I got the chance to trade questions with Sean Yuille, the managing editor over at Pride of Detroit. I got to answer some of his questions about the Packers and he took the time to answer some of the questions I had about the Lions right now. You can click this link to see my answers for him. Below you’ll find his answers on where things went wrong for the Lions this year, where he sees their franchise going in the offseason and a couple of the matchup he thinks favors the Lions in Sunday’s game.
1. The Lions started the year as playoff contenders but now look to be out of the hunt. What are the factors that led to the Lions performing below these expectations?
Early on in the season it was simply an issue with being inconsistent. One game the offense wouldn't show up, while the defense would collapse in the next. Also, special teams were a huge issue early in the season. As of late, it has been an inability to finish off games. It started with the first meeting with the Packers. The Lions blew a late lead, and they managed to do that again on Thanksgiving against the Texans and last week against the Colts. In general, the Lions just are not a good team. They haven't been all season, and it seems that at this point they just can't put together a complete game on a regular basis.
Going into the season, I was hoping the Lions would prove they can be perennial playoff contenders and at the same time show that an NFC North title isn't that far out of reach. Given what's happened, I don't think they will be legitimate contenders for an NFC North title anytime soon. I say that for two mains reasons. First, it's clear the talent just isn't there yet in key spots (offensive line and secondary being the biggest areas of concern). Second, I don't have faith in Jim Schwartz's ability to turn the Lions into a team that can compete for a division title. I think he was the right man to turn them around from 0-16, but I'm starting to think somebody else is needed to take them to the next level.
Unless it dramatically goes up at some point in the near future, the cap is always going to be an issue for the Lions as long as Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh are all around. The reality of the situation for the Lions is that they picked a bad time to be awful. The old CBA did no favors to teams with high draft picks, and the Lions are feeling the effects of that now. Johnson just got a new deal this past offseason, and Stafford and Suh are due for a new contract in the next year or two. It's already tough to pay all of them and leave a ton of room for the rest of the roster.All that said, the Lions will have more flexibility this upcoming offseason compared to this past offseason simply because most of the defense is set to be a free agent. The downside is obviously that the Lions will need to re-sign a lot of guys and probably will lose a few in the process, but the upside is that the flexibility to change things up will be there. That's something they could have used last offseason when they essentially made no upgrades.If the Lions desire additional cap room, guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson likely will be candidates to be released. That doesn't mean the Lions will release them considering they are viewed as two of the biggest leaders on the roster, but their contracts make them the top cap casualty candidates.
I think the play has actually been a lot better since Titus Young was told to go home. The offense certainly looked smoother with Ryan Broyles getting more playing time, but he tore his ACL last Sunday and is now out for the season. While it's disappointing that it came to this with Young, the Lions are better off without his bad attitude. Their biggest issue now is closing out opponents. The offense hasn't been able to pick up a key first down, just as the defense hasn't been able to get a key stop on third or fourth down. The Lions just need to focus on putting games away when they hold a lead in the fourth quarter.
I'd have to say the most favorable matchup for the Lions right now is Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley going up against the Packers' offensive line. Not only is Green Bay dealing with injuries on the O-line, but Suh and Fairley have played their best football all season in the last couple games. If they can keep it going, Aaron Rodgers will be running for his life on Sunday.At the same time, my biggest fear is that Rodgers will make the Lions pay even if he is pressured. He's very good at improvising and extending plays, and I don't have much faith in the Lions' secondary. Louis Delmas' inability to stay healthy has resulted in him missing parts of games, and the safety position doesn't have much talent behind him. What's more, the Lions' cornerbacks not named Chris Houston have struggled quite a bit lately, so that's also a source of concern. I could see Rodgers going off for a big game on Sunday.
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