Lions Insider

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What makes this team different from last year's?

Posted Nov 7, 2013

Tim Twentyman answers fan questions as the 5-3 Lions get ready for a pivotal NFC North matchup with the Chicago Bears

Every week during the season I plan to answer 10 good questions I receive through my Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman," which is sponsored by Huntington Bank.

What does your gut tell you about Nate (Burleson) and Ziggy (Ansah) this week? Mat Cool (ThanksthomCool)

20man: My gut tells me not to expect either player on the field in Chicago, Mat.

Burleson has really toned down his rhetoric in the last week in terms of his availability for Sunday. From a Lions perspective, it doesn’t make sense to rush him back until the bones in his forearm are fully healed.

I commend Burleson for his competitive spirit and wanting to get back on the field, but the Lions will need him for the stretch run. The last thing they can afford is for him to fall on the forearm wrong before it’s 100 percent healed and suffer a setback.

As far a Ziggy goes, I don’t like the fact that he was still in a walking boot on Wednesday and did not take part in practice either Wednesday or Thursday – the two key practice days for the Lions.

The team was also pretty swift in signing Austen Lane earlier this week, which shows they're worried about Ansah’s left ankle. It’s a situation that’s still going to develop through the rest of the week, but it seems like Ansah has an uphill battle to play Sunday.

Why should I believe that this team is different from last year’s second half disaster? Jared Spaulding (@jspaul33)

20man: I think you have to start with the obvious jump in talent from last year's squad, Jared.

There was no Reggie Bush last year. Glover Quin was playing for the Texans a year ago. Ziggy Ansah, Larry Warford, Devin Taylor and Sam Martin were all playing on Saturday’s.

Those six players, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple others, represent a significant boost in talent from last’s year team.

Safety Louis Delmas has been healthy and playing. Last year he only played in eight games. He’s already matched that this year.

Maybe the biggest factor though, is the way quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing.

The fifth-year signal caller has stepped up his game in a big way after a disappointing 2012 season that saw him throw only 20 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.

Stafford is back to playing the way he did in 2011, when he had 41 touchdowns. He has 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions through the first half of this season. He's playing at a Pro Bowl level.

This team, to me, is more talented than the 2011 squad that earned a wildcard playoff spot.

What is the most important thing for the lions to improve in the second half of the year? Tom Rudnai (@TRudnai95)

20man: The secondary simply needs to limit the big plays and they’ll be exponentially better.

Some of the young guys in the secondary need to take a big step forward and learn from first-half mistakes.

I’d like to see cornerback Bill Bentley get his hands on a couple more footballs or make a big play in the middle of the field.

Darius Slay is half way into his rookie year. How much has he learned and how much will it help him going forward? Can we start to see more consistent play from him?

Even a player like Quin is still fairly new to the group. He’s now got eight games under his belt and better understands what he’s working with on the outside and with Delmas next to him and is learning what he needs to do to help everyone be better.

The secondary needs to play more consistent and limit the big plays. They don’t have to make the spectacular play, just the one that’s in front of them to make.

What’s the key to winning this week? And don’t say turnover battle because look how the Dallas game ended. Jacob Adams (@Jballer239)

20man: You have a good point there, Jacob, but the turnover battle is always key, especially on the road.

I’ll take your advice though, and go a different route. To me, this game is all about the Lions defensive front. They dominated the first matchup with three sacks, six quarterback hits, four tackles-for-loss and countless other pressures that led to turnovers and incompletions.

The Lions could be facing a backup quarterback in Josh McCown, who isn’t used to making the protection calls, and doesn’t have the same grasp of the offense as Jay Cutler does because of the fewer reps he’s had.

When a backup quarterback takes over he relies more on the system and timing and delivering the football in the right spots. If the Lions can disrupt that timing, and make McCown improvise, they’re more likely to have success and force him into some uncomfortable situations. That’s a big key.

I heard 50 of 53 #Packers were drafted by them. That seems rare. Where is the #Lions number? Donald Sutherland (@dsutherland6214)

20man: I can’t confirm the Packers number, Donald, but I can tell you that of the current 53 players on the active roster for the Lions 25 were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents right after the draft.

That doesn’t include receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end Michael Williams, who were both drafted by the Lions but are on injured reserve.

Of those 25 players, only Dominic Raiola, Calvin Johnson and Andre Fluellen were acquired before general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz took over.

