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Mailbag: Who is to blame for the Detroit Lions recent struggles?

Jeremy Reisman and Erik Schlitt open up the Mailbag during the Detroit Lions bye week.

Syndication: The Providence Journal Bob Breidenbach / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions are on a bye, and while Jeremy Reisman and I (Erik Schlitt) already did our weekly mailbag podcast, this is the perfect week to do a second mailbag, this time in written form.

Let’s jump right in.

Erik: If we expand Mary’s question to include all injured players, I think the Lions could likely return Jerry Jacobs from the PUP list, as well as a few other injured players back to full health. Fortunately, the Lions already have an open spot on their 53-man roster, so they could activate Jacobs without having to release anyone.

As far as the rest of the injured players, I made a chart that estimates when players may return (keep in mind, this is unofficial and just my best guesses):

Jeremy: Yeah, I don’t think I disagree with anything here. Coach Dan Campbell made it pretty clear the players closest to returning from injury reserve lists were Jerry Jacobs, Josh Paschal, and Jason Cabinda.

I’m hoping we see D’Andre Swift right out of the bye, but I may be a tad less optimistic than you, since he hasn’t practiced like Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark have.

I don’t have a firm grasp on everyone else, but Campbell said we won’t likely see Jameson Williams until “a good time after” the bye week, and I think Romeo Okwara may be even further off than that.

What’s the bigger factor in the Lions’ losses so far: coaching or personnel? What is the best hope for improvement in either category? — A fella

Jeremy: Ultimately, I still think it’s personnel. No one confused this defensive roster for a good set of players. Even the most optimistic Lions fans saw the ceiling of this unit at 16th in the league or so. Throw in injuries to Tracy Walker, Levi Onwuzurike, Charles Harris, and John Cominsky, and well, an already thin defense is even thinner.

The truth is that Brad Holmes didn’t really do anything to improve the secondary. He addressed the linebacking corps by adding a sixth-round pick and a free agent special teamer. The majority of Holmes’ work on defense has been on the defensive front, but even that is currently left thin due to injuries.

Coaching certainly isn’t helping, though. Even for as beat up as the roster is, there is more talent on defense than there was last year. Detroit is not getting the most out of high draft picks like Aidan Hutchinson, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Josh Paschal, and Derrick Barnes.

Remember back in August, Campbell said if some of their second-year players don’t make a jump this season “we’re in trouble.” Well...

Erik: While I don’t disagree that the personnel, especially on defense, is lacking, that was to be expected at this stage of the rebuild. No matter how hard Holmes would like to fix all the team's holes, that’s just not realistic in two offseasons and the defense has taken a back burner in the process.

So while the personnel is, of course, part of the problem, I have a bigger issue with the coaching at this stage. This coaching staff has a lot of great attributes, but they also appear to be expecting this group of players to play beyond their means. If the secondary is struggling in man, maybe don’t dial up a zero coverage blitz in an obvious blitzing situation. If your top wide receivers are limited or out, why not lean on the running game to carry the load a bit more?

Bottom line for me is, over the last three weeks, the offense has been too quick to move away from what is working, while the defense isn’t adjusting at all when things are not. Player execution is bad, but they’re also not always being put in the best spots to be successful.

As far as fixing it, well, let’s hope the bye helped sort some of that.

Will the Lions be buyers, sellers, or no movement? Why do Holmes and DC undervalue the linebacker position? — 2Jeremy_Smith77

Erik: I’m not expecting much movement but I do expect that they are doing their due diligence and making phone calls. The biggest obstacle for them being buyers is their cap space—which is around $2.2 million per Over The Cap—and where they are in the rebuild. At this stage, they are still investing in developing their youth and seem willing to weather the injury storms. If the Lions decided to be sellers, based on contracts and value, I think they might be exploring Amani Oruwariye’s value after he was benched in Week 5.

Jeremy: At 1-4 with minimal cap space, I don’t think it would make much sense for the Lions to be buyers. Detroit could be sellers, but the kind of players you typically sell are veteran players who could make an immediate impact elsewhere. The Lions don’t have many of those types of players. I don’t think Oruwariye has much value after being benched in this secondary. Maybe someone like T.J. Hockenson? But you’d be selling low. I think the Lions stay put.

