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Lions mailbag: Can James Houston make a big playoff impact?

James Houston is eyeing a return for the Detroit Lions playoffs, but just how big of an impact can he make coming off a 4-month stint on IR.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This week, the Detroit Lions are expected to get back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Alim McNeill—two players who can undoubtedly have a big impact for the team’s defense heading into their first postseason run in seven years.

A little less is known about the availability of young pass rusher James Houston, who has been on injured reserve since Week 2. Houston returned to practice last week, but coach Dan Campbell said on the radio Tuesday morning that he’s not expecting the pass rusher to play in the team’s Week 18 finale against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I don’t see Houston (playing) right now,” Campbell said on 97.1 The Ticket

Which begs the question: how much of an impact can Houston make during the playoffs?

That’s one of the main topics on this week’s midweek mailbag podcast with myself and Erik Schlitt.

Houston is undoubtedly an extremely talented pass rusher—something the Lions desperately need opposite Aidan Hutchinson. That’s especially true considering how effective the defense has been at getting into obvious passing downs.

But Houston only has nine NFL games under his belt, and he’ll be coming into the playoffs having not played in a game since September. Are the Lions willing to take that kind of risk in the postseason on a young player?

“They’re going to need to be clicking on all cylinders in that (Wild Card) game, and that’s a tough game to bring a guy back as a warmup,” Schlitt said. “I was hoping that he’d be ready for Week 18, so he can use that as a tune-up.”

It’s also worth remembering that Houston was not exactly viewed as a high-priority player earlier this year. In training camp, he was regularly repping with the third-team defense, he was playing on special teams, and he only logged 31 defensive snaps in the 1.5 games he played earlier this season.

That said, the Lions defensive line has gone through a lot of shuffling since then, and Houston may have earned a promotion while on injured reserve. Charles Harris is no longer a starter—or even a regular contributor—and guys like Romeo and Julian Okwara have also fallen out of significant roles with the team.

And now, with the news that the Lions and Bruce Irvin are parting ways, it could mean a significant role is available for the taking by Houston.

That entire conversation starts around the 31:45 mark in the podcast below. Other topics on this week’s show include:

  • 2:40 — What’s going on with Jonah Jackson? Why is he struggling?
  • 7:40 — What is the future of the Lions’ offensive line?
  • 14:30 — How will C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s return impact the Lions secondary? What happens with Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kerby Joseph, Brian Branch?
  • 22:30 — Can any of these safeties/nickels help out the problems at outside cornerback?
  • 25:20 — Who is the team’s MVP in 2023?
  • 35:00 — Are the Lions in danger of losing Chris Spielman to a GM job?
  • 39:15 — Could Detroit lose anyone else in their front office?
  • 44:50 — Should Lions rest any or some of their starters vs. Vikings?

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