LIONS INSIDER

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Where do Lions need to improve to contend?

Posted Dec 1, 2017

Tim Twentyman answers 10 fan-submitted questions as the Lions prepare for their Week 13 matchup against the Ravens.

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: That is kind of the dilemma right now for Lions fans. The division title isn’t out of the question just yet. The Lions are three games back with five to play. They would need to get hot, and need the Vikings to falter down the stretch. But how realistic is that?

Minnesota does play at Atlanta (7-4) and at Carolina (8-3) the next two weeks. No easy wins there.

Here’s the caveat.

Both Atlanta and Carolina are ahead of the Lions in the playoff standings, and own the tiebreaker against Detroit because of head-to-head victories against them earlier in the season.

I guess it really comes down to two schools of thought. Are you still hoping for a division title and a home playoff game, despite those odds being longer?

Or are you a believer that a team just has to get into the dance and who knows what can happen from there. If so, rooting for Minnesota probably isn’t a bad idea.

The Packers, Giants and Ravens have proved to us in the last decade that it only takes getting in, and a quarterback to get hot, to do some damage in the playoffs, even though Detroit’s recent history in the Wild Card under Jim Caldwell hasn’t been good.

This is a year where 10-6 might not get an NFC team into the playoffs because of the tight field. That’s a scary proposition for Detroit with six wins and only five games left.

20man: It’s my belief that really good teams, Super Bowl caliber teams, can win games a number of different ways on a consistent basis. They play good defense, first and foremost, and then have the ability on offense to win with either their passing game or run game from week to week.

This is where I differ from Caldwell a little bit. He made the point this week, when asked about Detroit’s inability to run the football with any real consistency, that it doesn’t matter how the ball is moved and where the yards come from, as long as they score more points than their opponent and win the game.

I disagree with that. What happens when Matthew Stafford is a little off, which he was on Thanksgiving? What happens when Stafford dislocates the middle finger on his throwing hand or breaks a finger and isn’t the same kind of passer? Teams have to be able to fall back on something, like a run game, and the Lions haven’t been able to do that.

Last year is a perfect example. Stafford hurt his finger Week 14 against Chicago. The Lions lost their next three games to end the regular season and their playoff game in Seattle. They averaged 3.6 yards per rush over that stretch, and allowed 29 points per game. Where was the run game and the defense when the Lions needed it most because of Stafford’s injury?

Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said Thursday that a one-dimensional offense is like a boxer fighting with one hand. That kind of offense can win some games here and there, but it will never be among the NFL’s best.

More consistency is needed all the way around in Detroit.

20man: I say the 1,000-yard season. That shows a level of consistency over a 16-game schedule.

It’s actually pretty remarkable the Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in over four years.

To be fair, Ameer Abdullah probably would have gotten to 100 yards Week 4 in Minnesota – he finished with 94 – but he didn’t play in the fourth quarter because of an ankle injury. Abdullah hasn’t come close to a 1,000-yard season.

The last three times the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher they had a losing season. So, take that for what it’s worth.

20man:His streak of 107 consecutive starts shouldn’t come to an end in Baltimore. The mini bye week (10 days) afforded to the Lions after playing on Thanksgiving came at a good time for Stafford. He was limping pretty good after the Vikings loss, but was in Allen Park over the holiday weekend getting treatment. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. No worries on that front. Stafford is ready to roll.

20man: That’s the plan, Jack.

This is the first time all season Ansah hasn’t shown up on the injury report. That’s really good news. We talked to him Monday, and he said he was feeling good.

Expect Freeney to be a situational pass rusher. His days of getting 60 to 70 snaps in a game are over. He’s a 30 to 40 snap player now, and the Lions will pick and choose the best spots to unleash him on Joe Flacco and Co. Sunday afternoon.

20man: I will never say never. The Lions are going to run the football because of Baltimore’s pass rush. They have to.

“Even if your run game is not working great, you better attempt to run the ball because they’re going to put their ears back and go when they’ve got edge rushers the way these guys have,” Caldwell said this week. “So, nevertheless, I think that that’s the balance of it is extremely important I think.”

The Ravens are allowing 115.8 yards per game, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. They’ve allowed three 100-yard rushers on the season. They’ve allowed 100 yards rushing total five times, though they haven’t allowed more than 75 rushing yards in their last four contests.

The more important stat is getting to 100 yards as a team. The Lions are 12-4 under Caldwell when they run for 100 yards as a team.

20man: Does someone have Tate on their fantasy team? There was a potential for a big one for him at the end of the Minnesota game down the seam, but Stafford overthrew him.

The fact of the matter is the Lions have a pretty darn good receiving corps. On any given day, Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, or even TJ Jones, can have a big game. Don’t look at that as a bad thing or as one guy not playing well.

If teams try and move up to stop Tate and some of his short and intermediate routes, which you can’t blame them for doing, it leaves Marvin Jones Jr. one-on-one deep. We’ve all seen how he’s exploited that this season.

Stafford is going to throw it to the open man based on the coverage he sees. He trusts all of those receivers, which includes running back Theo Riddick and tight end Eric Ebron.

It’s a great option to have.

20man: We’ll have to see how Abdullah’s neck injury progresses throughout the week. He was out Wednesday and Thursday, which could make things interesting on Sunday if he can’t play. Theo Riddick starts in that case, but do the Lions keep both Zenner and Dwayne Washington, who is back to being a full participant in practice, active? Do they give Tion Green a shot?

I’d guess that if Abdullah doesn’t play, then its Riddick, Washington and Zenner. Riddick has actually been pretty good lately. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry since the bye week.

20man: First, like you say, he has to get his injured knee to a point where he can be active on gameday. He sat out practice Wednesday, though he was running pretty good on the side, and also sat out Thursday, which isn’t a good sign for his availability Sunday.

That role on offense was steadily developing for Agnew before the knee injury. I suspect that Jim Bob Cooter will continue to find ways to get him and his 4.3 speed the ball in space.

So, I do think that role continues to expand moving forward. The Lions have shown enough of it now that defenses have to be aware of him. He can be a useful decoy as well.

20man: We’ll know more about that when Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media at the conclusion of the season. Quinn had a small sample size to go on this offseason – one and a half games from the 2016 season – which gave him confidence Abdullah and Riddick could be the guys in 2017.

Abdullah has 505 rushing yards and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Riddick has 161 yards averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Abdullah has one year left on his rookie contract.