On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers square off with the Detroit Lions for the NFC North title. Chris Lemieux of Pride of Detroit was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Lions and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: The Lions lost three of their first four games, including a 34-27 tilt with the Packers in Week 3. Since that early stretch, Detroit has only lost three more. What changed for the team since its early struggles?
The Lions win streak is a point of some serious contention, but I think at that point the Lions kind of understood what personnel they had and how to use it. I think the offensive line started to gel a little better the defense got off its shaky start and was able to bend WITHOUT breaking all the time, which was a vast improvement. I think it also had a bit of a cumulative effect; you play a few games close and you start to put a premium on not making mistakes, which helps translates into precision in late-game heroics. What starts as a frantic comeback against the Eagles ended up becoming fairly routine stuff for the Lions.
They've certainly had their fair share of breaks go their way in many of those games, but they've always been able to rely on Matthew Stafford to keep things close. Hot starts from the offense could put the Lions in a position to milk the clock, get games going quickly, which means it's not likely to have multiple possessions that could see large leads open up.
I wish I could point to something more concrete and less rambling in nature, but this season has been a giant black box. I don't know how the Lions do what they do a lot of the time. This season has been unpredictable and crazy and I'm not sure I have the nerves to confront a final game, or even the possibility of this kind of crap in the playoffs. And when the season is over, whenever, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. I'm just shot from nine victories that have all seemingly come with complimentary cardiac arrests.
APC: Matthew Stafford has put forward arguably the best season of his career, earning him inclusion in the league MVP discussion. However, he has thrown just one touchdown pass over his last three games while tossing four interceptions. Is his injured middle finger solely to blame for his recent downturn, or are other factors at play?
There was, at the start of the Giants game and during the Bears game when he sustained the injury initially, where I thought the finger would be a problem. However, he's been showing to still have the same zip as always on the ball, so I'm not overly worried about the hand itself. Nevertheless, he was throwing into some awfully tight windows in the past.
I think if anything a lot of the struggles have been coming from pressure, which can be attributed to the offensive line missing its starting center in Travis Swanson. With Swanson out, Graham Glasgow has moved over from guard, and that's where the hole has been. Stafford's seeing a lot more pressure, he's getting forced out of the pocket more often and usually ends up making a couple of frenzied mistakes because he's trying to do a bit much then.
APC: Lions coordinators Jim Bob Cooter and Teryl Austin have heard their names surface as possible head-coaching candidates. What are their strengths and weaknesses as coaches, and which one, if any, do you see landing a headman gig this offseason?
I'd steer folks away from either as head coaching candidates, honestly. Not just saying that because I like 'em or whatever the hell.
Teryl Austin has been up and down with his defensive scheming. A lot of his previous reputation was built upon the defense that was in place when Detroit had big pieces like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and it's safe to say that there hasn't really been players of that caliber in the past couple of seasons, and as a result the defense hasn't exactly played as well compared to previous seasons. I'd hope a defensive coordinator to scheme around and raise up personnel, but I guess you can't break an omelette without eggs and messing up a colloquialism or two. Maybe he'd do alright as a head coach, but I'd argue you want a head coach because he'd make a good manager of the team and coordinators, not because his schemes work well sometimes, when he's got good dudes or whatever.
Jim Bob Cooter is green as Ireland. He's in his 30s and he's only been in the league since 2009, and four of those seasons he's spent as an assistant. Just look up his resume. I know he's getting a lot of press and everyone is losing their mind over the Cooter offense, but I think they're just doing that because they're little sods who like having a private giggle each time they print those words out. There's just not enough experience to think he could run a professional football team right now. Maybe a lower college program, like a FCS school or a some team in the Mountain West Conference; maybe UMass-Amherst or New Mexico State or the Hartford Mummers Finishing School. You know, a place no one will miss if it sinks into the earth. But he's got no experience to go big time right now.
APC: If charged with game planning against the Lions, how would you attack their offense? Their defense?
Attacking the offense: Pressure Matthew Stafford, remove Golden Tate, cover the slot, install a dictatorship of the proletariat. Also, don't let Zach Zenner beat you, because that's really embarrassing, ya'll. But the proletarian dictatorship is vastly important. Maybe not to beating the Lions, but just on a macro level. For humanity's sake.
Attacking the defense: Just ask Aaron Rodgers what he wants to do, I guess. See if he wants dinner, go pick him up something while he works on it. He looks like the sort of guy who just enjoys Applebee's, or maybe Longhorn. Nothing particular there, just, y'know, he goes in there and talks about how clean it is, how swell it is these nice franchise restaurants are just wherever you go, the bathrooms are clean, the menus are all easy to read. This steak tastes so good, and this is certainly not an overly sugary drink. Just swell.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team do you expect to win the NFC North on Sunday, and why?
I desperately, desperately desire these two teams to just take knees for the entire 90 minutes just to see what would happen. Hell, don't even kneel it down if that would make the league pissed, just dial up awful running plays that go nowhere. Play for the tie. 0-0 OT and watch everyone lose their goddamn minds. Bob Costas' head probably explodes.
If you think about it, there's a 50% chance of anything happening.
We'd like to thank Chris and Pride of Detroit for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Lions. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packers vs. Lions.