10 Questions with Twentyman: Injury updates, division standings and offensive strategy

Posted Oct 5, 2012

Every week during the season I’ll be participating in a live chat on sponsored by Huntington Bank. I can never get to all the questions in the chat because of the time constraints and the fact that I'm not the world's fastest typist. The nature of online chats don't lend themselves to expansive answers, either.

So, each week, I'll pick 10 good questions that I either didn't get to or would like to expand upon. I might also throw in a few here and there from my Twitter account, @ttwentyman

Q. What is Delmas' status? Does he have a chance to come back after the bye week? From Guest

A. I think there’s a very good chance he’s back after the bye. In fact, at this point, I’d be pretty surprised if he wasn’t. It was a great sign that he was back on the practice field for the first time since July on Wednesday.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz admitted last week that Delmas’ recovery from Aug. 7 knee surgery has gone slower than anticipated, but the Eagles game on Oct. 14 will have given Delmas more than nine weeks to rehab and get the knee ready to go.

Delmas is the emotional leader on defense and his return would be a big boost for a team that’s gotten off to a terrible start (1-3) this season. He’s a difference maker in the Lions’ secondary. Just his presence on the field alone is a big emotional boost for this team. He gives them a little attitude.

Q. Where did the top defensive line unit go?  Some truth to what that 49ers lineman said?

A. Look at it like this: when teams do things well, opponents pick up on that and their focus all week is how to stop that particular aspect of their game.

A perfect example is what opposing defenses have done to the Lions offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford. Teams saw the tape from last year. They saw Calvin Johnson streaking down the field one big play after another. Opponents are now playing their safeties back and taking the big play away from the passing game, which is the Lions’ strength on offense.

The defensive line is obviously the strength of that defense and teams are scheming to try and neutralize them in much the same way.

Opposing quarterbacks are taking a lot of quick drops and shotgun snaps and the plan has been to get the ball out quick. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he timed all 42 of Titans quarterback Jack Locker’s throws against the Lions in their Week 3 matchup and they averaged 1.9 seconds. That’s very quick.

It’s not unlike what teams are doing to the Giants’ defensive line. The Giants have arguably the best defensive line in all of football, but have eight sacks on the season. That’s one fewer than the Lions’ nine.

Q. Is Stafford playing with any serious injury to his throwing hand, he seems a lot more inconsistent lately and I recall he hit a helmet in preseason?

A. That injury in the preseason was to his left hand and it was just a broken blood vessel. No worries there.

I think Stafford is still trying to feel out what defenses are trying to do against him. After 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns last season, he’s a player teams now scheme to stop.

Opponents are giving Stafford almost exclusively zone looks and nothing down the field. It really puts a premium on being accurate with the football and making the right reads, especially on third down. Stafford is completing 58 percent of his passes on third down, but only 38 percent of those are resulting in a first down. The Lions as an offense is only converting on third down 36 percent of the time.

Stafford has to play underneath and be accurate and patient. Not down the field, where he’s comfortable.

Q. After 4 weeks, Chicago and Minnesota are a little surprising.  I still believe Green Bay is the best in our division even with their faults.  Where will Detroit fall in at the end of 16 weeks in your opinion? From Dale

A. Before the season I had the Lions at 10-6 and second place in the NFC North behind the Packers. They would have to go 9-3 the rest of the way to reach. With games still remaining against the Eagles, Bears (2), Packers (2), Texans, Cardinals and Falcons, I’m not sure there are only three losses there.

I still think the Packers end up atop the Division when it’s all said and done. They are still the class of the division.

I said before the season that the Week 17 matchup against the Bears at home could mean something big for the Lions. Possibly a playoff berth. As it looks right now, with some of the opponents still remaining on the schedule, that could be a game that means 8-8 or 9-7.

Q. So is it a matter of playing more disciplined football? Other teams believe the Lions will beat themselves if forced to move the ball 4-5 yards at a time? From Chris

A. It’s really a fundamental change that has to take place in the offense. The way defenses are playing the Lions, they are forcing them to put together long drives.

I think Stafford has done a good job of taking what the defense gives him and not forcing plays over the last three weeks.

