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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Will offense show improvement?

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: The Lions currently rank 29th in overall offense (288.2), 23rd in passing (200.6) and 26th (87.6) running the football. With statistics like that, there's a lot of blame to go around.

Ultimately, it's Jim Bob Cooter's job to figure it out and get it corrected.

Beyond that, I've always said that the two most important components in any successful offense are the play of the quarterback and the play of the offensive line. In Detroit's case, the offensive line has let down the quarterback, especially the last two weeks.

A good statistic to measure offensive line play when it comes to protection is STATS, INC.'s Protection Index, which measures the performance of a team's offensive line by the length of a team's pass attempts combined with penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

Detroit currently ranks 29th out of 32 teams in that index. Detroit's 18 sacks allowed are fourth most in NFL. Stafford's been hurried 42 times, sixth most. In the 0-100 scale, the Lions have a Protection Index of 35.4. New Orleans leads the NFL with a 79.9. If an offense doesn't play well upfront, it has zero to little chance of being successful.

If the Lions get Taylor Decker back at left tackle, or they start playing more consistent upfront with the guys they currently have, sure, the offense can begin to play better. But it all starts upfront, in my opinion.

20man: Lang and Wagner haven't been the problem, for the most part. Wagner struggled some against Danielle Hunter (two sacks) in the Vikings game, but that's a tough assignment. That's really been his only hiccup. He's currently the fourth-highest graded right tackle by Pro Football Focus.

Lang hasn't surrendered a sack yet this season. He's the third-highest graded guard by PFF.

Let's not forget that both Lang (back) and Wagner (shoulder) have been playing through injuries as well.

The inconsistency upfront for Detroit has really come from center to left tackle.

With center Travis Swanson, it hasn't been so much in the pass game (zero sacks allowed), but there's been some inconsistency in run blocking, which has affected the run game. The same goes for left guard Graham Glasgow.

Glasgow's been put in a tough spot because he's also had to cover for some of the inconsistent play next to him at left tackle. Personally, I think Glasgow's future is at center.

Unfortunately, Greg Robinson has really struggled at left tackle. He's allowed 4.5 sacks in five games, and is graded 70th out of 71 tackles by PFF. Robinson's struggled as both a pass blocker and run blocker.

Jim Caldwell said last week that Decker was still on schedule for a midseason return. He's eligible to start practicing next Monday, and could first play Oct. 29 against Pittsburgh if the doctors clear him and coaches think he's ready. If Decker is at the very least the same player he was a year ago, that could be a big boost upfront.

20man: You have to remember that Fells and Ebron are two very different players. Fells is a terrific blocker at 270 pounds, and has proven over the last few weeks that he can be a very good pass catcher on short and intermediate routes.

Ebron is a more explosive athlete at 253 pounds, and can stretch the field better than Fells. Ebron gives you the threat of the explosive play. They are two different players and have two different roles.

That being said, if the Lions can't trust Ebron to consistently catch the football, then they'll have to continue to give Fells more reps and tailor the offense to more of those shorter and intermediate routes he's good at. Let's also not forget that Fells has played more reps than Ebron in three of Detroit's five games. It's not like he isn't being utilized.

I look at it kind of like what the Lions had a few years ago with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Pettigrew was the blocker and underneath guy. Scheffler pressed down the field.

The Lions would like to have the option of both players being a part of the offense. Obviously, they have to be able to trust both.

20man: Come on, guys! Let's not forget that the other guys get paid too. I put playing cornerback in the NFL right up there with the most difficult things to do in sports.

That was no easy task Slay had against two big, physical receivers last week. Not to mention an MVP quarterback who can stand in the pocket with the best of them and deliver the football.

Slay gave up five catches on six targets for 71 yards and a couple scores last week. Not a great day. Slay would probably say the same thing.

In the four games prior to last week, opponents completed less than 60 percent of their passes throwing Slay's way for an average of 44 yards per game with no touchdowns. Slay also picked off two of those passes and defended four more.

Darius Slay will be just fine.

20man: The quick answer is Theo Riddick steals some of those targets because he's an even better receiver out of the backfield than Abdullah.

I agree with you that Abdullah is very capable in that regard, but Riddick is dynamic. Riddick is a far superior receiver than runner, so Cooter has to find ways to get him the football. The way that puts him in the best chance to succeed is via the pass. Unfortunately for Abdullah, that cuts into his targets.

I do agree with you, however, that 10 targets in five games is too few for Abdullah. Whether it's the screen game or getting him out in the flat or down the sideline on some wheel routes, that's been an underutilized component of Abdullah's game thus far.

20man: It's a little early for make-or-break talk, but I think the next three games tell us a lot about this team.

New Orleans is an NFC team that's playing pretty good football right now. They're also coming off the bye.

Pittsburgh hasn't been playing all that well of late, but it's still Pittsburgh, and they have all those weapons.

On the road against Green Bay Nov. 6 is the big one. Green Bay is the big dog at the top of the perch. Can the Lions knock them down a peg?

If the Lions can go 2-1 over the next three, they're in great shape for the second half of the season at 5-3, in my opinion.

The Lions' eight second half opponents currently have a combined 16-23 record, which includes the 0-5 Browns and 1-4 Bears (twice).

If the Lions are 4-4 at the halfway point, they make things tougher on themselves. It's not make or break, but it's certainly an important three-game stretch, no-doubt.

20man: If Decker can return, I would certainly hope for that to be the case. That is, of course, if the shoulder is properly healed and he can regain the form we saw last year from him.

I believe Decker is a top 10 tackle in this league. If the Lions replace an inconsistent component of their offensive line with a top 10 talent, yeah, they're going to be better upfront and they're going to be a better offense as a whole.

20man: Longer drives? I wouldn't look at it that way. I think Golladay's return could provide them with some big-play opportunities down the field and in the red zone.

We saw Week 1 against Arizona that he can be dynamic down the field. At 6-foot-4, he also gives them a big body in the red zone.

The Lions could have Golladay and running back Dwayne Washington back in the lineup this week in New Orleans. That gives Stafford the full complement of weapons he had the first two weeks of the season, when this offense was playing pretty well and the team got off to a 2-0 start.

20man: First off, Stafford was a full participant in practice Wednesday and is fully expected to start Sunday in New Orleans. Just wanted to put that disclaimer in there first.

If Rudock was pressed into duty, it wouldn't change the offense much at all. Rudock is a smart guy with a good arm, and is a pretty decent athlete. My guess is the offensive play calling would be just about the same.

What can the OL do better to protect Stafford? Can the OL be solely to blame or do the WR/TE need to take some blame for not finding space? — James Hughes (@jameshughes94) October 12, 2017

20man: When an offense is dealing with protection issues, like Detroit currently is, the blame doesn't fall solely on the offensive line. It's a big part of it, obviously, but by no means the sole culprit.

Backs and tight ends have to be better in protection. Receivers have to be better gaining separation earlier in routes. The quarterback has to be better getting the ball out of his hands quicker. All those parts work hand in hand in the protection game.

The truth is, Detroit has to be better in all areas.

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