Quarterback Concerns Plague Lions, Packers

In a preview of this Sunday's Packers-Lions game, Todd Korth from PackerReport.com and Nate Caminata from LionsFans.com conducted a Q&A to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each team. Read their takes right here!

Todd Korth (Packer Report): Is former Packers assistant coach Steve Mariucci on the hot seat this year in Detroit?
Nate Caminata (LionsFans.com): Yes, he has to be. Lions' mover-and-shaker Matt Millen was recently signed to a five-year extension and his first four have been rather forgettable. He is tired of losing and Mariucci was expected to be the cure-all. So far, Mariucci has won 11 of 32 games as head coach -- hardly impressive. Mariucci has more talent on his roster than any he has coached, with a hefty thanks to Millen. If he can't do anything with it, Millen will find someone who can.

Caminata: Despite the new contract, is Packers head coach Mike Sherman on the hot seat?
Korth: No, he isn't. Sherman received a two-year contract extension that is guaranteed. The Packers will start the season on Sunday with 11 rookies, the most on their opening day roster in a long time. Two rookies will start. The Packers have a new defensive coordinator who has inherited the same lousy defense as last year. The excuses are in place for Sherman and general manager Ted Thompson.

Sherman, who seems to get along well with Thompson, is not on the hot seat this year, but he will be next year.

Korth: Do the Lions expect more out of Joey Harrington?
Caminata: Yes, but it's more of a requirement. Harrington has won just 14 games in three years, and while he has had several legitimate excuses, some blame must fall on his shoulders. It can be said that there isn't another quarterback in the league equipped with this type of personnel (Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, Kevin Jones, Marcus Pollard, Mike Williams), but the offense is also young and inexperienced. It is Harrington's duty to pull this group together and make them gel as a unit. Barring a forgettable Monday Night performance, Harrington has been efficient in the preseason and outstanding throughout camp and practice. He is emerging as a team leader and the Lions feel strongly he is capable of putting Detroit in contention for a post-season berth.

Caminata: Why did the Packers fail to address the shortcomings on defense; cap-related, coaches feel it's going to be OK?
Korth: That has been a major topic of conversation in Green Bay throughout the off-season. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates insisted throughout the draft weekend that the Packers have the personnel on defense to improve. Thompson went ahead and drafted for the future. So now we'll see if Bates' new scheme will make a difference with the defense, or if the defense will continue to struggle to rush opposing quarterbacks and stop the run, like last year.

The Packers did not have a lot of money to spend in free agency, so that was part of the problem. The Packers signed mid-level free agents such as safety Arturo Freeman and linebacker Ray Thompson, but wound up releasing them in training camp.

Korth: What are the Lions' biggest strengths and weaknesses entering the season?
Caminata: Offensively, the team will rely on the legs of Kevin Jones to help open up the passing game. Jones led the league in rushing during the second half of 2004, and was considered a Pro Bowl alternate despite playing sparingly early in his rookie season. Jones is the key to Detroit unleashing an offensive assault on the rest of the league.

However, it all starts in the trenches, and the Lions' offensive line is an anomaly. They are very solid as a run-blocking unit, anchored by former Colt Rick DeMulling and veteran Damien Woody. Pass protection is a different story altogether and possibly the team's most glaring weakness. Second-year tackle Kelly Butler is still in the midst of a learning process, and left tackle Jeff Backus has struggled since last season. If they can become cohesive and protect Joey Harrington, the Lions can move the ball like clockwork (see: first two preseason games), but if they collapse, the skill positions become useless (see: third preseason game).

Korth: Which newcomer will make a difference in Detroit this year?
Caminata: It's still too early to determine whether or not Mike Williams will surpass third-receiver Kevin Johnson on the depth chart, although he's making progress. The addition of power-hitter Kenoy Kennedy (strong safety) is key. The Lions have relied upon geriatric stop gaps like Brock Marion and Brian Walker for years in the defensive backfield and were subsequently burned for it. They now pair Kennedy with third-year man Terrence Holt for a young, playmaking duo that provide a reliable last line of defense. Somewhere Dre' "The Riverboat Gambler" Bly is smiling.

Caminata: What differences do you expect to see in the Green Bay defense now that Jim Bates is on board?
Korth: Expect a defense that is a little quicker, disciplined and more aggressive. Bates been preaching that to his players throughout training camp. The only problem: the Packers simply do not have a lot of talent on defense. For example, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is an excellent pass rusher, but he struggles against the run. But he is the best the line has to offer, so he plays on most downs, including obvious running downs. Kevin Jones, no doubt, is licking his chops.

There has been no lack of effort by the Packers defense this preseason, but talent-wise it is no better than last year when it ranked 25th overall in the league. It will have to rely on its quickness and aggressiveness to improve.

Korth: A realistic record for the Lions this season?
Caminata: If we're living in a world without "if's" (because that's what Lions fans have been relegated to), a safe bet is 9-7. However, some national publications have Detroit pegged between 5-11 and 11-5. It all hinges on Harrington, and perhaps more importantly, his time in the pocket.

Caminata: Do the Packers really feel their running game will be at the same level when they lost two of the best interior lineman in the game? Were they able to replace the loss of both starting guards in even a reasonable fashion?
Korth: Green Bay's running game will not be as good as it has been in recent seasons. Ahman Green has rushed for more than 1,000 yards for five straight seasons, but that streak is in jeopardy this year. Rookie Will Whitticker of Michigan State is expected to start at right guard and Adrian Klemm, signed as a free agent from New England, will start at left guard. Neither of the newcomers are close in talent to the departed Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle.

The Packers likely will be blitzed early and often by opponents right up the middle. That will stifle the rushing attack. With his protection weakened, Brett Favre and his NFL record streak of consecutive starts by a QB could come to an end this season, too. The line only gave up a team-record 14 sacks last year, but it will be hard-pressed to protect Favre that well this year.

Caminata: Does your whole season rest entirely on Brett Favre's shoulders?
Korth: Yes, the Packers will go as Favre goes. When he is hot, the rest of the team usually feeds off of him. However, Favre still will make bone-headed throws in an attempt to make a play. Those passes usually end up in the hands of opponents. Green Bay's defense is not good enough to play on a short field. Favre will have to be a little more cautious in his decisions this year, if that is possible.

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