Lions mailbag: A deep dive into the Quandre Diggs trade, Tom Kowalski stories, and more
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have lost three in a row and just traded starting safety Quandre Diggs, so it's hardly surprised the mailbox was stuffed this week.
Welcome to the mailbag.
► Question. Bob Quinn isn’t dumb. He knew trading Diggs would not be received well. He obviously intended to trade him, but why trade a team captain now? What message does it send to the team who voted him into that position? — @rcblue3
► Answer. It's an aspect of the trade we all probably got a little too hung up on, including myself. Yes, Diggs was a captain, but at some level, he was in that role by default. The Lions like to have representation at every level of the defense and Devon Kennard up front and Jarrad Davis at linebacker are obvious and natural leaders. In the secondary, who were the other options?
Darius Slay, for as individually talented as he is, isn't a leader. Tracy Walker is too young and Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman, both new to the roster, aren't vocal guys like Danny Amendola, who immediately proved to be a leadership voice. Tavon Wilson is a good leader, but with an undefined role heading into the year, he wasn't an ideal fit, either. That left Diggs, who was unquestionably well-liked, but a leader by process of elimination more than anything.
► Q. Do you think we’re making any attempt to get an RB to fill Kerryon Johnson's spot? — @Braut_Learst
► A. The Lions are actively keeping tabs on the trade market here and a couple other spots. If an option becomes available at the right price, they're prepared to pull the trigger. The sense I get, talking to people in the organization, teams are asking too much for their talent. And based on some of the deals we've seen so far, including Mohammed Sanu netting a second-rounder from the Patriots, that seems about right.
The Lions are in a good spot to wait and see for a few more days. If they lose against the Giants, internally, they probably concede playoff hopes are a long shot and it's not worth wasting draft equity on a rental such as Kenyon Drake.
► Q. Should there be concern with depth in the defensive backfield and since they play more DBs than most teams? Does this signal a shift away from rushing three and dropping eight as much as they have been? — @Cartinthewater
► A. Honestly, even with trading Diggs, I don't think depth is that much of a concern in the secondary. The biggest issue isn't at safety, where Tavon Wilson is a capable of playing a larger role if needed. and new addition Marcus Gilchrist adds experience to the equation.
I'd be more worried about cornerback. For example, if Justin Coleman went down, I think the drop-off between his performance and what Jamal Agnew would bring to the nickel spot is massive.
That said, Detroit's corner depth isn't unusual. There's a pretty steep gap between the starters and backups around the league.
As for changing up the schematic approach, if that happens, this trade won't be the reason.
► Q. Do you think the Glover Quin sour attitude last year rubbed of on Quandre Diggs this year? — @jeffhooker
► A. While it's impossible for me to accurately psychoanalyze how individual personalities rub off on one another, my surface-level perceptions never picked up anything in that regard. Quin's biggest problem, whether he'd admit it now or not, is his heart wasn't into his final season. He had one foot out the door and never truly embraced the coaching change because of it.
I never got the sense that Diggs didn't buy-in with Patricia.
► Q. Assuming Quinn and Patricia feel good about the talent behind Diggs (hence why they traded him), do you see any other position group with excess talent that could be moved before the deadline? — @matt_evon
► A. Not really, at least not to that extent. We can go down the list and see the Lions don't have much margin for injury or extra value wasting on the bench at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker or cornerback.
Given the return packages teams are getting for receivers, Marvin Jones could probably net a decent haul for the Lions. But who steps up behind him? Marvin Hall is more of a slot guy and could hypothetically take up a bigger role if Amendola were shopped, but the market wouldn't be as favorable for a 33-year-old slot receiver. Plus, now we're talking about dealing second captain, one overwhelming voted into the role by teammates.
If the roster was healthy, defensive tackle might have been a position with excess talent to put on the block. And with A'Shawn Robinson's contract expiring, it could have been a move worth exploring, but there's no way the team can afford that currently.
► Q. Can we officially all agree that Patricia is not the “defensive genius” we were all told we were getting when he was hired? — @bretyode
► A. To be fair, I don't like calling football coaches geniuses. I searched both Google and my own Twitter feed and I can't find any point where I used the term when talking about Patricia, unless I was quoting someone else. True geniuses are hopefully doing something more productive with their lives.
That said, Patricia is really, really smart. As someone who tried their hand at engineering as a college student, I believe the minds that can process differential equations and organic chemistry operate at a different level. And from a football perspective, Patricia is in elite company with his understanding of the game. In New England, he routinely got the most out of a bargain-priced unit, particularly when it came to keeping points off the board.