The thing that’s slowed down the Lions offense this season has been the Lions themselves. Penalties, negative plays and dropped passes are drive killers and anyone who’s watched the Lions over the last three weeks could tell you they’ve seen examples of all three.

I think a better word to use than discipline would be execution. The Lions need to start executing on offense. When they do that – and get the run game going like they did in Tennessee – then things will open up.

Q. Tim, I see a Lion without any teeth. Thoughts? From Guest

A. I think there’s something too that.

Receiver Nate Burleson said Monday after the latest loss to the Vikings that he doesn’t see the same edge from this team that they had last year.

A season ago, this team seemed so desperate to prove they were good after so many years of being bad. I think that gave them a little bit of an edge, sort of an “us against the world” mentality. We even saw it spill over after the whistle a few times when they got sick of taking the other team’s crap.

I don’t want to say the Lions read too many press clippings before the season, but when a team leader comes out and says he doesn’t see the same fight or the same edge from his team, it’s worth taking notice.

Burleson told The Detroit News this week the Lions need to “feel like that kid that needs to prove himself on the playground again.”

Q. Okay can we panic now?  I’m actually past panic to heartbreak to anger to resignation. Anything positive to think on? From Sharon

A. Well Sharon, I think the positive you can take from the bad start is that we’re only a quarter of the way through the season and there are 12 games left. A lot can still happen.

Yes, they’ve dropped two games they should have won. It is what it is. There are many examples of teams coming back from 1-3 to make the playoffs. We’re not talking about some collapse of historic proportions here where the deficit is insurmountable.

I think the anger you’re referring too comes from the immense expectations placed on this team after last year’s 10-6 season. Maybe those expectations were a little too high. Maybe people fell in love with an underdog and tried to make him something he wasn’t.

There’s still a lot of football to be played and we’ll see if this is the kind of team that rolls over in the face of adversity or one that shakes the dirt off and gets after it.

Q. If Best makes it back, (hopefully he can) how will that factor into the plan for Leshoure? From Dan

A. Best’s return certainly has the potential to take some carries away from Leshoure, depending on the matchup from week to week.

I still think Leshoure carries the load, though. With 26 carries and 100 yards in his debut in Tennessee a couple weeks ago, Leshoure showed that he could carry the load. He showed that he could grind out first downs and be a workhorse.

I see Best playing more of a role like Darren Sproles does with the Saints. Sproles has the second-most receptions on the team (23) behind tight end Jimmy Graham and the third-most carries (12) behind Mark Ingram (32) and Pierre Thomas (28). Sproles in averaging 6.8 yards per carry, which is the highest average on the team.

Best gets maybe 10 or less carries a game but becomes a big part of the passing game and the main guy on third-down. The Lions could use him against some of these looks they’re getting.

Q. I remember hearing great things about Fairley in the preseason, but he seems a non-factor now.  Is that because OL's are shifting or is he just a bit "off”? From Jay

A. Fairley has been one of the bigger disappointments early on this season, in my opinion. For me, it was because I saw what kind of shape he was in during the offseason training program and the player he looked like he was going to be. He looked good. He looked good enough that even Lions general manager Martin Mayhew singled him out to the media.

Then when Fairley came back for training camp he didn’t look like the same player. Maybe even a little out of shape.

I think it was telling last week that Sammie Hill got the start next to Ndamukong Suh, instead of Fairley, when Corey Williams was ruled out because of knee surgery.

Fairley has a ton of talent. He has great hands and is athletic for his size. Maybe the broken foot was a big factor is slowing his development as a rookie. I really don’t know what’s been slowing him down.

Whatever the reason, Fairley needs to start having more of an impact than just three tackles and one sack through four games. That’s not top-half of the first round production from a draft pick.

Q. How can we fix the drop ball problem? Lions are tops in league in dropping passes. From Tom from Toledo

A. I’ve always been on the side of the argument that either you can catch or you can’t. It’s either a natural ability or it isn’t.

That being said, maybe there’s something to muscle memory and practice. The receivers end every practice catching balls from the jugs machine. Maybe a player like tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has experienced some drops over the last two weeks and throughout his career, could benefit from some extra work like that.

They have players that can catch the football. I’ve seen Pettigrew make some amazing catches. I think it’s just a concentration issue. Slow down, catch the football, then try and make a play. Not the other way around.