Lions mailbag: Cold reality, Cooter's calls and Ebron

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford should be doing better than leading a 29th-ranked offense.

Allen Park — A week ago, you had some national media talking about the Lions as a sleeper Super Bowl team. Now, after a disappointing home loss to the Carolina Panthers, the sky is falling once again. When you only play 16 games, overreaction comes with the territory.

So after Carolina delivered a bruising blow to fan optimism, let's answer some of your questions in this week's mailbag.

Is Jim Bob Cooter overrated because he has a fun name? If his name was John Smith I think he'd be getting a lot more heat right now.

— Chim Ritchels (@ChimRitchels) 

Honestly, there's probably something to that, but the novelty of the name wore off some time ago for most.

Let's be frank, the Lions' offense hasn't been as good as you would expect, given the resources committed to the unit. And to some extent, Cooter hasn't had the best luck. His best weapon, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, retired after the coordinator's first half season. Last year, his backfield was decimated by injuries, leaving the tandem of Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington to shoulder the load down the stretch. But what's the excuse this year?

Offensive coordinator Jim Cooter has been instrumental in Matthew Stafford's progression as an NFL quarterback.

Sure, Taylor Decker is out, but that isn't a good enough reason for Detroit to rank 29th in total offense through five games. The Lions have a top-10 quarterback, multiple matchup pieces and an offensive line consisting of a lot of individual talent. At some point, we have to look at the play-calling, game planning and scheme and ask why it's not getting done in the second full year of the system.

Some of it is predictability, some of it is being too conservative and some of it is not putting the talent in the right positions to cover deficiencies and maximize strengths. Cooter is a young coach, still trying to his groove, but the roster's talent level is there to compete now, so it's time to get this thing on track.

But let me be clear about one thing, Matthew Stafford's ascension the past two years can be directly linked to Cooter. The coordinator has helped make the quarterback a far more efficient passer while minimizing the former gunslinger's mistakes. Quarterback play remains the most critical component to team success and Cooter has done impressive work elevating Stafford's game.

Would Kareem Hunt be tearing it up if he were a Lion?

— EMU_Steve (@emu_steve) 

This is a fantastic question and the answer is almost certainly no. The reason Hunt is tearing it up in Kansas City isn't limited to his talent alone, it's also the opportunity. He went from a timeshare situation to workhorse when Spencer Ware suffered a season-ending injury before the start of the season.

In Detroit, Hunt would have taken the Washington role (currently being filled by Zenner), behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. You're looking at 5-8 carries per game, and without consistently making big plays in that inconsistent playing time, Hunt likely wouldn't have had much luck getting a bigger opportunity.

The final variable is the offensive line, and no one is run blocking better than the Chiefs right now, at least according to Football Outsiders. The Lions, on the other hand, are seeing their backs get stuffed (no gain or loss of yardage) on 29 percent of their carries. It doesn't matter who is taking the handoffs, if they're getting hit in the backfield consistently, the run game is going to struggle.

Why can't this organization put together a competent O-line? Names change, pieces are drafted and signed but the results are the same.

— Scott Yarmuth (@scottyarmuth)

It's a $1 million question, or maybe the $135 million question given the group is charged with protecting Stafford. The Lions have been investing significant resources into the line for years, especially early-round draft picks, but it never seems to gel into anything more than an average unit. Right now, I actually feel the two new additions — T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner — have played well. The rest of the group have been inconsistent, with Greg Robinson's performance in place of Decker downright troubling.

Think we can Trade Eric Ebron to Cincinnati for Jeremy Hill?

— Matt Garvey (@CoachGarvey) 

I suppose, but I don't think it makes you better. Hill isn't very good, averaging under 4.0 yards per carry the past three years. Plus, the Bengals already have a young tight end in Tyler Kroft who is producing, and another talented option in Tyler Eifert, if he can get and stay healthy. I'm not sure it benefits them all that much, either.

Does Davis have a shot at winning DROY?

— Bondo (@jbondo007) 

That's a tough award for a middle linebacker to win. Not only would he need to keep racking up the tackles, but he'd need to generate more turnovers and sacks to be in the conversation.

But no one is pulling away as a front-runner. Buffalo cornerback Tre'Davious White had been making an early case before A.J. Green dominated him this past week. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson have also been solid. And look out for No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, who missed the first four weeks, but had two sacks in his debut. Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa won it last year playing in just 12 games.

Would Decker make that much of a difference? Seems that everyone is getting beat

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) 

Yes, Decker would help. No one has been worse along the line than Robinson. That said, it wouldn't solve everything. Graham Glasgow and Travis Swanson have been inconsistent to start the year, and that's not even getting into the perimeter blocking by the tight ends and receivers, which has been average, at best.

Offensive tackle Rick Wagner has been a solid addition.

Can you rank the 3 starting OL FA additions?