Has Fairley's health been to blame for lack of production? If so, is he getting healthier or is this all we'll get? Joshua Travis (@boomshaka9)

20man: Nick Fairley has dealt with some shoulder issues early in the season, but I thought he played probably his best game of the season last week when he had a couple of pressures on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo that forced some incomplete passes.

With Ansah’s availability in question, Fairley’s play will be key for the Lions on Sunday. Can he take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he’s likely to see for a second consecutive week? If he can, the Lions are in business upfront.

The worst pressure a quarterback can feel is up the middle (just ask Stafford last year). The Lions have been getting that consistently from Ndamukong Suh. They need more of it from Fairley. When those two play well it makes it easier on the whole line and everyone seems to play better.

The Lions are hoping Fairley’s shoulder woes are to blame for some of his inconsistent play early in the season. All indications are those issue are behind him and the Lions need him to be the player he was last year around this time.

Beginning Nov. 11 at Minnesota and ending when he suffered a shoulder injury at Green Bay, Fairley had four sacks, two forced fumbles and 23 tackles.

Can he get on a similar roll?

Do you expect Houston on (Alshon) Jeffery and Slay/Mathis w/ safety help on Marshall? HoustonLionsFan (@HoustonLionsFan)

20man: Chris Houston had his best game of the season against Dallas when he held a very explosive Terrance Williams to just one catch for four yards. It seemed like Houston got some of his mojo back after a tough start to the season.

Rashean Mathis has been the most consistent cornerback for the Lions and I suspect he’ll draw Brandon Marshall, just like he drew Dez Bryant against Dallas.

The thing that worries me a little is if Bentley doesn’t play and Mathis is moved inside in nickel situations. That’ll leave the rookie Slay on the outside against either Marshall or Jeffery.

If Bentley (knee) doesn’t play, and that situation unfolds, this is a big game for Slay. He’s been inconsistent this year, but has flashed some good things at times. A matchup like this, against the 6-foot-5 Marshall and 6-foot-3 Jeffery, is the reason the Lions drafted Slay in the second round. They liked that he was big, fast and physical and could matchup against big receivers.

Well, he’s got two of them on Sunday. Let’s see if he’s learned anything over the first eight games of the season.

With Brandon Pettigrew on a contract year do you see Joe Fauria taking over top spot for next year and letting Pettigrew test FA? Chris Hales (@69lpcstm)

20man: I really don’t see that scenario, Chris, because Fauria isn’t a complete tight end like Pettigrew. For what the Lions want from the position, Pettigrew is perfect. They’ll ask him to run a seam route one play, come back the very next play on 3rd-and-5 and make a tough catch inside the linebackers in traffic, and then run right over one of his bocks on the subsequent first-down play.

No offense to Fauria, but he isn’t that player, yet. He’s not a tight end the Lions can count on for an entire 60 minutes as a blocker. He’s more a red zone threat and matchup player at this point in his career. I think he’s a really nice player to have paired with an all-around type tight end like Pettigrew.

As far as Pettigrew’s pending free agency goes, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he tested the waters a bit. Every NFL free agent should, in my opinion. Careers are too short not to explore every option.

Don’t be surprised if the Lions look to add a tight end via free agency or the draft this offseason, even if they hang onto Pettigrew via a new contract or even the franchise tag.

Does Rodgers being out 4-6 (weeks) change your pick to win div? Jimmy Qaqish (@JamesQaqish)

LaAdrian WaddleT LaAdrian Waddle (Photo: AP Images)

20man: The Lions have a very good chance to unseat the Packers because of it, but I won’t be convinced of that until the Lions take care of business on Thanksgiving and beat the Packers at home.

The Packers are in survivor mode over the next month against the Eagles, Giants, Vikings and then Lions. That’s not a terribly tough schedule until the Lions game, even with a backup quarterback. Now, if they fall flat the next three weeks, my opinion will obviously change, but I don’t see that.

If the Lions win a tough road game in Chicago on Sunday it has to make them the favorites in the division, but the Thanksgiving Day Game will be the true test.

Fox or Waddle in at RT? Robert Graham (@bobbyg640)

20man: The offensive line championship belt, which is given every week to the best performer on the line from the previous week’s game, is currently hanging in LaAdrian Waddle’s locker. He played very well against Dallas and has earned the right to continue to start.

Expect Waddle to be the right tackle on Sunday in Chicago.