Chris Spielman: Lions' roster 'solid everywhere' but health is paramount
Former Lions linebacker Chris Spielman will broadcast Sunday’s matchup between the Lions and Philadelphia Eagles on Fox. Spielman, who was an analyst for the Lions’ preseason games, answered some questions about the team’s start after the first two weeks of the regular season. Questions and answers have been edited to be more concise.
Question: What’s your impression after the Lions’ 1-0-1 start?
Answer: It’s better than 0-2 or 1-1, so that’s how you look at it. I feel like they feel like they should be 2-0 — and they probably should — but they’re not. They’re doing pretty well. The secondary has played pretty well overall and on the offensive line (offensive tackle Tyrell) Crosby played really well for (Taylor) Decker last week, so that’s a good sign because they’re going to need depth moving forward.
Q: How do they get over the feeling that they should be 2-0?
A: I don’t think you think about that. Matt (Patricia) does a pretty good job of turning the page. Pro players, this early in the season, understand that. If there were playoff implications on the line, maybe, but there is still so much football to be played, 14 games.
We had a coach named Frank Gansz there and he always used to say that game or that play is gone forever and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you just focus on the next opponent. If you don’t and you’re still worried about what happened at Arizona, you have a problem and that usually can interrupt your preparation.
Q: How big was that win against the Chargers to defend home turf?
A: What are the percentages of 0-2 teams making the playoffs? It speaks for itself. For me, when you’re a team that expects to win — and I predicted in the preseason that they were a 10-win team — you have to take care of your home field against a good team. It’s hard to win in the NFL. The reality is if you’re playing Miami or the Jets right now because of injuries, it might not be as difficult to beat them, but every other game is.
If you’re a team like the Lions, who are a good team but not the Patriots, it’s going to come down to the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. That was the encouraging thing, because they made plays in the fourth quarter, both offensively and defensively, to win that game.
Q: That’s what I’m getting at. They missed a field goal, an extra point and with all the things going against them, they finally got the touchdown and stop in the fourth quarter.
A: If you watch the interception and the reaction of the team, it looked like a high school kids with high school enthusiasm. What I was most pleased with was that Darius (Slay) was being challenged all day and when he needed to make a play, Darius ran the route for the guy because he had Tracy Walker sitting over the top on the inside, so he knew where to play that route. When you see players execute your scheme, but as a corner, to make that play, I wasn’t surprised at all he made that play. I don’t know how many game-winning interceptions he has. It was fun to see for them.
I saw where Jesse James was talking about (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell’s third-down call to run the bootleg and playing to win as opposed to not to lose. There’s something to that, in my opinion.
Q: The term “Same Old Lions” has become a thing. Do you sense anything different now from the time you played?
A: I never bought into "Same Old" anything because it’s new people. I don’t think it’s "Same Old Lions." When you decide to have a change like they did a couple years ago in bringing (general manager) Bob Quinn in and Bob brought MP (Patricia) in, it takes time to get the type of player you want to get. We saw Bob Quinn address the offensive line and linebackers and Kerryon (Johnson) and make some free-agent acquisitions on the defensive line. They’re trying to build the type of team they want to have.
This year, it’s the best roster certainly since Bob and Matt have been in charge together and it’s overall a really solid roster. You have (Frank) Ragnow at center and (Graham) Glasgow at guard. If Taylor can get healthy, he is a 10-year guy. Drafted T.J. Hockenson and we know how important tight ends are in this day and age of the NFL, especially a guy who can stretch the field.
You’re solid everywhere, all around. I don’t see a weakness but they’re like 31 other teams. You have to try to stay as healthy as you can. Look at the opponent this week with the Eagles.
The team that absorbs injuries quickly and doesn’t get hurt by injuries can absorb those and muddle through some wins. Guys are backups for a reason; they’re not there to play 16 games.
Q: What’s your impression of rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson and third-year receiver Kenny Golladay?
A: Golladay is probably the best receiver in the game that nobody has heard about. Defensive coordinators know who he is. The best thing about him is that he takes a 50-50 ball and turns it into a 70-30 ball, in his favor. Marvin Jones is still really good and (Danny) Amendola has proved to be a nice slot receiver. (Running back) Ty Johnson is going to be a pop and Kerryon Johnson is a complete, all-around back. When you have that type of diversity on offense, that’s what you want.
Q: Does quarterback Matthew Stafford get too much criticism when things go wrong?
A: I think he gets the criticism that every other quarterback in the league gets, if you’re not winning playoff games or Super Bowls. I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong; I just know what’s the norm — and he falls within the norm. It’s the same story in every city. That’s the same story I hear every week, depending on whether the team wins or loses.
Q: What about the Eagles, who have high expectations and a lot of pressure on them, even with the injuries?
A: Both games started slow, and they can’t run the ball. (Ronald) Darby, their best cover corner, is coming off an ACL (tear) and he’s only been practicing since Week 1. (Defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox is coming off a broken foot and he’s not the same Fletcher Cox I’ve seen. The injuries are there but they’ve fought back. Carson Wentz is really good and strong in the pocket.
I can’t make a judgment on teams because it’s too early. The only judgment you can make is the Patriots because they are the outlier. Everybody else, I don’t know who’s good and who’s not good yet — there’s not enough out there for me. The Bengals looked good in Seattle and looked like a high school team playing the 49ers last week. That’s the NFL and that’s why it’s so hard to win in this league.