Lions mailbag, Part 2: Defensive personnel shake-up likely, urgent need for backup QB
Allen Park — Welcome back to Part 2 of this week's Detroit Lions mailbag. If you missed it, here is Part 1.
► Q: What adjustments do you think are made on the defensive side of ball? In searching for next defensive coordinator does Patricia go familiarity or the route he took with hiring Darrell Bevell? - @TristanRollet
► A: We're getting ahead of ourselves a bit when talking about specific staff changes. It does seem likely the Lions will need to make a change at defensive coordinator, but as long as Paul Pasqualoni is employed by the Lions, just understand, I'm answering hypothetically.
With adjustments to the defense, personnel changes seem more likely than a schematic overall. Patricia's scheme is designed to be a versatile, flexible, communication-rich system that gives players control to adjust on the fly to make a play, as opposed to having rigid, unbreakable rules and assignments.
We can say they need to blitz more, or play more zone all we want, but all those options are built into the scheme if the personnel matches it.
I'd anticipate an attempt to upgrade all three levels of the defense with the biggest focuses being up front and in the secondary. The team desperately needs to rework its defensive tackle rotation, and with A'Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels hitting free agency, there are holes to fill.
If the team doesn't land Chase Young in the draft, Auburn's Derrick Brown might be the next best option. He's a powerful run defender who can also get after the passer. Basically, what Mike Daniels was at the peak of his career.
And if the Lions prefer to spend big in free agency to address the position, Chris Jones and Arik Armstead are two names to watch, given their experience playing in 3-4 fronts, but also possessing pass-rush ability.
In the back end, Tavon Wilson and Rashaan Melvin are free agents. Some might want the Lions to plug Amani Oruwariye into Melvin's spot, but that is expecting a lot of a still unproven, fifth-round draft pick. If the Lions can snag a better option in the draft or free agency, they shouldn't hesitate.
With any potential new coordinator, given Patricia's experience on defense, I would anticipate he stays closer to his network of personally known coaches, but the most important thing would be philosophical overlap, which is what helped land Bevell the job.
► Q: While you're not an inherently fan of team, and Lions coverage is your job, does the negativity of a season like this wear on your mental health in any way? - @CoachKozak
► A: The Lions' successes and failures don't have a significant impact on my mental state, but it is definitely draining trying to come up with a dozen things to write each week when a team is eliminated from the postseason before Dec. 1.
► Q: Why do so many coaches/teams try to get players that fit their system (Tavai, Flowers, trading Diggs) rather than mold their system around the players like Baltimore with Lamar Jackson.
► A: To coach at the highest level, you can't be schematically amorphous. At the very least, you need to have a foundation and core principles you believe in and have hypothetically perfected on your rise through the ranks.
When building a roster, knowing what you want to do schematically allows you to target specific physical traits. But the great coaches know how to maximize unique talent, especially in the case where they inherit it.
In the past, Matt Patricia has declined to describe a prototypical cornerback for his system, because he didn't want to rule out a great player because he maybe wasn't tall enough or was a tick faster than desired.
With Jackson, specifically, remember, Baltimore crafted a plan around him after he was drafting, including bringing in a new offensive coordinator who had previously established expertise of working with dual-threat passers.
► Q: Whiskey or bourbon in your eggnog? - @jimboy3625
► A: Wait, isn't bourbon just a type of whiskey? Did you mean rum? Regardless, I'm out on eggnog. Not really a fan of viscous beverages. Just give me the bourbon. Neat, please.
► Q: Harold Nash was let go from the Patriots for the amount of player injuries his last year there. The Lions have been decimated by injury this year, and to a lesser extent, last year. Any correlation and do you believe he will be part of the coaching staff overhaul? - @tim15237411
► A: I don't remember if the Patriots officially said that was the reason for Nash's dismissal, or it was merely speculation among Boston media outlets, but regardless, it's a fair question. The Lions have more than a dozen players on injured reserve right now, so how much of that can we pin on the current training staff?
While this isn't an endorsement of Nash, because I do have concerns about the functional strength of the roster at some spots, I'm not comfortable pinning the team's current injury issues on him.
When I look at the list, I see a lot of ankle and foot issues. And while there are certainly exercises that focus on the flexibility and strengthening of those tendons, I have bigger concerns with the NFL's indoor playing surfaces.
Look at Marvin Jones, T.J. Hockenson and Jarrad Davis this year. All three had their foot get stuck in the turf during collisions, causing their season-ending injuries.
I'm just not seeing many issues on the list that are likely the result of over- or under-training.
► Q: When will anyone acknowledge the defensive coaching staff Patricia brought in is college level (literally all direct NCAA backgrounds) and a big reason why it’s a total disaster? - @antonazucar
► A: Am I incorrect for assuming most coaches are groomed in the college ranks? And it's not like there's not NFL experience there. Pasqualoni had eight years of NFL experience before coming to Detroit. Bo Davis was briefly with Miami and Jacksonville, while Detroit is Brian Stewart's fifth NFL job.
► Q: Now that Bob Quinn has realized that not having a backup plan at quarterback leads to unemployment what is the plan? - @jmrcfa
► A: It's a strange criticism because the backup quarterback job has been irrelevant in Detroit for the past eight years. Unless Quinn had a clear plan to replace Stafford, how much resources did you want the general manager to commit to the backup spot?
