Detroit Lions mailbag: How soon is it reasonable to expect a win in the playoffs?

Detroit Free Press

Let’s hop right into our mailbag this week, where most of your questions revolve around Jared Goff, the quarterback position and what to expect from the Detroit Lions in 2023.

When the 2023 season commences, Brad Holmes will have had 6 MAJOR ‘swings at the plate’ (3 drafts/3 FA signing periods) to build this team back after gutting it to the studs. Is it fair to say a North Division championship has to be the expectation? A playoff win @gjbarbieri

A 4-7 record isn’t pretty, but the Lions have taken a step forward in their second season under Holmes and Dan Campbell and appear to be on track in their rebuild. At some point, they need to win games to keep the good vibes going, and I’m OK with saying that should be next year.

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I don’t envision the Lions as Super Bowl contenders in 2023, but looking at the NFC North and projecting the rest of the conference, there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs. Their young defense will have another year to mature, their offensive line should return mostly intact and they have two more high draft picks to add talent to their roster.

In the division, the Green Bay Packers are on the decline and Aaron Rodgers’ future is up in the air, the Chicago Bears have one of the worst rosters in the league, though they do have a promising young quarterback in Justin Fields, and the Minnesota Vikings are playoff-bound but hardly a budding superpower. Barring major roster turnover, the Vikings will enter next season as the NFC North favorites, while the Lions, with a few important additions, should be a popular wild card pick.

No one should fully expect the Lions to reap the benefits of the three “swings” GJ mentioned. Draft classes take multiple years to develop, and if the Lions go out and draft a rookie quarterback to start, they could very well take a step back next season.

But three years is an eternity in the NFL. Heck. The Philadelphia Eagles went from Super Bowl champs in 2017, to a four-win team in 2020, and are back atop the conference again. The expectation should be for the Lions to make the playoffs in 2023.

If Lamar Jackson and Derek Carr end up on the market this offseason, what are you thoughts about the Lions targeting one of these guys over drafting a QB? @michaeltdunn

Count me out on Jackson or Carr this offseason. First, I don’t think Jackson hits unrestricted free agency. The Baltimore Ravens can use the franchise tag to keep him around, and that’s probably the best move for the franchise. Second, while both players would represent an upgrade at the quarterback position, I don’t think either is the play to get the Lions to the Super Bowl. Jackson would cost a ton of (guaranteed) money and send this rebuild down a totally different path, while Carr isn’t enough of a difference maker.

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Goff still has two years on his contract and there’s a good chance he’s back in 2023, but I still like the thought of the Lions drafting a young quarterback. I’ve been pretty clear in my belief that I think there’s a limit to how far Goff can take this team. Beyond that, there are benefits to building with a young quarterback on a rookie contract.

Jackson is a phenomenal player and Carr has done some good things in his career, but if I’m making a change at the most important position in football I’m swinging for the fence with someone young.

Jared Goff is the most confounding player for me on the roster. I’m ready to blame him for the pandemic, cold sores, and imagine dragons. But while he’s no Josh Allen or Pat Mahomes, neither is Stafford. Goff has frequently delivered this year in very high pressure situations. Was Stafford ever better, as a Lion, in big games against a legit Super Bowl favorite than Goff was last week? My memory says no. How many big games did Stafford win with a significantly more mature roster? Michael Kibler, via email

I would quibble with Michael’s assertion that Goff has delivered in very high pressure situations this season. In fact, that’s been one of my biggest critiques of his play. The Lions have put the ball in Goff’s hands in late-game situations against the Bills and Miami Dolphins in the past month and he missed throws both times.

Stafford did not beat many Super Bowl contenders in his 12 seasons as a Lion. He went 0-3 in the playoffs and came up short in a couple Week 17 games with the division on the line. He did beat the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in 2018, though, plus conference finalists the 13-win Minnesota Vikings 2017 and 12-win Packers in 2014, and I don’t think there’s much debating his clutch gene.

According to Pro Football Reference, Stafford has led 42 game-winning drives and 34 fourth quarter comebacks in 191 career games. That does not include the playoffs, when he did it to help the Rams win the Super Bowl last year. Goff has 11 game-winning drives and nine fourth quarter comebacks in about half as many games (94).

