Detroit Lions mailbag: Stafford on read-option? Le’Veon Bell a fit?
Allen Park -- Short week for the Detroit Lions, but I’m not going to short you a mailbag. Let’s do this.
If you could pick 3 players to be Pro Bowlers from the Lions, who would they be?
— Jakob Underwood (@skmel8r)
A lot can change with six games remaining on the schedule, but based on performances to this point I’d put Glover Quin, Darius Slay and Jamal Agnew in the annual all-star game, while acknowledging you can make compelling cases for Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate and Matt Prater.
I’m not thinking twice about Quin and Slay. Despite playing in a defense that offers little help in the form of a pass-rush, the two have been playing at a consistently high level all year. As for Agnew, he’s been the NFL’s most electric punt returner, averaging 16.8 yards, while scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Stafford faces a crowded field in the NFC and I believe he needs to continue his recent strong play down the stretch after a early-season lull (which I acknowledge was partially impacted by inconsistent pass protection). And with only one kicker making it from each conference, Prater will have a tough time getting in over Greg Zuerlein, who is 28-29 on field goals, including a perfect 4-4 from 50 and beyond.
Can Tabor bulk up and play linebacker?
— Milehigh Gus (@GusMilehigh)
No. Just no.
Rushing - I feel we do not sell play action. Stafford holds the ball out to get a clean handoff, and everyone knows it is a run. Thoughts?
— JW (@jmwhitejmwhite)
You know, for all the things Stafford does really well, I’ve always found his play-action handoff to be unconvincing and ineffective. But for whatever reason, he’s having much more success this season when executing play fakes. According to data tracked by Pro Football Focus, Stafford had one the league’s worst passer ratings out of play action in 2016. This year, he’s near the top of the NFL, completing 41-61 for 595 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Speaking of misdirection, if you can indulge me in selfishly shifting the focus of the question for a moment, I’ve wondered why the Lions haven’t worked in an occasional read-option look for Stafford. Yes, I understand the injury risk that comes with exposing a quarterback to any unnecessary hit, but he’s flashed increased athleticism as he’s refined his conditioning in recent years, and it’s a call that would probably catch most defenses off-guard. Don’t mind me, just spitballing here.
The single most important thing the Lions need to do to win the Thanksgiving game is...? Also: Is the Minnesota game a playoff game? Win, they’ll make it...lose and they’re done?
— Bill Isanhart (@waisanhart)
Score more points?
No, Bill, I get what you’re asking. The key is going to be the overall performance of the Lions’ defensive line. They clearly need to be better against the run after getting worked over by Cleveland and Chicago the past two weeks, but the unit also has to find a way to pressure Case Keenum, who has a completion percentage more than a dozen points lower when under duress.
You can’t give Keenum the time to sit comfortably in the pocket and deliver to his dangerous receiving tandem. That’s a recipe for disaster.
What mid-level player needs to step up for the Lions to win on Thursday?
— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta)
Given how soft the Lions defense has been up the middle, and how much he’s playing, the Lions would really benefit from defensive tackle Akeem Spence stepping up and delivering a strong outing, even if he doesn’t make a big splash on the stat sheet. Gap integrity against the run and some pocket push on passing downs would be meaningful to the team’s chances.
A second option would be nickelback Quandre Diggs. Adam Thielen, Minnesota’s rising receiving star, spends more than half his snaps operating out of the slot. He’s averaged six catches and 129 yards the past three games, while catching a touchdown in each.
Do you think Kenny Golloday is going to continue to play like he did against Chicago? When healthy he seems like a force.
— Endzoneblog.com (@endzoneblog_)
I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing Golladay’s full potential within the offense. He’s had some big moments, but consistently, the opportunities haven’t been there thanks to a stacked corps and the strong play of TJ Jones.
In the win over Chicago, Golladay delivered another big play, his third catch of 40 yards or more. He added another sizable gain by drawing a defensive pass interference call. On the other hand, he also had an ugly drop in the fourth quarter and got flagged for offensive pass interference.
I anticipate he’ll continue to be streaky down the stretch. There might even be a week or two where he’s held without a catch, but he’ll offer big-play and red-zone potential week in and week out, helping space out the defense, if nothing else.
Have the Lions worked out any defensive linemen recently? Do you think they work out/sign Sheldon Day?
— Buck Wheat (@Buck__wheat)
Since the beginning of October, the Lions have worked out eight defensive linemen, briefly signing three. Those players -- Jacquies Smith, George Johnson and Caraun Reid -- have since been released.
The other five were defensive end Armonty Bryant and defensive tackles Brandin Bryant, Joey Ivie, Will Sutton and Toby Johnson.
Of those names, Sutton’s explosive pass-rushing skills he displayed in college are intriguing, but he hasn’t done much in three professional seasons.