— Kalsarikännit Al ❕ (@LethalSax) 

Long-term, I believe Rick Wagner will be the best addition, and even with the big contract, the signing will be viewed favorably in highlight. He's actually been pretty good this season, but had some hiccups in the Minnesota Vikings game, which hinder the overall perception of his performance. T.J. Lang has been the best of the bunch to start this season, outside of some penalty issues. He's done well both run blocking and pass protecting. Robinson isn't in the same league as these two. He's barely been worth the sixth-round pick the Lions paid to acquire him.

Bellore at fullback... you think we'll see more of that?

— Max (@TheHonoluluBlue) 

I don't know if we'll see it more than a handful of times each week, but Nick Bellore certainly earned the right to continue in the role for the immediate future. I still can't believe how well he blocked Luke Kuechly on the third-and-1 conversion early in the game. Bellore also got the job down on Zenner's touchdown.

Is benching/inactive list a possibility for Ebron? Will Caldwell send a message to the team that this sort of performance is unacceptable?

— Frank Van Dusen (@FVDintheMHC) 

It's an option the coaching staff has at their disposal, but I'd be pretty surprised to see them use it.

Are things as bad as they seem????
Is there an easy fix or are we doomed

— NappyheadEd (@NappyEd) 

The Lions are 3-2 and have lost two games by a combined seven points. In the first, they were stopped a half-yard short of a game-winning touchdown. In the second, they were a defensive stop on a third-and-9 from having a chance to complete a rally from a 17-point deficit. That's the glass-half-full view.

I won't try to convince you the Lions aren't a flawed team. The defense has been both opportunistic, but inconsistent. Tackling issues cropped up against the Falcons and the Panthers. They couldn't stop the run against the Falcons and had no answer for the Panthers' passing game. As for the offense, I guess you have to hope they'll figure it out.

But where you can always put some hope is the team's ability to come back, from almost any deficit. So on the days the defense isn't good enough to get it done on its own, like they did in Minnesota, as long as they keep it close, the Lions can win the game.

Will Lions bring in 3rd qb due to Stafford being dinged up? If so who are some potential candidates?

— Mich Fan (@michfan87) 

I don't anticipate Stafford missing any time, but if he did, no one should be surprised if the first call is to Dan Orlovsky. It would easier to rely on a veteran familiar with the scheme than try to get someone else up to speed in a week.

Lots of fake news on the web, but saw an internet rumor the lions have "shown" interest in Wake if MIA put him in block. Any truth in that?

— Benjamin Hyde (@Ben2b23) 

I don't know where you saw it, but I have no reason to believe this rumor. Cameron Wake is 35 and making $8 million this season. Plus, the Dolphins aren't exactly out of the playoff picture with a 2-2 record through four games. It doesn't make any sense.

Is Tate being targeted less this season?

— Jairus Patterson (@JairusCTV) 

Slightly. He's averaging 8.0 targets through five games after averaging 8.4 last season. Over 16 games, that adds up to seven targets. I wouldn't call it a big deal.

Lions' Eric Ebron draws a lot of questions (and fans' ire) this week.

Do the Lions own a Jugs machine and if so, how long do you believe Ebron will be stationed in front of said machine for the remaining week?

— Brendan Buffa (@bbuffa_WMU) 

You guys and your Ebron questions this week. I say questions, but many were just angry statements.

Yes, the Lions own multiple JUGS machines, and yes, Ebron puts some work in on them almost every day. At this point, I believe his issues are more mental than physical.

What are available options to keep Stafford from getting killed? More designed rollouts?

— Greg Durkee (@Durkee971) 

Against the Minnesota Vikings, they kept Darren Fells back to block far more often, or at the very least, used him to chip or delay his route release. That's probably the easiest option.

I like designed rollouts, but opposing defenses are far more keyed into Stafford's mobility these days and are often prepared when the quarterback moves his pocket, especially out of play-action. Also, with an ankle injury, the Lions probably aren't eager to increase his movement.

How many players are on Twitter and do you follow all of them?

— Planets2 (@Planets2) 

The answer to both questions is most. I try to follow all the Lions players, adding them to a list the minute they're signed or drafted, but every once in a while I'll stumble across one I missed.

Is this run defense legit? When Davis and Tavon Wilson are healthy, they've looked 2014 good or better.

— I miss my LT (@DGarraston) 

I'm not willing to put it ahead of the 2014 team, because that group was dominant week in and week out, but this current collective has been formidable when at full strength. Jarrad Davis and Tavon Wilson really put the 2017 Lions over the top for me, as a pair of physical, downhill gap-fillers. And really, the entire defensive backfield are willing and capable tacklers, which isn't something you can say for most teams. When backs get on the perimeter against Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Glover Quin or Quandre Diggs, each gets the job done more often than not.

Another important component to the success has been preventing the big play. The longest run the Lions have allowed this year has been 18 yards.

Twitter: @justin_rogers