Detroit Lions mailbag: Assessing Week 1, game-day routine and early overreactions

Detroit News

Welcome back to another Detroit Lions mailbag. Let’s see what’s on your minds this week.

► Question: What would you say Jared Goff needs to do this season in order for the Lions to commit to him past this year? — @PassTheRock88

► Answer: Let’s be clear — my opinion on the matter doesn’t matter. It’s ultimately going to come down to whether general manager Brad Holmes, coach Dan Campbell and, to a lesser extent, coordinator Ben Johnson believe.

Now, the fact the Lions restructured Taylor Decker’s contract instead of Goff’s when some cap space needed to be freed up leads me to believe the team wants to leave its options open next offseason. As it currently stands, the quarterback’s 2023 cap hit is scheduled to be $30.65 million, but Detroit is only on the hook for $10 million in dead money tied to a previous contract restructure, completed shortly after he was acquired via trade.

As for what I think he needs to accomplish this season, it starts with being better than he was in the opener. Now, you might read that sentence and say, “That’s preposterous! He led the offense to 35 points on Sunday.”  Well, you’d be correct about the second part, but there were a lot of shaky moments within that 60 minutes. Not only did he force a brutal interception under pressure — which the Eagles returned for a touchdown — but he also had two other interceptable throws and overall accuracy issues, both outside the numbers and more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Now, let’s be clear, there are 16 games left to better that performance, and I have every reason to believe he will. So what’s my personal opinion on the threshold for being declared the guy through another contract extension?

How about improved accuracy, a sharp decrease in mistakes, and — most critically — a steady stream of wins? I don’t think you slap specific statistical thresholds on a player; it’s just one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it scenarios.

But if Goff finishes the season with a passer rating around 100.0, similar to what he posted during his two Pro Bowl seasons in Los Angles, and he leads the Lions to eight victories — a 167% improvement from his first year with the franchise — an extension could easily be justified.

► Q: The Lions are starting the season 29th on the run-stop win rate. How much of that was a single mobile QB and how much of that was gap accountability? — @KarlAlden

► A: For those wondering, run-stop win rate is an ESPN metric. It’s described as such:

“A defender can earn a win by doing any of the following: beating his blocker so he’s in better position to stop the runner; disrupting the pocket or running lane by pushing his blocker backwards; containing the runner such that he must adjust his running lane; or recording a tackle within three yards of the line of scrimmage. If a defender earns a run stop win, his blocker earns a loss, and vice versa.”

It’s determined using NFL’s Next Gen tracking data, and while it’s not perfect, it provides a decent baseline for understanding team and individual player success.

So yeah, it’s not great the Lions were 29th in the league with a 25% win rate in Week 1, but your eyes could have easily confirmed the defense had its share of struggles bottling up the Eagles. You don’t run for more than 200 yards against an effective defense.

Also, for some added context, the Lions weren’t much better the year before, finishing tied for 22nd.

Obviously, Jalen Hurts was a big source of Detroit’s problems in Week 1. His mobility caused many of those gap breakdowns you’re referencing, even on plays he didn’t carry the ball. To know whether it will continue to be an issue is difficult to project, since we haven’t seen these players, in this scheme, try to stop anyone other than the Eagles.

This week’s opponent, Washington, averaged just 3.0 yards per carry in their opener, but a respectable 4.3 yards last season. They’ll provide a better barometer on where Detroit’s run defense (and pass rush) is.

► Q: How big of a setback would it be if the Lions can’t beat a mediocre Washington team at home? — @AaronOneSeven

► A: You never want to overreact to a single game, but given the positive momentum this team has with its fan base following the behind-the-curtains look provided by HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” it would be understandably disheartening to witness another 0-2 start to a season, particularly with both of those losses coming at home.

Vegas is pretty sharp and there’s a reason the Lions are favored in this contest. Washington doesn’t present the same threat on offense with Carson Wentz, a pocket passer prone to mistakes. And they’ll be down one of their most talented defensive players, with Chase Young on injured reserve.

