Lions mailbag, Part 2: Despite record, Matt Patricia's team still showing progress
Allen Park — If you didn't catch Part 1 of our Detroit Lions mailbag this morning, well, where have you been? Make sure to check that out. But while you're here, please enjoy Part 2.
► Question. Patricia has to show some noticeable improvement on defense in these last eight games in order to stay doesn’t he? I’m not even saying I want him gone, it’s just the nature of the business. — @bretyode
► Answer. I think that's an over-simplification of reality. Matt Patricia will be evaluated on the overall body of work with the team, not just the defense, regardless of his previous background on that side of the ball.
While there's a lot of football remaining, which will ultimately shape the final evaluation, can't we honestly acknowledge the team is better than it was a year ago? It would be unfair to say there hasn't been overall improvement.
As I mentioned in an answer in Part 1 of the mailbag, the Lions have been competitive week in and week out, taking a number of good opponents down to the wire before coming up on the wrong side of the decision.
Assuming that narrative continues, and the Lions end up on the short end of the stick more often than not in close games, that's progress. It's not great progress, and it's certainly not enough to satisfy a fan base that deserves better, but it's enough for Patricia to get another year to see if he can continue the build and start flipping those close defeats into victories.
The only way I see his job being threatened is if the team quits on him down the stretch. Nothing currently suggests that, but if the Lions finish with only five wins and suffer a couple blowouts in the process, then we can have a legitimate talk about job security.
► Q. Do they construct the team/roster to beat/match up against division foes? — @spleen95shortbr
► A. It's part of the thought process, but you can't build a roster that only focuses on 37 percent of the schedule. Bob Quinn's job is to accumulate talent capable of matching up against any of the league's 31 teams. That's why there's this constant emphasis on versatility.
► Q. Last week was the Lions last game at the Oakland Coliseum. What will you miss about it? What will you not miss about it? — @BigBitingPig
► A. Honestly, I won't miss much. It is, without question, my least favorite stadium in the NFL. The press box is cramped, the food makes high school lunches feel gourmet, and there's a single, cramped elevator leading to postgame interviews.
What I love about the Raiders is their fans and the franchise's history. While I don't have the time to partake, it's awesome to walk through the tailgate scene hours before kickoff. It's one of the best in the league. And the passion carries to the stands with the Black Hole section. There's nothing like it around the league, and I'm not sure the spirit will fully port to Vegas.
► Q. If you're Bob Quinn, can you go into the offseason and not re-sign your best guard? Seems like a huge ask to try and potentially find two starting caliber guards in the draft or free agency. — @Kfletch300
► A. Every offseason is filled with tough roster decisions. It's probably a good thing for a team like Detroit that a salary cap exists, because it puts them on equal footing with the league's other teams when it comes to roster construction.
Your question is obviously referring to Graham Glasgow, but before I get into that, I don't want to be dismissive of the improvement Joe Dahl has made in his fourth season. While he's not on Glasgow's level, the way Dahl is performing easily justifies the two-year, $3.6 million extension he was awarded this offseason.
So, in reality, the Lions only need one starting-caliber guard, assuming they don't re-sign Glasgow.
If I were to estimate, he is probably looking at a four- or five-year contract that will pay him approximately $9-10 million per year, with half guaranteed. Given what he brings to the table, from his work ethic to his durability to his performance, I'm paying that.
Quinn might disagree.
I'm not an expert on this upcoming draft class. I have a surface-level knowledge of many of the top prospects, but there's no way I could give you an in-depth opinion on the group of interior linemen expected to come out. Maybe Quinn likes what he sees and is willing to risk inserting a rookie into the starting lineup. Another possibility is the team is looking for a different type of lineman, to better execute the blocking scheme to get the run game on track.
I don't know for certain. These are future topics we may or may not have to discuss with the general manager at the league meetings in March or after the draft in early April.
► Q. Since it is that time of the season to read or watch movies or shows on Sunday afternoons, and you can't currently, what should we read or watch that you recommend? — @Tim1213
► A. A handful of you are already bailing on the season, it seems, and it's not my job to beg that you stick around, but I hope you'll keep reading.
The question, though, confuses me. Where do I have time to come up with recommendations? As a literature major, I'm ashamed to admit how little I read these days. Kids and work consume most of my waking hours. As for TV shows, I'm in the middle of a two-year project of watching "Cheers." I can't defend that decision, other than it allows me to shut my brain.
So, Tim, why don't you get busy reading books and watching movies and provide me with some good suggestions for the offseason.
► Q. Is the Lions defense going to make Trubisky look good or is Trubisky going to make the Lions defense look good? — @MichaelFick1
► A. It's the age-old question about a movable object meeting a stoppable force. All this game needs is some heavy precipitation to be an even bigger mess.
A year ago, Mitchell Trubisky lit the Lions up, completing 23 of his 30 passes for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns. This year, his season-high is 253 yards.
