LIONS INSIDER

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: How does 2017 defense compare to 2014?

Posted Oct 6, 2017

Tim Twentyman answers 10 fan-submitted questions as the Lions prepare for their Week 5 matchup against the Panthers.

Every week during the regular season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: The 2014 Lions defense was good. They were historically good against the run, holding opponents under 70 yards per game for the year. They finished 2014 as the No. 2 total defense in football (300.9 ypg).

Going back and looking at that 2014 defense after four games, the Lions also had a 3-1 record, with the defense allowing 15.5 points per game, 80.1 rushing yards per game and had forced seven turnovers.

Comparing that to the first four games of this season, the Lions are giving up 17.5 points per game, allowing 87.3 rushing yards per game and have forced 11 turnovers.

The 2014 defense finished the year 13th against the pass, allowing 231 yards per game. This year’s defense is allowing 236.3 yards through their first four contests.

Just from a statistics perspective, the two have been very similar.

20man: If the Lions can get Carolina’s front seven blocked up, which is no easy task, I think there could be some opportunities in the pass game on the outside. Carolina is young on the outside at cornerback with second-year players James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. The Panthers could also be playing with a backup free safety after Kurt Coleman was injured last week. If I see a matchup that favors Detroit’s offense, that’s it.

On the flip side, not having tight end Greg Olsen is a big loss for Carolina. Ed Dickson isn’t as explosive of a tight end as Olsen. That’s a matchup that plays into Detroit’s favor on defense.

20man: There’s a lot going on in that question, Jeffery. One less cup of coffee tomorrow. Abdullah has 257 rushing yards through four games, which would give him 1,028 on the year if this pace continues. He’s got some favorable defensive matchups down the line on the schedule. I still think he gets there to become the first Lion since Reggie Bush in 2013 to reach 1,000 in a season.

I’ve always been an Abdullah supporter, and I think he can and will carry the load moving forward. I thought that was a very impressive performance last week against one of the best rushing defenses in the league. He broke tackles, had great vision and fought his butt off for every yard. I walked away from that game very impressed, and you should have too.

Look, it’s always prudent to draft running backs and see how they develop, just like teams should do with the quarterback position, even if they have a good one. Abdullah has another year left on his contract for the 2018 season. Let’s see how he finishes 2017, but I’d expect him to be in a similar role next year if all continues to go well.

20man: This is the first matchup for the Lions against a quarterback who can make just as many plays with his feet as he can his arm.Newton is still considered the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. In fact, he recorded his 50th career rushing touchdown last week in a win over the Patriots, becoming the first quarterback in league history to reach that mark.

Carolina has tried to limit his running the past two years in an attempt to reduce the amount of hits he takes. The only problem with that, and the statistics agree, is they’re a much better offense the more he runs.

The Lions faced three dual-threat quarterbacks last year in Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson. Detroit lost all three contests, but it was their arms, and not so much their legs, that did Detroit in. All three had a passer rating over 100.0 and combined for seven passing touchdowns.

Mariota and Wilson didn’t do much on the ground (eight combined yards on five carries). Prescott ran four times for 35 yards. It’s hard to compare last year to this year because of different personnel and Detroit’s improved speed overall on defense. Not allowing Newton to beat them with his legs is obviously a big part of the defensive scheme this week. I think they’re better equipped to stop it, especially if Jarrad Davis plays, then they were a year ago.

20man: I think it was back in training camp that I was asked about Riddick in this column, and I called him potentially the best red-zone threat in the NFL. Through four games, he obviously hasn’t been as big a factor as I thought he’d be there. He does have one red-zone touchdown catch (vs. Arizona), but he’s been rather quiet otherwise the last three weeks.

I will say this, however, there have been at least two pass attempts to Riddick that would have been big plays, one potentially for a touchdown in the red zone, that were just missed.

Riddick has built a reputation over the years due to his success, and I do see defenses treating him a little different. They are certainly aware of where he is on the field.

It’s only a quarter of the way through the season, and there’s still a lot of football to be played. I expect Riddick to make more of an impact moving forward, especially in the red zone.

20man: At this point, even though he’s been limited in practice, I would expect Davis to play on Sunday. He missed the Atlanta game due to a concussion, but I think the neck issue that popped up on last Friday’s injury report was more of the reason he missed last week’s game in Minnesota. I watched him pretty closely in the open portion of practice Wednesday and Thursday, and he looked OK.

This is strictly a guess on my part, but at this point, I’d be more surprised if he didn’t play than if he does. We’ll have game designations on detroitlions.com Friday, and I’ll have the inactives for you Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Stay tuned.

20man: I haven’t heard his name come up just yet, but it’s only a matter of time. His players upfront along the defensive line feed off his boundless energy both on the practice field and in the film room. I’ve only ever heard good things about him from his players. Some call him crazy, but in a good way.

He’s been able to develop young pass rushers year after year, whether it’s been George Johnson, Kerry Hyder Jr. or now Anthony Zettel. There’s a history there, and if he does it every year, it’s no fluke. He’s a good one. One of many good assistants on this coaching staff.

20man: I think I have to agree with you.

Offense – Matthew Stafford. He hasn’t put up some of the gaudy numbers we’ve seen in year’s past, but he hasn’t had to. He’s playing within the game plan and doing what he needs to do to win games. Through the first quarter of the season, that’s meant being good with the football. He has just one interception and one fumble through the first four games. The defense has forced 11 takeaways, making Detroit a plus-nine in that department for the year. That’s the reason why they’re 3-1.

Defense – Quin has simply been terrific to start. There really isn’t any other way to describe his play. He’s the unquestioned leader on that defense and has four forced turnovers in four games. He’s playing All-Pro football in my book.

20man: Are you missing my daily Notebooks, Matt? I wrote about this last week, but I’ll catch you up.

When asked about Decker last week, Jim Caldwell said he was on pace in his rehab to make a midseason return. The earliest he can return to practice is Oct. 16 (Monday after Saints game), and the first game he’d be eligible to play is their first game after the bye week against the Steelers on Sunday Night Football Oct. 26.

20man: I remember those days when Stafford threw for 400 yards and a few touchdowns, sprinkled a couple turnovers in, the Lions didn’t play good defense and they lost the game. Those game stories were predictable after a while.

What should be fun about watching this team so far this season is watching how Detroit’s been able to win games a number of different ways. That’s what good football teams do, whether it’s been Stafford throwing the ball (four touchdowns vs. Arizona) or the defense forcing turnovers and controlling the game (vs. New York, Arizona and Minnesota), or the run game doing most of the dirty work (New York and Minnesota).

If the beginning of this season has shown us anything, it’s that Stafford doesn’t have to do it all by himself anymore. He’ll still have some big games — don’t be surprised if Sunday is one — but it should be fun watching this team play good defense, and watching a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball consistently for years, grind away a game on the ground with a lead in the fourth quarter.

I know these are making for better game stories afterward.