A loss wouldn’t and shouldn’t do much to alter the franchise’s long-term vision under Holmes and Campbell, but it would certainly be enough to frustrate a passionate fan base eager for some immediate gratification.

► Q: What’s your game-day routine for home games? Are you there before and/or after the players? — @Tim1213

► A: Finally, a question about me. Now we’re really catering to a niche audience.

Typically, on a game day, I arrive at the stadium around three hours before kickoff. It’s a little earlier than most, but I like to watch what’s happening in the earliest warmups because you get hints as to which injured players will be playing, who will be a healthy scratch and even an idea on starting lineups or formations.

During the game, I have a lot going on, arguably too much. I have a specific set of things open in my web browser. That list includes my game story file, an updated play-by-play list, live game stats, the broadcast via YouTube TV — so I can occasionally confirm what I thought happened seeing the play live — and Twitter. That last one allows me to provide some real-time thoughts and observations to fans, while also backstopping some of the things I might be missing via the game commentary on either the TV broadcast or local radio.

I try to file a game story within 30 seconds of the final whistle, so I’m writing and editing between every stoppage throughout the second half. If things go well, we’re hitting publish as the clock hits zero. I then go to the basement of the stadium to do interviews. That process takes about an hour, followed by 2-4 hours of writing and shooting/editing a recap video after returning to the press box.

I often cap my night by watching the game one more time at home, through the lens of added information from the day’s interviews, setting me up for Monday’s work obligations.

► Q: Am I the only fan who’s not at all discouraged by Sunday?  — @BlattyLovesYou

► A: Any sentence that starts with “Am the only fan…” almost always nets an emphatic “No” and this is no exception.

As with most Lions-related issues, there are two vocal camps. One side views everything through the negative, and, if we’re being reasonable, who can blame them? Being a fan of this franchise for any length of time is pain.

The other group does everything they can to be optimistic, because hope is more fun than misery, even if it spits in the face of reality. That’s not to suggest this is the case here. I think your view is reasonable, given how low expectations were for most people entering the matchup.

I guess my advice to you would be to enjoy the team how you want to enjoy them. If you revel in the “Same-Old-Lions” schtick, who am I to tell you to stop viewing games that way? And if you’re in the group thinking this will finally be the year, I’m not here to maliciously squash that hope. I’ll just keep doing the best I can to tell it like it is and let each group interpret it the way they see fit.

► Q: Do you think having really good blocking wide receivers makes it more difficult on defenses because they have to respect the run even in 3/4 receiver sets?  — @WhatSymondsSays

► A: That’s part of it, but it’s also the idea a defensive back knows they’re not going to get any plays off. How many times do you watch a game and see a receiver and cornerback lightly jogging on the outside on run plays, both content to take it easy on a snap?

That’s rarely going to happen in Detroit, where Amon-Ra St. Brown and company are on the hunt to deliver a hit and spring the running back. It’s an endearing quality that fits the blue-collar mentality this franchise is trying to project.

► Q: What are the Lions doing for LB and CB depth? — @nerdsy1

► A: Well, they’re not likely to seek in-season upgrades at either position. Outside of injury, they’re going to roll with the group they have, which includes a couple of options on the practice squad.

At linebacker, Alex Anzalone will continue to be on the field most snaps as the primary communicator with the sidelines. The other reps are being rotated between three guys: Malcolm Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes and Chris Board. And if necessitated by injuries, special-teams standouts Josh Woods and practice-squad standout Anthony Pittman are waiting in the wings.

At cornerback, the depth isn’t as comforting. Will Harris is the first guy off the bench, which showed up in the season opener. And if I were to guess, he’d probably be the go-to option to fill in at nickelback if something were to happen to starter Mike Hughes. Detroit’s other depth options are Bobby Price on the outside and rookie Chase Lucas in the slot.

Eventually, Jerry Jacobs will return. He was an outside corner as a rookie, but I’ve been told the team will take a look at him as a nickel when he’s medically cleared following last season’s ACL tear.