As for Sheldon Day, he was claimed off waivers by the 49ers.
What are the chances we make a run at Le’Veon in the offseason?
— Robert Canfield (@RobbyCan81)
Le’Veon Bell is an incredible talent, but I can’t see the Lions ponying up a contract that tops the reported $12 million per year offer the Steelers had on the table this offseason.
And, let’s be real, would Bell succeed behind this run blocking? At first blush, his patience in the backfield might allow him to anticipate defenders who leak through the porous Detroit line, but Bell also relies on blockers setting him up in the second level, something the Lions do a poor job of executing.
Andre Ellington, worth a look?
— James Sonntag (@James_Sonntag)
First, he’d have to clear waivers, but even if he did, I’m not sure I see the fit. There’s too much skill set overlap with Detroit’s backfield rotation given Ellington is a better pass catcher than a between-the-tackles force.
What are your thoughts on Jarrad Davis? His coverage needs improvement but how is he looking overall compared to other top rookie ILB this year or years past?
— Rondel Marsh Big Del (@MarshRondel)
Davis a rookie who is playing like a rookie. There are wild inconsistencies in his performance, including a number of bad angles, missed tackles and blown coverage assignments. I can’t say I’m surprised, given how much is on his plate, starting from day one in a complex scheme.
Currently, he’s not playing anywhere near the level of Rueben Foster in San Francisco, although he’s been hampered by injuries all year, which have sidelined him six of the team’s 10 games. Davis’ performance is also well behind Deion Jones for Atlanta in 2016 and Chris Borland and C.J. Mosley in 2014.
But I’m not here to make any bold proclamation eight games into a career. It’s been said a dozen times, but Davis’ intensity is always turned to 11, and he’s certainly flashed his ability to make plays coming downhill. He’s relentless in his pursuit of improvement on the practice field and in the meeting rooms, and I still believe he’ll develop into a really good player.
Will Slay shadow Diggs or Thielen?
— Despicable Me (@J_C25) November 21, 2017
There’s no way to know for sure, since the Lions won’t tip their game plan before Thursday, but it’s interesting to note the early-season matchup between the two teams is one of just three games Slay didn’t shadow one receiver.
If coordinator Teryl Austin decides to change it up, Slay is more likely to track Diggs, because of Thielen’s aforementioned slot usage. Slay has covered a receiver in the slot just eight of his 370 coverage snaps.
If the Lions players were cheeses, who would be gruyere and who would be spray cheese?
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon)
Not everyone likes gruyere, but I appreciate it. Given that it needs very specific conditions to mature, but can also be the ingredient that puts a recipe over the top, I’m going to go with running back Ameer Abdullah as the comparison. He’s not the prototypical 225-pound bruiser, but he still offers home run potential. The Lions’ offense is more potent when he’s moving the ball on the ground, but he needs better blocking to consistently succeed.
As for spray cheese, it’s not really cheese, but it’s cheap and brings that nostalgia element with it. Basically, it’s Nick Bellore, but only when he lines up at fullback.
What are the contract details of Caldwell’s contract? Seems very odd to me that nobody knows a thing about it.
— The Arrowman (@TheArrowman_)
Don’t know, and maybe never will. A team isn’t required to share those details when it comes to coaches and Caldwell doesn’t want the information to be made public. I won’t pretend to understand the reasoning, but if the agent, coach and team’s decision-makers are declining to comment, on and off the record, there’s not much that can be done.
Prater > Hanson/Murray. Your thoughts? (If nothing else, we’ve been blessed with great kickers for most of the last 37 years.)
— daveholzman (@daveholz)
There’s a level of sacrilege questioning Jason Hanson’s status as the greatest Lions kicker of all-time, but Prater is making a run at the crown. He has more power, slightly better accuracy and is far more reliable from long distance. Seriously, it’s not close. Prater is 41-53 on attempts of 50 yards or more, while Hanson was 52-93 from the distance.
Prater is also historically great in close games. In his career, he’s never missed a field-goal attempt that would tie the game or give his team the lead in the fourth quarter -- a staggering 26-for-26.
Hanson’s legacy, beyond his strong performance, is his longevity. He spent 21 seasons with the Lions, a record that will probably never be broken. This is Prater’s fourth year in Detroit and there’s no guarantee he makes it to 10 with the franchise.
Aren’t we all just chumming around acting like Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to come back just in time to save their season and nuke the Lions on New Year’s Eve?
— Shane Nyman (@shanenyman)
Not going to happen.
I don’t know what the Lions’ record will be at that point, or whether they’ll be in playoff contention, but I’m fairly confident suggesting the Packers will be out of it.
No NFC team is making the playoffs with a 9-7 record this year, and with upcoming games against Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Carolina, the odds of Green Bay (5-5) winning two of those three with Brett Hundley under center is highly unlikely.