As we tend to do leading up to game day, we've exchanged five questions with the SB Nation site of the team we'll be playing against. This week, it's Sean Yuille from over at Pride of Detroit. He sent me five questions that I answered for him (and once we have a link to that, we'll add it here), and these are the five questions that I sent his way for your reading pleasure.
1) We know that Calvin Johnson is insanely talented, having broken Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards last season, and nearly having the first 2,000-yard receiving year in league history. What are the Lions going to do to try to help him out in 2013?
Two words: Reggie Bush. With Jahvid Best not being cleared to return last season, the Lions lost a key weapon in their offense. They didn't have a real playmaker out of the backfield who could draw attention away from Calvin Johnson. Even worse, Nate Burleson went down with a season-ending injury in the middle of the season, Titus Young essentially lost his mind and Ryan Broyles suffered another torn ACL. This left Johnson as the only true weapon in the passing attack. His ridiculous stats reflected that, but the Lions weren't a very efficient offense.
By adding Bush this year, the hope is that defenses will have to dedicate less attention to Johnson. Bush has already shown that he's got the ability to make defenses pay as a receiver, and there was one play early in the preseason where his presence alone freed up room for Johnson. How effective he will be on the ground as a runner remains to be seen, but he is the type of player the Lions really could have used last season.
2) With their first round pick, the Lions drafted defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah from BYU, a guy that was considered by many to be a bit of a project. What have you seen from him thus far, and do you think he can make an impact sooner rather than later?
Ansah scored a touchdown on a pick six on his first drive in the NFL. Mark Sanchez did basically throw the ball right at him, but that interception highlighted Ansah's ability to make plays from the defensive end position. There have definitely been moments where he's looked like a rookie, but Ansah appears to be a quick learner. That is good news for his potential to make an impact from day one, and the expectation is for him to make a lot of plays for the Lions in his rookie season. I don't necessarily expect him to reach a double-digit number of sacks and become an absolute force in 2013, but with all of the talent the Lions have on their D-line, that may not even be necessary.
3) Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is one of the game's best defensive tackles. However, he is scheduled to have a $21 million cap hit next season for the Lions. Has there been any word on any sort of restructuring/extension talks, and do you think there's any chance the Lions cut him loose before 2014?
Suh's cap hit is so large because he has restructured his contract multiple times to free up cap space. Now we're approaching the point where all of that restructuring and pushing his cap number down the road is coming back to bite the Lions in the form of his monster cap hit. As of now, there have been no talks on a possible extension, but that is believed to be one of the top goals for the 2014 offseason. The Lions extended Calvin Johnson last year and Matthew Stafford this summer, and simply to create cap room, Suh needs to be the next one to get an extension. If that doesn't happen, the franchise tag probably won't be an option when he becomes a free agent, and re-signing him could be tough. (If only the new rookie wage scale had been in place a couple years earlier... the Lions wouldn't have this problem on their hands.)
4) For a guy that's thrown for 10,000 yards over the last two seasons, there seem to be a lot of questions surrounding quarterback Matthew Stafford. Do you think Stafford still has room to develop, or do you think that the Matthew Stafford we've seen the past couple seasons is pretty much what we're going to get moving forward?
I don't think Stafford has even come close to reaching his potential. He showed us in 2011 that he has the ability to be a potential Pro Bowler. Whether or not he will take that next step remains to be seen. Stafford had a rough 2012 despite all of the passing yards he racked up, as he just wasn't very efficient. His accuracy wasn't great, and he seemed to just take a major step back in his development. Part of that stemmed from so many of his weapons on offense going down, but his play was concerning. In the preseason this year, his play was still concerning, as he really looked like the same player we saw last year. If Stafford is going to truly take that next step and become a Pro Bowler, he's got to bring his "A" game on a more consistent basis. There were drives here or there in 2012 where we would see it, but more often than not he was pretty average. That can't be the case this year if the Lions want to return to the playoffs.
5) The Lions took a big step forward in 2011 to finish 10-6 and reach the playoffs. They took an equally large step backwards in 2012 to finish 4-12. . .basically the exact opposite of what the Vikings did in those two years. What do you think the fans of the Detroit Lions can reasonably expect from the team this season?
The Lions will certainly be better. They had a lot of bad luck last year in the form of injuries, not recovering fumbles/producing turnovers and having some tough calls go against them in close games. In other words, they weren't nearly as bad as their record suggested. They've added a lot of talent this offseason, and I don't think there's any question they will win at least 6-7 games. I personally think it's a stretch to say they will make the playoffs given how strong the NFC is, but 8-8 is definitely a reasonable expectation. If they can't even get to .500, it'll probably be time to clean house and start over with a new coaching staff anyway.
Thanks to Sean for taking the time out to answer these questions for us.