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Detroit Lions mailbag: Thoughts on Goff, Hockenson and early-season surprises

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Welcome to another weekly Detroit Lions mailbag. Let's see what's on your mind this week:

► Question: T.J. Hockenson and Jared Goff seem to be out of sync, what gives? — @roarrestored1

► Q: At what point should we be concerned over Hockenson not taking that next step in his career? — @DirtyJerzFinest

► Answer: I don't think the connection between Detroit's quarterback and top tight end merits much immediate concern. Hockenson has been targeted 14 times and caught seven passes. He's also been assessed two drops. Assuming he hangs on to those, you're talking about a catch rate of 64.3%, which is only a touch off his career number of 65.6% coming into the season.

The drops, in general, are not great, but every professional athlete hits lulls. If Hockenson's hands continue to be an issue several weeks deeper into the season, it merits a deeper dive into what's going wrong, including any changes in routes he's being asked to run within the new scheme implemented by coordinator Ben Johnson.

On the grander front, Hockenson's looming contract extension continues to be an interesting conversation. He's proven to be an above-average pass-catching option during his career, and while the blocking has lagged behind, he's committed to improvement and there have been some noticeable strides being made in that department.

T.J. Hockenson has seven catches and two drops in his 14 targets this season.

The bar keeps getting reset with several of the league's young tight ends scoring extensions. Most recently, Dawson Knox netted a four-year pact from Buffalo worth an average of $13 million per season and more than $31 million guaranteed. That's with career-highs of 49 receptions and only slightly-better blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. So Hockenson's eventual deal is still tracking slightly above that, even if his production stays at pre-established levels.

► Q: Should Lions fans be encouraged by Goff’s play or skeptical that it may inevitably lead to a cap-monopolizing extension? What are the future ramifications of him playing well this season? — @NoExcuseCharlie

► A: Like every conversation regarding whoever quarterbacks of the Lions, it depends on which camp you reside in. There are those who are plenty confident Goff possesses enough ability to be the franchise's long-term solution and an alternative group that doesn't, despite his recent string of success dating back to last season.

His resume speaks for itself, with two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl appearance. I don't need to tell you he can do it, because he's already done it. But to suggest there's no possible way for the Lions to upgrade the position would be equally naïve. For as good as Goff has been to start the year — posting a passer rating over 100 — he's still having issues with his downfield accuracy, he's putting too many passes in harm's way and he doesn't offer the threat of mobility that so many of the young quarterbacks entering the league do.

Ultimately, the Lions will have to make a decision, but there isn't a huge rush. Goff's under contract through 2024, so they can comfortably sit back and continue to assess the situation through the late stages of next season, assuming the rebuild remains on track. Regardless, I'm sure we'll be talking about it plenty between now and the next draft.

► Q: Without somehow trading back for Darius Slay, how can the Lions best replicate Philadelphia's success in containing Justin Jefferson? — @evanderjoseph

► A: It's going to have to be a joint effort because we've seen nothing to suggest the Lions will have any of their cornerbacks travel with Jefferson, who regularly lines up on both sides on the outside, as well as getting plenty of work from the slot. That means Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes and Amani Oruwariye, if healthy, will all draw snaps covering the Vikings star wideout.

Minnesota has enough weapons, including the always-lethal Adam Thielen, that you can't double Jefferson every snap, but I would anticipate the Lions will have linebackers cheating to help on some underneath routes, as well as routinely rolling the safety to that side to help bracket Jefferson.

► Q: Do you think this offense is really this good or are they overachieving? — @OldSchoolSport7

► A: It sounds funny saying it, but you can make an argument they're underachieving, with how many points they've left on the field the first two games. Of course, we should understand that we'll rarely see that near-perfect level of execution, but we now know the potential is there for a 40- or even 50-point outburst if everything clicks.

The Lions' offense has been among the best in the league this year. Whether that's sustainable remains to be seen.

Obviously, the injuries along the offensive line present significant concerns. Without Frank Ragnow or Jonah Jackson close to full strength, opponents will increasingly find ways to expose those cracks in Detroit's armor. That said, the Lions have a ton of weapons at the skill positions and I have little doubt they can be a top-10 scoring offense the rest of the way.

► Q: Where did John Cominsky and Chris Board come from? I don’t remember them from the preseason at all, but both have been making plays. — @MichaelFickII

► A: The preseason is weird like that, with a greater focus on fundamentals over anything else. The ability to open up the call sheet when game-planning in the regular season has brought both the players you mention to the forefront because of their ability to contribute on the pass rush.

Unfortunately, it'll be a minute before we see Cominsky again. He suffered a hand injury requiring surgery and he will be sidelined indefinitely. As for Board, he'll continue to log between 10-20 snaps per game and should continue to offer value both in coverage and as a blitzer, where he's been highly disruptive to start the year.

As for where they came from, Cominsky was a waiver claim after he was cut by Atlanta this spring. Big, athletic, with a non-stop motor, he was a hot commodity, with eight teams putting in a claim. Board spent the last four years with the Baltimore Ravens after going undrafted out of North Dakota State. A key special-teamer for the Ravens, he had seen his defensive role steadily grow before coming to Detroit.