That’s not the fairest comparison. Goff played for some good Los Angeles Rams teams where he wasn’t behind a whole lot early in his career. But I’d give Stafford the edge in “big game” play.

The defense seems to have improved. Almost immediately after the firing. What improved? Communication? Jacobs coming back adding some attitude? Something else? @DoubleGatorH8r

This is two straight years that the Lions have gotten significantly better on one side of the ball after an assistant coach change. Last year, the Lions improved offensively after stripping offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn of play-calling duties, and this year the defense has gotten demonstrably better since the firing of Aubrey Pleasant.

I don’t think Pleasant was holding the defense in general or secondary in particular back, but I do think his firing was a wake-up call to players (and coaches) who genuinely liked Pleasant and respected the job he did as coach.

More than Pleasant’s dismissal, I think the Lions’ defensive improvements have come about because of tweaks in scheme and personnel they made during the bye week, the natural growth of several young players and the caliber of opponent they’ve played.

Will the Lions use a late round pick next year to draft a kicker or go free agent/undrafted route? @DetroitStrong55

I am admittedly not up to date on this crop of draft-eligible college kickers beyond knowing that Michigan’s Jake Moody is one of the best. Still, I think the Lions should heavily consider addressing the position in the 2023 draft.

Michael Badgley has kicked well in his six games as a Lion, making 7 of 8 field goals and all 14 of his extra points. Badgley did miss a 29-yard field goal wide left on Thanksgiving, though, and the Lions kicking woes have run deep the past two years.

Historically, the best kickers have come off the board in Round 5, though last year’s top kicker, Cade York, was a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns. The Lions do not have fourth- or seventh-round pick in next year’s draft, but I could see them targeting one in targeting one in Rounds 5-6 if they feel that player can be a long-term solution at the position.

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What have you heard about Ford Field’s turf situation? Will they switch type? Somehow grow grass? Seems like having the most dangerous type of playing field would discourage FAs from signing with the team in the future. @TeachingZeus

AI wrote last week about the ongoing turf vs. natural grass debate, and the three different kinds of turf in use in the NFL. For those who aren’t aware, Ford Field uses a type slit-film turf that has come under fire from the NFL Players Association for what it says is a higher injury rate than other kinds of turf in use across the league.

The NFL has fought back saying those concerns are exaggerated, that the difference in injury rates is minor — two to three more per year — and that slit-film turf sees a lower rate of high-burden ACL injuries compared to other synthetic fields.

I can tell you that Ford Field, one of five NFL stadiums that currently use slit-film turf, is scheduled to get a new synthetic field in 2024 or 2025. By then, there will be more data points to analyze the injury rates on various types of turf, and the Lions — whose players play more games on their turf than anyone, and are thus incentivized to keep their players as healthy as possible — will use that information to guide their decision.

On a personal note, I was amazed at how thin the turf was at Ford Field when I saw it being installed in 2019. Players certainly can make the case for going to all grass fields, but while I’m no botanist, the reality is that would be an incredibly difficult task to grow grass indoors in northern climates. I don’t think that’s realistic anytime soon, and there are no current plans for Ford Field to go that route.

What’s a typical week like in the NFL. From Monday to Sunday? Do they only practice a fee days a week? Meetings? Thanks. — @MNITRKN1

For a Sunday game week, teams typically have meetings and walk-throughs on Monday to wrap up the previous week’s game and make any necessary corrections, players get Tuesday off (though many still come to the building for treatment or to get started on that week’s game plan), then practice Wednesday through Friday, where there’s a specific area of focus each day (base offense and defense; third down; red zone). Saturdays are travel days, with walk-throughs in the mornings and meetings at night. And Sundays are gamedays.

There are meetings and walk-throughs every day there’s practice, and for a short week like last week, those meetings and walk-throughs replace practice to save the wear and tear on players’ bodies. And for coaches, there aren’t many off hours, let alone days, until late in the week on a Thursday or Friday night. Both Campbell and Aaron Glenn have said previously they start planning for the Lions’ next game within hours after their Sunday game ends, even going straight to the practice facility after road games.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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