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Five (More) Good Questions with Pride of Detroit

One last time to finish the season

For what is likely the final time this season, we’ve gotten an opportunity to exchange some questions with the SB Nation website representing the Minnesota Vikings’ opponent for the week. This week, for the second time in three weeks, that means we’re sitting down with the folks from Pride of Detroit, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the 2023 NFC North champions, the Detroit Lions.

I had the opportunity to exchange questions with Ryan Mathews from PoD. You can see the answers I gave to his questions right here, and below are his responses to the questions I sent his way.

1) Congratulations on wrapping up the NFC North a couple of weeks ago. With the Lions now guaranteed a home playoff game, they’ll likely be facing either the Rams, the Seahawks, or the Packers on Wild Card weekend. Do Lions fans have a preference for which team they would prefer to see in the first round?

First of all, thank you for your congratulations. It hasn’t been the same sentiment from many other fans of teams in the NFC North, but Lions fans know all too well what it’s like to end up on the other side of things. So on behalf of Lions fans, we forgive you for being sore losers–in time, you’ll learn how to lose respectfully like Lions fans did for the better part of three decades.

As far as a preference for the first round of the playoffs, there’s plenty of storylines and old wounds to dig into with each of these teams. The Lions have lost to the Seahawks in each year of Dan Campbell’s tenure as head coach, so it feels like they have Detroit’s number. But with the football Pete Carroll’s bunch have been playing as of late, they’re probably the preferred opponent for many Lions fans–much like Michigan football fans wanting Florida State in the College Football Playoff.

After that, it’s a toss-up between the Rams and Packers. With the Rams, there’s the obvious set of storylines that will dominate headlines for the next week. You have Matthew Stafford’s return to Ford Field in an attempt to steal the one thing everyone wanted him to deliver during his 12 years in Detroit. You’ve got a grudge match between Jared Goff and the guy who backed the truck up over him before shipping him out of Los Angeles in Sean McVay. The Rams pose the biggest threat to the Lions right now because of Stafford and that receiving corps of Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, and Detroit’s inability to match up with receivers on the outside has been nightmarish this season. As for the Packers, Jordan Love and Co. have been slinging it around the field themselves, and they did embarrass this Lions team back on Thanksgiving, but if Detroit can clean up the turnovers, it feels like the third installment of that trilogy might prove the Lions are just the better football team this year.

2) Speaking of which, the Lions are still playing for the #2 seed in the conference and the Cowboys (who currently hold the #2 spot) don’t play until the late afternoon window. It doesn’t sound like Dan Campbell has any inclination to rest any of his starters on Sunday. Do you think he’ll take a different approach to this game or will it be the same as it’s been all season?

If there’s one thing to know about Dan Campbell, he knows it’s in his job description to win football games, and he knows this business from both sides of the locker room. He knows what it’s like to be a player at the end of the regular season, he knows when to push the gas pedal and when to lay off, and he thinks it’s in the best interest of his starters to play this game; after all, as you mentioned, the second seed in the NFC is still up for grabs, so it isn’t as if the Lions have nothing to play for in Week 18.

Now, if the game is out of hand at a certain point, is there a chance he changes course and goes to his backups? Of course, he isn’t dumb, and I think that’s important for any outsider looking in at this decision from him: Dan Campbell is a really smart guy despite the headlines about knee caps or racing helmets or coffee orders. He takes care of his players, he makes decisions based on the best interest of the team and the player, and I think he has earned that trust from the guys in the room and the fans who have watched him take this team to heights they haven’t seen in a long time.

3) What are some of the things that the Lions still need to work on in this last week before they reach the postseason?

For me, it feels like an opportunity for Detroit to try some different things on defense and figure out how to best cover up their deficiencies at outside corner. Should defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn blitz even more than he has as of late? Does Detroit need to play around with some bracket coverage to get comfortable taking away those top-end receivers? It’s also an opportunity for Detroit to work in both interior defensive lineman Alim McNeill and defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. McNeill hasn’t played football in over a month after a stint on injured reserve, and Gardner-Johnson hasn’t been on the field since Week 2 after a torn pectoral. Both of those guys are impact players who can really make a difference for a middling defense, and getting them on the field for a tune-up before the playoffs is a good way to get them back up to speed before the Wild Card round.

4) While the Lions likely won’t be resting starters in this one, give us a player on each side of the ball that you think might get a little more playing time on Sunday in an effort to get them ready for Wild Card weekend.

Now, of course, there’s the two players I just mentioned above in McNeill and Gardner-Johnson. They seem like they’re going to get a healthy share of snaps to get them back into game shape, for sure. But I think we might still see a lot of safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, a player I put on your radar a couple of weeks ago. With the return of Gardner-Johnson, it’ll be interesting to see how and where they’ll utilize Melifonwu now that they have all of their safeties healthy. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some different responsibilities put on his plate to see how he responds. Another player on defense to keep an eye on is Tyson Alualu, a veteran defensive lineman who Detroit signed when McNeill landed on IR. He played the most snaps (34) of any interior defensive lineman against the Cowboys, and the Lions waived Isaiah Buggs earlier this week, so it seems Detroit is happy to have Alualu manning the middle–so I could see the Lions getting him a fair share of snaps to help him get more comfortable in the defense.

On offense, there really isn’t much to see from any of the skill position players, and that’s a testament to the level of compete we’ve seen from Jameson Williams over the last month. He’s been utilized a lot more in different spots, so there’s a level of comfortability he’s established with Goff that’s been promising to see. He suffered an ankle injury in last week’s game against the Cowboys, so I think they may play it safe with him in this finale.

5) The Lions are coming into this one as a 5-point favorite after beating the Vikings by six at U.S. Bank Stadium a couple of weeks ago. How do you think this one is going to play out?

It could go in a variety of directions depending on the way the game plays out in the first half, but ultimately, I think the Lions are just the better football team, and Dan Campbell doesn’t like losing. The line has moved to -3.5, for whatever reason, but I see Detroit covering on their way to a 12-win season–the first such campaign since 1991.

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