. A healthy Taylor Decker should solve that problem, but until he's cleared to return, I'm not sure it's going to get much better.
As for the cornerback opposite Slay, I've long felt Nevin Lawson gets unnecessarily hammered by the fan base, but he's certainly had his struggles this year and committed a couple ugly pass interference penalties to boot. D.J. Hayden hasn't been any better.
The logical question will be whether it's time to go to Teez Tabor, the team's second-round pick, but it's premature to rush him onto the field. He's able to develop at a reasonable pace on the practice field and not have his confidence rattled by struggling in a game. It's almost a certainty he'll be the guy next year.
Is Armonty Bryant coming back— NoahB (@Lionsman81) October 2, 2017
He's coming off the suspended list and will practice this week. The Lions have until Saturday before they need to make a roster decision.
chances that Abdullah's injury is worse than being led on?— Dan Gill (@DanGill777) October 2, 2017
There's always a chance, but I'd classify concern as minimal.
We've got salary cap space. Who are you extending and why? Miles? Golden? See Kam Chancellor, early extension = lower annual average— Horace Koch (@Horace_Koch) October 2, 2017
I'm extending Golden Tate, for sure. Season to season, he's been the embodiment of consistency, catching at least 90 passes per year. He still has a few years of prime football left and is a fierce competitor who can have an impact in most offensive schemes.
Other upcoming free agents the Lions should strongly consider extending are safety Tavon Wilson, linebacker Tahir Whitehead and tight end Darren Fells. All are looking like good scheme fits in Detroit and shouldn't break the bank.
And if the price tag doesn't get out of control, Travis Swanson is another player you want to keep. He's smart, a developing leader and has made impressive on-field improvements since his arrival.
As for Ansah, I'm using the franchise tag.
If T.A. and JBC leave to be a HC in the offseason who could take their spots? Kocurek as DC? Brian callahan as OC? Might be too soon to ask— Jacob Baumann (@Jacob_A_Baumann) October 2, 2017
Jim Bob Cooter isn't going anywhere. He's done great work with Matthew Stafford, but the entire offense has failed to live up to its potential and the still-young coordinator needs some seasoning and polish before a team is going to commit to making him the face of the franchise, putting him at a podium in front of local media each week and having him meet with corporate sponsors and similar things a coach has to do behind the scenes.
As for Austin, he's more than ready. I believe he is everything a team could want in a coach. That doesn't mean he'll win, but he is good with Xs and Os, players and the media. He carries himself like a head coach, and if the Lions continue this current run, he will be deserving of a job.
If he gets that opportunity, the Lions could always look outside the organization, but in-house candidates Alan Williams and Bill Sheridan -- who each have coordinating experience -- make the most sense.
Did an Atlanta Falcons player go after Ziggy Ansah's knee. I saw a picture that seemed to indicate that.— Bob Bunnell (@evangecube) October 2, 2017
What you saw was a cut block, a completely legal and acceptable offensive line technique utilized by all teams, including the Lions. There was nothing dirty about it.
Why do the Lions always try to sit on a lead instead of finishing? Was the offensive play calling a bit too conservative in the fourth?— Corey Hall (@CoreyHallcomic) October 2, 2017
Jim Caldwell likes to say his team is trying to score 1,000 points every game. Matthew Stafford will tell you the offense wants to score every possession. Obviously, that's not realistic. Specifically, in end-game situations when you have the lead, it's not unusual to make conservative calls to protect the ball and avoid a devastating turnover. It's up to the players to execute the run plays and short passes in these situations. Against the Giants and Cardinals, they did. Against the Vikings, not so much. It's never going to be a perfect process, but I wouldn't anticipate Stafford slinging 20-yard passes down the middle of the field on first-and-10 in the final minutes when the Lions are nursing a one-score lead.
Worried abdulla will be run into the ground. seem intent him being primary back, That reliance biting many teams Why not more of a rotation?— Daniel Omans (@omans_daniel) October 2, 2017
Abdullah averaged 21 carries his final two seasons of Nebraska, in addition to his work in the passing game, so he's used to a heavy workload. Yes, defenders are bigger and stronger in the NFL, but you can't keep your best weapons in bubble wrap for fear of injury. The Lions are doing a nice job most weeks rotating him off the field. He's averaging fewer than 17 carries through four games. That's a good number.
Riddick slow start. Perhaps he turns on later like tate did last year?— Daniel Omans (@omans_daniel) October 2, 2017
Statistically, Riddick's numbers are down, but I wouldn't be terribly concerned. I look back to the Falcons game, where he was winning his one-on-one matchups consistently, but those opportunities were often wasted by a pass rusher or bad throw. He's also still making tacklers miss at a high rate, when he does get his opportunities.
Right now, Riddick is on pace for 56 catches and 360 yards. Assuming good health, give me the way over on both.
