Lions mailbag: RB trades, red-zone woes and the NFL’s middle class

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have dropped three in a row and are headed to Lambeau Field on Monday for a prime-time matchup with the Packers. There's a lot at stake in the game, which is critical to the Lions' chances in the NFC North.

As we roll into the week, let's get things started with a mailbag.

Matthew Stafford and the Lions take their 3-4 record to Green Bay next.

You’re the GM. What return do you want for Eric Ebron?

— Sham Van Gundy (@shamshammgod) 

Realistically, the Lions should be able to net a fifth-round pick for Ebron, given his age, talent, cheap 2017 salary and an option year in 2018, if he finds success in a new scheme.

Which is closer to the truth: Lions are a good team that is underperforming or Lions aren't that talented, 3-4 is where they should be?

— Bill Isanhart (@waisanhart) 

They underperform in what seems to be a different area each week, and the team's lack of consistency, across the board, is reflective of the roster's average talent and the coaching staff's limitations to compensate for it. The Lions are part of a large middle class in the NFL, which could finish the year between 6-10 and 10-6, depending on a handful of plays in one-score games.

Last year, Detroit made many of those plays in the closing minutes of games, finishing with 10 wins and a playoff berth. This year, they've come up just short on a few, not getting across the goal line against Atlanta, not coming up with a late stop against Carolina and sputtering in the red zone against Pittsburgh.

How much do the Lions miss Boldin in the red zone, with Golladay not getting on the field much this year?

— superlight (@bradleyreiter) 

The Lions' red-zone issues have progressive gotten worse over the course of the season. They started with four straight touchdowns the first two weeks, and before playing the Steelers, ranked sixth in the NFL with a 60-percent touchdown rate on trips inside the 20. But after the 0-for-5 showing Sunday, that's now at 45 percent, which ranks 25th.

This isn't a single-player issue, unless we're talking about a game-changing talent like Calvin Johnson. The team has had blocking issues, the receivers aren't getting regular separation and the play-calling has been suspect. Could Anquan Boldin have helped finish an unsuccessful drive or three this season? Sure, but so could a healthy Kenny Golladay. Or maybe even a healthy Taylor Decker, alleviating some pass-rush pressure or getting push on a power run to the left side.

The Lions have to work with the talent they have available and need to reverse this troubling trend in a hurry or risk the season slipping away.

On 2nd down from the 1, no one lined to the right of the center. It looked like Stafford could have walked right in. Why we passing?

— Brian Sheehy (@BrianSheehy_) 

I can only speculate what Stafford saw pre-snap that led to him not checking into a quarterback sneak, or if that was even an option. I can only tell you that you're correct, there does appear to have been an opportunity there. But given the minimal push the heart of the offensive line was getting that game, I can also understand why they wouldn't try it.

The quarterback sneak is an underutilized tool in Stafford's game, and maybe it's something they'll look to incorporate more after they review the film from the game.

Did Jace get any snaps last night?

— Kalsarikännit Al ❕ (@LethalSax) 

Two snaps, no targets for Jace Billingsley.

So, Fauria? Could he actually help in the red zone? Asking for a friend.

— Greg Durkee (@Durkee971)

Joseph Fauria hasn't appeared in a game in nearly three years and hasn't been on a practice squad since December 2015. I'm skeptical when 32 NFL teams are taking a constant pass. I have no idea what he has left in the tank.

That said, you better believe he's waiting by the phone for an opportunity.

Is there cap space to take the Suh contract if Miami wants to unload him? Would a similar deal to Oswieler be reasonable??

— G (@GarrettSagen) 

It probably wouldn't be too difficult to find room for the $5.9 million Ndamukong Suh has remaining this season, but I'm not sure how he would fit long-term, with $17-million and $19-million cap hits the next two years.

I've also read the reports the Dolphins plan to cut ties with Suh after this season, something they've denied, but with a 4-3 record, I can't imagine they're looking to punt on the current campaign.

I don't know how Suh would fit into the current locker room's culture, but make no mistake about it, he's still a dominant player who could make a significant difference up front.

Left guard or center - which is the bigger need for the Lions? Any way to get update on Hyder? Should we draft DE in 1st couple of rounds in 2018?

— James Sonntag (@James_Sonntag) 

I don't think it matters, as long as you upgrade one of the spots. The most likely scenario, given Travis Swanson is about to become an unrestricted free agent with a market that could reach $10 million per year, is to allow him to walk and draft the best-available interior lineman in the middle rounds. If that ends up being a guard, move Graham Glasgow to center. If it's a center, keep Glasgow at guard. Then sign a cheap, experienced veteran to backup both spots.

As for Hyder, I don't have an update. Recovery from an Achilles tear is typically around six months. He won't be back until the 2018 season. Regardless, it wouldn't hurt to add another pass rusher early in the draft, if the board falls that way.

Why are they using ZZ and Washington on passing downs instead of AA or Riddick? Wouldn't 2 elite receivers help more than pass blocking?

— KuehnObservations (@KuehnObserve) 

That's not exclusively the case, but you have seen it a bit more against opponents like Carolina and Pittsburgh. It's indicative of how much respect Detroit has for the pass rush of those teams (as well as some concerns about their own protection). And while Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington have bigger frames to better handle blocking responsibilities, Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah have both shown steady growth in that role. I, too, hate seeing both of those players off the field. You take away a dynamic check-down option having them on the sideline.

Possibility we trade for a RB that can actually get a 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1?

— doug mccready (@dgmccready) 

Pretty low. The Lions are more likely to give Tion Green a shot than go out and acquire a sixth back at the deadline.

When is Calvin going to play his next game?

— C.J. Davis (@WildboarCJD) 

I'm 98.6-percent confident saying never.

Some people on my timeline were mentioning that Stafford was yelling at JBC on the sideline. I didn’t catch it. Any video to verify?

— Fire Avila (@captainmike_09) 

They showed a brief clip before a commercial break of the two talking, shortly after the team settled for a 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. I wouldn't characterize it as yelling. The two were clearly talking about why a play call failed. Both look frustrated, but as the camera panned away, Cooter was putting his arm on Stafford's shoulder as if to say, "We'll get them next time."

Not caught on camera was a slightly more animated conversation between Stafford and wide receivers coach Robert Prince. Stafford didn't have much to say about the exchange after the game, but it's possible they were having to shout because of how loud the crowd was with the defense fighting for a stop.