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Lions mailbag: Red zone just part of reason for scoring woes

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It's Thursday, which means it's time to dip into the Detroit Lions mailbag. 

Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson scored here, but the Lions are last in the NFL, converting just 33 percent of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns.

 

What keeps the Lion's offense, with all of the resources, personnel, high draft picks, salary cap, from being high scoring?

— Just Plain Bill (@vincewlaw) October 4, 2018

It starts with the red zone. The Lions are last in the NFL, converting just 33 percent of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns. At a rate closer to league average, they would have scored seven touchdowns, instead of four. That's not a massive swing in points, but it would be enough to move the Lions up from 17th in scoring to 10th. 

More: Execution, more than play-calling, root of Lions' red-zone woes

Second, turnovers. The Lions are near the bottom of the league in turnover margin. That means they're giving the ball away too often and not taking it away enough. 

Finally, because of inconsistent defense and special teams, the Lions rank 22nd in the league in average starting field position, more than 5 yards behind the league leaders. Longer fields mean a smaller margin for error and, typically, fewer points.

How will the Lions address their last ranked run defense against the Packers?

— CSteele_Austim Dad (@curtissteele14) October 4, 2018

At some point, we just have to accept the Lions are what they are in this department. That's not to say improvements can't be made over the course of the year, but there's not a magical schematic fix to the issues. It's more about individuals performing better, within that scheme, and it's OK to admit the Lions don't have adequate personnel this season to function at a consistently high level. 

More: View from the other side: Lions vs. Packers

More: Lions' Lawson misses practice; Packers down top 3 receivers

As I've watched the film each week, attempting to diagnose the issues, the biggest problems that routinely show up are in the second level. Detroit's linebackers aren't at a point where they're reacting quickly enough to plays, which allows them to be blocked by linemen and tight ends. To win in 3-4 looks, the linebackers have to beat their blocks to their spot via anticipation. 

Up front, the Lions are hit and miss. A'Shawn Robinson is playing well, as is Da'Shawn Hand, outside of getting overpowered by double teams on occasion. The other interior options have been inconsistent. The same with the edges.  

The tandem of general manager Bob Quinn (center) and head coach Matt Patricia (right) will need more than one season to yield optimum results.

Did Quinn paint himself into a corner with his "not tolerating mediocrity" talk on firing Caldwell? If 9-7 is unacceptable, what does he do if Patricia goes 4-12 or 5-11?

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) October 4, 2018

I don't know what else Bob Quinn was supposed to say when he fired Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons. The general manager believed the team had peaked under current management and he had a solution in place to take the franchise to the next level.

We can all agree, 9-7 would look pretty good right about now. 

While no one was going to acknowledge the possibility of a significant backslide when Patricia was hired, possibly because no one in the organization believed it was possible, it really shouldn't surprise anyone, given what we've seen historically with football. Culture changes and personnel turnover to match scheme changes often takes two years. 

As long as the Lions continue to fall short of goals, which include division titles and playoff wins, Quinn will continue to say the results are unacceptable. But he's not going to do anything drastic after one season of a new regime other than continue to overhaul the team's roster to match what he and Patricia envision. 

If the season turns into a complete disaster, what are the chances Patricia is 1 and done? Could Quinn also be out?

— Derek Maki (@dwmaki) October 4, 2018

Near zero. The Lions aren't looking to eat four years of guaranteed money, and double that if you're looking at Quinn, as well.

If TJ Lang is likely to be out for an extended period of time then should Joe Dahl be given an extended opportunity at LG to see if he can make an impact

— ciandoylefanclub (@ramdoylefanclub) October 4, 2018

Dahl has gotten an extended look on the practice field for the past three offseasons. There's no reason to force him into the lineup if he's not beating out his competition on the practice field, but I understand why you feel this way after watching Kenny Wiggins struggle last week against the Cowboys. 

I've pointed this out before, but the Lions' offseason efforts to bolster their offensive line depth, for these emergency scenarios, has fallen a little flat. 

At 1-3, who do you like in the draft next year?

— Rick Reinacher (@RickReinacher) October 4, 2018
Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell could provide immediate help for the Detroit Lions next season.

In reality, I don't shift much of my attention to the draft until the team has been officially eliminated from the playoffs. But I have been writing a weekly draft watch series to familiarize both myself and the readers on the upcoming prospect class, so I know a little bit. 

Let's say the Lions finish with 5-6 wins, that gives the team a top-12 pick in April. The obvious area of need is the defense, and you can't go wrong at almost any spot. 

If you're closer to the top, defensive end Nick Bosa or defensive tackle Ed Oliver are the early favorites for best defender in class. A little further down, Clemson's Clelin Ferrell or Dexter Lawrence, LSU linebacker Devin White or cornerback Greedy Williams or Alabama's Raekwon Davis all would help out immediately. 