What percentage do you give for Davis to play this week?— Matt Garvey (@CoachGarvey) October 2, 2017
I'm not a doctor, but if an educated guess will make you feel better, let's say 78.92 percent.
Any better options to burn clock in the last 2 minutes for future tight games?— Chili Flay (@ChiliFlay) October 2, 2017
Sure, you can work in some short, safe passes on first or second down, but this is what you risk. First and foremost, a turnover. Maybe the lane gets jumped or Stafford takes a hit from a blitzer and fumbles. Odds of that happening are low, but if it happens once and costs the Lions a game, every armchair coach is going to be furious.
Two, you risk an incomplete pass, potentially because of a drop. That stops the clock, saving your opponent time and timeouts.
It's all about risk-reward in those situations, and running the ball is the safest option. In an ideal world, you execute, gain four yards each time, pick up first downs and run out the clock.
Do you think Stafford’s reputation in the 4th quarter plays into the other team’s minds? Do you think he intimidates them?— Dave Reimink (@DaveReimink) October 2, 2017
I actually asked Mike Zimmer about this last week. Here was his response:
"Yeah, I think you do that with all great quarterbacks, and obviously, he’s been great for the last couple of years. I think that’s always part of the thing. You got to know who the quarterback is you’re playing, obviously try to keep the ball out of his hands if you can.”
OK, maybe not the most detailed answer, but Stafford's poise and arm strength in the closing minutes is part of his scouting report. No team wants to give him enough time to lead a potential comeback.
Will lions bring back Antwione Willams due to Worrilow injury?— Mich Fan (@michfan87) October 2, 2017
A valid question, but given the Lions not only let Williams go, but also didn't sign him back to their practice squad, that says something. Instead, the team retained Thurston Armbrister, and just added him back to the 53-man roster. I won't rule out poaching Williams off the Vikings practice squad, but I also won't classify it as likely.
Do you see TJ Jones' role increasing going forward? He has made some clutch catches and seems reliable. Building Stafford's trust?— Keith Josephson (@kejsphs) October 2, 2017
I can't say with any certainty that Jones will eat into the timeshare he has with Kenny Golladay, but I do agree Jones deserves more snaps, noting as much in my film review from the Falcons game last week.
Jones is an above-average route runner with above-average hands. He can work inside and outside, and made a serious commitment to bulking up this offseason. That was enough to earn him a roster spot. But Golladay has unteachable size and is a big piece of the offense's future. Each snap is valuable to his development and I'm not sure how much the team will be willing to trim that back in favor of Jones.
Did Teez get on the field yesterday?— AZDetroitLion (@azcwillams) October 2, 2017
Yep, for six special teams snaps.
When should I buy my plane ticket for the team's return to Minneapolis in February?— Dave Miller (@Miller_Dave) October 2, 2017
Have you checked out hotel prices? I hope you've been saving since birth. You know those max rate cards on the back of hotel room doors with seemingly absurd rates. Yeah, that's what you'll be paying.
I respect your optimism though.
Who has surprised you with their production so far in the first quarter of the season? Good or bad— John Popovits (@The_Johnny_Pop) October 2, 2017
Good: Anthony Zettel, Miles Killebrew, Tahir Whitehead and Quandre Diggs.
Zettel has been explosive off the edge and consistent through all four games. You see those flashes during the preseason and aren't sure they'll translate, but for him, they have. As for Killebrew, he was a machine on third downs late last season, but he's made such impressive strides in his coverage. Whitehead has embraced his position change and seems to be playing with more aggression this year. Some of his coverage woes from last season still crop up on occasion, but he's been a much better downhill player. And Diggs, who was a disaster in coverage last season, has been a revelation at the nickel spot, really strengthening the team's overall play in the back end.
As for disappointments, there have been a handful. A'Shawn Robinson hasn't been as impactful as I anticipated. Neither has Riddick, as noted above. But both are talented and should put it together sooner than later. I also expected the run blocking would be better, but there's still too many defenders getting shots at the Lions' backs in the backfield.
Will the O keep playing keep away or will we actually try to throw downfield? Concerned that JBC is trying to turn #9 into Alex Smith 2.0— Jason Hatch (@jasonhatch20) October 2, 2017
I think there's a misconception here. The Lions have actually been more aggressive downfield this year. Stafford has attempted 15 passes that have traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which is 12th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That's tied with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers.
The personnel in Detroit's offense is largely suited to operate closer to the line of scrimmage and do damage after the catch. The team's only consistent deep option is Marvin Jones. It's no surprise he's gotten the most deep targets and he's the only one to haul in multiple bombs, catching three for 96 yards.
Golladay, who missed the Vikings game with a hamstring injury, could develop into another deep option. He had that diving touchdown in the opener, but the other four long balls his direction have gone incomplete.
Don't look at the Vikings tape as validation to your claim. You saw that pass rush, there just wasn't enough time for downfield plays to develop. Overall, Stafford is still taking his shots.