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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What improvements can Lions make on defense?

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: Quarterback Jared Goff is second in the league with 53 completions of 20-plus yards, he has a 122.6 passer rating on balls that travel at least 21 yards in the air and Detroit's 11 rushing plays of 20-plus yards rank fourth behind only Arizona (15), Miami (15) and Baltimore (14).

Defensively Detroit's given up some plays in the passing game, but it probably feels worse because they've increased of late. For the year they've allowed 38 pass plays of 20-plus yards, which ties for 20th, but 13 of those have come the last four weeks since the bye with five of those allowed Sunday in New Orleans. Plus add in chunk runs of 29, 37 and 21 yards, respectively, the last three weeks against Chicago, Green Bay and New Orleans. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn would be the first to tell you that's too many.

Detroit's defense has actually allowed the third fewest run plays of 10-plus yards all season, the eighth fewest 20-plus runs and they haven't allowed a run of 50-plus all season. It's just been chunk plays in the passing game at some inopportune times that have been the real issue, especially since the bye.

20man: I'd say that's pretty accurate. And without McNeill for at least the next four games the Lions will need someone to step up. They signed veteran Tyson Alualu to the practice squad this week, but he might need a little bit of time to get into football shape.

I think head coach Dan Campbell said it best Wednesday when he said Levi Onwuzurike, Quinton Bohanna, Isaiah Buggs and Brodric Martin have a 'great opportunity' to step up and prove they are part of the plan moving forward. Martin has a little bit more leeway being a developmental rookie, but Onwuzurike and Buggs could see more active status than they have recently and it's time to do something with it.

We talked before the season began about the limited depth inside along the defensive line and now McNeill is out and players have to step up. Maybe we see some more hybrid interior fronts with John Cominsky and Josh Paschal playing inside more but really it just comes down to players stepping up and winning one-on-ones.

"We're looking at next man up and these guys are getting an opportunity to prove their worth here and help us out," Campbell said.

20man: "Yeah, just be reliable. Reliable, dependable, do your job, be consistent," Campbell said when asked about Buggs specifically on Wednesday.

Ever since the spring there just seems to be a disconnect between this coaching staff and Buggs, for whatever reason. He could get a chance to make an impact down the stretch and if he's able to consistently make more plays it will go a long way to earning the coaches' trust again.

20man: They've given up more points per game since the bye going from 22.0 points allowed per game before the bye to 30.3 in the four games since the week off. That's a significant jump. That definitely needs to be worked out. It's kind of like the reverse of what we saw between the two halves last year. We talked about some of the big plays given up earlier. They have to be better in the red zone too.

They are still in the top half in the league in total defense (14th) and fifth against the run, which is a positive. I talked to linebacker James Houston this week and it sounds like he's aiming to be back before the playoffs. That could be a big boost to the pass rush. We'll see about defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Generating more big plays and takeaways (they had two vs. New Orleans) will go a long way.

We've seen them play some good ball defensively before the bye. Hopefully, they get back to more of that in December.

20man: Losing Frank Ragnow for however long certainly hurts, but Graham Glasgow has turned out to be a terrific free-agent signing. Where would they be without him?

The best five right now is Taylor Decker (left tackle), Jonah Jackson (left guard), Glasgow (center), Colby Sorsdal (right guard) and Penei Sewell (right tackle). Sorsdal is going through some rookie growing pains, but he was better this week than he was the week prior vs. Green Bay. The hope is he's settling in a bit with some good reps under his belt. He went from allowing four pressures vs. Chicago to three vs. Green Bay to one last week vs. New Orleans.

20man: There have been years where the draft is already a big topic of conversation at this time, but this is not one of those years. But for old times' sake, I'll indulge.

Free agency comes first so needs in the draft can change based on what's accomplished in free agency, but as it sits right now, I don't think GM Brad Holmes can go wrong finding a combination of a another pass rusher, cornerback, guard and safety in free agency or the draft.

20man: I don't think there's any holdup. He was brought in to be a rotational piece in the wide receiver room and some insurance against injury. I think he catches a touchdown pass in New Orleans if a ball intended for him last Sunday doesn't get tipped by Amon-Ra St. Brown. You probably feel a little bit better about his contribution if they convert on that.

We've seen an emergence of Jameson Williams as he settles in and gets more comfortable. He played 33 snaps to Peoples-Jones' 12 against the Saints. Kalif Raymond played 13 snaps.

The top three are clearly St. Brown, Josh Reynolds and Williams at receiver. Tight end Sam LaPorta has become 1B to St. Browns's 1A for Goff in the passing game and there's only one ball to go around. Peoples-Jones is settling in nicely and has a role. He and Raymond will continue to be the No. 4 option in the passing game. There's good depth in that room now and Peoples-Jones will make some plays down the stretch.

20man: I put this one on the players first and foremost. I think there is talent but at some point players have to win their one-on-one matchups and I just don't see that happening enough opposite Aidan Hutchinson. Teams are focusing on Hutch, as they should, and it's up to players like Josh Paschal, John Cominsky, Romeo Okwara, Charles Harris and others to win more of their one-on-ones.

For me, it's really as simple as that. Beat the guy across from you and make more impact. You can scheme up pressure and all that, but when given the opportunity to beat the guy lined up across from them they have to win those more. It was good to see Bruce Irvin have an impact Sunday. Getting him more than 11 reps could certainly help. I think getting James Houston back at some point could help too.

20man: The first tight end off the board in this year's NFL Draft was Dalton Kincaid at No. 25 to Buffalo. He's having a nice season with 56 catches for 474 yards and a couple touchdowns but something tells me Buffalo would select LaPorta if they could do it over again. I think a lot of teams in the second half of the first round would have LaPorta high on their board knowing what his rookie season would look like.

We are seeing some historic stuff from LaPorta as a rookie. I think he has a real shot to be just the third tight end in history to have 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he broke Mike Ditka's rookie tight end record of 1,076 yards for the Bears in 1961.

LaPorta's currently fourth among NFL tight ends in catches (64) and receiving yards (679) and tied for first with Baltimore's Mark Andrews with six touchdowns. We are witnessing one of the best rookie seasons by a tight end in NFL history. Holmes hit a home run with LaPorta in the second round.

20man: It was certainly an issue this past week as New Orleans converted 3rd & 17 (roughing passer penalty), 3rd & 16, 3rd & 12, 3rd & 9 and 3rd & 7. Those 3rd & long conversions are deflators for a defense. Like we talked about with the pass rush above a lot of it comes down to marrying the rush and coverage better but also players in the back end doing their job and winning their one-on-ones. The 3rd & 16 was a busted coverage and that can't happen on 3rd & long.

Detroit ranks 12th in the league on third down (37.4 percent), but they are towards the bottom in third & long, which is 3rd & 6 or longer. In those scenarios the Lions are second-to-last in the NFL allowing a first down 30.8 percent of the time (20-for-65). Only Arizona (32.8) has a higher percent of opponents converting. Again, the marriage of rush and cover has to be a lot better in those situations and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has to find the right mix of getting home with pressure or counting on his players to win their battles upfront in the secondary when they decide to play coverage and rush four.

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