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Mailbag: Is it possible we are being too pessimistic about the Lions?

We also touch on Jermar Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, Tyrell Williams, and the Lions defensive backs.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It’s time for another edition of the AskPOD Mailbag, where Jeremy Reisman and I answer a handful of your questions about the Detroit Lions.

Let’s get started!

Jeremy: I have a lot of thoughts here. Let me start with the last statement first. The Lions are a play or two away from 2-2 or 3-1. I want to start there, because that’s something Dan Campbell has said a couple of times already this year, and it’s also something we heard Matt Patricia say often. That’s how the NFL works. Change a play here, change a play there, you win the game. Problem is, if the other team changed a play here and there, the Lions could have lost each game by 20 points.

Truth of the matter is that the Lions have fallen behind by three scores in every game but one. Good teams don’t do that. The Lions are not a good team, and they’re every bit worthy of their current 0-4 record.

BUT they’re not 0-17 bad.

Erik: Wholeheartedly agree.

Jeremy: They are hanging in games, and there are positive things this team is doing. They’re currently second in third-down defense, which can go a long way if they ever fix their early down problems (particularly run defense).

They’re also doing some nice things on offense. Their Drive Success Rate—as defined by Football Outsiders as “percentage of time that a team will get a first down or touchdown in a given set of four downs”—on offense ranks them 10th in the NFL, but they aren’t finishing up drives.

So, yeah, if they can clean stuff up, I still think 4-6 wins are very possible. But those issues are also real issues that are not guaranteed to be fixed. Naturally, there’s going to be some overreaction after a loss to a bad team like the Bears. But the only reason I’d budge from my 5-12 prediction now is the poor injury luck thus far.

Erik: Yeah, I’m with you on all of this. Injuries can’t be helped—especially things like Achilles injuries—and they happen to everyone, but the number one thing they need to work on is finishing. As you said, as bad as they’ve looked at times, they’ve still ended up in some close games but their inability to finish has prevented them from adding a one in the win column.

The good thing is, Campbell is incredibly self-aware and he has recognized this as a problem as well.

“We’ve got to learn how win and how to close out some of these drives and we will,” Campbell said on Monday.

But they actually have to do it. I’m not sure I can live through another “dagger time”.

Jeremy: As soon as the Lions are comfortable with him on special teams. A window is certainly open for him to be active soon, as Godwin Igwebuike had his kick returns taken by Corey Ballentine, but Igwebuike is still contributing in every phase of special teams. Duce Staley basically admitted last week that that’s the way he’ll get on the field, and he’s getting there.

“You take a guy out of college that’s not used to playing special teams, and he has to come in here and get used to the speed of the game first, then you throw him in and he has to get used to special teams. It’s a little transition there, so it takes a little time. He’s learning. He’s coming along. We’re happy where he is, but he has to continue to develop.”

Erik: The only other path to the roster is probably if an injury happens to D’Andre Swift (groin) or Jamaal Williams (hip), who ironically are both nursing injuries this week. If either goes down, Jefferson would be the next man up for a spot in the two back rotation.

Did the Bears and Ravens neutralize T.J. Hockenson? Was Goff just not seeing him when he was open as in he wasn’t the first read? A combination of both? And if teams have figured out a way to neutralize him how much of a problem is that for our offense, especially in the red zone? — lionsfan2081

Erik: A bit of both I think.

From a statistical standpoint, he has seen a regression. After catching at least eight passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in each of the first two games, he has only had six receptions for 62 yards and no touchdowns in the last two games combined. Now, he has still been able to be impactful as a blocker and has drawn double teams, which has opened up opportunities for others, but Goff hasn’t always been able to get through his progressions to get to Hockenson either:

As far as teams taking Hockenson away having an impact on the rest of the offense, it’ll come down to a matter of offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn adjusting. Good teams are going to try and take Hockenson away, he is their best offensive player, but Lynn has to be quicker about getting others involved. Two weeks ago Swift stepped up, last week it was the receivers, but each time it was too little too late.

Jeremy: Yeah, I think it was kind of a tale of two different games with Hockenson. Against, the Ravens, they definitely focused on him to take him out of the game plan. The Lions responded well by then turning the focus to Swift.

