Lions mailbag: Lines, Ansah continue to struggle

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It's the bye week, but you still have lingering Detroit Lions questions. So before I enjoy my one weekend off during the fall, let me provide some answers in this week's mailbag.

The Lions rank 27th in the NFL in generating pressure on the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus.

What is the schedule for players during a bye week? Do they get the week off or do they still practice?

— Mius Flint (@MiusFlint) October 16, 2017

The collective bargaining agreement grants players five consecutive days off. The Lions held practice on Tuesday and players will return Monday.

Which is worse, the Lions offensive line protecting Stafford or the D-line putting pressure on the opponent's QB?

— Robert Nowlin (@renashdad) October 16, 2017

Given that football is often won through controlling the trenches, this is a damning inquiry. But you're assessment that both units have struggled is reality.

I reached out to a contact at Pro Football Focus and the numbers are jarring. The Lions' offensive line ranks 29th in pressure allowed, while the defense (including blitzes, just so it's clear this isn't a true apples-to-apples comparison) is 27th at generating pressure, hurrying opposing quarterback 32.7 percent of their dropbacks.

So, to answer the question, the offensive line is worse, but both groups are poor and need to improve if this team wants to win the NFC North.

I have no idea what to expect from week to week. How can every single position group be this inconsistent?

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) October 16, 2017

The Lions lack transcendent talent, a player capable of taking over a game every week. There is no Ndamukong Suh or Calvin Johnson on this roster. That means there is more variety to the game plan, and the likelihood of success is significantly lower.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah is the team's leading rusher, but has just 10 receptions through the first six games.

Why don't they throw it to Ameer? Just as valuable in space as Theo, plus he has more speed. Underused weapon in my opinion.

— Nick Coscarelli (@CoscarelliNick) October 16, 2017

It's a reasonable question. Abdullah has only been targeted 14 times in the pass game this season, which strikes me as under-utilization, as well. He's not as good of a route runner as Theo Riddick, but I'd argue Abdullah's route tree is a bit more diverse, with more reliability as a downfield option.

I'll try to explore the question next week with the relevant parties, but I'd expect a lot of generic answers about how every game plan is different and there are only so many passes to be spread around.

Personally, I'd like to see some lineup combinations that incorporate both Abdullah and Riddick. I don't believe they've shared the field a single snap this year.

If Decker isn’t back soon, any chance they trade for Joe Staley? Also any interest in Carlos Hyde?

— Lord Stafford (@j_Borders) October 16, 2017

While I don't have a target date for Taylor Decker's return, I can comfortably say it's not far enough away that the Lions would look to make a bold move, like trading for Staley. That's not a guy you pay to rent for a couple of weeks, or a month, then move to the bench. And I'm not comfortable suggesting anyone make a random mid-season move to guard.

Your Hyde suggestion is interesting, because he'd be a clear upgrade to the power component and is reported to be on the block. But here are the downsides. One, he has a hip injury, which has bothered him all season. Would you be paying for damage goods? Two, is Detroit's blocking scheme a good fit or would they have to re-calibrate on the fly to better suit the north-south running style of Hyde.

I honestly don't know the answer to that second part, but if the answer is yes, it's a leap of faith to count on a line that's struggled to run block all year, to suddenly be able to do it well by doing it differently.

When can we expect to see Ziggy on the side of a milk carton? Haven’t seen him since 2015.

— Steve (@sgk81) October 16, 2017

I'll admit, I was fooled by Ansah's Week 2 performance when he tallied three sacks. Sure, I understood the competition level — the New York Giants tackles are awful — but he looked so dominant on the film.

Since then, one sack in four games, and it was of the clean-up variety. He's been a stunning disappointment, registering the same amount of pressure on the quarterback as Cornelius Washington, who was a healthy scratch last week, and a little more than half what Anthony Zettel has generated in 2017.

I've long advocated for using the franchise tag on Ansah in 2018, but it's getting more and more difficult to justify committing more than $17 million to a player that's a shell of his former self. You can't pay for the player he used to be, you pay for the player he can be in the future. This knee injury he's been battling all season seems to have sapped his effectiveness.

Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah was dominant against the New York Giants, but he's been ineffective since.

Do you think Bob Quinn will go out and deal for a nose tackle to fill Ngata's roll? Especially since Ngata will probably not be back.