Patricia's defensively philosophy is unique in that it puts an extensive amount of trust in the players to adjust and problem-solve on the field. That requires not just talent, but high levels of communication and chemistry (not the aforementioned organic variety). It's the latter elements that are currently lacking in Detroit and it's understandably frustrating they haven't made bigger strides to this point. It says something about the job Patricia and his staff are doing, but doesn't make me question his intellect.
► Q. Lions have done a lot of three-man rush and dropping eight to limit the pass. But with this Giants team with an elite RB and more limited weapons in the passing game, with a rookie QB, do you think we might actually see the opposite — eight in the box on occasion, even? — @apendygraft
► A. The Lions moved that direction a bit more against the Vikings, stacking eight in the box against Dalvin Cook 16 percent of his carries, according to data tracked by the NFL. But Kirk Cousins knows how to take advantage of those looks. He's an excellent quick-read quarterback.
I'm not sure we can say that about Jones at this point, so, yeah, stopping Barkley legitimately needs to be the first priority this week. I'd expect to see plenty of Jahlani Tavai.
► Q. Was the Trey Flowers of New England a product of the strength of the scheme? — @trumanfrancis
► A. There's this perception that Flowers has been bad, but that's not really the case, but he definitely isn't performing quite to the consistent level he did in New England, especially rushing the passer. There are a number of factors that could be at play here, including the familiarity he had with his New England teammates, his health and some of the other injuries the Lions have had up front.
What I can tell you is performing at his best is important to Flowers. He's one of a handful of guys in that locker room with unimpeachable work ethic and passion for the game. The stories you heard about him after the Green Bay loss weren't an exaggeration. He was genuinely devastated by the result and his role in it.
► Q. Goliday IMO is a true slot, who can do more damage working the middle then lining up on the outside where he just doesn’t have that No. 1 speed. Wrong? — @FrediThePizzaMn
► A. When I think of an ideal slot receiver, I want a player who runs precise routes and can consistently win with short-area quickness. Those aren't Golladay's strengths. There's certainly value to moving him inside on occasion, to create different looks for opposing defenses through route combinations, but his ability to win vertically, even without elite top-end speed, makes him a better fit outside.
► Q. I’m not impressed with the linebackers. Especially, Jarrad Davis. If Diggs got traded for his declining play, what should be done with Davis? I think he’s a bust. Do you agree? Is he the next to go? — @magnvsantonivs
► A. You're not completely off base. The overall play of the linebackers is a big part of the defensive struggles, in my opinion. I'm reluctant to throw around the bust label for a guy who starts every week, plays a ton of snaps and is a valuable locker room leader, but there's definitely reason to be concerned about his total body of work on the field, both in the run game and in coverage.
The Lions would have a really hard time moving away from a guy like Davis, who possess the football character they covet, but there has to be a limit to how much you're going to let an individual player hurt the defense's performance. I don't think there's anything imminent, in regards to parting with Davis, but a year from now, the Lions could find themselves at a crossroads with him where the unenviable decision might be what's best for the team.
► Q. Do you ever find yourself wondering what it would be like to cover a successful franchise? And how much easier or harder would your job be if the Lions were successful annually? — @ch0z3n1
► A. Not really. I've said this a bunch, and will always say it, it's preferable to cover a winning team. It's easier, mentally, to be writing about games that matter in December, compared to meaningless contests between bad teams, like we saw at the end of last season.
► Q. How do you think fans and media would respond if the Lions just straight up traded Matthew Stafford the way they did Diggs? — @SniffinGrits
► A. This Diggs trade is likely to blow over in a couple days. If the Lions traded Stafford, it would dominate the conversation around franchise for years, dependent on how quickly the franchise found a suitable replacement. And if Stafford went on to be successful somewhere else, people would never let it go.
Let's face it, no athlete moves the conversation needle locally like the Lions quarterback.
From a personal perspective, I'd try to do what I always do and take a logic-based, analytical approach to what the Lions are trying to accomplish, short- and long-term by the move.
► Q. How big of an impact do you think the Tate trade had on locker room morale last year? And do you think the Diggs trade will have a similar impact? — @patricktsawyer
► A. In the immediate aftermath, the Tate trade was a tough sell in Detroit's locker room, because his production was clear and the replacement strategy was not. It's difficult to gauge how that impacted the team's performance, since Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson suffered season-ending injuries within the next three weeks.
With Diggs, the production wasn't there this year, and there is a clearer replacement plan.