Last week, I don’t think Hockenson played particularly well, both as a blocker and a route runner. The Bears just absolutely dared the Lions’ receiving corps to beat them in one-on-ones (with just a single-high safety) and for three quarters, no one did. That includes Hockenson.

Of course, Hockenson is now very limited with a knee injury, so it’s possible he was simply not 100 percent last week.

Do you think Nickell Robey-Coleman plays this Sunday? I’m curious who will play in the secondary. Do we have any cap space to bring in any chip-on-their-shoulder replacements with long-term potential? — dansmarmite

Jeremy: Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn basically said that they were going to scale back Bobby Price’s involvement in the defense and that Jerry Jacobs would get more of a chance.

“Both of those guys are going to play,” Glenn said. “Jerry is going to get a little bit more than he’s been getting, but we have to see exactly what we have in these young players. Again, as I said before, the only way you figure that out is just to put them out there. There are going to be some mistakes and we expect that, but we’re going to coach them up and try to get him to operate, as well, as best as we can.”

It may be frustrating to watch from our end, but the Lions are committed to their youth and seeing what they have for the future.

So I don’t see them turning to Robey-Coleman, who mostly serves as a nickelback, anyways. That would mean taking AJ Parker off the field, and I don’t think the Lions are planning on that. They like Parker, and despite some tackling issues, he’s rewarded their faith in them.

Erik: And I don’t see them switching Parker to the outside because he is terrific in the slot and provides a ton of value.

As far as having the cap space to sign a free agent, the Lions are up against things right now with over $33 Million in cap space sitting on injured reserve (the Lions have 12 players on IR) and nearly $55 Million more in dead cap, leaving them with under $4 Million to play with at the moment. That’s why you’re seeing them sign players off practice squads instead of free agents with names most fans would recognize.

Erik: It’s always draft season in the NFL. If you’re looking for your draft fix, be sure to check in with my 2022 NFL Draft watch articles that drop every Saturday.

Jeremy: The second the clock hits 0:00 after Week 18. Football is only here four months of the year. Cherish it. Plus most of the draft talk is a waste when team needs aren’t settled until after free agency in March. Plus, there’s a ton of draft data we don’t get until halfway through the offseason (Senior Bowl, NFL Combine). But, hey, y’all want to get into it earlier than that, that’s why Erik is here. Personally, I cannot stomach draft talk before February at the earliest.

Erik: Thanks, Debbie.

Jeremy: Aaaaaaaaaaanyways.

No timetable on Tyrell Williams’ concussion. Those things can be hard to predict, but he is eligible to come off of injured reserve after Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. However, if the Lions decided after nearly 10 days from the hit he suffered in Week 1 that Williams needed at least three more weeks, you have to imagine this is a pretty serious brain injury. I’m not going to make any predictions here, but this is clearly a very serious injury.

With the loss of Romeo Okwara for this year and potentially at least some of next year does the drafting of an edge rusher become our top priority in the draft? If not, what position should we be looking at for our top 10 pick? — Kdog060

Erik: I think EDGE was always going to be in the conversation because of its positional value and Trey Flowers contract, but like Jeremy said in the response above, it’s too early to try and hone in on specific positions this early because a lot can change in the offseason between now and the draft.

My strategy this time of year is to just try and familiarize myself with as many good players as possible. It cuts down the workload later, and even if you scout a top player at a position that gets filled in free agency, it’s good to know a player's value because of trade possibilities—especially if the Lions are sitting in the top-10.

That being said, if you want to get some early work in on this year's potential EDGE class, make some time for Kayvon Thibodeaux (Junior, Oregon), Aidan Hutchinson (Senior, Michigan), Drake Jackson (Junior, USC), George Karlaftis (Junior, Purdue), Zach Harrison (Junior, Ohio State), and Adam Anderson (Senior, Georgia) who are all potential first or early second-rounders.

Jeremy: I don’t think there’s a single edge rusher on the roster I can say for certain will be on the team in 2023. So, yeah, that’s a potential huge need. And if the quarterback class continues to underwhelm, I’m all for taking one with the Lions’ first pick.

Erik: I knew I could get you to talk about the draft.

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