— Trent Crosby (@trent_crosby) October 16, 2017

The Lions' defensive line scheme doesn't call for a traditional nose tackle. Even along the inside, the team leans on versatile tackles, who can play a variety of techniques, are strong enough to handle double-teams when necessary, but quick enough to penetrate as a rusher and disrupt the pocket.

The Lions are actually getting back Khyri Thornton from suspension this week. And while he's no Haloti Ngata, Thornton should help fill the void with an experienced veteran who knows the scheme and has the physical traits the team wants up front. That mid-season roster addition will save the Lions from unnecessarily spending draft resources to acquire another team's scraps.

Is Cory Robinson on track to return for Steeler game?

— Deacon Blues (@mork1215) October 16, 2017

Corey Robinson is not eligible to return until Week 10. He was placed on injured reserve after the first game of the season, and must remain on that list a minimum of eight weeks.

Injuries & inexperience seem to have caught up to the Lions. Who comes out of the bye week as a difference maker?

— John Popovits (@The_Johnny_Pop) October 16, 2017

Seeing receiver Kenny Golladay in uniform will be a boost for the Lions.

You look to young players getting better and getting healthy. I have to believe you'll continue to see rapid maturation in Jarrad Davis' game. He's already an above-average player coming downhill, and you see small strides in his coverage every week. As he gets experience, he'll gain a better understanding of the angles he needs to take to the ball, cleaning up some of his missed tackles, and, as mentioned, he should keep getting a little bit better in coverage.

Offensively, Taylor Decker and Kenny Golladay have the potential to be difference-makers. Decker probably won't return right away, but once he does, he's going to strengthen the weakest spot along the offensive line. As for Golladay, he's been out since Week 3 with a hamstring strain. His performance likely will continue to be up-and-down, but we know the type of big-play potential he offers. The Lions need all of that they can get right now.

Would you take a chance on Martavis Bryant?

— Greg Durkee (@Durkee971) October 16, 2017

The Lions have shown a willingness to roll the dice on players with drug-related issues in the past, and if the price is reasonable (late-round draft pick), it would be worth making a bid. I just don't believe the Steelers are in a rush to part ways with the 6-foot-4 vertical threat.

More important player to get back healthy: Glover Quin or Golden Tate?

— Sup Brah (@JuszczykJake) October 19, 2017

What a challenging question to answer. On one hand, you have Matthew Stafford's favorite target, a fairly consistent weapon in the passing game, and a key cog in most fourth-quarter comebacks. On the other, the heart and soul of the defense, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time to make a play.

You could probably make a strong case for both, but I'll lean Quin. He plays a greater percentage of snaps, and his performance more directly correlates to the improved play of others. His ability to see the field and clearly communicate adjustments throughout the secondary is more challenging to replace than a shifty slot receiver who can break tackles.


Why isn't Ameer playing kick return?

— jalin (@Jay__270) October 19, 2017

There's no need to expose your lead back to a handful of unnecessary big collisions when he's already nursing a number of minor injuries.

Is the Kaaya signing a sign that Stafford is more injured than "banged up"?

— Michael Abrams (@MichaelAbrams) October 19, 2017

No. Claiming Brad Kaaya off waivers was Bob Quinn correcting one of his biggest offseason regrets. The general manager really likes Kaaya and wants to continue to develop him.

Who do you feel like has more actual NFL potential, Rudock or Kaaya?

— Jonathan Keplinger (@theoriginalkep) October 19, 2017

I've had the benefit of watching Jake Rudock an extra year, and in that time, it hasn't been close.

Rudock offers underrated arm strength and good mobility, both inside and outside the pocket. He looked significantly better as a rookie than Kaaya did this year, and Rudock looks significantly better now than he did last year.

Will Cooter be the offensive coordinator for the 2018 season?

— Harry (@503LionsFan) October 19, 2017

It's amazing how quickly Lions fans have turned on Jim Bob Cooter, but I get it. In the third year running the offense, the unit hasn't come close to living up to its potential. The biggest positive is the lack of turnovers, but at the end of the day, you have to put points on the board, and this group is coming up short in this department.

Still, I can't imagine the Lions parting ways here because that would require Jim Caldwell to fire his second offensive coordinator in five years. And given he made those hiring decisions, it would reflect poorly on him.