With the Bears' matchup against the Lions taking some league-wide precedence this week, highlighted on the Monday night matchup after two intense games last season, we turned to Pride of Detroit's headman Sean Yuille for some information on the Lions. You can also find our answers to his questions over there. Thanks, Sean!
1) Calvin Johnson's on pace for career highs in receptions and yards, but so far has only one touchdown this year. Teams have certainly tried to cut down on his big-play ability, but is another part of it due to Matthew Stafford trying to get other weapons involved more in the red zone, or are other teams just approaching Johnson differently in the red zone?
It's a combination of opponents keying in on Calvin Johnson in the red zone and the Lions just really struggling once they get near the goal line. Far too often they have to settle for field goals instead of getting six points. The offense just breaks down once inside the red zone. They can't sustain drives, partly because Matthew Stafford hasn't been very accurate at times this season. The other issue is that defenses are forcing someone other than Johnson to beat them, and so far it's worked. Teams are putting two guys on Johnson any time the Lions get near the end zone almost like they're blocking on a punt. It's been tough for him to get open, and even when he has, the coverage on him has been quite good. Stafford still hasn't thrown a touchdown to Johnson this season (Megatron's one TD came from Shaun Hill), and that has to change if the Lions want to get it together in the red zone.
2) Tell us a bit about the changes in the Lions' secondary, with the return of Louis Delmas and the injuries to Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley. How does the presence of Brandon Marshall change the way the Lions' defense has to approach the Bears' offense?
Before bringing back Alphonso Smith this week, the Lions only had one cornerback who was on the roster last season (Chris Houston). They spent the offseason revamping the secondary by signing Jacob Lacey and Drayton Florence and drafting Bill Bentley and Jonte Green. Unfortunately, Florence is on IR with the designation to return after breaking his arm earlier this season. Lacey is unlikely to play on Monday because of a concussion, and Bentley's status remains up in the air because of a shoulder injury. Getting Louis Delmas back certainly was a big boost to the defense last week, but the prospect of the Lions starting Green or Smith, who has been out of football since the Lions released him at the end of August, frightens me. I'm confident in Houston's ability to take care of Brandon Marshall, but it's going to be tough to shut other guys down based on the lack of depth and talent at cornerback.
3) The defensive line has all of the team's 12 sacks this season, yet it doesn't seem like they're playing at the same level as the last couple years. Are you concerned about them after five games?
I am a bit concerned. The calls of the D-line being overrated didn't seem all that off through the first four games. Last week against Philadelphia, the story was much different. The Lions got back to what made them so great in recent seasons by forcing Michael Vick to run for his life all game. Vick was sacked three times and hit 11 times, and in general he received quite a beating. If the Lions can sustain that, they will be just fine going forward. The problem is I don't know if they can in fact sustain that week in and week out. Ndamukong Suh disappears at times, and the rest of the D-line sort of follows suit. It's key for the Lions, especially against Jay Cutler, to pressure the opposing QB on a consistent basis and take him down when they have the chance.
4) What are your impressions of Mikel Leshoure early on in his career? He missed his entire rookie season and the first two games of this one, but in his limited snaps running the ball, how effective do you think he has been? Where do you see him as most effective in the Lions' scheme going forward?
Mikel Leshoure is a very good runner. He has the elusiveness to make defenders miss, and he also has the power to run right over them. At times the offensive line can make it tough for him to pick up a lot of yards, but the inclusion of Riley Reiff in plays as a sixth offensive lineman has really helped the running game. If the O-line can do its job and open up holes, I have complete faith in Leshoure's ability to pick up yards and wear out opposing defenses. The offensive line definitely will need some upgrades before you can consider the Lions' running game a possible strength, though.
5) On a related question, it's been about a year since Jahvid Best saw football action since his concussion; he started the year on PUP and hasn't yet been cleared to return, and his concussion troubles are well documented. With the current emphasis on concussion awareness and such regulations preventing concussed players from playing, do you think Best's career is at an end?
I'd be shocked if we ever see Jahvid Best play again in the NFL. It's now been more than a year since the last concussion he suffered, yet he hasn't been able to get cleared to play. He says he isn't experiencing any concussion-like symptoms, so I'm of the opinion that his issues are more serious than simply getting headaches. He's had at least a few concussions in his career, including a severe one at Cal. His concussion problems were well known before the Lions drafted him, and in that regard it doesn't look like the gamble to select him has paid off. Just a few years ago Best would have probably been back at it by now, but this is a different era of football. This is unfortunate from a football standpoint, but it's probably best for his future health that he simply calls it a career.