10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What changes can Lions make in remaining five games?

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: According to Next Gen Stats, the Lions have ranked in the bottom three in opponent time to throw, pressure rate and blitz rate. The Lions' low pressure rate is in part due to them rushing three or fewer pass rushers on 20.9 percent of drop backs since 2018, which is the highest in the league. 

I think Undlin has to look at those numbers and try to find a way to generate more pressure these last five games, however he can, especially with some of the injuries the Lions have in the secondary. 

Undlin was pretty coy talking to reporters Monday about any expected chances we might see. I suspect it will look a little different. We could see some different personnel packages. It's hard to make wholesale changes in three days, but I bet he starts to put his own stamp on the defense, and it will look a little more different two or three weeks from now than it will on Sunday.

20man: I'd say the roster is in a much better spot offensively than defensively. 

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Kenny Golladay (if his contract situation is worked out), running back D'Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson, tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow, and I'd even throw guard Jonah Jackson in there, are all foundational pieces with Pro Bowl experience or Pro Bowl potential. It's a nice core on that side of the ball when they're all healthy. Detroit is 3-2 when Golladay has played this year and 1-5 without him. Swift has also missed time. 

Where it gets a little more tricky is projecting the future on defense. Defensive end Trey Flowers is in his prime and a foundational piece on defense, and it's also been good to see more consistency out of defensive end Romeo Okwara this year. Cornerback Jeff Okudah still has to be viewed as a foundational piece in just his first season after being the No. 3 overall pick. 

After that, there's a lot of work to do to add more young playmakers to the defense. I think that will likely be a focus for the new general manager. On paper, it's easy to see where the deficiencies have been this year, and really the last few years. Detroit heads into Sunday ranked 31st in points allowed, 29th in total defense, 28th against the run and 26th against the pass. That's not all scheme. There's a lack of playmaking to account for.

20man: Like with a head coaching search, the Lions cannot interview any individuals currently employed by other teams until after the regular season is over. In the meantime, owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood can focus on getting their list of candidates together, and they can pursue anyone who isn't currently employed by a team.

20man: Bevell said Thursday Swift remains day-to-day, but the good news is that he's through the concussion protocol. Swift missed Thursday's practice due to an illness not related to the concussion or COVID-19. We'll have to see what Friday looks like.

20man: Bevell considers the next five weeks an audition. If he turns this around and the Lions go 5-0 against teams all still in the playoff mix, or even 4-1, I certainly think he'd earn the right to be considered for the job. That's not to say he gets it, but he'd deserve a close look.

20man: Stafford has two years remaining on his current deal, so it's getting to the point where the Lions have to start thinking about a contract extension or the future beyond Stafford. 

Stafford can certainly still sling it. He's only 32, and still has good years in front of him. He's really well respected within the organization and around the league. 

Hamp was asked about Stafford's future in a Zoom call with reporters Saturday. She said the new coach and general manager will have to make the decision on Stafford's future, which I think is the right call. 

Stafford's dead cap hit for 2021 is around $25 million, per spotrac.com, and with the salary cap expected to go down next season, I don't see a trade or moving on from him next year as financially feasible, though smarter people than me handle the cap and the financial details. 

If the new GM and head coach decide to look to the future beyond Stafford, then the best course of action would probably be to draft a young guy and have him learn under Stafford for at least the 2021 season.

20man: Every coach sees the game a little different and has their own philosophies. As a coordinator, you function under the guidelines of the head coach's vision and schemes. 

Darrell Bevell has his own vision and philosophy that has been influenced by previous stops in Green Bay, Minnesota and Seattle, and by some of the coaches he's previously worked under. I think schemes can certainly change a bit. Different personnel packages and playing time increases and decreases for certain players can look different right away too. Bevell said he wants more big plays back in the offense. He's got all the freedom now to try and manufacture those as he sees fit. 

Defensively, as I talked about in the first question, Undlin could try to generate more pressure and we could see some changes on how he attempts to do that with different rush, blitz or personnel packages.

20man: That's a good question and it kind of piggybacks off the previous question about how things can potentially look different on the field these last five games. Different personnel packages and giving different players more opportunities fits with that. 

Matt Patricia made it clear he liked to feature bigger linebackers who could hold up against the run and get off blocks. That hasn't come to fruition as much as the Lions have probably hoped with the current roster of linebackers. Another problem with that is you sacrifice some speed with the bigger linebackers. Teams have attacked Detroit's linebackers in space with speedy backs at times this season. 

Reeves-Maybin does give the Lions more speed, but it's worth noting that while his tackling and run defense grades from Pro Football Focus were the best of his career in 2019, his coverage grade was the worst of his career, including allowing two touchdowns.

I think Undlin will put the guys out there he thinks gives him the best opportunity to win. It will be interesting to see if that includes any players like Reeves-Maybin, who haven't had a lot of opportunities to play on defense this season.

20man: First and foremost, Bevell will have to get this team playing way more consistent down the stretch, but to answer your question:

It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that 9-7 gets in with the expanded format. The Lions are currently two games out of the playoff picture behind the 6-5 Cardinals, who currently hold the seventh seed. Detroit owns the tie-breaker over Arizona because of their Week 3 win over the Cardinals. Arizona still has two games against the Rams and games against the Giants and Eagles, both of whom will be fighting to win the NFC East. Arizona also plays the 49ers, who are always a tough win to get. 

Ahead of Detroit is also Chicago (5-6) and Minnesota (5-6). The Lions still play each of those teams one more time. It's a long shot, certainly, but until it's mathematically not feasible, there's a shot if Bevell can get this team playing good football down the stretch.

20man: The Lions obviously didn't expect him to be out this long or they would have put him on IR with the designation to return. He's gone from practicing to not practicing to working on the side over this stretch. Maybe there was a setback along the way. Or maybe every player heals differently, and this is something that's lingered more than anyone expected.

Whatever the reason, the fact that Golladay wasn't a participant in practice Wednesday or Thursday makes me seriously question whether he'll be ready by Sunday. We'll have to see what Friday looks like, but it's safe to say this has lingered on longer than anyone originally thought it would.

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