If the lions dont plan on resigning Tate, would it be smart to trade him now and get something for him? Or is it too early to give up on the season? Seems smart but not fair to the fan base

— Andrew Murray (@andrew_murray0) October 4, 2018

I get where you're coming from, but I lean no, and here's why. 

The Detroit Lions likely would be better off hanging on to receiver Golden Tate, rather than trade him at the deadline.

First of all, it signifies to your locker room and your fans that you're waving the white flag on the season by trading one of your most popular and productive players. 

Second, you're not going to command a great return. People might point to the third-rounder the Panthers got for Kelvin Benjamin last season, or the fourth-rounder the Miami Dolphins netted for Jay Ajayi, but both of those players were under contract an extra season, including their value to the acquiring teams. 

Let's say a team offers a fifth-rounder for Tate. It's probably going to be from a contender, so the pick would come closer to the end of that round. The Lions are just better holding on to Tate and getting a compensatory pick, likely of similar value, once he signs long-term elsewhere. 

The only way the Lions should trade Tate is if they get a player back at a position of need, where they control the contract for 2019. And contenders aren't usually giving away contributors midseason unless there are other, unseen issues. 

Everyone can see how bad the defense is, despite what they may say in Allen Park. Here's my question.

Has Techno Thursday been implemented since Luke Wilson's arrival?

— David Won't Die First In This Movie (@CallMeDjm) October 4, 2018

Sadly, no. 

Although, I will say this, the practice playlists are extremely varied, which leads me to believe they are being selected by individual players. 

So there's still hope for Willson to sneak in some techno music at some point this year. 

Outside of the Ziggy situation, how would you assess the move to cut Zettel and sign Okwara with a few games of data?

— Mike Freed (@freed_mike) October 4, 2018

There was some mild surprise when the move was first announced, but when I dug into the build of both players, and the significant length advantage Romeo Okwara had, I understood it. 

For as good as Zettel was at times last season, he was a poor schematic fit for Patricia. I went to Pro Football Focus to look how Zettel has performed, and he's only played a handful of snaps, and not effectively, so it's not like the Lions are looking silly for letting production walk out the door. 

Okwara has been solid, not spectacular. He's certainly a better edge-setter than Zettel and the new addition has six pressures on the quarterback in three games, including a sack, which is serviceable. 

Defensive lineman Romeo Okwara (95) has been a solid addition to Detroit's defense.

I see a number of 1st/2nd round Dline guys are performing well. Meanwhile we're been getting gashed on the run up the middle and little pressure from the front 4. How did miss on an impact player at a position of such need in exchange for an interior lineman and a platooned RB?

— Hermy (@Hermaphro) October 4, 2018

Guard and running back also were positions of need and the Lions seemed to hit on those spots. Had they drafted a defensive end or tackle who was having a similar impact to Frank Ragnow, but still couldn't run the ball on offense, I'm sure the question would be, why did the Lions ignore the run game, again? 

The biggest miss would probably have been Harold Landry, who dropped a bit because of injury concern, coming off the board two picks before the Lions selected Kerryon Johnson. Landry has been pretty good to start the year for the Tennessee Titans, generating 10 pass-rush pressures, but there's also a positional overlap with Devon Kennard, so Landry probably isn't having that kind of impact in Detroit. 

The bigger issue might have been missing on some of the good defensive interior talent in the middle rounds. One of my pre-draft favorites, Nathan Shepherd (Jets), would look really good in Honolulu blue. So would former Michigan star Maurice Hurst (Raiders), although I get that a heart issue is a terrifying personal and professional risk for a general manager. 

And it's not like the Lions ignored their defensive interior. Hand has been solid. 

Does Ziggy get traded for a box of Cheez-It’s before the trade deadline?

— What Steve Said (@ThirdPrice) October 4, 2018

Same with Tate, you might as well hold on to Ansah, get what you can get out him from a production standpoint, and hope someone else pays him big money to net a compensatory pick in 2020. 

Thoughts on lining Golladay up as a TE occasionally? Also, what are you doing for national Taco day?

— Greg Durkee (@Durkee971) October 4, 2018

Golladay is an above-average blocking receiver and the Lions use him in a way to effectively take advantage of that trait. But lining Golladay up off-tackle and asking him to block an edge defender or pull on a running play would be putting him both in a position to fail and risk unnecessary injury. 

He's already playing more than a quarter of his snaps in the slot, and motioning inside to block up a safety or certain runs. Those are similar tight end assignments you might see from an F-type at the position, like Eric Ebron, and it's a pattern of usage with Golladay I'd expect to continue. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers