Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

RoarReport.com's Nate Caminata and Packer Report magazine's Bill Huber exchange Q&A's.

Bill Huber: Last year at this time, of course, the Lions were 0-5. This year, they're 1-4. From the outside looking in though, it appears the Lions are a vastly improved team. What are you seeing?

Nate Caminata: I think even the casual observer can pick up on a difference between last year's squad and what new coach Jim Schwartz has assembled. Upon initial impression, they're much more competitive than they were a year ago, posting a 1-4 record against teams that have a combined record of 15-3, and few of those games have been comfortable for the opponent. The culture change is coming about, slowly but surely, but progress is evident. I think you'll see a very competitive, and potentially successful, team develop over the next couple of years.

Bill: I know you've been in some spirited conversations regarding the great Stafford vs. Sanchez debate. Given the surrounding talent, any comparison between the two rookie quarterbacks would be like comparing apples to anchovies. Still, at this early stage of things, what are your thoughts on the decision to go with Stafford?

Nate: I think it's become obvious that one of the reasons Matthew Stafford was selected is because he could mentally handle the pressures associated with the position. Say what you want about New York, but I don't think it's on the same level as what Detroit quarterbacks experience. Between the media, the fans and a franchise that hasn't won since the 1950s, a Lions quarterback must have an incredibly tough resolve and plenty of talent to survive — and I think Stafford outweighs Mark Sanchez significantly in both.

Bill: Between the draft and free agency, the players probably had to wear name tags around there for a few weeks. Something like half of the roster has been turned over since last year. Can you tell us about two or three players, either rookies or veterans, who were really key additions?


Larry Foote
Paul Sancya/AP Images
Nate: I don't think you can have a conversation about key additions without mentioning Matthew Stafford, obviously. Everyone in Allen Park is aware that Stafford is the future of the franchise, so he is as instrumental to the team's success — both short and long-term — as anyone. But right behind him would have to be Larry Foote, who chose to come to Detroit and start at middle linebacker. Foote is a Detroit native with two Super Bowl rings, and wanted to help turn his hometown franchise around. He has helped accomplished this by leading that aforementioned "culture change" initiated by Schwartz. He was given the title of team captain in just one offseason and is leading the team in tackles.

Bill: In his last game, Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times. Last week, Daunte Culpepper (playing in place of an injured Stafford) was sacked six times. Which begs the question, what's up with the Lions' offensive line, and can the Lions' defense exploit the Packers' line woes?

Nate: Pittsburgh has an aggressive defense, but Culpepper can blame himself for a few of those sacks. Although he showed some scrambling ability, he held the ball far too long in some instances, an issue that has plagued him his entire career. While the Lions' offensive line has its vulnerabilities, I don't think Sunday was a good barometer of their skill level. The Lions can exploit Green Bay if they decide to blitz; Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been somewhat bipolar with his playcalling, but I would expect to see the team use Julian Peterson as a pass-rusher a bit more this weekend in effort to destabilize Green Bay's protection. The Lions don't have a choice but to exploit any known weaknesses on an opponent.

Bill: For the last few years, Detroit ran a Tampa-2 defensive scheme that was neither good at intercepting the ball nor sacking the quarterback. Can you give us a sense of what Jurassic coordinator Gunther Cunningham is doing with a defense that includes three Packers castoffs (Grady Jackson, Marquand Manuel, Jason Hunter) in the starting lineup?

Nate: Cunningham has employed a 4-3 defense, but isn't afraid to mix it up here and there. I think something most fans have noticed is that rather than squeeze players into a system that they obviously didn't fit (see: Marinelli's Tampa-2), the coaching staff is willing to experiment with players that might have a more natural or seamless integration into other positions. Speaking of experimenting: One of the most refreshing things that Cunningham and Schwartz have done is ignored the status of a player, instead playing the individual that produces. This has resulted in competition across the entire defense, which I think translates into more success on the field.


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