► Q. What the hell is wrong with Mike Daniels freaking foot? — @dontgoawaymad2
► A. If I knew, I promise I would tell you. There are a number of foot injuries, including sprains, stress fractures and broken bones that can sideline a player for weeks. All I know is this isn't the same foot as last year, and the initial diagnosis led the Lions to believe he could return sooner than eight weeks, which is why he wasn't placed on injured reserve.
► Q. Seems like the LB unit this year has really hurt them. Is it time for an overhaul in the offseason? — @ekaseta
► A. As noted with Davis above, I'm not sure the Lions rush to any decisions with him. Otherwise, the overhaul is already underway, with the addition of Tavai in the most recent draft. The third man, Christian Jones, is in the final year of his contract and I have to imagine the team will look for an upgrade this offseason.
► Q. Why don't you think they scheme up more pressure & blitz more?— @DamoneHardy
► A. Because even when they blitz, they're not consistently disrupting the pocket. That's not great when you've removed an extra piece from the coverage scheme. As I noted in my film review, Kirk Cousins was pretty sharp when Detroit brought extra pressure.
► Q. Regarding the running game: Has it been a problem of not enough holes/lanes created by the on-line or has it been the RBs not spotting the best lanes? Both? — @charleshbryan
► A. As you might imagine, it's never one thing when something as large as the run game isn't working properly. In regards to your specific question, whether it's the creation of holes vs. the backs reading the lanes, the bigger issue is definitely with the blocking. When you watch the plays, individually, more often than not, one or two of the blockers, which includes tight ends and receivers, are not executing their assignment.
► Q. Who ends up leading the lions in rushing yards? — @therealjjanze
► A. Interesting question. Right now, Kerryon Johnson leads the team with 308 yards. The next closest is J.D. McKissic, 199 yards behind. The best case scenario is Kerryon returns for the final two weeks of the season, but I'm working with the idea he's done for the year.
If that's the case, give me the Ty Johnson, who is currently sitting at 83 yards through six games. At his current 3.6 yards per carry clip, he'd need just 63 carries over the final 10 games to overtake the lead. And unless the Lions swing a trade for an accomplished veteran, all signs point to the rookie out of Maryland being the lead ball carrier in Detroit's backfield rotation.
► Q. Tackling seems to be a real problem. Do the Lions admit an issue? What steps are they taking? Is this why we will be seeing more Will Harris? — @therealjjanze
► A. Yeah, that acknowledgement largely comes in the broader sense of struggles with fundamentals. With all those discussions, Patricia continues to harp on it both in the film room and on the practice field. Given the coaching emphasis, dating back to the early practices in May, Detroit's struggles in that area are troubling.
As for whether this plays into the swap from Diggs to Harris, the answer here is a resounding yes.
► Q. Can Jarrad Davis be a better fit as a pass rusher? — @hockeyslap
► A. Davis is an exceptionally efficient blitzer. The metrics and the film both back this fact up. But his success largely comes from the element of surprise, being able to weave around occupied blockers into the backfield on well-timed rushes.
If the Lions were to convert Davis to a full-time edge rusher, that effectiveness would drop precipitously. He doesn't have the length or strength to be a consistent force off the edge. He would be easily handled by most NFL offensive tackles.
It's the same argument I used when discussing Theo Riddick's receiving success out of the backfield not translating to a full-time move to slot receiver. Riddick thrived as a pass-catcher because of the mismatches he drew as a running back. As soon as he would have started lining up in the line, drawing nickel cornerback coverage down after down, his limited ability as a route runner would be quickly exposed.
With Davis, you can argue the Lions should blitz him more, but there's definitely a point of diminishing return with that strategy.
► Q. With the way the front office works, is it safe to say they see Patricia as long-term fit or is there a chance he's out if the Lions miss the playoffs? — @Churchie99
► A. I think we're approaching a non-zero chance the Lions move on from Patricia this offseason. Obviously all coaching hires are made with the idea they are a long-term solution. After last season's 6-10 debacle, expectations were re-adjusted, and it's tough to argue the Lions aren't a better team this year, mentally and physically. Despite a tough start to the year, they've been in every game and gone toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the NFL. The next step is finding a way to win (far) more of those close games than they lose.
That might not happen this year, but as long as the team continues to be competitive week in and week out, it will be viewed as progress. The expectation in the third year will be clearing that hump. Anything less than a playoff berth in 2020 should be considered a major failure.
► Q. Is there a reason Daniels is still on the team? — @CollinParks2
► A. Yes, 7.8 million reasons.
The Lions paid him good money because he's a good player. Injuries happen. The better question, if the foot issue continues to linger much longer, is why the Lions didn't put him on injured reserve and free up a roster spot while he recovered?