► Q: When are on-field results gonna factor into Aaron Glenn’s performance evaluation? — @DaleDisill

► A: No one gets a free pass for long in the NFL, but let’s not pretend Glenn didn’t inherit the worst defense in franchise history and make notable improvements, particularly in the second half of last season. And remember, that was without two players expected to be among the unit’s most important: Jeff Okudah and Romeo Okwara.

This year, Glenn is in the process of trying to implement schematic shifts without much investment in the personnel beyond No. 2 pick Aidan Hutchinson. Now, that’s a big get, no question about it, but you would have liked to see Detroit do more in the offseason to build up the unit.

The results last Sunday were unacceptable. I’m not saying anything he wouldn’t. It has to get better, and better quickly. That said, no one should be making declarative statements about anything after a single game. Let’s check back at the midpoint of the season to see where Detroit’s defense is heading, particularly when we saw the strides made as the season progressed a year ago.

► Q: Is it time to put Jeff Okudah on the opposing team’s #1 WR as much as possible especially with Justin Jefferson coming up week 3? — @fejbquick

► A: That strikes me as way, way premature. Okudah had some promising moments in his first game back from last year’s Achilles tear, but Amani Oruwariye has held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage under 60% each of the past two seasons, while coming away with six interceptions in 2021. And even with that resume, he’s not being asked to shadow an opposing receiver.

Let’s see Okudah do more than have one above-average game before we discuss building a defensive game plan around him. For now, the Lions will likely stick with playing their cornerbacks on specific sides, as opposed to covering specific assignments.

► Q: Please explain how even better this offense can be once Jamo (Jameson Williams) plays? If Chark has a good year do you think he re-signs due to great culture and potential of the offense? — @DirtyJerzFinest

► A: Honestly, it’s tough to know how much to expect out of Williams, once he gets medically cleared. Depending on the rhythm of the offense at that point in the year, and how conservative Detroit wants to be with his re-introduction to playing time, he might only end up seeing a small workload and finish with fewer than 20 receptions his rookie year.

What we know is he’s a legitimate field-stretching vertical threat, but also capable of having a similar impact working underneath, using his rare speed to get quick separation, turn upfield and do big damage after the catch.

It’ll be exciting to see what he can do in 2023 and beyond, when he has no restrictions.

As for Chark, it’s complicated. If he plays well, he’ll earn a big payday. You’ve seen the going rate for even moderately productive receivers on the open market. But if he struggles, or suffers another serious injury, the team probably wouldn’t want him back, even at a discount.

There’s a lot of time for this to sort itself out, but it’s always felt like this was designed to be a mutually beneficial pitstop in Chark’s career.

► Q: Is Campbell’s clock management aggressive or a problem? — @mdriddlen

► A: It’s probably a little of both. I genuinely believe Campbell has a firm grasp on what the non-existent manual tells a coach they should do in nearly every end-of-half scenario, but we all know he isn’t a by-the-book coach. He likes to incorporate his intuition into his decision-making, for better or worse.

Admirably, he never shies away from sharing the reasoning for his thinking after a game. For example, in the opener, he ran a play before the two-minute warning in the opening half because he didn’t want a stoppage in play to disrupt the offense’s momentum. Similarly, the team’s strangely timed onside kick was about keeping the ball in the hands of his red-hot offense.

Both failed and the defense ended up giving 10 points for those mistakes. The worse of the two, in my opinion, was leaving Philadelphia enough time to score at the end of the half. It’s too simplistic to say that was the difference in the game, since the second half wouldn’t have played out exactly the same, but you never want your coach going that much against conventional wisdom, regardless of what his gut is telling them.

But this is who Campbell is, at his core. So get used to unconventional decisions, which will sometimes work and sometimes fail. He’ll likely always provide honest answers for his blunders and you’ll just have to hope the gaps between them become increasingly larger as the roster’s talent gets better.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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