LIONS INSIDER

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What's the secret behind Lions' defensive success?

Posted Sep 22, 2017

Tim Twentyman answers 10 fan-submitted questions as the Lions prepare for their Week 3 matchup against the Falcons.

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 Lions have had the trifecta working on defense these first two weeks.

First, they’ve been able to stop the run. Detroit’s allowing just 53.5 yards per game on the ground, fourth best in the NFL. They’ve been forcing teams to be one dimensional, which leads to my next point.

Second, they’ve been able to pressure the quarterback. They have six sacks and an amazing 32 hurries (per Pro Football Focus stats) over the first two weeks. Quarterbacks so far have been very uncomfortable in the pocket when playing the Lions. With so many questions heading into the season about the pass rush, it’s actually been a strength so far.

Third, this defense is tackling well. Not a lot of missed tackles and breakout plays as a result. Very solid early on. When a defense can stop the run, rush the passer and tackle well, that’s a recipe for success.

20man: I think we’ll have a better idea Sunday afternoon. Atlanta is the defending NFC Champion, and are coming off a double-digit win over the Packers.

As for the Cardinals and Giants, the Lions’ play on the field made them look bad. Don’t forget that.

Look, this is the NFL, there are no slouches from week to week. On any given Sunday, anyone can win. We can all probably agree that the Chicago Bears aren’t a team ready to compete for anything, right? Well, the Bears had a 1st and goal at the Falcons 5-yard line with less than a minute to play and a touchdown wins the game. If not for a dropped pass by Jordan Howard, Atlanta is probably 1-1 heading to Ford Field Sunday. Oh, but wait, Atlanta just played bad that day, right?

Who had the Chiefs over the Patriots in Foxborough Week 1? I don’t buy the whole weak opponent argument. The Lions are 2-0 because they’ve outplayed their opponents. Can they keep it up? We’ll see.

20man: They’re probably hoping he can rekindle some of the magic he showed in 2014. He played in 16 games that season as a reserve, and recorded six sacks. It earned him a nice contract in Tampa Bay the following offseason, and unfortunately for Johnson, it wasn’t a good fit for him there. Maybe he can revitalize his career is a scheme he’s both familiar with and has had success in.

What can we expect from Johnson right away? The Lions have kept all five of their defensive ends active on game day. They really like to rotate those guys in and out of the game to keep them fresh. Barrett played 14 snaps on defense Week 1 and 11 on Monday night. If the Lions feel good about Johnson’s conditioning, knowledge of the scheme and ability to contribute, I’d expect we probably see him play 10-15 snaps. We’ll have to wait and see how effective he can be.

20man: From a strictly schedule standpoint, Decker is eligible to come off the PUP list Oct. 16, the Monday after the team’s Week 6 game in New Orleans. The Lions have a bye that week, so it essentially gives Decker an extra two weeks from that point before their Oct. 29 contest vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football.

Whether or not Decker will be physically ready at that point, remains to be seen. I can tell you I see him in the locker room every day drenched in sweat, so he’s working. The range of motion in his shoulder appears to be getting better. We’ll just have to wait and see where he’s at in a month, and what the doctors think.

20man: One potential mismatch that looks to favor the Lions is Golden Tate in the slot against Atlanta nickel cornerback Brian Poole, who has allowed 10 catches on 13 targets the first two weeks. Chicago’s Mike Glennon and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers combined for a 91.2 passer rating when targeting Poole, per Pro Football Focus stats.

Let’s see if Jim Bob Cooter also thinks he has the advantage there and attacks it early.

20man: A lot of fans have asked this one. One big reason is special teams. Washington’s ability to return and cover with that 4.4 speed gives him the edge over Zenner. In terms of a pure power back, Washington is probably a little bit more of a bruiser as well.

That being said, Washington missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday with a quad injury, and his status for Sunday could be in doubt. If he can’t go, I’d suspect Zenner gets the nod. Washington has nine carries in the first two games, so don’t expect a huge workload, even if Zenner does play.

20man: For me, this week is all about the run game. I don’t think Detroit wants to get in a shootout with the Falcons. I think that’s advantage Falcons. The more they can run the ball, control the clock and keep Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Co. off the field, the better shot they have to win, in my opinion.

In Atlanta’s Week 1 near loss to Chicago, the Bears did a terrific job running the football (125 yards with a 6.6 average per rush) and ran 63 plays to Atlanta’s 55. I think that’s the key in this one. If the Lions can run the ball first, then everything else opens up, and they can control the tempo of the game.

On the flip side, they have to stop Atlanta’s run as well. Chicago did a good job of that Week 1 (Atlanta had a 2.8 average), not so much for Green Bay last week (5.2 average).

20man: This is the best offense the Lions will face this season with what I believe is the best trio in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The Falcons have 10 plays of 20-plus yards this season, sixth-most in the league thus far.

Their stretch run game is one of the best in the league. Detroit’s defense will have to pay particular attention to sealing the edges and forcing Atlanta’s run game between the tackles. Since 2015, Freeman is second in the NFL in rushing yards (2,256).

Jones averages 96.1 yards per game over his career. To put that in a little bit of perspective, Calvin Johnson averaged 86.1. Like Johnson, Jones is pretty unstoppable.

And then there’s Ryan, who is currently completing 69 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 195 attempts. The biggest test Sunday will be keeping this explosive offense out of the end zone.

20man: That remains to be seen, Andy. He did not practice again Thursday, but he was out at practice, as he was Wednesday, which I take as a positive sign. He’s at least through the first step in the return-to-play protocol. Designations will come out later today. We should know more then.

As for who replaces Davis if he can’t go, the Lions have some options. They could move Tahir Whitehead over to the MIKE. They could also use a combination of veteran Paul Worrilow and rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin, with Reeves-Maybin playing alongside Whitehead in the nickel and sub packages.

20man: Ask me this again around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.