► Q. What is the best part of in-season coverage of the Lions for you? — @mattdudus
► A. Game day, without question. The entire week builds toward it and it's there you get to see how a week of conversations and trend study unfolds. As the great poet Marshawn Lynch liked to say, "I'm just 'bout that action, boss."
I also really enjoy Tuesdays, when I can quietly spend hours going over the film from the previous weekend's game. That's when I learn the most, and every nuanced detail I uncover makes me better at my job.
► Q. Which stadiums have the best press boxes or are they all pretty much the same? — @BigBitingPig
► A. There are two things that separate press boxes. First, the pre-game and halftime food. Second, the location. In both ways, Minnesota stands out for me.
I wouldn't say the Vikings serve the best press box food in the NFL, but it's the runaway winner within the division and probably top-5, overall. As for the view, we're along the corner of the stadium, which isn't ideal, but it's far lower than many press boxes and open air, allowing you to feel immersed in the sounds of the game and the crowd.
► Q. I’ve seen a couple rumors that Robby Anderson from the Jets is a trade target. I keep thinking his skill set is duplicated by Amendola’s skill set. Would he be a younger long-term target? — @Mbradley161
► A. I haven't seen the Anderson stuff, but answering based on the hypothetical, I see more of an overlap with Marvin Jones.
Anderson primarily lines up outside and is a vertical threat, first and foremost, with pretty good hands. He's really struggled to make plays downfield the past couple years, but that's more indicative of the quarterback play in New York. According to Pro Football Focus, he's only caught nine of his 41 deep targets the past two seasons. That's a terrible success rate. But only 10 were deemed catchable by the analytical service.
I'd love to see what Stafford could do with an outside speed merchant like Anderson.
► Q. Do you miss working with Tom Killer Kowalski? Do you have any fun stories to share in what it was like working with him? — @andzejmalins
► A. Of course I miss Tom. He really was an exceptional reporter with a unique way of connecting with fans on multiple platforms. I've never tried to fill those shoes, frankly because I don't believe it's possible.
In terms of working in the field with Tom, it was a pretty rare occurrence, probably fewer than a dozen times. I spent much of my early career in the office, working with reporters on techniques to adjust to the changing landscape of journalism, focusing on becoming more online-friendly. The majority of my communication with Tom was via instant messenger and phone, and those talks were filled with a lot of good-natured, but not-safe-for-print banter.
Tom loved to test people's limits and would only respect you when you stood up to him. It took me a little while to figure that out, but I vividly remember getting very angry with the way he was talking to me while we were working on posting the breaking news the Lions were going to draft Stafford. I yelled at him, a rarity for me, with a few choice curse words mixed in for effect. When I finally finished my rant, he just laughed at me.
I also would poke fun at his overreactions, like the time he sent in a story about a player having to leave practice with cramps, but published the story saying "craps" instead. He was so livid no one caught his mistake, but we were operating in an environment without the safety net of editors at the time. It was his mistake and he had no one else to blame.
That didn't stop him from firing off an angry email, cc'ing a half-dozen people, laced with profanity and caps lock. I printed it out and pinned it my desk wall where it stayed for years. When he made a rare visit to our Ann Arbor office, he saw it and chuckled.
When he passed, I printed out a few dozen pages of chat logs and spent a couple hours reading through them and laughing at how ridiculous we were, digging out heels in on trivial stuff.
I'm grateful for his mentorship, even if it wasn't always intentional.
► Q. Do you think Da’Shawn Hand will finally be active Sunday? — @Brad_Marr
► A. Gut feeling, yes. Not that he's letting on. I've tried talking to him a few times in recent weeks and I don't know how many more times I can hear someone say, "I'm just working" without pulling my hair out.
► Q. I know he’s not being moved . Not a chance and he shouldn’t In your opinion what would be a realistic starting price on a Stafford trade? — @Muff89
► A. If a cornerback on the final year of his contract can net two firsts and a third, I'm pretty sure a franchise quarterback under contract through 2022, well under market rate since the Lions are responsible for the signing bonus cap hit, would bring back at least two firsts.
The only reason the Lions couldn't get more is Stafford's age. He'll turn 32 in February. But he's got a good 4-5 years left of top-end production.
► Q. How ugly does this season get with a loss to the Giants? — @Stephen65565999
► A. It's tough to imagine three weeks ago this would have been a conversation, but you're right, it could be the start of something ugly. A fourth consecutive loss, to a clearly inferior opponent at your place, would legitimately raise questions about this roster's mental toughness. It would also all but snuff out Detroit's already dwindling playoff hopes.