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Lions Week 11 Mailbag: How much of an impact does media have on today’s athlete?

Plus thoughts on coaching communication channels, Anthony Lynn’s job security, revisiting the Jared Goff trade, top players on the roster, and Tracy Walker’s future.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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

Let’s get started!

What’s your take on Taylor Decker’s rant? Do you think PoD writers or fans had any bearing on what he said/felt? How much of an impact do you think modern social media and online articles have on today’s athlete? — Quinny the pooh

Jeremy: As both a fan and a writer, I appreciated his honesty. You don’t get a lot of raw emotions from press conferences these days, as most players are being trained to not make headlines. His statements provided a nice reminder that these players are human, and even some of the physically toughest people in the world are not immune to frustration.

Erik: Well said.

Jeremy: And he has every right to be angry. Even I got angry seeing people question Decker’s toughness. That sort of thing, in my opinion, is out of bounds. You don’t get into the NFL without being a tough son of a bitch. Nothing in Decker’s career suggests he’d be the kind of person to milk an injury, and without a true injury diagnosis, I would never assume anything about his situation. The man had surgery, for christ’s sake.

Erik: And even if he didn’t need surgery, it’s startling how important one finger can be to a person’s daily functions. Not to personalize this too much, but I injured my hand about two months before Decker, didn’t require surgery (I had a cast for six weeks), and I am still limited in a lot of the things do. For example, I had to keep writing, but without the use of my pinky finger I had to relearn how to type without it, and even today (four months removed), I still have the unconscious habit of working without it. I also have swelling and am still doing some daily therapy to get my range of motion back.

My point is, Decker is doing all of this at an accelerated pace, is likely relearning some of his blocking technique, and all while facing off against 270-pound defensive linemen. He’s plenty tough in my book.

I digress, Jeremy get me back on topic, please.

Jeremy: I feel a little differently about the topic of his trade. While I personally thought the idea of trading Decker was ridiculous, I do believe that is well within the bounds of respectful discussion for both fans and the media. Teams regularly trade talented players at the beginning of a rebuild, and while I think that would be a misguided choice for Detroit, it’s in bounds. Decker has every right to be frustrated with that conversation, and I thought he provided a good perspective on how that affected him via his parents, who had to ask him if he may be leaving Detroit.

The other aspect of his rant that I disagree with was his sole focus on the “click-baity” media. Obviously, I’m a little biased being part of the media, but there needs to be a distinction here. Among those questioning his toughness, none were in the written media. I legitimately cannot find a single example of that. The truth is, most of that conversation was started by fans and sports talk, where the lines between the two blur. I understand Decker can’t come out and blame fans, but they absolutely deserve just as much derision for these topics. You could certainly debate whether the media is driving the fan conversation or whether the fans are driving the media conversation there, but the truth almost certainly lies in the middle.

Overall, I would say Decker is well within his right to be frustrated, and I appreciate him sharing his thoughts. At the same time, I hope he understands some of the nuances when it comes to criticizing the “media.”

Erik: One of the unfortunate parts about the world we live in is that social media has blurred the line of “media.” Written articles, radio talking points, podcast topics, and random opinions on Twitter/Facebook are too often grouped together. Ideally, readers/listeners would take the time to learn about the people who are offering their opinions and then decide how much weight to apply to their thoughts. But with the amount of information being put out right now, and the speed at which it is consumed, that is not often the case.

With regards to Decker, the pandemic hasn’t helped this situation either. Typically, Lions beat writers would be in the locker room four times a week throughout the season, establishing relationships and helping players differentiate between the media that covers the team and those who don’t. In this current environment, Decker sees us once every three to four months, for 10 minutes, via a computer screen. Not an ideal situation all around.

Why was there no one in Dan Campbell’s ear on Sunday to remind him to put Godwin Igwebuike back in the game? Should this be of concern about the communication channels and/or leadership of the team? — Hungry Lion

Jeremy: Who’s to say there wasn’t? I’m not going to assume what happened behind the scenes there, but I feel like there’s a little hindsight at play here. Through three quarters, D’Andre Swift had 20 carries for 111 yards (5.55 YPC). He was the hot hand, and the Lions have said several times they want to ride the hot hand.

In the fourth quarter, giving the ball to a converted safety with five career NFL rushing attempts over your best offensive threat who was feeling it represents a pretty big risk. Imagine if Igwebuike fumbles in the fourth quarter and the kind of criticism the coaching staff would then face.

That being said, the Lions probably would’ve been better served to at least give him a carry or two more, and Campbell admitted as much after the game.

Erik: With their first victory within reach, I fully expected things to play out the way they did at running back. Right now, decisions are all trust-based, and as Jeremy pointed out, Swift had the hot hand and is clearly their preferred choice for touches.

Will Campbell make a different decision in the future? Quite possibly, but maybe not. There are plenty of advantages of getting Igwebuike more touches—he could break another big run, Swift could get rest, etc...—but for a first-year coaching staff, with a brand new play-caller, I’m not too worried too much over the decision.

The real test will be, what do they do when they’re in a similar situation in the future and what are those results? Is this staff learning how to get better at their jobs? If the answer is no, then questions around communication and leadership may arise, but for now, this is part of the expected process.

Erik: Anytime an offensive coordinator has his play-calling duties taken away from him is not a good sign. So I do think it’s fair to speculate that a move may be coming in the offseason. It’s important to remember that he is still someone Campbell and several other coaches highly respect, and there is still a role he can play in the organization as a former head coach and offensive mind, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lions are looking for a new OC this winter.

Jeremy: The most difficult part of this topic is to gauge how much everyone is telling the truth when they say this is a collaborative process. This was Anthony Lynn last week before Campbell completely took over play-calling duties.

