Skip to main content

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: How can Lions improve run game?

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: I would expect that to be a huge priority this offseason. Matthew Stafford can't continue to do this all by himself on offense.

He's had a 100-yard rusher in a game just seven times over his career, and a 1,000-yard rusher in a season just once. The offensive line doesn't get a pass, either. The Lions are fourth worst in the NFL this season in rushing yards before contact.

Playing without a consistent run game is all Stafford knows, so it isn't a big deal to him, but no quarterback in the league has gotten less help from a run game over the last nine years than he has. The Lions need to give their franchise quarterback some help.

I'd expect them to continue to look to upgrade the offensive line and create competition at the running back spot this offseason.

As a fan, I feel like this season is a disappointment. We were poised to take over the North and just kept stumbling. What are the positives so far? #10Questions — Just Josh  (@JHowardDesign) December 7, 2017

20man: It has to be extremely disappointing for fans through 12 games, but Detroit can change the narrative a bit by going out and winning their last four games.

The most disappointing aspect should be that we're again talking about a team with only one win against a playoff-caliber opponent. It was certainly a good win on the road against a tough opponent in Minnesota, but dropping games to Atlanta, Carolina, Pittsburgh and then Minnesota, all at home, could eventually keep this team out of the playoffs.

They lost to New Orleans and Baltimore on the road. Two more playoff teams. These are tough games, but playoff teams find a way to steal one or two more of them.

I take three positives from the first 12 games.

  1. Stafford has carried this team and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Hopefully, the hand injury doesn't prevent him from playing Sunday or limit his effectiveness down the stretch.
  1. I like where this receiver corps is at. Marvin Jones Jr. has been great all season, and Kenny Golladay leads all rookies with 40-plus-yard catches, despite missing a month. Tate is having another Tate-like season.
  1. Darius Slay should finally get that coveted Pro Bowl nod, and it's well deserved. He's turned into one of the top corners in the league, and should be rewarded for it.

20man: The ship is listing a bit, but it's still afloat.

The Lions are currently the No. 8 seed in the playoff hunt. As you know, only six get in. The division leaders and top four seeds right now are Minnesota (10-2), Philadelphia (10-2), Los Angeles (9-3) and New Orleans (9-3). The No. 5 seed is Carolina (8-4) and the No. 6 seed is Seattle (8-4). Atlanta (7-5) is also ahead of the Lions as the No. 7 seed.

Realistically, the Lions need to get to 10 wins and then see where Carolina, Atlanta and Seattle are and how the tiebreakers work out. If the Lions find themselves in a tiebreaker with just Atlanta or Carolina, they're out. When three teams are involved in the tiebreaker, let's say Carolina, Detroit and Seattle, it's decided by conference record, because not all teams played each other.

For the next month, Lions fans are also fans of whoever is playing Carolina, Seattle or Atlanta.

20man: My guess is the Lions look to generate competition at the running back spot, move Graham Glasgow to center and look for a left guard via free agency or the draft and put a priority on building the front seven on defense.

The Lions finally have to do something about the league's 31st ranked rushing offense.

Detroit has just 23 sacks on the year, and are no better than 19th in any major statistical category on defense. I think a lot of that stems from a front seven that's been decimated by injury and inconsistent play week to week.

20man: I would think so. At this point, what do the Lions have to lose in giving him a shot to see what he has? He showed some good things last week, and he'll only get better the more he plays. He brings a power element to the backfield that I like. I'd expect him to be the power back Sunday, and if Ameer Abdullah is limited at all, we could see him receive a chunk of the carries.

The Lions need a spark at the position. Maybe Green can provide it. The only way to find out is to give him the rock.

20man: Jim Caldwell is very involved in the game plan leading up to the game. On gameday, he lets his coordinators call their game, but he's listening in on the headset and has the final say if he wants something called or changed.

Stafford is also given a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage to change plays.

As for play calling you termed conservative, I don't know if I completely agree with that characterization. Stafford is third in the NFL with a 120.4 passer rating when throwing the ball at least 21 yards in the air. He's attempted the seventh most of those passes (50).

The Lions continue to try and run the football, one, to keep the defense honest, but also, Stafford leads the NFL with a passer rating of 137.5 on play action attempts. That seems odd for a run game that ranks 31st, but it's because the Lions are stubborn with it and defenses have to stay aware of it.

The biggest problem with this offense has been the inconsistent play upfront and a lack of big plays from the running game, not so much conservative play calling.

20man: That's hard to say, because we've seen so little of Rudock in a regular-season setting, but it's usually a safe bet that a starter at 75 percent is a better option than a backup.

Anything lower than 75 percent and it depends on the backup. If Stafford can grip the ball and throw it and do all the functions necessary to playing quarterback, he should be the guy.

20man: This was a nine-win team last year. They had a lot of players contribute as rookies last season that were expected to be even better in year two. Another draft was under their belt, and they added expensive pieces to the offensive line via free agency.

The expectation should have been at least to match the nine wins and make the playoffs again. Those two goals are still obtainable, so we have to wait until the end of the season to see how it all shakes out.

An 8-8 record in the NFL usually keeps teams out of the playoffs and they end up in the middle of the pack. If fans expect mediocracy, or are satisfied with modest pundit predictions, then they are doing themselves a disservice. The expectations every year should be to compete for a division title and a playoff spot. Eight wins doesn't usually accomplish that.

20man: That really remains to be seen. How he and the Lions finish these last four games could play a factor.

The reality is that Ansah's had a rough last two seasons after making his first Pro Bowl and leading the NFC in sacks (14.5) in 2015. He's battled through a lot of injuries over that stretch that have zapped some of his effectiveness.

Coaches always say that availability is oftentimes the best ability. Ansah just hasn't been the same player and available enough over the last two years because of the injuries.

He'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and there will be a market for him. There aren't many guys in this league with his athletic traits combining size, strength and speed. What that market will be, and how many teams could be interested, won't be known for months.

There are mechanisms in place, like the transition tag or franchise tag, if the Lions want to keep him without a long-term deal. The two sides could work out a new contract, too.

It's one of those things where we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out after the season, because there are so many unknown factors at this point.

20man: Detroit's remaining schedule is one of the weakest in the league, but the way this team has been starting games, and playing overall inconsistent football, it's hard to sit here right now and think they can rattle off a season-high four-game win streak.

They'd have to play a lot better, and that starts Sunday in Tampa.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content