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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What is a matchup to watch this week vs. Panthers?

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 think it all starts up front offensively for Detroit and defensively for Carolina. When I look at Carolina's defense, I see an aggressive and disruptive defensive line, especially against the pass.

We have raved about the Lions pass rush to begin the season and Carolina has just as many sacks (12) as the Lions do on the year. Veteran edge rusher Brian Burns leads the Panthers with 3.0 sacks. Burns plays just as well on either side, a unique trait, and the Panthers will move him to what they believe is the best matchup. Derrick Brown is second in tackles for them with 23 from the interior of the defensive line. Yetur Gross-Matos is also a player to watch with 2.5 sacks on the year.

We could see all five offensive line starters back in the fold for the Lions this week for the first time since Week 1, so for me that's a huge matchup. Can the Lions continue to run the football effectively and protect quarterback Jared Goff against a good and active Carolina front?

20man: Lions slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is dealing with an abdominal injury that has kept him out of practice Tuesday and Thursday. If St. Brown can't go, I don't really expect to see Williams' reps go up. I'd expect to see more Kalif Raymond and more Jahmyr Gibbs in the slot.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell was clear this week that they plan to work Williams back into the fold slowly.

"It's just about polishing all the little things and we also know if he does play, he can't play 60 plays," he said. "That's not smart so, we can't do that to him."

Williams hasn't seen live reps since Week 1 of the preseason against the New York Giants when he got 51 snaps. He injured his hamstring the following week in joint practices with Jacksonville. He returned to practice for the first time in a month and a half just this week. My guess is they have certain packages and plays for him and won't deviate much from that unless in-game injuries force their hand.

20man: It's trending toward Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning this week after a knee injury has kept him out of the last two and a half games. He's a load inside and plays so well between Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell. Before suffering the knee injury Week 2 he hadn't allowed a single pressure and was terrific in the run game.

Graham Glasgow has been good filling in for Vaitai, but there's a reason Vaitai won that competition out of training camp. It would be good to get him back.

20man: It's not a matter of if injuries happen but when, and so far the Lions have had players like Tracy Walker, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Will Harris and others step in and play well when needed due to injury. They'll need that to continue.

Here's what I see when I watch the Lions on defense, especially against the run. I see a unit that's building trust with one another. Players aren't having to go off script or do too much. Big plays in this league happen, especially in the run game, when players get out of position trying to do too much. Just do your job, fill your gap and trust that the player next to you will do the same.

That's really stood out to me over the last two weeks in particular. Do that, trust your depth, and there's no reason to think this defense can't continue to play well moving forward despite the injuries.

20man: Good question. Brunell has been an invaluable resource for Goff. There's something to be said about having a coach in that room who played quarterback in this league for a long time who has seen it all and knows exactly what Goff is going through. Brunell is an extremely positive person from all interactions I've had with him, and he certainly deserves his credit for the way he's worked in unison with OC Ben Johnson in preparing Goff.

20man: Defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and linebacker James Houston are going to be longer term. The hope is they'll be available to return late in the year. Linebacker Julian Okwara is the closest to return. The Lions started his 21-day practice window this week and his return could be coming sooner rather than later. Cornerback Khalil Dorsey is back working off to the side of practice this week and that's usually an indicator that a player is close to returning to practice.

Defensive lineman Josh Paschal is eligible to return to practice next week to start his 21-day window. Paschal was working off to the side of Thursday's practice, which was a good sign. The Lions are going to take their time with rookie quarterback Hendon Hooker given the fact there's three veterans ahead of him.

20man: It's a little early, but it is a good question. A few names jump out to me as potential coaches ready for that kind of promotion.

On offense, I'd say passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand. Johnson was also a pass game coordinator before being promoted to OC so it seems like Engstrand is on that same track.

On defense, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard has proven to be a great teacher and leader. He has the respect of not only the players in his room but everyone on defense. I also think defensive backs coach Brian Duker will be a coordinator at some point in his career. He's really smart and is terrific at the X's and O's.

20man: What we've seen from Gibbs' usage in the three games David Montgomery has played is what we can expect moving forward. Montgomery is playing at a really high level right now and his play style, toughness and elusiveness fit perfectly in Johnson's scheme.

Where I think we can see Gibbs make more impact moving forward, and maybe even this week with St. Brown dealing with an injury, is in the passing game. The Lions want to continue to get their rookie running back the ball in space and a few more reps in the slot might be an opportunity to do that.

But when it comes to running the ball, it's going to be Montgomery first and Gibbs in a support/change of pace role, and that's just fine considering the Lions are currently top 10 in the NFL in rushing offense at 136.5 yards per game.

20man: Even someone like me who has been covering football for a long time can learn something new, and that was the case this week talking to Johnson about how teams have tried to take Gibbs out of the passing attack.

Opposing defenses have been more physical with him within the 5-yard window using something Johnson called the Butch Technique that was first made popular by New England's defense. Teams are really trying to be physical with Gibbs and get him off his spot, and it's something Johnson said took them a little off guard starting with the Atlanta game. Johnson said there are certain alignments and play calls he can use to help Gibbs get into space to make plays in the passing game a little easier.

20man: LaPorta is certainly off to a better start to his career than Hockenson had. Among tight ends in the NFL this season LaPorta ranks first in receiving yards (242), first in receiving yards after contact (64), second in YAC (yards after catch) (107), tied for second in receiving first downs (11), third in receptions (22) and third in longest reception (45).

But let's not forget Hockenson has been playing at a high level for years and that's not easy to do at that position. Hockenson was a Pro Bowler in 2020 and 2022. He's still a very good and consistent player in this league.

LaPorta has shown a lot of terrific traits and the Lions really trust him to do everything, which is rare for a rookie playing that position. He's earned Goff's trust. LaPorta has been good, but it's only been four games and I'm not ready to make that proclamation just yet.

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