Skip to main content

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: How will running back injuries affect Lions' offense?

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: Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn had a great plan that was executed nicely by his players for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson the last time these two teams played in 2021. Jackson was 16-of-31 passing for 287 yards with one touchdown and one pick and had 58 yards rushing as the Ravens scored 19 points.

This is a different offense in Baltimore under OC Todd Monken, and it relies on Jackson the passer a little more than Jackson the runner. Don't get me wrong, Jackson can still beat teams with his legs, but he has 30-plus passing attempts in four of the Ravens' six games this year. He has one 100-yard rushing game and only in half of his games this year has he reached 50 rushing yards.

Detroit needs to continue doing what they've been doing since Week 2 defensively and that's first stopping the run, being disciplined with their rush upfront and trusting that the player next to them will do their job and make Jackson the passer beat them. If he does that you tip your cap to him and move on to Las Vegas.

20man: I think the veteran Will Harris did a nice job the last two weeks stepping in for Brian Branch while he's been rehabbing an ankle injury but there's a reason Branch has been a starter since Day 1. This kid is just different. I've never seen a more instinctual defender at such a young age. It allows him to play fast and be such a disruptor. Branch is a little better in coverage than Harris. Branch makes plays all over the field whether it's tackles for loss, defended passes or the pick-six we saw Week 1 in Kansas City.

Hopefully, he continues to trend up this week and we see him back in the lineup Sunday in Baltimore.

20man: Lions OC Ben Johnson will always try to be balanced. They got away from the run a little bit last week in Tampa Bay when they weren't having much success with it and decided quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game was their best bet to win. Detroit rushed 20 times for just 40 yards last week (1.8 avg.) and let Goff throw it 44 times for 353 yards and two touchdowns.

The problem with having the same approach this week against the Ravens is that this defense is a much better pass-rush team than the Bucs were. The Ravens lead the NFL with 24 sacks and have 11 players with at least one sack and four players with at least three. Abandoning the run against this defense and letting them pin their ears back and come after Goff could be dangerous.

Certainly, Detroit's offensive line is good enough to handle the task if that's the way the game trends, but I see the Lions trying to be more stubborn with their run game to try and be a little more balanced, especially early. One thing to note too is how the short, quick passing game can really be an extension of the run game, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot more of those throws this week to get the ball out of Goff's hands and into space.

20man: This is definitely going to be the biggest test of the year so far for the Lions' offense. Baltimore is so good defensively. They are No. 2 against the pass (163.2) and No. 10 against the run (97.7). Jahmyr Gibbs is likely back, and I'd expect him to be the lead back. We'll have to see how the hamstring/toe injury Reynolds is dealing with progresses this week and if it allows him to play.

When David Montgomery missed Detroit's Week 3 game vs. Atlanta with a thigh bruise, Gibbs carried the ball 17 of the 31 times the Lions ran the ball that afternoon. I would expect a similar distribution this week as long as Gibbs' hamstring holds up.

20man: Dré Bly has been a nice addition and a great sounding board for the cornerbacks, but don't forget what Brian Duker has done since taking over the defensive backs job for Aubrey Pleasant after Pleasant was let go during the season last year. Detroit starting to play much better defense in the back end coincided with that move.

And I also give the players a lot of credit. Cam Sutton has been everything the Lions hoped he'd be and maybe a little more after signing here in free agency. Branch has been a terrific addition in the slot. Jerry Jacobs has played some pretty darn good ball over the last month with three interceptions.

The secondary is getting good coaching all around and is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

20man: It always starts upfront on both sides of the football in any contest but this week it is strength on strength upfront when looking at Detroit's offensive line vs. Baltimore's deep and talented defensive front. I stopped by Taylor Decker's locker on Wednesday to chat about the Ravens' defense and he said this was the best front they've faced this year. Baltimore runs a lot of players in and out to stay fresh, and Decker said this was going to be a great challenge this week.

Detroit's allowed just 10 sacks and 44 total pressures which ranks fifth and eighth, respectively. Baltimore defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (4.5 sacks) and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (3.5) are playing really well upfront. Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen are one of the best linebacking duos in the league and terrific blitzers with five sacks between them. If Detroit is going to come away with a win Sunday on the road, the offensive line needs to be on their A-game. It's a great strength on strength matchup upfront.

20man: It all starts with Principal Owner and Chair Sheila Hamp and her decision to bring in GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell. Campbell is all about grit, toughness, working through adversity and playing a distinct brand of football this team is becoming known for.

Two players that jump out to me are both captains in linebacker Alex Anzalone and right tackle Penei Sewell. Sewell has really taken on a bigger leadership role and has become a player guys look up to for his work ethic, toughness and elite level of play. Anzalone came from New Orleans and was part of the culture building process there on defense and has done the same thing here with his leadership.

20man: Maybe Week 10 at Los Angeles or Week 17 at Dallas. But on paper, Detroit has one of the easier schedules in terms of opponent win-loss record the second half of the season.

I believe this is their toughest challenge to date. Yes, even tougher than Kansas City Week 1. If Detroit can pull this off Sunday it would push them to 6-1 and then we have to start looking at the big picture in the NFC.

What would have to excite Lions fans about a 6-1 start heading into a home Monday Night Football game vs. Las Vegas (3-3) before their bye week is looking at what San Francisco (5-1) and Philadelphia (5-1) still have to navigate through with their schedules.

The 49ers (5-1) still have Cincinnati, at Jacksonville, two games vs. Seattle, at Philadelphia and Baltimore remaining on their schedule.

The Eagles (5-1) host Miami this week and play Dallas twice, at Kansas City, vs. Buffalo, at Seattle and at Baltimore.

20man: Rodriguez played exclusively on special teams last week and he's been trending toward becoming a core special teamer. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. That's a great role for him at this stage of his career. His combination of speed, strength and toughness really fits on teams.

It's not a knock on Rodriguez that he's not playing more on defense. It's a compliment to Derrick Barnes and Jack Campbell and how well they're playing. Barnes has put it all together in Year 3 and Campbell is getting better and better each and every week.

Rodriguez has starting experience and I'm sure there will come a time when he's asked to play a bigger role on defense because of injuries. He could be another player like Harris or Tracy Walker who started with a smaller role on defense and have stepped in when needed to help the Lions win.

20man: It's a good question and something I'm sure the Lions coaching staff looked over early this week in their preparations for Sunday. Nothing jumps out offensively or defensively in terms of scheme. Baltimore mixes it up pretty good week to week on defense.

In both games the Ravens struggled to move the football consistently in the second half. The Colts and Steelers did a nice job adjusting at the half and the Ravens were a little slow to adjust offensively. In both contests the Ravens lost the turnover battle. That's always the No. 1 stat in a game. Indy won the turnover battle 2-0 and Pittsburgh won it 3-1. The Steelers also blocked a Baltimore punt.

I think with two teams as evenly matched as Detroit and Baltimore it's going to come down to turnovers and maybe a big play on special teams.

Related Content