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Lions mailbag: Touchdown catch from D'Andre Swift changes record, but not much else

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

It's been a while since we tackled a Detroit Lions mailbag. Sorry about that, but it's been an unforeseen, unfortunate result of the pandemic, which has required more time to be dedicated to things around the house, namely the virtual education of my two daughters. 

But a window opened up today, so I'm trying to clear out the mailbox. On to your questions. 

Lions rookie running back D'Andre Swift can't hang on to a touchdown pass that would have won the game at the end of the fourth quarter in a season-opening loss to the Bears.

► Question. If D'Andre Swift catches that pass against Chicago, is there a different outlook on this team? — @ekaseta

► Answer. Yes and no. Obviously, 5-4 and a game out of playoff contention is a far better place to be than 4-5 and two games back, but many of the underlying issues would remain. 

We'd still be talking about a defense getting lit up for 400 yards and 30 points per game, and even with the win against Chicago, it wouldn't erase the problem of blowing big leads. Plus, this team continues to largely wilt against top competition. 

The Arizona win was a good one, but is an outlier. Look at games against Green Bay, New Orleans and Indianapolis. The Lions weren't competitive in those matchups, which is reason to circle back to what general manager Bob Quinn said when he fired Jim Caldwell.

"I just think that when you look at our record over the last couple years since I’ve been here, we didn’t beat the really good teams," Quinn said in that press conference. 

Well, here we are again, except it's three years later and the Lions aren't even consistent enough with beating the bad teams, falling short of the base-level standard set under Caldwell. 

Lions receiver Kenny Golladay, shown in a game last season, has 20 receptions in five games this season.

► Q. At the risk of defending Bob Quinn, is he right to hold firm that Kenny Golladay is not worth top receiver money and is a product of an extra aggressive QB? — @ProfKreg

► A. It's an interesting thought, for sure. What we know about Golladay is his success isn't built around separation. In fact, he's one of the worst in the league at getting it. The flip side of that is he's one of NFL's best in contested situations.

You're not off target to suggest he benefits from a quarterback who trusts both his receiver and his own talent to test those tight windows. That said, I don't think that's a factor in the extension conversation.

At this point, Golladay has been able to prove his abilities because of Stafford's aggressiveness. That doesn't portend to a future decline in production with a different passer. Quite the opposite, in my opinion, and he showed that by maintaining a reasonably high level of success with David Blough at quarterback and Marvin Jones sidelined by injury in 2019. 

No, I believe the greater discussion is positional value. There's plenty of evidence that suggests a star receiver isn't the key to team success. Most decision-makers operate with building from the inside out, and who is further out than a receiver? 

While I would pay and build around Golladay as a foundational piece, I can certainly understand while others would be reluctant to commit $20 million per season. 

► Q. Is the offensive line better without Vaitai, it’s most expensive off-season addition? — @MichaelFickII

► A. The simple answer is yes, but it's more complicated than that.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been playing with a foot injury all season. While players are trained to not make excuses, it is clearly limiting his effectiveness. I can confidently say we haven't seen him at full strength and aren't really sure how different the line would look with him at 100%. And at this rate, we probably won't in 2020. 

The silver lining is it's given Tyrell Crosby an opportunity to showcase his development, which has exceeded expectations. It's understandable why the Lions didn't risk committing to the unproven Crosby in the offseason, but how much better would the front look if they had put the money they spent on Vaitai toward retaining Graham Glasgow? 

► Q. What is the journalism equivalent of having 10 men on the field? — @spleen95shortbr

► A. So it has to be accidental, generally with no major consequences, but the potential for disaster? That's tough. The best example I can think of is accidentally publishing a story early, before it's gone through the proper editing process. 

That happens sometimes. Now imagine if there's a error in the text that merits going viral. That's the equivalent of Dalvin Cook's 70-yard touchdown run. 

► Q. After seeing Chase Young, did the Lions get the better deal with Okudah? — @adwenn

► A. Um, no. 

First of all, we shouldn't be judging rookies on their first season, let alone one game, but as I mentioned above, the key to building a successful football team is from the inside out. Assuming the talent is relatively equal, positionally, and there are no major red flags, you should always draft the defensive lineman. 

► Q. Why is the secondary so bad with a decent amount of talent? — @LionPride8123

► A. How much time do you have? 

It's such a complicated topic, because on paper, this is an individually talented group. 

Let's start with injuries. Again, not an excuse, but a reality. The team was without Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant for five games each. That's two of their top three corners entering the season, and those staggered absences hindered building chemistry, which is critical in the back end. 

Secondly, you've got Okudah learning on the job. And as much as everyone hoped he'd be plug-and-play, the NFL has a way of humbling rookies, regardless of the talent level. 

Finally, Duron Harmon was a solid offseason addition, but you can make a strong case it has been the catalyst to disrupting Tracy Walker's performance and production. He had thrived when he was first and foremost a free safety, but he's been displaced from that role by Harmon. 

That's a surface-level answer, but should at least give you an idea of some of the problems plaguing Detroit's secondary. 

► Q: Are there any NFL examples of coaches/GMs that started out as poorly as Patricia and Quinn but that ultimately rewarded patience and turned it around? — @trumanfrancis

► A.  I spent 20 minutes looking for a similar three-season example and grew tired of the exercise. There were plenty of coaches who turned it around in Season 3 with patience, but that hasn't been the case here, which is why the seat remains hot. 

► Q. If they hit the reset button this offseason, how far do you think they would go? — @srein00

► A. This seems timely after Troy Weaver spent his first draft as Pistons general manager blowing up the roster

The honest answer is we don't know what the next general manager will do with the Lions because we don't know who the next general manager will be. Approaches to roster building are individual. 

Obviously, the biggest decision will be at quarterback. If Bob Quinn is replaced, will he next GM hit the reset button by drafting an heir to Matthew Stafford? That would signify a true rebuild.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers