Lions mailbag, Part 2: Receivers have been bright spot for Detroit
Allen Park — Here's Part 2 of this week's Lions mailbag. Click here to view Part 1.
► Question. Besides Stafford, what are the positives with the Lions that we should recognize? — @_Smails_
► Answer. The first thing that stands out has been the play of the receivers. Starters Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones have both been excellent this year, while unknown Marvin Hall has uniquely contributed as a big-play threat. Even Danny Amendola, the 34-year-old slot receiver, is on pace for a career year.
Running back J.D. McKissic has been a good find off the waiver wire, Center Frank Ragnow clearly has taken a step forward in his second season, and Taylor Decker has been pretty good since his disastrous season-opening performance.
On defense, there's less to be enthusiastic about, but two players who have stood out have been Trey Flowers and Tracy Walker.
After a slow start while shaking off some rust, Flowers has been excellent, both as a run stopper and pass rusher. He has four sacks the past three weeks.
Walker, like Ragnow, has made a significant developmental jump in his second season. He was leading the team in tackles before suffering a knee injury, while showing promise in man-to-man coverage against elite tight ends and improved anticipatory skill when patrolling a deeper zone.
► Q. Re-do the draft from 2018, does Bob Quinn draft a first round running like Chubb or Michel? — @spleen95shortbr
► A. Assuming the 19 picks in front of them remain the same, I'm confident the Lions would take Ragnow all over again. He's been exactly what they thought they were getting — a durable, physical, technically sound player committed to improvement.
Without blocking, you can't run the ball. Ask Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 3.3 yards per carry before his knee injury. So taking a back in the first round would have been a waste.
Of all the players the Lions could have had at No. 20, the one that's the most intriguing is Lamar Jackson. Obviously, the Lions weren't seriously in the market for a quarterback at the time, and Stafford has played at a Pro Bowl level this year, but Jackson is revolutionizing the game right now.
► Q. What's the likelihood we're watching the end of Stafford as a Lion? — @waynestock1982
► A. Probably pretty low, but who knows how his body will respond to this latest injury, his second serious back problem in the past 12 months.
Stafford remains under contract through 2022, but the Lions can realistically get out from under the deal prior to the 2021 season if they want to go a different direction. That said, until they draft a viable replacement, there's no reason to accelerate the timeline. Even though he hasn't won anything of consequence in 11 seasons, Stafford continues to give the Lions the best chance at success.
► Q. I'm 37 and lifetime Lions fan up to this point. Why should I bother following them anymore? — @MichaelPopiel
► A. I'm not in the business of telling you what to do with your free time. It's also not my job to sell you on a product that has consistently let you down. If you find that the Lions are a consistently negative experience in your life, it's up to you to decide whether to find something better to do with your Sundays.
► Q. Thoughts on the Lions not putting a claim in on Mike Davis? — @Jim40239579
► A. On the surface, the decision to pass on Davis initially seemed curious. The team showed interest when he was a free agent and the cap hit they would have absorbed claiming him off waivers was modest, a little more than $400,000 for the rest of the year.
It was especially strange since Ty Johnson suffered a concussion on Sunday, prior to the waiver deadline.
I'm speculating, but I'm sure the Lions checked with Darrell Bevell, Davis' former offensive coordinator. In the year they worked together, the back wasn't very good, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, which is close to his not-so-great career average of 3.6 yards per carry.
Davis' best season came after Bevell exited Seattle, and he was a disaster in his short time with the Bears. Maybe we can conclude that Davis just isn't good.
► Q. Should we focus max effort on Kareem Hunt in the offseason? — @86JM
► A. As long as Martha Ford owns the Lions, the team is not going to bring in a player who was caught on video engaging in a physical altercation with a woman. And it's not like that is the only instance of off-field trouble for Hunt.
The Lions value character. Maybe to a fault, sacrificing talent for good citizens. But Hunt clearly crosses most teams' thresholds of not being worth the hassle.
