We have exchanged questions with our friends from Pride of Detroit, SB Nation's blog for all things Detroit Lions. You can check out the questions that the Lions asked of me over on their site, and below you'll see the questions I presented head POD blogger Sean Yuille.
1) The Lions' offense was one of the tops in the league in 2011, largely due to the emergence of Matthew Stafford. This season, Stafford has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and left the Tennessee game early with a leg injury. Do you think Stafford has regressed at all, and what's his status looking like for Sunday?
Although Stafford is now in his fourth season in the NFL, based on how little playing time he had in 2009 and 2010, this is like his sophomore year. Unfortunately, so far he has been in a sophomore slump. There was some thought that Stafford had a physical issue that was causing his turnover problems, but I think it's more of a mental thing. He's trying to do too much and has been picked off at times when trying to force the issue. Overall, his accuracy has been quite good; it's just random moments of bad judgment leading to turnovers at really unfortunate times for the Lions. I don't know if I would say he's regressed considering it is only Week 4, but there will certainly be a reason to be concerned if he doesn't get things turned around here soon.
As far as his status for Sunday goes, it's looking like he will start. While his injury did force him to leave the Titans game, it doesn't appear to be all that serious. He returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday, and it would be surprising if the Lions were forced to start Shaun Hill.
2) In his first career NFL game after coming back from an Achilles injury, running back Mikel Leshoure put up exactly 100 yards on the ground for the Lions in their overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans. Do you feel that he could be the long-term answer to the running back question and balancing the Detroit offense?
It may have only been one game, but Leshoure impressed Lions fans in a big way on Sunday. His yards per carry average wasn't out of this world by any means, but his running style was something we haven't seen from a Lions running back in a long time. He doesn't go down on first contact, and more often than not he ends up putting a defender on the ground before the defense manages to take him down. On Sunday against Tennessee, he did a really good job of wearing the Titans' defense down over the course of the game.
Even before Leshoure debuted last Sunday, the Lions had shown signs that they are trying to be more balanced. Personally, I haven't been a huge fan of the game plans we've seen from Scott Linehan this season because they are trying to run the ball so much. Against Tennessee in the first half, the game plan seemed to get the passing game out of rhythm, and the Lions really didn't have success finding the end zone until they started looking downfield more. Calvin Johnson only had two targets in the first half and all they managed was three field goals. In one drive in the second half, he had three catches for more than 50 yards and helped the Lions easily move down the field. Finding some kind of balance may be important, but the Lions can't forget what is their true strength.
3) Outside of the obvious answer of "Megatron," who does the Minnesota defense need to concern themselves the most with when it comes to the Detroit passing game?
Based on what he did against Minnesota last season, I would say Brandon Pettigrew. While his issues with drops have continued this season, Pettigrew can go off against the right kind of defense. The Vikings' defense seems to be one that Pettigrew matches up well against, as evidenced by him having a total of 17 catches, 169 yards and one touchdown in the Lions' two games against the Vikings last season. I expect him to get plenty of targets on Sunday.
4) We know that the Lions' front four is capable of some pretty big things, but how has the back seven for Detroit held up this season so far, and what do you think they can do against the Vikings' offense?
Injuries have really ravaged the Lions' secondary so far this season. In Week 1, they were without Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, and they later lost Bill Bentley to a concussion against the Rams. While Sam Bradford didn't exactly light up the Lions' secondary, their lack of depth was put on display when rookie Jonte Green, who I personally don't even think should be on the 53-man roster, was forced into action. The injury issues continued in Week 2 with Houston, Delmas and Bentley absent. Alex Smith had his way with the Lions' secondary for the most part, and the defense's inability to make a stop in third-and-long situations in the fourth quarter ultimately cost them any chance of a real comeback.
Right now, the Lions have Houston and Bentley back, but they are still without Delmas. Also, veteran Drayton Florence is on IR with the designation to return after breaking his arm against the 49ers. Depth is extremely thin, and the Lions don't have that much talent to begin with. Jake Locker absolutely destroyed the secondary last week, and all of the injuries and lack of talent are really starting to catch up with them. This is by far the weakest position group on the roster, and I honestly wouldn't be shocked if Christian Ponder goes off on Sunday. Not having Delmas on the back end is really making life tough on the secondary, and the secondary's issues have affected the defensive line. With cornerbacks often playing so far off their man, the defensive line's chances to really put pressure on opposing QBs have been limited.
5) Do you think the Lions will get things turned around in enough time to compete for the NFC North title and a playoff spot? If so, what's the most urgent change that the team needs to make?
If the Lions lose this week and go into their bye 1-3, it'll be tough for me to be optimistic about the rest of the season. Sure, it's early, but the Lions can't keep starting games slowly on offense, and they especially can't keep allowing big plays on defense and special teams. They have been a mess so far this season, and they're really lucky to be 1-2. If they fall to 1-3, I could easily see things falling apart before the season really even gets rolling.
On the flip side, getting back to 2-2 and putting together a solid game against the Vikings would give me hope that this is a team that can contend for a division title. The talent is there on offense, and although the defense is lacking talent in the secondary, there should be enough talent in the front seven to make up for that. If the Lions can figure out what it is they want to do on offense and eliminate the slow starts, I think this is a team that could stay in the mix for the division crown, especially with Louis Delmas expected to return after the bye to help the defense. If Jahvid Best also returns after he's eligible to be activated from the PUP list, that would be a big boost for the stretch run.
Thanks to Sean for taking the time out to answer our questions for us.