As for not valuing linebackers, here’s a key quote from Holmes back in September:

“There’s certain positions that you can kind of look at and assess that you may be able to find gold in the later rounds, and inside linebackers, it’s a good volume of them throughout the Draft.”

Now, maybe he was talking specifically about the 2022 NFL Draft class, but I think he was actually speaking more towards how the rest of the NFL values linebackers. You can find value late in drafts because most NFL teams don’t value off-ball linebackers much. It’s one of the lowest-paid positions, and when you think about the direction in which this sport is going, it’s easy to understand why. Teams are spreading out the defense more, so big, bulky linebackers are just not viewed as important by coaches who aren’t Matt Patricia.

Erik: In the NFL, the linebacker position is being looked at in a similar vein as running backs. Teams have realized that linebackers can be uncovered at all levels of the draft—hello, Malcolm Rodriguez—and it’s not as much of a priority to land a player early. Of course, there are exceptions who can transcend scheme, but most teams are looking for linebackers who fit what they want to do on the field, rather than a do-it-all stud.

Jeremy: My takeaway is that the time is getting near for the Lions to stop with these one-year tryout deals and get a little more serious in free agency. I understand it worked with Charles Harris and Kalif Raymond, but there are far more examples of this strategy not working (Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Dean Marlowe, Quinton Dunbar, Corn Elder).

Of course, some of these moves were made out of necessity. The Lions didn’t have a ton of resources to spend wildly in free agency, and it also just wouldn’t have been that smart to do it when the rest of the roster wasn’t competitive. But next year, the Lions need to get a bonafide starter or two, because this roster of young players and stopgaps just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Erik: While I was previously critical of the coaching staff’s recent ability to properly adjust their scheme, this is an area where I appreciate their decision-making: they’re going to play the player they think best gives them the chance to win, regardless of how much they’re getting paid or how they were acquired.

The Elliott benching surprised me, but Hughes being pulled in favor of AJ Parker (last year's starting nickel) was an anticipated move that made a ton of sense.

Additionally, I completely agree with Jeremy in the fact that this upcoming offseason, they need to be focused on long-term acquisitions instead of one-year rentals.

My question: What is SOP for players and coaches during a bye week? Any ideas or rumors on what the coaches did this week? Did players just rest and recover, or did they still work out or practice… or, did some travel somewhere? — Quinny the pooh

Erik: There are no practices during the bye week, so typically this is a time for players and coaches to take some time away and reset/recharge, but how long they’re gone is determined on an individual basis.

For example, Campbell alluded to the fact that he was going to use the bye week to examine a variety of things, from personnel groupings to how they practice:

“It’s a good group of guys, and we’ve got to regroup. We got the bye to do that. Make adjustments. Figure out what we can do better. How do we use our personnel—what do we do to maximize the personnel? Do we need to make a shift in some of the things that we do defensively? Offensively? Do we need to calm things down even more? And look, I’m looking at practice. How do we practice? We need to do more one-on-one, I know that. To me, that really pops off the table—one-on-one route running coverage, one-on-one rush, all of it. So, that’s just one little thing, but there’ll be other things that come with it, but yeah, you look at all of it.”

Other coaches will likely get some designated time away, but with the variety of things that need to be accomplished, they will likely spend time in Allen Park as well.

As far as players, most will be away from the facility the entire week, with the expectation of certain injured players sticking around for rehabilitation purposes. Players often spend this week traveling back home to spend time with their families, returning to their colleges for Saturday home games, or even receiving some special honors, as was the case with rookies Chase Lucas and James Mitchell:

Congrats to those young men.

Jeremy: I just wanted to take this one, because it’s a silly question and I like to go down statistical rabbit holes. The answer to your question is yes, and I’m pretty sure it’s happened a bunch of times. Here are just a couple of examples:

There are probably a handful of other examples, but I am not spending my bye week going through the 743 games that had at least one team scoring 45+ points.

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