So who are these Detroit Loins? We've heard about their struggles last season and we've seen sporadic updates from game highlights and such. But from a football point of view, we really don't know who the Lions are. So we asked Pride of Detroit's Sean Yuille, who are these Detroit Lions?
1) Matthew Stafford leads all NFL rookies with 2,124 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. Is Stafford the franchise quarterback the Lions have been looking for?
I believe the Lions have found their franchise quarterback as long as Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and learn to throw less interceptions. He showed how tough he is and how clutch he can be against the Browns, but it seems like for every good outing he has a bad one. I'm sure he will throw less picks over time, but that is the one thing that I am concerned about. Even so, part of what makes Stafford a great QB is that he isn't afraid to make plays. Sometimes that comes back to bite him in the form of an interception, so it may just be a tradeoff that the Lions have to deal with. I would be fine with that as long as Stafford plays to his potential like we have seen in certain weeks this season.
1a) What’s the biggest thing Stafford needs to improve on?
As mentioned above, he has to throw fewer interceptions. Some of the picks are the result of mistakes by the receivers or just not having enough time, but Stafford has to learn that he doesn't have to make a play every time he has the ball. I like that mindset, but throwing the ball away or taking a sack isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think that as the Lions' offensive line gets better and gives Stafford more time to throw and as he gains more experience this will become less of an issue.
2) With 30 yards from scrimmage, Kevin Smith will record back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards from scrimmage or more. What kind of runner is Smith; does he turn the corner or does he run downhill?
Kevin Smith isn't a power back by any means, but he isn't a speed back, either. I would say that he runs best when going north-south and making cuts along the way. Every once in a while he can make a play by going east-west, but it is to his advantage to run downfield. He doesn't run over defenders or anything like that all that often, but he has some nice moves that allow him to break tackles.
3) Calvin Johnson is a beastly 6’5” wide receiver who’s on pace to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. What can defenses do to shut him down?
The best way for a defense to shut down Calvin Johnson may very well be to hope that his knee is still bothering him. He got hurt earlier this year against the Steelers and missed a few games, and when he first came back he and Stafford weren't really on the same page. They have started to get a connection going again lately, though, which could be trouble for the Bengals' secondary. Probably Cincinnati's best bet is to double Megatron and hope that the Lions' other receivers don't play well. They can be very inconsistent, and if the other receivers have a case of the dropsies like they often do, then all Cincinnati may have to do to shut down the Lions' passing attack is take Calvin out of the game, or at least try to contain him.
3a) Do other receivers benefit if defenses tend to focus on Johnson in the passing game?
Calvin Johnson makes the entire offense better simply by being on the field. He is so talented that defenses have to pay extra attention to him, which can open up the passing game for the rest of the receivers and also give the running backs more room to run. More than anything, I'd say that having to gameplan against Calvin Johnson allows the rest of the Lions' offense to do more, setting up what could be a scenario where defenses either have to stop Calvin and leave the rest of the offense more open or take their chances with Calvin to keep the rest of the offense in check.
4) Even though this is his first season, how would you rate Jim Schwartz’s first season as Lions head coach?
From the moment he was hired, Lions fans fell in love with Jim Schwartz. He is a down-to-earth guy that just seems to get it. Will that translate into winning? Only time will tell, of course, but the fan base is behind him and has faith that he is the man to finally turn around the franchise.
5) Has the acquisition of Julian Peterson noticeably improved the Lions pass rush this year?
Detroit's pass rush has struggled as a whole, but in certain situations Julian Peterson has been a dynamic player. The Lions started lining him up at defensive end in passing situations earlier this season for the very purpose of establishing a pass rush, and although he got off to a slow start with Detroit, Peterson has been a pretty good player. The pass rush still is pretty mediocre, but Peterson's addition to the defense in general has been good.
6) The Lions haven’t finished with a winning record since 2000 with double-digit losing seasons in seven of the past nine seasons. Do you believe the Lions have the pieces needed for that foundation of players for sustained success?
Not yet. Although the Lions seemingly have a franchise quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, they aren't even close to having a complete foundation laid out for future success. I think after the draft the Lions will be much closer to having a complete team, because they will get a chance to address needs on the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary. Until those areas of the team get better I don't have too much faith in sustained success, but little by little the Lions are moving in the direction of putting a foundation in place.
7a) Bengals have the ball at the Lions four-yard line with two seconds left in the game, down by four. Cincinnati has to score a touchdown. Which Lions defensive player would you expect to make a game-winning play?
Just based on the Lions' defense, I would expect Carson Palmer to have all day to throw and eventually find a wide-open receiver, but for the sake of discussion, I think Larry Foote would make a play. He has been a great addition to the defense and is really the leader of the unit. I could also see Louis Delmas putting a jarring hit on somebody to force an incomplete pass or something like that, but Foote is the kind of guy I would expect to step up in a situation like you described.
7b) The Lions have the ball at the Bengals four-yard line with two seconds left in the game, down by four. Detroit has to score a touchdown. Who do you count on the most to make a game-winning touchdown?
Without a doubt, Matthew Stafford. He has already been in a similar situation and made a game-winning throw to Brandon Pettigrew despite having a severely-injured left shoulder. There's no doubt that Pettigrew was great on that game-winning touchdown, but Stafford just seems to have the swagger to make something happen in a pressure-packed situation like that.