► Q: Do you think the Lions would seriously consider replacing Goff with Lamar Jackson next season should he become available? — @DoctorOSP

► A: I've learned to never outright dismiss a possibility, but it's difficult to see this scenario happening.

The Ravens are probably going to slap a non-exclusive franchise tag on the QB, giving them the right to match any offer. And if they decline, the signing team has to send two first-round draft picks as part of the agreement. With Deshaun Watson's $230 million guaranteed as the reported floor for negotiations with Jackson, you have to meet those demands, be willing to part with a pair of highly valuable draft assets and cut Goff, eating another $10 million cap hit.

It's a fun fantasy, but tough to see working in reality.

► Q: With the Lions' success blitzing this year coupled with Cousins' lack of success against the blitz, can we expect a heavy blitzing scheme this week? — @Markrollnfl

► A: The Lions have blitzed quite a bit, in both of their games, but it was definitely more effective against the Commanders than it was in the opener versus the Eagles. Still, Carson Wentz completed 10 of 17 throws for 91 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions when blitzed, while only being sacked once.

But you're right, Kirk Cousins struggled with the blitz on Monday night, and even if he hadn't, I believe sending an extra rusher, particularly on third down, is part of coordinator Aaron Glenn's identity. The Lions rank fourth in the NFL, blitzing 41.7% of the time, and there's no reason to think that doesn't continue this week.

► Q: How is Jameson Williams’ current rehab coming along? Is it still more likely that we’ll see him play after the bye week or is there a chance that we’ll see him get a few snaps in week 5? — @notishiiii

► A: While we haven't checked in on Williams the last week, everything was progressing as expected throughout the offseason program. But while he is eligible to join the lineup in Week 5, it's going to be a while longer than that. At the earliest, I could see the team opening up the rookie receiver's practice window after the bye week (first practice, Oct. 19), and I'd fully expect the Lions to utilize the full three-week acclimation window to get his body right before activating him.

All that to say, I'd pencil in a November debut for Williams.

► Q: Any idea why Austin Bryant didn't play last week? — @FriedrichsJk

► A: When everyone is healthy, Bryant is behind Julian Okwara on the depth chart. Bryant being scratched was a reflection of Okwara finally being medically cleared to return after suffering a hamstring strain during training camp.

Based on Dan Campbell's comments this week, it sounds like Bryant is in line for another opportunity, helping replace Cominsky.

► Q: Now that the Lions are showing their abilities, is it time to cool it on the trickery and long shots? — @rollc2000

► A: I don't think you have to abandon gadget plays just because the team is getting more talented. Teams like the Rams, Chiefs and Bills still hit opponents with some trickeration on occasion, because it's a good way to pick up an explosive gain, which often fuels touchdown drives.

Now, what you might be asking is whether the Lions will need to lean on catching certain opponents off guard — like they did against the Rams last year — when they had to lean on fake punts and onside kicks to even have a shot against the eventual Super Bowl champions. There, I can agree. Those were desperate acts of a talent-deficient squad. Outside of Buffalo on Thanksgiving, I'm not sure there's another game on the schedule where the Lions' talent won't be enough to compete.

► Q: Have not heard anything on Paschal. Shouldn’t he be working out and be seen at the facility? — @BisseyJerry

► A: Like Williams, Paschal is required to be sidelined at least the first four games, so he's been a little out of sight, out of mind. I've noticed him a couple of times on the sideline during practices, but whatever work he's doing in the weight room or training room is outside what I get to see, as a member of the media.

I would expect him to return to practice shortly, if not immediately, after the bye week. I know he can come back before the bye, but I would think the Lions wouldn't want a break in the middle of his three-week acclimation window, which they'll certainly want to use to make sure Paschal is close to football-ready as he can be ahead of his eventual activation.

► Q: Logan Stenberg seems to be a major liability in the passing game. Based on the success of Dan Skipper, could we see him at right guard, assuming Jonah Jackson is healthy? — @DallonWarragal

► A: You're not incorrect; Stenberg has had major issues protecting Goff the first two games. The eye test alone is enough to tell you that, but Pro Football Focus confirms, faulting the third-year lineman with 10 quarterback pressures allowed, including five hits and two sacks.

That's a brutal line for any spot along the line, but particularly troubling for an inside lineman. For context, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the man Stenberg is replacing, allowed 23 total pressures, five quarterback hits and zero sacks in 15 starts last season.

At some level, you anticipate there to be some struggles for Stenberg, given his lack of experience, but the leash can only be so long. I don't have an immediate sense for the Lions' thinking here, but you can't rule out the plug eventually needing to be pulled.

Whether that would be to swap in Skipper, who was more consistent in his out-of-position debut as a starter last week remains to be seen. The Lions do have a pair of young guards on the roster they're trying to get up to speed, who could also be options if Stenberg's struggles continue.


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers