Lions mailbag, Part 2: Setting the Thanksgiving table; down years for Wagner, James
Allen Park — Welcome to Part 2 of this week's Detroit Lions mailbag.
► Q: Who on the team would you most enjoy going to Thanksgiving with to hang out and not watch football? - @JohnnyJStrawser
► A: I'm not making all this food myself, so we'll need to invite a few players over with everyone bringing a dish to pass.
Here's my invite list: Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Graham Glasgow, Darius Slay and C.J. Moore.
Here's some logic with each invite:
Stafford: His public persona is not too dissimilar from a robot, but in the casual conversations I've had with the quarterback over the years, I can't help to think we'd get along outside of the confines of the working relationship.
Jones: Given his varied interests away from the field, he's going to keep dinner conversation moving forward in an interesting direction.
Johnson: One of the more well-rounded personalities in the locker room with a good sense of humor.
Glasgow: If you're not inviting a big guy to a potluck, you're screwing up. I've always liked Graham on a personal level and think he's one of the funniest guys on the roster with his dry, self-deprecating style.
Slay: In the same way the class clown livened up high school, Slay brings that kind of energy to any room.
Moore: Among the conversations I've had with Moore, he's professed his love for grilled raccoon. We might as well make the spread a little more exotic.
► Q: Broccoli. Does it belong at the Thanksgiving table? - @IanEvan71041877
► Q: What is your stance on the famed "mac and cheese at Thanksgiving" discussion?
► A: Combining questions here. I'm a big broccoli fan and it has the versatility to work with most meals, but I'm punting it off the Thanksgiving table. If it's not a carb, I'm not thankful for it.
As for mac and cheese, I didn't realize the debate was so serious. It was never part of my family's spread growing up, but I would have welcomed it with open arms.
► Q: It's overshadowed by the big picture and all the anti-Patricia talk, but how big was that Rick Wagner fourth-quarter hold? And with Taylor Decker making PFF Team of the Week again, how bad has Wagner been on the opposite side of the OL? - @IgorPetrinovic
► A: It was a brutal blow, negating a 25-yard Bo Scarbrough run that would have set the Lions up first-and-10 in Washington territory already up three. But let's be fair to Wagner on this one, it was a pretty chintzy call. He slightly grasped the shoulder of defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, but the defender sold it by throwing both arms up as Scarbrough ran by.
Soccer and basketball players get rightfully criticized for flopping, but there's quite a bit of acting that goes on during the course of a football game. This was a prime example.
But as for Wagner's overall play, you're right, it's been a major disappointment. The hold overshadows what was one of his best performances on the season, but he's generally been below-average both as a run blocker and pass protector in 2019. It's easily been his worst season since signing with the Lions.
Detroit has an interesting decision with Wagner this offseason. He has an $11.9 million cap hit in 2020, while releasing him would free up $6.1 million in space. I wouldn't be surprised if his future with the Lions is tied to what the team is able to add in the draft.
► Q: Most of my family is very right wing and into conspiracy theories. I have an offer to go to the game on Thursday. Which is the least miserable place to spend my time? - @magnvsantonivs
► A: I prefer to avoid publicly taking sides in politics, because who cares about my opinions on such topics, but can we all agree the extremes on both sides of the spectrum are the worst, especially as guests in our home?
In this rare case, I'm going to recommend taking the tickets.
► Q: People are so down on the Lions and want rebuilding. The Cardinals were one of the worst DVOA offenses in the league last year and this year are top-three. So what are the chances we add a player or two and a new defense coordinator and change our defense around next season? - @WH1SKEYECHO
► A: You've unintentionally hit a point I've been making in conversations in recent weeks. By firing a coach or a general manager, you don't automatically trigger a full-scale rebuild. Yes, there's always going to be roster adjustments to fit new schemes, but how many scheme specific players do the Lions have, especially on defense? The biggest issue would be at linebacker, but retooling that position doesn't magically set the team back three years.
A good coach fits his roster to his scheme. You should be thinking you have square pegs for round holes, you should be thinking about how to use your coaching knowledge to square the holes.