► Q. If Lions had 100 percent healthy starters this year so far, what would their record be right now? — @tenchaps
► A. In this land of make believe, where the Lions are the first fully healthy team in the history of football, they'd probably have around six wins at this point. Unless we're assuming every other team is immune from injury, as well. If that were the case, you can probably knock a victory or two from that column.
Of the injuries the Lions have had, they've hit the defensive line particularly hard. That unit was supposed to be the strength of the defense and we've been robbed off the opportunity to see what it would have looked like at full strength.
But such is the game of football. It's rarely perfect and injuries are going to happen, it's how you deal with them, and the Lions haven't responded very well.
► Q. Driskel is intriguing because of his size and speed, but accuracy and lack of quarterback fundamentals are evident. Do you think they view him as just a temporary guy or as a long-term project? — @dantes_glenn
► A. When reviewing the film, I didn't see a significant issue with Driskel's accuracy. Sure, he missed some throws, but so does Stafford, every week. Plus, I'm not sure what kind of chemistry you expected him to have with his receivers starting on short notice.
As for the fundamentals, Driskel's mechanics seem fine, but he has to do a better job with his eyes. Like many young quarterbacks, he was prone to locking onto his target early, letting the defense read him intentions.
His contract only runs through this season, but I imagine the Lions will be interested in keeping him around if he can build on his performance in Chicago. His mobility is a great asset to have at the backup position.
► Q. I don’t really know how to ask this, but why do so many fans want the Lions to sit Stafford for the rest of the season? — @eelawry
► A. There are probably two camps of thoughts here. First, without knowing the specifics, they are concerned the injury will develop into a longer-term problem that will carry into next season or even potentially shorten the quarterback's career.
Second, there's the tank crowd. They see the Lions already out of the playoff picture, so they want the best draft pick possible. Sitting Stafford means the team has a better chance of losing. Also, within this group are those who believe more losses could lead to Matt Patricia and/or Bob Quinn being fired.
Given the nature of the injury, and the team's place in the standings, I genuinely believe the Lions will be overly cautious with the quarterback's recovery. But once he properly heals, whether that's one week or six, he'll want to get back out there and they won't deny him that opportunity.
► Q. What are three teams that are a "Matthew Stafford" away from being a Super Bowl contender? — @KyleVar37415205
► A. I love this question.
I think what you're looking for is team's with a great defense, decent receivers and a decent running game.
The Chicago Bears check two of the three boxes and there's little question Stafford would have them at or near the top of the NFC North. Another team that would get a boost from the addition of Stafford is the Colts. Jacoby Brissett has done very well in place of Andrew Luck, but he doesn't offer as much as Stafford in the vertical passing game. Plus, Stafford never has played behind an offensive line that good.
The third team, which is already a fringe Super Bowl contender, but would be put over the top with Stafford, is the Rams. Jared Goff is that team's biggest problem.
Other teams that would be playoff contenders with Stafford include the Jaguars, Broncos and Bucs. Who wouldn't love seeing what Stafford could do in a Bruce Arians' offense?
► Q. When writers do film reviews, do you use some of the tapes that the coaches see or the NFL ‘official’ tapes? What are some of the angles that fans don’t get to see? — C Josefs
► A. For my film reviews, I use the exact tape NFL teams use. There are two angles included in any tape study. First, the All-22, a wider angle shot that makes sure every player on the field is within the frame. More than anything, this provides a better sense for coverages because you always can see the safeties.
The second angle is from the end zone. It's superior for understanding the play of the offensive and defensive line, as well as giving a better idea for what the quarterback sees on a given play.
The NFL made the film publicly available within the past decade via a subscription service. The film posts on Tuesday after a Sunday game, so the biggest difference is how quickly reporters and fans can access it. It's available almost instantly to coaches and players and it's what they use on the sideline.
► Q. Why isn’t Hockenson getting more targets/chances? — @B_Lake007
► A. He's about where you'd expect a rookie tight end on an offense loaded with veteran weapons in the passing game. Hockenson's 44 targets rank fourth on the team. And he remains a big part of the game plan. He's received 13 looks in the past two weeks.