The Saints paid Teddy Bridgewater $7.2 million for this season. And that paid off when Brees went down. But how would Lions fans have reacted to the backup quarterback having the sixth-biggest cap hit? Not well. Not even with hindsight.
How about draft equity? Would you feel better had the Lions selected Will Grier or Ryan Finley in the third round? When Stafford went down, the Lions were 3-4-1. With Grier or Finley, it might have made more a more interesting story, but it wasn't like they were going to lead the team on a six-game win streak and back into playoff contention. Maybe the Lions are 4-10-1 or 5-9-1 with one of those guys at the helm. Does that alter the conversation in any way?
This offseason is different. Stafford's start streak is over. Back injuries in back-to-back years is a red flag. The backup quarterback spot is a legitimate need. Let's see how the general manager addresses it while on a short leash.
► Q: Have you seen any improvements with the locker room as Patricia changed the culture? - @KHMakerD
► A: Not really. The locker room culture has been pretty good in Detroit for a while now, starting with Jim Caldwell. Patricia has maintained the high character, high-effort roster he inherited.
► Q: Any chance of Bevell getting poached for a head coaching job? Has he had offers in the past? - @AwkwardBenny
► A: Bevell has interviewed for a few head jobs while with the Seattle Seahawks, and given the league's focus on hiring offensive coaches, I guess it wouldn't be all that surprising if he lands an interview or two.
Despite the struggles with a depleted roster down the stretch, Bevell elevated his resume this year with the work he did with Stafford and the Lions' passing game.
► Q: I saw Slays reaction to the coach being retained for next year. Did any other players have any type of reaction or comments about it? - @HenryMorgan73
► A: Slay's reaction was essentially a non-reaction. And the only other player who was asked about it was Kenny Golladay, who comically responded, "Who? Stafford?" when asked for his thoughts about Matt being back in 2020.
I'm sure there are players in that locker room who are thrilled, including Danny Amendola and Trey Flowers, two guys who came to Detroit to play for Patricia. But this isn't a coach who is universally loved like Caldwell. It's a business-like atmosphere in Allen Park and Patricia's job assurance was treated like business as usual.
► Q: Regarding yesterday’s leadership announcement, what effect, if any will it have on free-agent recruitment or retention? - @seemark71
► A: Almost none. Money and opportunity are what matters most to the majority of NFL players. If the Lions are offering top dollar and a clear role for 2020, players won't hesitate to sign here.
► Q: Will Marvin Jones be on season 3 of The Masked Singer- @TeamCargoShorts
► A: He'd be a good fit, given his singing abilities, but I don't know if Jones has enough star power for the program. The only other NFL player they've had on the show was seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.
Even Victor Oladipo, a contestant in the second season, has made the past couple All-Star games in the NBA. Jones is still looking for his first Pro Bowl nod.
► Q: It seems that we haven't had a great Super Bowl halftime show in some time. Who would be the ultimate halftime show? - @Kfletch300
► A: Some musical hybrid of mainstream acts. Maybe Foo Fighters and OutKast? Metallica and Jay-Z? I don't know.
► Q: What was your favorite moment of the season? - @gadaboy11
► A: The Chiefs game. I came into it thinking the Lions might be exposed after their hot start, but they went toe-to-toe with the Super Bowl contender in a highly entertaining regular-season game. At that moment, it really seemed like the Lions were building something good.
Obviously, things turned out quite differently.
The worst moment, not that you asked, was the phantom hands to the face call on Trey Flowers in the closing minutes of the Green Bay game. It wasn't the low point because the Lions lost, because that's not important to doing my job, but because it provided fuel for the two segments of any fan base that are tough to tolerate, the woe-is-me crowd and the conspiracy theorists.
My email inbox and Twitter mentions were a cesspool that week.
► Q: Why should we care about this team after all the wrong decisions and failures? - @StumpMasterFlex
► A: Because you were born in Michigan and your fandom is beholden to this cosmic coincidence?
I don't know, man. Despite the occasional baseless accusation that rolls through my inbox, I'm not an extension of the team's public relations department. It's not my job to make you care, only to provide you as much information as I can if you do.
► Q: Were you given the chance to ask questions of Martha and Sheila? Or was this beat writer only meeting just them spewing blue skies talking points? - @ba15832
► A: Yes. The session went a little bit longer than 30 minutes and was mostly a Q&A after they informed us Patricia and Quinn would be retained for the 2020 season.
That interview was considered on background, which means it wasn't recorded, but we were able to take notes and could paraphrase the general sentiments of ownership, despite not having the ability to quote directly outside of select instances.
Obviously, that's not ideal. As a journalist, you'd prefer everything to be on record and to have exact quotes to supplement your stories. In this case, the concession was made because of the unique opportunity to meet with ownership and ask questions. I've been on this beat since 2011 and this was a first. And I'd rather have an on-background interview than continued radio silence from the highest reaches of the organization.
I'm a more informed reporter because of this interview and the information I gained through the Q&A was reflected in the reporting of the stories from that day.