If Trubisky manages to get his act together this week, there might not be any hope for the Lions defense to get it together this season. I imagine in Chicago, a Bears reporter is writing an inability to abuse the Lions defense should result in the quarterback's benching.
► Q. What would have called on 4th and 1 with the game on the line? — @DaveReimink
► A. There's a reason I write and Darrell Bevell is paid to call plays. I can critique all I want, but if I was calling plays, the Lions would probably be averaging 3.2 point per game.
But since you asked...
First things first, I'm acknowledging that even hinting I'm going to run is ridiculous. The Lions haven't had much success in short-yardage situations all season, so why now, against a pretty good run-stopping front? That means, Kenny Golladay, Martin Jones and Danny Amendola are all on the field. In fact, I'm going with an empty backfield, with J.D. McKissic in the slot.
I'm probably bunching three receivers tight to one side, with some sort of stack, and utilizing Golladay, or one of the big-bodied tight ends to set a pick within a yard of the line of scrimmage, creating space for a quick throw to McKissic or Amendola.
And if the coverage collapses to take that away, I'm running Marvin Jones vertical through the traffic, similar to the post pattern he ran on 4th-and-2 for a touchdown, earlier in the game.
Does that work? I don't know. But I think it gives me a better chance than a run-fake where I roll my quarterback directly into an unblocked defensive end.
► Q. How do we replace Marvin Jones if he leaves? He and Kenny Golladay are such a good deep ball/contested catch guys. — @DirtyJerzFinest
► A. You're right, Jones and Golladay have formed a formidable tandem, particularly with the way both can stretch the field. But it's too early to worry about replacing Jones. He still has a year left on his contract, and an extension, although not likely, isn't completely out of the question.
If the team does replace him, it will be because of age and cost. He'll be 31 when his next contract kicks in, and given the ever-rising salary cap, it's not inconceivable his skill set commands somewhere in the ballpark of $8-10 million per season.
When it comes to finding the next man up, the draft is the most likely bet. Pondering the possibility, I've included a handful of options in my weekly draft watch lists that run in The Detroit News every Saturday. I'll have another receiver feature this week.
► Q. The Lions schedule is light in the second half. Many defensive issues seem fixable by adjustments. Am I being overly optimistic they can fix this defense the last eight games? — @dwmaki
► A. Schedule certainly matters. Look at the impressive defensive numbers the Patriots posted in the first half of the season. Now, look at the schedule. They played the Jets twice, the Giants, Washington, Browns and Bills. That's a stretch of young and/or inconsistent quarterbacks.
It wasn't until the Patriots played the Ravens this past weekend that the defense was tested. They proceeded to get lit up for 37 points, while allowing 210 rushing yards. Not even the Lions have given up 200 rushing yards in a game this season.
Still, you are probably being overly optimistic. Remaining on the schedule are the Cowboys and Buccaneers, a pair of top-five scoring offenses, as well as the Vikings, who came into your house and dropped 42 on your head.
This weekend will be the barometer for a turnaround. The Bears are struggling to move the ball as much as the Lions struggling to stop it. If the defense can succeed this week, maybe it builds some momentum for a stretch run.
► Q. Do you think there’s any possibility the Lions move to zone as their primary defense? — @CourtSmoots
► A. Presumably you're talking about what the Lions cornerbacks play on the outside, because the safeties and linebackers play plenty of underneath and deep zones.
On the outside, or even in the slot, I don't see any kind of in-season overall. Patricia prefers man coverage, the cornerbacks prefer man coverage and the skill sets of Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin and Mike Ford are best suited for man coverage.
Now they just have to figure out how to better defend those long-developing crossing patterns, assuming the front continue to generate little to no pass rush.
► Q. Could Jarrad Davis be the next Kyle Van Noy, just needs a better coach/team? — @WayneOW66L67
► A. I made the regrettable decision to listen to five minutes of sports talk radio on my drive into the facility on Wednesday, and this was the topic of conversation.
There's this constant fear from Lions fans that the guy they're giving up on will go succeed elsewhere, and yeah, it happens on occasion, but more often than not, it doesn't.
With Davis, he has some clear skills. His ability to rush the passer, particularly on the delay, where he can read and process gaps to attack, is impressive. He also covers routes well that are in front of him, such as screens and quick outs. He has great closing burst and can make quick stops in space.
Where Davis appears to be struggling the most is with some of the problem-solving elements of Detroit's defense, especially when reading keys and attacking run gaps. He's also not great at beating blocks. Still, it's fair to ask whether he'd do better in a more restrictive scheme, which requires him to be in specific spots on most plays.
If and when the Lions move on, I wouldn't worry about it. With Van Noy, he wasn't succeeding here and he wasn't going to succeed here. It was a bad scheme fit and there was lost confidence, on both ends. With all personnel decisions, you can't linger on what's not working for your team.