As we generally do before each game, we've exchanged some questions for some insight about the Minnesota Vikings' opponent. This week, I exchanged five questions with Sean Yuille, the head blogger over at Pride of Detroit, SB Nation's home for everything about the Detroit Lions. We'll have a link to my responses to his questions as soon as they have it available. The questions I sent Sean are in bold, while the responses are in italics.
1) Like the Vikings, the Lions are breaking in a new coach this season. What has Jim Caldwell brought to the table that was missing under Jim Schwartz?
Discipline, accountability and, oddly enough, an elite defense. The first two things sort of go hand in hand, but it feels like the Lions have been taking fewer stupid penalties this season, and there are actually consequences for not getting the job done (e.g. Nick Fairley's training-camp demotion after he put on too much weight). As for the improved defense, that obviously has more to do with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin than anything, but Caldwell is the one who hired him. Austin has made more of the Lions' talent on defense in five weeks than Schwartz ever did when he was in Detroit.
2) With Calvin Johnson acting as more of a decoy, Golden Tate has been able to put up some big numbers over the past couple of games. Can he continue that if Megatron doesn't suit up on Sunday?
I think so. Tate's addition has forced opposing defenses to focus less on Johnson, but I don't necessarily think the loss of Johnson will result in Tate being shut down. Tate's skill set is highlighted by crisp routes and lots of yards after the catch, so even if defenses are dedicating two defenders to him, he should still find room to make plays on a fairly consistent basis.
3) The past couple of years, the Lions have featured a high-flying offense and a defense that gives up its fair share of points. This year, the Lions have the NFL's #2 scoring defense, but haven't scored more than 24 points since Week 1. What has happened to cause that flip-flop?
As mentioned earlier, the addition of Teryl Austin at defensive coordinator is the biggest difference for the defense. The secondary is playing better than we could have ever imagined, and the front seven is being used in creative ways to generate pressure and stop the run.
On the other side of the ball, there's no doubt that the offense hasn't lived up to expectations so far this season. Part of that undoubtedly stems from the Lions breaking in a new system, and it's clear that Matthew Stafford is still getting used to that system. He has to play much better going forward, as does the offensive line. Opposing defenses are getting far too much pressure on Stafford, and the running game hasn't really been able to get anything going.
4) The Lions could, potentially, be undefeated if not for their situation at kicker. Do you think that the signing of Matt Prater finally settles all of those issues?
It better. Prater was the best kicker in the NFL last season, and if he can't get the job done, then clearly there's a bigger problem than kickers simply missing field goals. Maybe the holder is really the issue, for example, or maybe Jason Hanson's retirement has simply cursed the kicker position. In any case, it would be pretty disappointing if Prater doesn't work out and the Lions have to move on to their fourth kicker this season. I mean, they only had two from 1980-2012 (Eddie Murray and Hanson), so it's very odd to see the Lions having so many issues at that position.
5) Who is an "under the radar" type of player on each side of the ball that you think will play a vital role for the Lions in Sunday's contest?
On offense, I think George Winn could make an impact at running back. Reggie Bush doesn't look like he is going to play on Sunday, leaving Joique Bell as the main player in the backfield. Bell was actually out last week with a concussion, and third-stringer Theo Riddick was out with a hamstring injury. This forced Winn, who was just promoted from the practice squad, to get a good deal of playing time, and he did quite well. Bell and Riddick are both expected to return this week, and perhaps Riddick will turn out to make a bigger impact on Sunday, but Winn could still have a role in this game, especially if the Lions are trying to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter.
On defense, keep an eye on former Viking George Johnson. He was signed this past offseason as nothing more than a camp body, but he emerged during training camp as one of the Lions' most consistent pass rushers. So far this season, he's already recorded 2.5 sacks, and he has been quite good at defensive end for the Lions.
Thanks to Sean for taking the time out to answer our questions.