John Crist: Although he will finish his rookie season on injured reserve and only put together a passer rating of 61.0 in 10 games, Matthew Stafford showed some flashes. Especially against the Bears, against whom he threw for 296 yards in Week 4. How would you assess the No. 1 pick's performance this year?
Nate Caminata: Stafford fulfilled really the only realistic goal that Detroit had entering 2009: give a hapless franchise hope. He was able to do that with his play on several occasions, but most notably the performance-turned-YouTube-sensation in which he led Detroit from two different deficits – including a game-winning touchdown on the final play – to defeat Cleveland in late November. With that said, he also made typically rookie mistakes, including 20 interceptions. Those glitches seem to be repairable, however, and he'll have an entire offseason – and then some – to improve.
It's interesting given that many criticized the Lions for drafting Stafford, but the porous play of Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton, combined with Stafford's big-time talents, vindicate the choice and give the team a clear leader to build around. That's something they haven't had since Barry Sanders retired a decade ago.
JC: On the surface, Kevin Smith averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, scored only four rushing touchdowns and lost a pair of fumbles before tearing his ACL in Week 15. Nevertheless, he was earning a sound reputation around the league as a quality back. What's to like, and how bad is the injury he suffered?
NC: Smith was somewhat of a workhorse for Detroit, and I think he earned a reputation because he was fighting to run behind a less-than-stellar offensive line. He has good vision and shifty ability that you can't help but like. He also has great hands, having nabbed 41 catches through 13 games – more than he had in 16 games last year. Still, there's doubt that Smith is capable of being an every-down back. He lacks breakaway speed and, perhaps most importantly, has struggled to break tackles, something that all productive No. 1 backs in the league must accomplish.
Smith has already undergone successful surgery to repair the ACL injury, and he's expected to return by training camp. However, upon arrival in Allen Park, he's likely to be joined by some competition – other than backup Maurice Morris.
JC: Another young player loaded with potential is Brandon Pettigrew, who like Smith tore an ACL and won't be on the field Sunday. We know Calvin Johnson is a freak, but a young quarterback needs a reliable tight end in order to succeed. Is Pettigrew the key to the receiving corps going forward in Detroit?
NC: Pettigrew is essential to the development of Stafford and the success of Johnson. His loss to Detroit was a major blow because Pettigrew was starting to come into his own as a receiver, already having established himself as a more than adequate blocker. In addition, offenses run through Scott Linehan rely vitally on the incorporation of the tight end. They have to be large, capable blockers with soft hands in the open field, and Pettigrew filled the void nicely.
His return from the ACL injury might not make much news, but it's critical to the evolution and maturation process of Detroit's young offense.
JC: Yet again, the Lions are having a difficult time in pass defense, allowing 265.4 yards per game through the air – dead last in the league. Why is this a problem year in and year out? Although both must share in the blame, does this have more to do with ineffective coverage or inadequate pressure?
TY: A little of both. The Lions have yet to find a defensive end that can apply consistent pressure. If there was ever a frustration to the fan base and organization, it's been the size and time in the pocket allotted to opposing quarterbacks. Any QB in the league can have a field day against the Lions, which is why they've blitzed so frequently in 2009. They saw very little production from the defensive line, and the team ranked third-to-last in the league in sacks.
Naturally, this has affected an already talent-starved defensive secondary, which flaunts rookie Louis Delmas and not much else. Expect the Lions to address the secondary and defensive line aggressively in the offseason.
JC: Jim Schwartz inherited a team coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history. 2-13 is nothing to write home about, but everybody knew this was going to be a complete reclamation project. Does Schwartz have what it takes? How about Martin Mayhew in the front office after the Matt Millen disaster?
NC: The jury should still be out on both Schwartz and Mayhew, so it's difficult to state a case either way. You have to like what you see in Schwartz's style – he says all the right things, has a mind that has been said to rival New England's Bill Belichick and his teams seem more prepared than the products fielded by Rod Marinelli. However, he will rely upon Mayhew for the pieces to his puzzle. Thus far, the combination doesn't seem to have disappointed. But like those before them, they'll be judged based on the results.
Because of Millen's ineptitude, especially on draft day – the Lions have one remaining draft pick, Ernie Sims, between 2002 and 2006 – to say Schwartz and Mayhew have their work cut out for them is quite an understatement.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Nate, on Saturday.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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