One of the NFL’s best running backs struggling to produce in his second year.
One of the league’s worst run defense units knowing they have to overcommit to keep the run bottled up so that they can deal with one of the league’s worst passing offenses.
Something’s got to give between the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions in Week 6.
To see what might give on their side, I linked up with Chris Lemieux from Pride Of Detroit, the SB Nation community for Detroit Lions fans.
Let's get the painful stuff out of the way first. What in the world is going on with the defense? Right now, Football Outsiders has them ranked last in the league in DVOA and DAVE. Do they look like a 32nd-ranked defense or are things not THAT bad?
Gut instinct flies right up through the esophagus to scream "Yeah it's pretty damn bad!"
That said, there was certainly signs of the bleeding being slowed, not stopped, against the Eagles. The Lions got their first turnovers on the season thanks to Darius Slay, who is still Darius Slay and an excellent cornerback. The Lions, for once, made stops in the red zone. Great. Fantastic. Cool.
The core issues are still big and still bad and still ulcer-inducing. This defense struggles against any tight end with a pulse. It struggles to make any sort of pressure on the quarterback. The only thing it seems to do semi-decently is stop the run and even it's usually not enough to stop first downs. It's in a bad shape, Jim.
Also, Haloti Ngata might be out now. The flip side is that his absence might mean more time for rookie A'Shawn Robinson, who I love because he's a physical freak, and there may be an outside chance Ezekiel Ansah plays this week. Hope, and Honolulu blue kool-aid, springs eternal in the human mind.
Offensively, what's the identity or general gameplan? What's the big hole on offense that needs to be addressed?
Before the Chicago game, I told the folks at Windy City Gridiron that the ideal version of the Lions game plan was the Colts game: dump on points and hold on for dear life, and/or trust Matthew Stafford to make a death-defying drive to retake the lead late. The Lions went out against the Bears a couple days later and scored exactly zero offensive touchdowns. I mean, on a basic level I still hold to that premise, but in execution it's touch and go.
This offense, when it gets creative and fast (such as running Golden Tate out of the backfield, having Corey Robinson blocking as a tight end and running hurry-up no-huddle) can certainly confuse and overwhelm the enemy defense, but I get the sense that they just don't have enough tricks up their sleeves to keep that going for a full game, or they don't trust their personnel to keep pulling off the tricks against their opponent.
And when that fails, and when Stafford can't find Marvin Jones or pick up enough consecutive successful plays from Riddick or Anquan Boldin to take third downs and convert them, the whole thing just sputters and falls apart. There's no run game to really speak of without Ameer Abdullah; Theo Riddick runs it now and then to keep defenses honest but this is a team that will and should always be passing the majority of the time. I just don't know what the answer for the ground game is going to be.
That identity is also being plagued by injuries, and if Theo Riddick doesn't play on Sunday, that would be the second most important playmaker the Lions have sitting out. It's no good, Jim.
Yall have eight players on IR. How close are you guys to an injury crisis or are you already in one?
Of the players on IR, the biggest one is Ameer Abdullah. That's the Lions run game right there and it's why this team's identity will remain sunk into the pass for the foreseeable future.
Josh Bynes and Jon Bostic on IR are critical in that it's two pieces to a linebacker corp that is floundering and without any depth whatsoever. But other than that, there's not a lot of guys on IR that I pine for. In fact, the Lions have been releasing a lot of players from IR and entering into injury settlements, such as with defensive end Wallace Gilberry. New general manager Bob Quinn is kind of using this season to play around with the bottom of the roster, and he's also opening up situations like Gilberry's where he can try to bring back the player after the settlement plus three weeks.
The main injuries, and the reason this actually is a panicked crisis, are not on IR right now. Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah have been on the sidelines, and now this past week tight end Eric Ebron joined them. Now this week, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington and Haloti Ngata have a good chance to join them unless their injuries improve here soon. All these guys except for Dwayne Washington are star players, key components to the defense and offense. Depth on the roster is akin to the kiddie pool at a country club, so their absences are murderous.
How has the 2016 rookie class performed? Any surprises?
Dwayne Washington in the seventh round has turned into a somewhat pleasant surprise, being able to play special teams and step up in the running back group for short yardage following Abdullah's injuries. He's nowhere near breakout but he'll be serviceable for the season.
The top of the class is about what I'd expect. Taylor Decker is starting on the offensive line and looking more comfortable by the week. A lot of his early mistakes, getting beat around the edge and all, are slowly fading away as he acclimates to the league. A'Shawn Robinson will probably see more time at defensive tackle with Haloti Ngata out. Robinson is a grown ass man and a very big boy, and that very big boy likes to push other boys around. He's good at it too.
Year 3 of the Jim Caldwell era. What was the demand going into the season after playoffs in Year 1 and missing out in Year 2? Is Caldwell on the hot seat if you guys miss out this year or do the injuries and other personnel issues give him some stretch into next year at a minimum regardless of performance?
This is one of the questions more fervently debated among the fanbase, by which I mean it's usually a call for blood 24/7. Rest assured, if the Lions lose this game we will have a flood of questions into our Twitter mailbag and Facebook Q&A: "When do you think Caldwell should be fired?" "Do you fire Caldwell now?" "Caldwell sucks throw the bums out get Matt Patricia." "What do you think about head coach Josh McDaniels?" "This team has no HEART fire the coaches." Not all of them are in the form of a question but facts don't matter.
The failure of the first half of 2015 was so harsh that I don't think anyone can look back with clarity and decide what the expectations were for Caldwell before that nightmare. That said, the demands of 2016 seemed clear to most fans: make the playoffs or go home. I don't know if it's that simple though.
The fact of the matter is that Caldwell isn't Bob Quinn's coach. New general managers always like to get their own guys, but keeping Caldwell on was a good way to keep the players happy and to buy Quinn an extra year for whatever cockamamie plans he's cooking up at Allen Park. It's hard to talk about hot seat because quite honestly I don't see many scenarios outside of "suddenly belting out 10 wins and taking a wild card" where Caldwell keeps his job. The injuries probably don't factor in at all here. Hell, making the playoffs might not even be enough. For Quinn, maybe the results won't matter if he's got someone else lined up.
That probably suits the fans just fine, as most of them never seemed to like the Caldwell hire to begin with and many are impatient with Lions coaches as a matter of life. That said, Caldwell has made great strides on improving Matthew Stafford's game, and most reports indicate that the locker room loves Caldwell (this is the part where someone jumps out and bellows "well if they love playing for him they're certainly not playing hard enough to prove it!" and I take a gardening spade to their forehead).
Thanks to Chris for the time.