“He is not lying about the collaboration because he is definitely more involved. He has been involved the whole time anyway. He’s called plays during games, as most offensive head coaches do. When I was in his shoes, I did that a lot.”

And this was Campbell after the game:

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal. There were still things I was giving to A. Lynn when he was calling. It’s just now I took the green dot basically to Goff so I could communicate to him. So I’ll still grab some calls from them. I’ll use my own calls. It was a joint effort by all those guys.”

Campbell doesn’t blow a lot of smoke, so maybe he truly thinks it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe this culture of collaboration allows for Campbell to take playcalling one week and give it back to Lynn another week. It would be unconventional, but this has been an unconventional marriage of coaches. I remain skeptical.

My overall thoughts on Lynn are mixed. On one hand, if this team doesn’t trust Jared Goff or the receivers to throw the ball, it clearly limits his ability to call and design an offense. On the other hand, it really feels like they got away from some of the misdirection stuff that was working early in the year. The pass offense seems to only be getting worse.

Check out Goff’s splits:

First 5 games: 131-of-196 (66.8%) for 6.65 Y/A, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 91.0 passer rating
Last 4 games: 89-of-137 (65.0%) for 5.88 Y/A, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 74.0 passer rating

This year was always about playing better in November and December than in September and October, and we’re not getting that.

Jeremy: For whatever reason, this week seems to have been the breaking point with many fans and Jared Goff, leading many to revisit the Matthew Stafford trade and understandably question whether the trade was worth it.

A lot of people are now talking about how they believe the Lions blew it by not taking the Panthers trade deal, that would have likely given them the eighth overall pick and Teddy Bridgewater. Those fans are now dreaming of having both Penei Sewell and either Mac Jones or Justin Fields, and therefore being significantly further along in their rebuild. Of course, the book on Fields and Jones has yet to be written and any reactions thus far is premature, but I digress...

Those criticisms are fair, but they also ignore a big factor in the trade: Stafford reportedly not wanting to go to Carolina. That makes this conversation a non-starter for me. Detroit went into this process amicably with Stafford, and they were not going to do him dirty, nor should they have. Especially with the context that this organization had screwed over its two biggest legends in the past two decades. Yes, the Lions would probably be in a better spot right now if they took that Panthers deal, but it was never going to happen.

PLUS, people aren’t giving the trade they got a fair chance. Yes, Goff and his contract have been a disaster, but before we start (prematurely) declaring that Detroit missed on their franchise QB by passing on that Panthers pick, let’s see what they actually do with the first-rounders they got from the Rams. So to answer your original question, it’s impossible to truly evaluate this trade until we see what they actually get.

Erik: That’s the biggest factor for me. We don’t know if a player was a good draft pick for two to three years after they were selected. And with two first-round picks still in their pocket, we probably won’t truly know if this was a successful deal for the Lions until a half-decade from now. I know that’s not the popular approach given society’s need for immediate results, but that is the proper context to evaluate a big trade like this.

Additionally, speculation on what could have been is, in the end, a fruitless exercise. Do we really think Bridgewater, Fields, or Jones would elevate this roster to a winning record right now? Because, in all honesty, if the Lions did make the deal with the Panthers and still only had a win or two on the season, how many fans would be complaining that we didn’t get enough value in the trade because there were no future first-round picks in the deal?

With (Frank) Ragnow and (Romeo) Okwara on IR, who do you consider to be the Lions’ best players currently suiting up on offense and defense? — Critical Perspective

Erik: If we go back to POD’s preseason top-10 Lions players rankings, we had Ragnow at No. 1 and Okwara at No. 5 on the list. Here’s a look at the remaining offensive/defensive players still available:

  • No. 2: T.J. Hockenson
  • No. 3: Taylor Decker
  • No. 4: Trey Flowers
  • No. 6: D’Andre Swift
  • No. 7: Michael Brockers
  • No. 8 Penei Sewell

If we look at PFF’s grades and focus on players who have played in at least seven games. The top three offensive players are Sewell, Hockenson, and Jamaal Williams (who only played in seven games). On defense, Tracy Walker leads the way, with Flowers (seven games played) and Julian Okwara (eight games).

So I think our original rankings are close but probably need a few tweaks. Swift should obviously still be in the mix—his PFF blocking grades have dragged his score down—but Brockers has been a huge disappointment for me. If I could rank them over again, I would certainly have Walker in his place.

Jeremy: I think Walker has been the Lions’ clear best player on defense this year, with maybe an honorable mention going to Jerry Jacobs.

Offense is a little trickier. Swift is the team’s biggest weapon, but I still think he’s shown too many inconsistencies in his vision as a runner. Over the past month, I think Sewell has been the best player on that side of the ball. Hockenson may be the team’s biggest mismatch, but defenses are focusing in on him, limiting his productivity. If we’re talking about their level of play right now on offense, I would go Sewell, Swift, Hockenson in that order.

Do you think (Tracy) Walker is a Lion next season? — CausticX

Jeremy: I sure hope so. He’s still only 26, he appears to be pretty happy with the coaching staff and is playing quite possibly the best ball of his career.

I suppose you have to be wary of the Rams’ history of moving on from safeties and drafting ones late, but he’s the best guy in your secondary and appears as happy to be here as you possibly could be given the circumstances.

Erik: I do think he’s a Lion in 2022. Both Walker and the coaching staff seem to have a very positive relationship and there is a lot of benefit to creating stability in a rebuild.

General manager Brad Holmes made a lot of decisions in his first year that shed the team of bad contracts and players that didn’t fit the coaching staff’s vision. And while he may need to address a few more decisions like that this offseason, he will also need to start locking up key foundational pieces.

Walker is currently grading out as a top-10 safety per PFF, is just 26 years old, and like Decker, has said he wants to be in Detroit moving forward. I expect a deal to get done.