More specifically to your question, could two players, as well as a potential coordinator change, result in a defensive turnaround. Sure, to a degree. Even though it's not the biggest need, one great edge rusher like Chase Young or A.J. Epenesa could really boost the pass rush, which by default, improves the coverage.
► Q: What are the two weakest starters on the field when everybody is healthy? - @farmerted73
► A: This season, on offense, Jesse James and Rick Wagner. Defensively, probably Rashaan Melvin and Christian Jones.
I was admittedly high on the addition of James, but he's been ineffective in every facet of his job. He's been surprisingly bad as a run blocker and non-existent as a pass-catching option. As for Wagner, we touched on that above.
On defense, Melvin is a limited player. He does something things really well, including his initial press and using his length to wreak havoc on vertical routes. But he's a liability on breaking patterns, where his change-of-direction quickness is sub-par.
And I continue to admit that I don't know what the team sees in Jones, who just got a two-year extension. He's undoubtedly versatile, durable and a solid tackler, but he doesn't make anywhere near enough impact plays to justify his playing time. He's ineffective as a pass-rusher and edge setter when on the line of scrimmage and he's below-average with his coverage assignments playing off the ball.
In an ideal world, Jones is probably a fourth linebacker on a roster.
► Q: Was that Washington loss the low point of the season, or are we going to see worse? - @BellDavidC
► A: It is the current low-point of the season, but as they say, you don't know the bottom until you start going up again. If the Bears come to town and blow the Lions out on Thanksgiving, well, that will be the new low.
► Q: As good as the offense has looked with Stafford, this defense and special teams are embarrassing. Do you believe the DC and ST coordinator return next year? - @TravisKole
► A: We've probably covered Pasqualoni enough between this and the first part of the mailbag. One thing I'll add, I wouldn't be surprised if 70-year-old coordinator opts for retirement at season's end, to avoid making it look like a firing.
Also, I reject the characterization that the special teams have been embarrassing. The units were certainly a mess against Washington, and there's been too many penalties, but there have also been plenty of positives, namely the performance of the coverage units, which were among the league's best prior to giving up the 91-yard touchdown against Washington.
It's clearly going to come as a shock to you, but Football Outsiders' DVOA metric ranks Detroit's special teams as the second-best unit as in the NFL.
I don't consider John Bonamego a big problem.
► Q: Have you ever thought about working for a team? Film review and analysis is superb. - @Tiredofthecrap3
► A: As noted in Part 1 of the mailbag, I'm fairly confident in my film reviews, but with the admitted understanding that the depth of my football knowledge is shallow compared to those who are actually employed by teams.
If an offer from an NFL team came, and it wasn't my friends playing an elaborate prank, it would be silly not to listen. I believe in my work ethic and ability to learn, so I'd embrace the challenge.
► Q: What one thing would you change about the NFL? - @wingedweeler
► A: I'd ban indoor stadiums. Football is a game made to be played outdoors, plus I believe turf has negative short-term and long-term impacts on players' joints.
► Q: How good is David Blough? - @JTMarlin77
► A: No idea. I didn't watch him in college and the Lions acquired him after training camp, when practices are fully open to the media. We did see him in the fourth game of the preseason, where he was going against a bunch of Detroit's third-stringers, but you saw an accurate arm with good strength in that snapshot.
We might get a better feel for his abilities together this week, if he's called upon to play against the Bears.
► Q: Which players within the Lions organization are most deserving of thanks for their contributions to the community? - @gavin3000
► A: It's a good question because we sometimes forget the human side of these players. I wrote a feature on the topic around Christmas time last year.
I asked a couple people in the organization who was doing some good things recently and they were quick to highlight Slay.
Last Friday, he hosted 23 single-parent families at the Detroit PAL “The Corner Ballpark” for a Thanksgiving dinner. Student attendees were selected after submitting essays about why they appreciated their mothers.
Darius, wife Jennifer and mother Stephanie Lowe served each family in attendance.
Following dinner, the top-four students read their essays and received signed items and tickets to this week's game. Slay also did an informal Q&A with the students and presented gifts to the mothers in attendance.