John Crist: One of the reasons Detroit got rid of Mike Martz – at least this is what we were told – was because he refused to commit to the running game, but the Lions are still only 31st in the league on the ground at just 78.3 yards per game. Rookie Kevin Smith isn't getting it done at all, so can we expect to see more of veteran Rudi Johnson in the backfield?
Nate Caminata: The Lions are 31st in the league primarily because they've fallen behind so quickly in each of their three losses. Simply put, the Lions defense hasn't allowed Detroit's offense to enact the game plan or find any semblance of rhythm. However, in an effort to encourage more ground productivity, the Lions will start Johnson in the backfield against Chicago. Smith isn't happy about the decision, but when you're 0-3, changes will be made.
JC: One young player who is, however, turning out to be everything expected of him and more is Calvin Johnson, who has one of the best nicknames I've heard in quite some time: Megatron. He's on his way to being the best wide receiver in football, but how is attention-hungry Roy Williams taking to the fact that he's now second banana in the passing game?
NC: Williams was vocal about his lack of receptions after the first two losses, with his reasoning that the team losing coupled with his lack of attention is not a coincidence. Against San Francisco, Williams had two drops and otherwise disappeared against the 49ers and blamed himself. It's still a long season and the two can co-exist in theory, but if this season continues on its disastrous pace, Williams – a free agent at the end of the year – will be sporting a different uniform in 2008.
JC: The Bears and Lions offer similar styles on defense because Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli are both disciples of Tony Dungy and the Cover 2, but Smith has had more success defensively as a head coach than Marinelli thus far. What has been the most glaring problem on D in the Motor City? Players, coaches, front office – who deserves most of the blame?
NC: It's a combination of all those things. The Lions have never had a true middle linebacker to patrol the middle – there's a significant difference between Brian Urlacher and Paris Lenon. Beyond that, the Lions lack talent on the defensive line, including at defensive end, in a system that requires immediate pressure on the quarterback. Marinelli, I believe, is coaching it right – he just doesn't have the horses, and that ultimately falls at the feet of Detroit's front office.
JC: In an increasingly rare player-for-player trade, although there was also a draft pick involved, the Lions sent defensive tackle Shaun Rogers to the Browns for cornerback Leigh Bodden in February. At least according to the standings, it doesn't appear as if either has made an impact for his new team. How's it working out so far from Detroit's perspective?
NC: The Lions have rotated Bodden in and out of the lineup but, truth be told, he is still adjusting to his role in the Tampa-2 defensive system – which essentially forces a noted freelancer to sit in a zone. As he struggles to adapt in Detroit, Rogers' absence in the interior of the defensive line has been obvious. Three games into the season, the trade has revealed only this: Detroit gave up its best defensive player in the last decade so it could start Travis Fisher at cornerback. Travis. Fisher.
JC: As we all know, the Lions finally set Matt Millen free after one of the most sad stints of ineptitude in the history of general managers – perhaps not only in the NFL, but all of sport. We remember the busted high draft picks, from Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers to Mike Williams, but it's so much more than that. Feel free to sound off one last time.
NC: People have a short memory. The Stoney Case-led Detroit Lions ended the 2000 season 9-7, barely missing the playoffs after losing to Chicago on a game-winning, 54-yard field goal by Paul Edinger. Millen took over the following year, and promptly turned the franchise into a regular Jay Leno late-night joke. He never had a winning season in Detroit. Whoever has to overhaul the Lions needs two things: time and a strong stomach. You cannot regularly botch your NFL draft, which builds the foundation of any winning team, and expect to turn things around.
Millen could have feasibly set the Lions back another four to five years, perhaps longer. Free agency can cure some of these ills, but it will take a talented savior to help restore the pride this franchise experienced occasionally in the 1990s.
To read Part II of this three-part series, where John answers five questions from Nate, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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