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Five Good Questions with Pride of Detroit

Our weekly gathering of intel from the other side

Every week this season, we get an opportunity to exchange questions with the folks that run the SB Nation site for the Minnesota Vikings’ opponent for that week in order to learn a little more about their team. This week, the purple start a run of three. . .and, hopefully, four. . .consecutive divisional games when they host the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium, and we’ve gotten the chance to exchange some questions with Pride of Detroit, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Lions.

This week, I exchanged these questions with Ryan Mathews of PoD. You can see the answers to the questions that he sent me right here, and below are his answers to the questions that I sent his way.

1) The Lions are on the verge of capturing their first division title in. . .well, a very long time. What’s the energy of the fan base around this team right now and how far do folks think they can go in the postseason?

Had you asked this question before last week’s game against the Denver Broncos, I would have been regretful to inform you the vibes were at a season-low and Lions fans were going through it. But you’re asking this question at just the right time, after a blowout victory over the Broncos, and the good vibes have returned.

With this swell of optimism after the Week 15 win, there’s a sense that if the Lions are in the friendly confines of Ford Field, they could beat any team they may face in the first round. Detroit can run the ball (4th in run offense DVOA) and stop the run (4th in run defense DVOA) with the best of them, and that seems to be a hallmark of any successful playoff team. The Lions faithful like their chances in the playoffs, but the expectations have remained pretty fixed: a home playoff win has been the goal, and anything after that feels like playing with house money.

2) Jared Goff has gone from being a borderline bust with the Rams to being a very solid, efficient quarterback in Detroit. How have the Lions played to his strengths to make him a quarterback that a team can win because of rather than in spite of?

When Jared Goff has been good, the offense has been great, but when he’s been bad, it’s been disastrous. The stretch of football he played between Week 11 and Week 14 was tough to watch, including nine total turnovers in three of the four games. Detroit was able to miraculously come out on the other side of those four games 2-2, but it’s clear this football team wins games when they protect the football. As Detroit’s offense goes, so will this team, and that requires them to win the turnover battle and limit the unproductive possessions (three-and-outs, penalties pushing the offense behind the sticks, etc.)

Detroit’s offensive line is key to their success when it comes to moving the ball on the ground, but that group is absolutely critical to Goff’s success as a quarterback. With their starting offensive line intact, the Lions are 5-0, averaging 38.4 points per game, 421.4 yards of offense–179.4 rushing yards per game–and Goff carries a passer rating of 121.7. Blitzing and applying pressure has been a way to rattle Goff, and given that Brian Flores’ defense blitzes more than any other team in the league, he’s going to need another performance like the one he turned in against a Broncos defense that blitzed him on 61.1% of his dropbacks: 14-of-21 passing, 178 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions.

3) Prior to their game against Denver, the Lions’ defense. . .which had looked very good early in the season. . .was giving up about 30 points/game following their bye. Did the Denver game restore confidence in the defense or do you think there’s still work to do going forward?

The defensive performance against Denver certainly revitalized some confidence in this defense, especially since their strong performance wasn’t over-reliant on opportunistic stats like turnovers forced (just one forced fumble) or sacks (only two). The Lions continued their strong play against the run, limiting the Broncos to just 3.0 yards per carry on 28 carries, but the real story was the way Detroit was able to defend the pass. The Lions had struggled with communication and playmaking on the backend prior to their game against Denver. Following their bye, the Lions had ten pass breakups in Weeks 10-14, but forced six incompletions against Denver in Week 15 alone.

Detroit might get some reinforcements back in time for the playoffs–or sooner. C.J. Gardner-Johnson is expected to return to practice this week after going on injured reserve after Week 2. James Houston, the pass-rushing dynamo who exploded onto the scene in the second half of 2022 with 8.0 sacks in seven games, could be back before the playoffs, as well as Alim McNeill, the most important lineman for Detroit not named Aidan Hutchinson.

While Detroit’s performance against Denver inspired some confidence in this defense–especially with defensive backs like Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kindle Vildor, and Khalil Dorsey making plays against Broncos receivers–the concerns about the pass rush providing more consistent and effective push lingers.

4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball for the Lions that you feel will be integral to their success on Sunday afternoon.

On defense, the aforementioned Melifonwu is a player to lookout for this weekend. A former third-round pick in 2021–Brad Holmes first draft as Lions GM–has struggled with injuries and positional changes, but had his first breakout performance last week against the Broncos. Now playing safety, he led the Lions in run stops (4) and totaled three quarterback pressures as defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn dialed up the pressure by blitzing on more than 50% of Russell Wilson’s dropbacks–the Lions blitz rate this season is 26.4%.

For the offense, Jameson Williams is starting to put it all together, and he’s this close to having a game that will serve as a reminder as to why he was the 12th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Sure, he’s had moments this season–like his 45-yard reception touchdown against Tampa Bay or his 19-yard rush on an end around for a score against New Orleans–but in Week 15, Jamo received a career-high seven targets for a career-high four catches and 47 yards. Detroit is making it a point of emphasis to utilize him as a weapon instead of a decoy, but it’s because he’s earned it–and he’s this close to having that game.

5) The Lions are currently 9-5 against the spread this season, and our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook have installed them as a 3.5-point favorite in this one. Do you think the Lions will move that number to 10-5 with Sunday’s game or can the Vikings pull off what would be considered a mild upset at home?

It’s a divisional game, there’s a Vikings team with their backs against the wall playing for their playoff lives, it’s going to be a close game. Minnesota’s defense is going to be a legitimate test for this offense, and Detroit is going to need to prove they can stack another good performance against a Vikings team littered with talent at the skill positions like Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson. Right now I’m leaning towards the Lions winning the game outright and sealing up the NFC North for the first time in my life–I’m a ‘91 baby–but I think I’d be inclined to take the Vikings if this number swells up to 4.5 before kickoff, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions for this week!